What is a gaited horse breed?
It is a horse that, through a selective breeding process, has a natural gaited tendency. This means it has an ability to perform one of the four-beat smooth horse gaits that occur at intermediate speeds. Horses with this ability are often referred to as having an “ambling” gait.
There are several breeds which have this gait as a hereditary trait, often through the mutation of a dominant gene. This also means that some naturally trotting breeds may have horses which do not have a gait like their counterparts because of a “purer” set of genetics.
Here are the primary gaited horse breeds today.
#1. Rocky Mountain Horse
The Rocky Mountain horse has a gait where three feet are on the ground at all times. This creates a riding experience that is often described as being “smooth as silk.” These horses tend to be on the smaller side, often between 14-15 hands when fully grown. They are known for a distinctive chocolate coat, but several other color combinations are possible.
Rocky Mountain horses are also known for a loyal and willing temperament. They are extremely intelligent horses who are protective, easy to train, and love to conquer a good challenge.
This horse breed earned its reputation through harness racing. It is one of the few gaited horse breeds that can pace in addition to trotting while keeping the correct gait. The breed has been in North America for about two centuries, with bloodlines traced back to 18th century England. These horses are well-built, solid, and thrive in show events.
You’ll also find Standardbreds used in some racing events, while in the US Midwest and Central Canada, they are also quite popular for recreational riding.
#3. Tennessee Walker
Tennessee Walkers are known for a “flashier” style of movement with their ambling gait. This creates more of a kickout while they are moving, allowing them to have more speed to call upon then other gaited breeds. It is not unusual for horses of this breed to exceed 20 miles per hour without requiring a transition to a gallop. The breed association has worked to develop the gait as a natural component of the horses since 1935.
Because the optics of high-stepping are so important to this breed, laws had to be passed to prevent owners from soring their horses to create the desired effect. It has been illegal in the US to sore a horse since 1970.
This German horse performs a gait that is known as the tolt. It is a relatively new breed of horse, having its breed recognized officially by the equine world in 1994. The breed is the result of a cross between an Icelandic Horse and a Peruvian Paso. This breed is somewhat small at 13-15 hands, but taller than the Icelandic, and it is a very rare breed. There have never been more than 100 horses registered and the inception of a stud book has helped to reduce numbers.
Another rare breed of horse, the Marwari is usually known for its inward-turning ears. It is also a gaited horse breed, with an extremely hard hoof that makes it perfect for packing and riding. You’ll also find this horse being used in rural, unmechanized areas for farm work and drafting. In the past, the calm disposition of the breed also made it a viable war horse from its foundation location in Western India.
The coloration of the Marwari often depends on which region from India its genetic profile originated. Back is rarely found in this breed because it has long been associated with the color of death in local culture, so owning a horse with a black coat was considered to be bad luck.
#6. Paso Fino
Imported to the Caribbean from Spain, this horse breed has been separated into two different sub-groups today. One family group comes through Puerto Rico, while the other was developed in Colombia. The name of this breed literally means “fine step” and is an accurate representation of its natural four-beat gait that is ambling and lateral.
The first Paso Finos to come to the United States came through purchases by military personnel who were stationed in Puerto Rico. A rancher traveled to Colombia to bring the other sub-group to the US. Although both lines are frequently cross-bred to maintain a viable genetic pool, there is also an emphasis to breed the two strains individually to maintain their purity.
#7. North American Single-Footing Horse
This gaited horse originates from the southern United States. It always has 3 feet on the ground with its gait, but that does not limit the speed of this light riding horse. On a comfortable trail ride, this horse can easily achieve speeds of up to 10 miles per hour. When riding on flat ground or at road speeds, Single-Footing Horses can achieve 50% more speed while still maintaining their gait.
Influenced by Saddlebreds and Standardbreds, there is also some Spanish influence within this breed. One of the foundational stallions for this breed, named EZD Falcon Rowdy, is also an influential stallion for Racking horses.
For this breed to be registered, it must be shod in plain keg shoes.
If you see a Walkaloosa, it is very easy to mistake the horse for an Appaloosa. Their leopard patterning is almost the same to the Appaloosa. It is so similar, in fact, that in the past, Walkaloosas were registered as Appaloosas through the breed registry.
A Walkaloosa is the combination of an Appaloosa and a gaited breed. It has the smoother gait of an ambling horse, with it being an intermediate gait while under saddle. The breed registry was started in 1983 and many horses now are on their third or fourth generation. They will canter and walk with the same ease as their ambling gait.
#9. Spotted Saddle Horse
This breed was formed by combining Pinto ponies that had gaited traits with horse breeds that already had gaited genetics. It results in a gait that is extremely smooth under the saddle, with pinto coloring dominating the breed. Solid-colored foals are allowed to register if they have two parents who are already registered to verify their pinto heritage. The ambling gait replaces the trot for this breed.
They are one of the larger gaited horse breeds, with stallions exceeding 1,100 pounds regularly. They can stand up to 16 hands. Two breed registries are currently active in the United States and both work to promote the natural gait trait without the use of performance-assisting devices.
#10. Icelandic Horse
This gaited horse breed is one of the purest in the world today. They are native to only Iceland. If a horse is exported, it is never allowed to return. This has led to a breed that has few diseases or physical defects. It also has two unique gaits which it naturally performs through over 1,000 years of selective breeding.
The breed is known as being an easy keeper, partially because of its small size. More Icelandics are 14 hands or shorter and weigh less than 850 pounds. It is a spirited horse, with a large personality, and performs the tolt and running walk in addition to the traditional walk, cantor, and gallop.
This small breed of horse is believed to have come from Spanish imports in the 16th century, but is larger than the Icelandic Horse. Campeiros weigh around 1,000 pounds and stand around 14 hands on average. They are usually chestnut, but can be gray or bay. Some have been trained as working horses or for show purposes, but a majority of the population lives in a semi-feral state in Brazil.
This breed is managed in two ways: through selective breeding to maintain the ambling gait; and through herd management techniques on Santa Catarina Island.
This is a native-type horse that can be found on the island of Crete. The development of the breed is believed to have occurred through the crossing of native Cretan horses with Arabians when the Ottomans ruled the area. A studbook to protect this ambling gait breed has been established since 1994, but fewer than 100 horses are registered.
It is a horse breed that is still used extensively for agricultural work. Messaras are particularly adept at walking over uneven surfaces or extremely rocky ground. They have maintained many of their Arabian characteristics, but have get a natural pacing gait that was associated with their Cretan ancestry.
Because of farming needs and the quality of stallions, it is a common practice to mate a Messara stallion with a donkey so that hinnies can be created for additional resources.
These gaited horse breeds help to provide a smooth ride under saddle. They provide a working resource for some families, while for others, showmanship and competition are priorities that can be met. As a group, they are generally loyal, intelligent, and curious about the world without spooking easily. This makes each breed an excellent asset for anyone who works with horses.