Giddy Up at Goosewing Ranch
Many guests that come to visit Goosewing Ranch have seen a lot of western movies and have seen the silver screen cowboys racing across the plains at a gallop and they want to do the same. They often do not know, however, that there are more than just two speeds for a horse. A gait is the rhythm that horse’s legs move at. It determines both the speed you are traveling at, and how you need to position your body to make riding more comfortable and controlled.
The slowest gait that a horse has is one everyone is familiar with, the walk. In a walk, the horse picks up one foot at a time and follows a four beat rhythm. An average speed for a horse to walk at is around four miles per hour.
The next fastest gait is the trot. The trot is similar to a jog and the horses’ hooves hit the ground on a two beat rhythm. The hooves move diagonally to each other. An example of this would be front right hoof and rear left hoof on the ground at the same time, and then switching to front left and rear right. As you can imagine, alternating between two sets of legs rapidly can cause the rider to get bounced around on the horses back. In Western riding the rider ‘sits’ the trot, which means the rider stays down in the saddle and lets their lower back absorb the shock. Sitting the trot is not particularly easy, or comfortable, so at Goosewing Ranch we encourage guests to learn how to post. Posting is an English riding technique where the rider falls into rhythm with the horse and rises out of the seat rhythmically to keep from bouncing off. An average speed for a trot is eight miles per hour. Contrary to what you see in the movies, people travel on horseback at a trot and not a faster gait because horses have a hard time maintaining a faster speed over long distances.
The lope is a three beat gait that is faster than a trot, and slower than a gallop. It is also known in English riding as cantering. A horse will propel itself forward on one of its hind feet, catch itself on the opposite diagonal foot, and then on the final beat catch itself on its remaining front foot. Basically the horse alternates between two feet on the ground and one foot on the ground. While this might sound more complicated, loping is much smoother than trotting and many people prefer it. The key to staying in the saddle while loping is to ‘sit deep.’ In layman’s terms sitting deep means ‘keep your butt in the saddle.’ You have to find the rhythm of the horse and fall into it while focusing on not letting yourself come up and out of the saddle. Loping speeds can vary quite a bit, but average between ten and seventeen miles per hour.
The fastest gait a horse can manage is the gallop. Galloping involves the horse driving themselves forward with all four feet leaving the ground. It is a very fast smooth gait, and requires an athletic horse and rider. It averages between twenty five and thirty miles per hour and can only be sustained for short distances.
There are other gaits that only certain breeds of horses can do, or horses with special training. Pacing, fox trotting, racking and running walks are some examples of these gaits. Hopefully this helps you understand a little more about how horses move, and how to make yourself move with your horse. We would be more than happy to help you learn more about all the gaits mentioned when you come to visit us at Goosewing Ranch.