Last updated: December 6, 2022
My son has a fascination with gaited horses and is interested in riding the best-gaited horse breeds. After helping him research different gaited breeds, I decided to share the useful information we learned.
The best-gaited horse breeds include Paso Fino, American Saddlebred, the Icelandic horse, the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Racking Horse, and Missouri Foxtrotter. Gaited horse breeds are those breeds that have a natural, four-beat gait that makes riding a smooth experience.
What do people mean when they say a horse breed is gaited? Is a gaited breed more comfortable to ride? What is the smoothest gaited horse breed? Continue reading to find out the answers to these questions.
This article is part of my series focused on horse breeds-I started by writing an introductory piece: Horse Breeds: The Ultimate Guide. The introduction to the series is a comprehensive overview of different breeds and types of horses.
The Best Gaited Horse Breeds
The DMRT3 gene mutation can be found in horses worldwide, meaning that any horse breed may have a horse or two who are gaited. Some horse breeds can also be trained to be “gaited.” But there are only about 30 naturally gaited horse breeds.
Below I have listed some of the best-gaited horse breeds.
15 to 16 hands tall, American Saddlebreds were developed by landowners in the United States in the 18th century. They are often referred to as the horse America made.
During the Civil War, the American Saddlebred horses were the mount of choice for generals. These horses have a spirited temperament yet are gentle.
American Saddlebred horses are athletic and versatile enough to compete in many equestrian disciplines. At competitions, Saddlebreds are considered the peacocks of the ring.
They typically stand out from other breeds with their high tail carriage, elegance, grace, and showy trot. The American Saddlebred is naturally gaited.
Some Saddlebreds have three gaits, and others have five gaits. Their four-beat ambling gaits include a ‘slow gait’ and the ‘rack.’ Rack is a lateral gait where there are equal intervals between each beat.
Missouri Fox Trotter
The Missouri Fox Trotter is a 14 to 16 hands tall, gentle, and sure-footed horse that originated in Missouri. It developed the ability to go long distances over rough terrains quickly and smoothly.
The Missouri Fox Trotter has a unique four-beat trot, instead of the usual two-beat trot found in non-gaited horses or the lateral pattern found in gaited horses.
This unique pattern is called the foxtrot and is a diagonal gait in which the front foot of the diagonal pair lands a little before the hindfoot; this footfall pattern results in the front feet moving in a walk while the hind legs are trotting.
The foxtrot eliminates the fall between steps naturally found in a trot because one foot is always on the ground. The foxtrot is smooth compared to the trot of non-gaited horses.
Missouri Fox Trotters are versatile; and were developed to be an all-around farm horses. One you could ride all day or work the farm. They can be found in most equine colors.
Paso Finos are powerful horses and stand between 13 and 15 hands. It is prized for its natural and smooth ambling gait. It is mostly found in Puerto Rico and Colombia.
Paso Fino’s are among the most popular gaited horse breeds because of their temperament, conformation, and long manes. The horse is commonly known to have brio, a controlled spirit, meaning that it is energetic but always obedient.
They originated from horses brought to Puerto Rico by the Spanish Conquistadors. Paso Fino’s are most often used for trail riding and are suitable for all levels of riders.
Paso Fino has three gaits: paso fino, paso corto, and paso largo. All three gaits are natural, four-beat, lateral gaits that are evenly spaced.
Paso fino is a steady gait that covers very little ground. Paso Corto is more extended and almost as fast as a trot. The Paso Largo gait is as fast as a canter and also has distinctively extended strides. All gaits are smooth.
Tennessee Walking Horse
The Tennessee Walking horse has a muscular build and is between 14 to 17 hands tall. It is a popular breed developed, so men on Southern farms and plantations would have a relaxing time in saddles.
The riding horse is well-liked for its calm demeanor and sure-footedness. Though it has a variety of four-beat smooth gaits, the most well-known is its running-walk movement.
The running walk has the same footfall as a walk but is much faster, achieving 10 to 20 miles per hour.
One of the purest horse breeds globally, Icelandic horses are 13-14 hands tall and weigh about 800 lb. They are known for their sure-footedness, strength, and five gaits.
Racking Horses developed in the United States and are named for their unique gait, “rack.” You can teach other horse breeds a racking gait, but it is instinctive in Racking horses.
The racking gait is a four-beat footfall pattern where only one foot strikes the ground at a time. Racking horses can perform a four-beat walk (called the show-walk) and are known for their ambling gait, a four-beat gait of medium speed, also known as single-foot.
The racking horse is the official state horse of Alabama. It is about 15 hands tall and can walk, canter, and perform a racking gait. Racking horses are known for their beauty, stamina, and their willingness to work.
They are surefooted and easily traverse challenging terrain, and are known for providing a comfortable ride. Racking horses have an even temperament and would be an excellent breed for beginner riders.
Racking horses are a relatively young breed with a loyal following. The breed though young continues to grow each year, and I expect this trend to continue as more equestrians learn about these amazing horses.
If you’re interested in the breed, visit the Racking Horse Breeders Association of America.
