What makes a Horse Gaited?

To understand the definition of a gaited horse one must first know a little about the way horses move. The trot is the most common gait of the horse other than a walk. Horses preform the trot as a diagonal gait, moving a front foot and the opposite rear foot simultaneously. This action produces a jarring motion that is found in all non-gaited breeds. A horse that is trotting has two feet on the ground at a time, but is not supported at all almost one third of the time. The jar felt when riding a trotting horse is caused by the free fall of the horse and the rise needed to carry the horse from one step of the trot to the next step. A gaited horse does not have free fall or the jar caused by the trot, because the gaited horse has a broken gait that allows at least one foot on the ground at any given time. This creates the smooth ride of a gaited horse because the horse is always supported and never in free fall.

A gaited horse is much more efficient than a non-gaited horse because there is no energy wasted fighting gravity and free fall. This is one reason the gaited horses seem to have more natural stamina than his rough trotting counter part. The smooth ride produced by the gaited horse is another advantage of these efficient movements.

Some gaited horses have lateral gaits, i.e., they move the front foot and then the rear foot on one side and then the front foot and the rear foot on the other side. The Walking Horse and the Racking Horse are two of the most common gaited horses having lateral gaits. The only diagonal gait of the gaited horses is the Fox trot. The Fox Trotting Horse was developed in the Ozarks because of the need for a sure-footed, smooth-riding horse for transportation. The Fox Trot is a diagonal gait with the leg support on opposite corners and therefore is a more sure-footed movement than a lateral gate.

The distinctive Fox Trot Rhythm is created by the front foot touching the ground a split second before the opposite rear foot. This time lapse between the front foot touching and the rear foot touching is the time that a non-gaited horse trotting at the same speed would be in free fall. A Fox Trotting Horse traveling on a gravel or chat surface can be distinguished by the sound of the broken trot. The sliding action of the rear feet also helps the ride be smooth. The Fox Trotting Horse gives the illusion of a horse walking in the front and trotting in the back.

Before the registry books of the MFTHBA were closed many of the horses were crossed with walking horses to both widen the gene pool and to develop a longer stride on the horses. The Missouri Fox Trotting Horse of today has a longer stride than its ancestors of years ago, but the Rhythm of a True Fox Trot has not changed.

Several people that have been around fox trotting horses for years say they can remember the perfect horse. However, the breed as a whole has not explained the traits possessed by the ideal foxtrotter in a way that a novice or newcomer can understand and relate to. The judges look at the horses and can tell what their weak and strong points are. Nevertheless, each of the great horses that have won in the last ten years had their faults as well as their strengths. An individual should be able to watch the horse show and know why the judge placed each horse. This means more than just saying, "I just like that horse better." If an individual or a judge can't tell you why he likes the horse, he still needs to be better informed. Missouri Fox Trotting horses have many traits that are desired and bred for.

The walk, trot, canter, and conformation are the main categories, but each of these consists of many subdivisions previously unmentioned in our judging process. Each person can be taught to notice each of these subdivisions.

copyright © 1996 Rick Watson, Watson Stables