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Horses - Riding At The Artificial Gaits

( Originally Published 1940 )

THE "NATURAL" gaits of the saddle horse are said to be three—the walk, trot, and gallop. All horses do these without training, though, of course, far better with proper training.

However free and easy a loose horse running in a field may appear, it is always found that while he is still "green" he is very awkward when first saddled and made to obey.


Beyond these natural gaits, we have what we term the "artificial" gaits. These are usually referred to as the running walk, the fox trot, the singlefoot (called by some the "rack"), the pace (called by some the "amble"); and then, beyond these, we have various "high school" steps such as the Spanish Walk, the "shoulder in," "haunches in," "passage," etc.

The Spanish Walk is where the horse, by signal from the rider's legs and reins, lifts one front foot very high, and. then the other front foot, alternating, and moving straight to the front, and at each step he elevates each front leg, extends it to the front, holds it there a brief moment and then puts it down as he repeats the step with the other front foot. It is very pretty and shows the horse under excellent discipline, but it has no other object except for show purposes and training, with the consequent obedience.


When we speak of a "three-gaited" horse, we mean the walk-trotgallop type only. These are the average horses. Beyond these three gaits we speak of the "five-gaited" saddler and by this we mean that he must do the walk, trot, and gallop neatly, and must also do two of the other gaits mentioned—running . walk, fox trot, singlefoot (rack) or pace (amble).

Highly-trained saddlers will do the five gaits cleanly and distinctly, when being displayed by skilled riders. A brief description of these gaits will be found to be of advantage to anyone who rides.

The running walk is faster and easier on the rider and horse than the flat-footed walk, and quite similar to the fox trot, though not so fast. The horse "shuffles" along, head low, reins swinging loosely, and at either of these two gaits it is good for all-day journeys—a long distance gait, either of these, used all over the western cattle country. The rider does not bump up and down at all, but sits loosely and with very little muscular gripping or fatigue at either gait. Many western horses seem to take one or the other of these two gaits naturally. The fox trot is a slower gait than the real trot. The horse's head is also carried low, reins swinging loosely, and the horse's feet are lifted only very little from the ground. The rider, sitting loosely, finds this a most comfortable, all-day gait. This gait also is found among many-cowboys' horses. This gait is exactly like that of a fox going at his usual pace of a trot.

Running walkers and fox trotters are delightful for man or woman.


The singlefoot gait is very easy on the rider. It is sometimes called the "rack," because the horse is said to "rack" against the bit. The rhythm of this gait, once heard, is never forgotten. The horse goes along rapidly, more so than when at a regular trot. He holds his head high and the rider keeps a somewhat shorter and tighter feel on the reins of the horse's mouth. He will cover a good ten miles an hour or even better, at this gait, if a thoroughly-trained saddler. As it is rather "racking'' on the horse, however, it should not be maintained too long at any one time unless it happens to be the horse's own natural gait, as is sometimes the case.

The term "singlefoot" comes from the fact that only a single foot strikes the ground at a time. It should be seen to be understood.

The horse's face is carried almost vertically, neck arched, and the rider's legs hold the horse by increased pressure "up to the bit" as we call it. After the horse does the singlefoot well and habitually, the reins are allowed to swing somewhat more loosely.

It is a natural gait for some saddle horses, but must usually be carefully trained into others. The effort and time thus consumed, however, are such that a full description of the methods used cannot be given here.

The rider sits very easily in his saddle and is not bumped up and down at all, as when at a trot. The rider is, instead, shifted from side to side at this gait, rather than being moved upward and downward as at the trot. This singlefoot gait certainly covers ground. The only drawback to using a singlefooter lies in the fact that he travels so fast that other horses accompanying him must generally break into a lope or gallop to keep up, their trot rarely being rapid enough. The rider sits erectly, body swaying lightly with the horse's movements.

Tight gripping of the rider's legs, at this gait, is never required. Balance is used almost entirely.


The "pace" or "amble" (as some call it) is distinctly a different gait from the others. Some horses do the pace naturally, while most must be taught it and trained to hold to it.

The essential difference from the other gaits lies in this one thing: In going forward at a pace, the horse's legs ON THE SAME SIDE move forward and backward in unison. It can easily be observed and then never forgotten, once seen and studied well.

A pacer is a fast traveler. His head is carried somewhat low, his face half vertical or slightly less than that. He can keep the gait up indefinitely, about as fast as a singlefooter. A pacer is as comfortable and easy on the rider as a singlefooter.


The rider is not tossed up and down as at the trot. Instead, sitting loosely, with little need for tight gripping of his legs, he is moved sideways gently. He holds a rather loose rein. Erect, flexible, the rider feels distinct comfort at this gait, and is subjected to no pounding at all as he is moved so gently from side to side, so different from the pounding one must take while riding at the trot.

These are what are known by horsemen as the "artificial" gaits, and it is believed each has been sufficiently explained for a good knowledge by beginners. Advantage should always be taken of every chance to observe horses in motion, and to ask those who know. In this way, the distinct gaits will be recognized and remembered, and, when selecting a horse to buy, one will know what to ask for and what to look for.

According to the official Saddle Horse Association of America rules, a gaited saddler MUST show that he can walk, trot, canter, and singlefoot, and then he must also go one of the other special gaits mentioned, so as to make a total of five—the running walk, the fox trot, or the pace.

The pace is probably the least desirable of these three artificial gaits, and is seldom chosen as the fifth gait, except for ladies' saddlers.


The best riders are almost invariably persons who have been accustomed to riding and handling horses nearly all their lives. Occasionally some learn well even after they have commenced as late in life as twenty-five or thirty, but the seat and carriage of these late learners rarely, if ever, equal those of the men and girls who have started riding as boys and young girls. These youngsters who have grown up in the saddle, as we say, naturally have strong, flexible, easy seats and great self-confidence. They have ridden many horses, good and bad, and have developed a marvelously firm seat and very light hands on the reins, and they remain cool under exciting conditions and they get the most out of the horse being ridden.

The habitual posture of the cowman's seat in the stock saddle while riding range, shows the erect carriage of the body, the rather long stirrup length used, the very light rein-hand. The horse- is moving at the trot, and the seat is the "close" one generally used in range riding. This horse was a half-Arabian, light, swift, enduring, a top-class roping and cutting horse. Note the alert carriage of the horse's head and ears.


Such a rider as described above, when in the saddle, sits erect without stiffness or constraint or pose. He or she does not lean forward or backward at bad, awkward angles, does not shove out his or her feet to the front. Such a rider uses his weight as well as his leg pressure, and he uses his reins to guide and control the horse—not to hang on with. A good rider never sinks in the chest or pokes for-ward his or her stomach. All of these poor postures are forms seen among new riders. Knowing that these postures in the saddle are bad form, one must guide oneself accordingly.

While learning to ride, one will naturally be ahead or behind the others riding with him or her, while riding along the roads. But as soon as the riding has reached the proper stage of safety and understanding, people out riding together should remain together and not go individually dashing ahead or falling away behind. This is most annoying to the other riders and makes all the horses nervous, restless. And there is never that pleasant companionship which should always be present in a group of riders out for pleasure or distance.

Of course, while riding for business, as at round-ups, across country, or while jumping, every rider should ride well apart from the others, to avoid crashes and accidents. By never losing one's temper, many, dangers can be avoided.

One more point right here. When riding with anyone else, never allow your horse to tread on the hind feet of the horse ahead of you. Keep abreast or keep well back—about five feet at the slower gaits and about twenty at the rapid gaits. Where a large number are riding together, ride in a column of couples, and never crowd any other horseman.

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