Horses have many different gaits, ranging from the slow walk to the faster canter and gallop. Understanding the various gaits and how a horse transitions between them can be very challenging. In this article we will discuss the various types of gaits and the footfall sequence that a horse utilizes in each gait, and how to train your horse to perform the proper gaits on cue.
Different horse gaits diagram
Each gait has its own unique footfall sequence that defines the particular pattern of hoof contact with the ground. Each gait also has a particular number of beats (i.e., the number of individual footfalls that occur within a stride). The gaits are classified as either symmetrical or asymmetrical according to their temporal characteristics. Symmetrical gaits such as the walk and trot have a limb pattern on one side that repeats on the other side of the body (half a stride later). Asymmetrical gaits such as canter and gallop have a different limb pattern on each side.
The slowest equine gait is the walk, which is a symmetrical four-beat gait with large overlap times between limbs and no period of suspension. The faster quadrupedal gaits are characterized by shorter overlap and stance periods and higher stride frequency.
In the canter, a horse has three beats with a period of unipedal support, followed by a period of diagonal bipedal support, and finally a short period of tripedal support. The jog, which is technically a slower trot, has two beats with periods of unipedal and diagonal bipedal support. The dressage gaits of collected trot, passage, and piaffe are characterized by a reduced number of beats with longer overlap and stance phases than the canter and jog.
There are several methods for representing the footfall sequence and temporal characteristics of a gait, including drawings of the footfall sequence (Barroil, 1887) and gap or bar diagrams which show tracks and linear distances (Clayton, 1995). Another method is to use a pie gait diagram showing the footfall sequence and relative durations of the suspension phase, stance phase, and overlaps as a percentage of the stride duration (Alexander, 1984) (Fig. 5.1C).
It should be noted that the length of a stride increases with increasing speed, but not the total number of limbs supporting the body. This is because the length of the forelimb and hindlimb is related, and as the speed of the gait increases, the ratio of the forelimb to the hindlimb decreases. In addition, hindlimb stance time was longer than forelimb stance time across all the speeds investigated, although the differences decreased as the speed of the gait increased. This suggests that a dynamic, spring-like mechanism is involved in the transmission of force to the ground and the forelimbs, rather than a static, rigid pendulum model. This dynamic, spring-like mechanism may explain why the asymmetrical gaits like the canter and gallop are more energetic than the symmetrical gaits such as the walk, trot, and jog.