What Is a Gaited Horse? Everything You Need to Know

Gaited horseback riding

What Is a Gaited Horse? 

Even as an equestrian of many years, I am constantly learning new terms and phrases. If you are in the horse world for any amount of time, you will hear the phrase ‘gaited horse’. However, you may not fully understand what that phrase means. In today’s post, we will discuss everything you need to know about gaited horses. 

What is a gaited horse? A gaited horse is a horse that moves each leg independently. Doing so allows one foot to constantly be on the ground, allowing the horse to conserve more energy than they would while trotting. Gaited horses are used for traveling as they have greater stamina and endurance. 

Are there benefits to owning a gaited horse? Do gaited horses have limitations? Keep reading to learn more about this unique characteristic that is natural to many horse breeds.

Recognizing a Gaited Horse

Although there is a significant difference between a gaited horse and one that is simply moving in an odd way, it can be hard to recognize the differences at first glance. So, how do you recognize a gaited horse? The best way is to simply observe their movements.

A gaited horse will traditionally have a four-beat gait. When walking, each foot will fall individually, following a precise pattern. Most gaited horses follow a pattern of right hind, right front, left hind, left front or right front, left hind, left front, right hind. Upon closer observation, this pattern should be rather obvious. 

Additionally, when you watch a gaited horse walk from the side, you will notice that both legs on one side will move forward simultaneously. The rear foot will always fall before the front foot. 

Naturally Gaited Horse Breeds

Icelandic Gaited Horse

 Some of the most common gaited horse breeds include the following:

  • American Saddlebred
  • American Standardbred
  • Icelandic Horse
  • Tennessee Walking Horse
  • Paso Fino
  • Peruvian Paso
  • Rocky Mountain Horse
  • Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
  • Appaloosa

 

Naturally gaited horses, originally known as saddle horses, have been a popular mode of transportation since the early 1800s. Gaited horses are characterized by their stamina and endurance, making them easy to ride for long periods of time. By never suspending themselves in the air, a gaited horse is able to conserve more energy than a horse that trots.   

A horse that is naturally gaited carries this quality in their genes. Naturally gaited horses often display a calm, easy-going demeanor making them a popular choice for long trail rides or beginner riders.

Benefits of a Gaited Horse

There are many benefits to riding a gaited horse. In this section, we will share a bit more about the unique benefits this type of horse provides to a rider.

Gaited Horses Can Be Easier to Ride

Especially for beginner riders, gaited horses are often considered easier to ride. The smooth ride and the limited amount of bounce mean that almost anyone can ride a gaited horse on their first try. Although this may seem like a huge benefit, it can actually be a disadvantage to horse riders who hope to progress in their riding. 

When you are riding a gaited horse, it is still important to pay close attention to your equitation and balance habits. The easy ride provided by a gaited horse often allows for laziness on the part of the rider, even if it is unintentional.

Gaited Horses Are Great for Long Distance Riding

Gaited horses have the ability to travel long distances without growing tired. This quality, coupled with the smooth ride they provide, make them common choices for tours or trail rides. If you are looking for an equine companion for long-distance rides, a naturally gaited horse is most likely your best option. 

Most Gaited Horses Have Gentle Demeanors

Many naturally gaited horses are calm and gentle in their demeanor. Because of this, they are generally agreeable and an excellent companion for newer horse owners. However, every horse is different, so you shouldn’t choose one simply because they’re gaited. You can check out my guide on what to look for when buying a horse here

Are Gaited Horses Restricted in Movement?

Gaited Trail Horses

So, we know that a gaited horse is easy to ride, can endure long distances, and generally exhibits a calm demeanor. Is a gaited horse restricted in movement in any way? Can gaited horses jump or gallop? 

Jumping a Gaited Horse

Gaited horses can be taught to jump. However, it is important to introduce jumps carefully as the approach differs from that of other horse breeds. The calm demeanor of most naturally gaited horses provides huge benefits while attempting something new.  

When training your gaited horse to jump, it’s important to familiarize them by first walking over ground rails until they begin to feel more comfortable. Once you feel like they are ready to move on, practice this at a canter. With careful training and patience, most gaited horses will learn how to jump just as their non-gaited companions would.  

Some gaited horses jump more easily than others. For example, the Tennessee Walking Horse, a popular naturally gaited horse, often excels at jumping! If you’ve never trained a horse to jump before, here’s my step-by-step guide for teaching a horse to jump!

Galloping on a Gaited Horse

Many naturally gaited horses can gallop! Galloping, however, should never be done in excess. Some gaited horses are able to gallop more efficiently than others. Many times riders will find that riding their gaited horse at a canter is both more enjoyable and better suited for the horse.

Are Gaited Horses Safe?

A common misconception about gaited horses is that they are a bit unsafe due to their lack of surefootedness. This is simply a myth! Gaited horses have been used for decades to traverse even the toughest of trails. The calm personality of gaited horses allows them to take a tough trail in stride, handling one obstacle at a time.  

Training a Gaited Horse

Even naturally gaited horses require the proper training to develop an ideal gait. This starts by providing them with a solid foundation. Focusing on becoming the best rider you can be will allow your horse to naturally develop their gait. For instance, if you are unbalanced as you ride, your horse will spend a large portion of its energy rebalancing.

It is important to remember that a beautiful, natural gait is developed and encouraged over time, just like any other aspect of horsemanship. Patience while training will develop a strong bond between horse and rider, something that should never be taken for granted. 

Do Gaited Horses Need Special Saddles?

If you are researching gaited horses, you may be surprised to see special saddles made specifically for horses with a gait! This is primarily a marketing scheme.

Although these saddles are great options for gaited horses, your gaited horse can wear any saddle that fits them properly, including both English and western saddles. You can see some of the gear I recommend here

Whether or not you invest in a gaited horse is mostly up to personal preference. As with any decision regarding horses, it is important to do your research before taking on the responsibility of a new horse. Before you purchase a gaited horse, it may be wise to ride several breeds to determine which gait feels most natural to your riding style! 

Related Questions

What horses are easiest to ride on trails?

Many of the horse breeds that are considered easiest to ride are naturally gaited horses. The most commonly recommended horses for ease of riding include the Quarter Horse, Tennesse Walking Horse, Appaloosa, Arabian, and Morgan Horse.  

These horse breeds are known for their calm temperament and ease of riding. However, each horse will vary in their ability and willingness to participate in long trail rides. 

What should I take on my first trail ride?

Trail riding is an enjoyable past-time and a great way to spend time with your horse. There are a few things to keep in mind before you participate in your first trail ride. First, always ride with a trail partner. Especially in the beginning, it’s important that you ride with a partner that has experience with long-distance trail riding. 

Always bring a cell phone in case you encounter an emergency along the trail. However, you will often find that you lose cell reception while on most trails. This is another reason why a trail buddy is crucial to the safety of both you and your horse.

It’s also important to come prepared. Be sure to pack wisely and bring any gear or equipment that you or your horse may reasonably need. Do not overpack as you will create an unnecessarily heavy pack for your horse. 

You can see my complete trail riding packing list here.

What type of saddle is best for trail riding?

I have learned my lesson the hard way by riding a long-distance trail in the wrong type of saddle. The best type of saddle for most types of trail rides is a Western saddle. Comfort is key for any trail ride, for both you and your horse. Do not make the mistake of forcing a long trail ride using tack or gear that is not comfortable for both of you. 

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