Their ambling gait is called the tölt, a four-beat, lateral gait that is comfortable and fast. Icelandic horses are famous because they can provide riders a fast and smooth ride over rough terrains and are also safe, i.e., they aren’t easily spooked.
Unlike many other breeds that can safely carry 20 percent of their weight, Icelandic horses can easily handle 22 percent of their weight. However, the bad news is that Icelandic horses are local to Iceland only.
Riding a gaited horse.
If you’ve never ridden a gaited horse, you’re in for a treat. They are much smoother than traditional non-gaited horses, and you won’t get bounced around in the saddle even if you don’t sit a saddle perfectly balanced.
However, a bad rider can negatively impact a gaited horse’s ability to travel efficiently. It’s best to learn to sit in a saddle and ride correctly, even on a gaited horse.
Proper balance when riding any horse is essential for horses to perform optimally. Because gaited horses are so comfortable, it can lead to poor riding habits in beginners.
Learning proper technique is difficult when you feel comfortable traveling on a horse. So, riders that transition from gaited to non-gaited horses often have a difficult time.
Gaited horse’s smooth ride is practical as well as comfortable. You can ride for much longer and further on a gaited horse. Their gait doesn’t require your muscles to work as hard, nor does it always bounce you in the seat.
If you’ve been on long trail rides in the past on non-gaited horses, you know how tiring and strenuous horseback riding can be.
Are Gaited Horses Easier to Ride?
Yes, gaited horses are easier to ride than non-gaited horses. The primary reason they are easier to ride is that they have a smooth gait with little bounce.
Beginner riders will find them more comfortable to ride than non-gaited horses because of the absence of the jarring motion. Long ago, when horses were used for traveling long distances, riders preferred gaited horses because of their smooth gait and higher stamina.
More stamina meant the horse could go long distances without tiring or needing to stop, and the smooth gait meant the rider wouldn’t be tired from journeying for extended intervals.
Do Gaited Horses Need Special Saddles?
Some people will tell you that your gaited horse needs a unique, gaited saddle, but this is not true and is often just a marketing hack.
Gaited horses do not need any special saddles. Any well-fitting saddle will do. People commonly use western saddles, but dressage ones work as well. Just make sure that the saddle has enough room for the horse’s shoulder movements and is comfortable.
Which Gaited Horse Is the Smoothest?
This question has no simple answer. All of the gaited horse breeds listed above make for very smooth riding experiences. However, different horses will have different gaits within every breed. Some gaits will be average, some good, and some exceptional.
How you like to ride a horse also makes a difference. For example, whether you like sitting back deep in the seat and relaxing or enjoy sitting balanced in the middle and riding with energy will make a difference on your choice of the smoothest gaited horse.
In our opinion, Paso Fino is the smoothest gaited horse as it has three natural, even-spaced, four-beat gaits that vary in speed but are all comfortable. So you, as a rider, can choose the speed you are most comfortable with.
What Does It Mean if a Horse Is Gaited?
Most non-gaited horses have three common movements, walk, trot, and canter. The trot is the most common movement in horses, apart from the walk.
A trot is a diagonal gait in which horses move their opposite legs at the same time. A horse in a trot moves their right front leg and left hind leg simultaneously and then moves its left front leg and right back leg forward at the same time.
A standard trot allows the horse to drop, resulting in a jarring motion that is common to all non-gaited horse breeds. The jar felt by riders is created by the horse free-falling and the energy required to switch from one step of the trot to the next.
Gaited horses have a broken gait that allows them to have one foot on the ground at all times. Because they always have at least one foot supporting their weight, there is no jarring movement caused by the free fall you get from a trot in non-gaited horses.
Gaited horses move each leg independently, much like a non-gaited horse would do in a walk, only much faster. This unique, four-beat gait comes naturally to gaited horse breeds and is called an ambling gait. Usually, it cannot be taught to non-gaited horses.
Ambling gaits can be lateral gaits and diagonal gaits. In lateral gaits, a horse moves its feet on the same side forward one after the other, resulting in a footfall pattern of right rear, right front left rear, and left front.
In diagonal gaits, horses move their feet on opposite sides forward in a sequence, resulting in the pattern: right rear left front, left rear, and right front.
Gaited horses have greater stamina than non-gaited horses because their smooth gait allows them to travel faster and further while expending less energy.
How can you tell if a horse is gaited?
A gaited horse moves its legs on the same side simultaneously, but each foot strikes the ground independently. The feet move diagonally when horses are in a trot.
The footfall pattern of a gaited horse allows it to glide across the terrain as they carry their riders. This is because they don’t fall between foot strikes like standard horses.
Can any horse be gaited?
Not all horses can be gaited. Gaited horses are special horses and most are naturally gaited. Some gaited breeds, like the Tennessee Walking Horse and Icelandic Pony, may be trained to enhance their gait or bring out what is already in their genes.
It’s unlikely all horse breeds could be trained to travel in a gaited pattern.
Meet Miles Henry
An avid equestrian and seasoned racehorse owner, Miles Henry brings his extensive experience to the equine world, proudly associating with the AQHA, The Jockey Club, and various other equine organizations. Beyond the racetrack, Miles is an accomplished author, having published various books about horses, and is a recognized authority in the field, with his work cited in multiple publications.
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