Horses For Dummies
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Gaited horses are those breeds possessing one or more additional gaits in addition to or instead of the usual walk, trot, and gallop found in so-called nongaited horses. These unusual gaits were developed in these breeds by humans to make long-distance riding more comfortable. Equestrians who love gaited horses claim these horses are the most enjoyable mounts to ride.

Three-gaited breeds are among the most popular horses in the United States: the Tennessee Walking Horse and the American Saddlebred. Other, lesser-known gaited breeds are found in the United States, each with its own fascinating history and characteristics. Although the breeds highlighted in the following sections aren’t as common as the ones that made it to the top ten, they are nonetheless available in many parts of the country.

Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic Horse is a small but sturdy creature with its roots in Viking history. The breed developed in complete isolation for more than 1,000 years and is believed to be the horse the Vikings used in their mounted exploits.

The Icelandic Horse is known for having either four or five gaits. In addition to the walk, trot, and gallop, all Icelandic Horses possess a gait called the tolt, which is similar to the Tennessee Walker’s running walk. Some Icelandics also have a gait called the flying pace, where the legs on each side of the horse move in unison.

The Icelandic looks somewhat like a pony and measures only 12.3 to 14 hands in height. However, despite its small size, the Icelandic is considered a horse breed and not a pony breed. Full-grown men can easily ride this rugged little animal. These horses are ridden for pleasure and are good in the show ring.

Missouri Fox Trotter

The Missouri Fox Trotter was created by Missouri cattlemen in the 1800s to carry riders across long distances of rough terrain and to work cattle. Because the Missouri Fox Trotter was intended to be ridden for long periods of time, a comfortable gaited aspect was bred into this willing horse. As a result, the Missouri Fox Trotter has a special trot exemplified by a four-beat gait instead of the usual two beats found in a typical trot.

Missouri Fox Trotters are handsome horses, measuring between 14 and 16 hands. They have easygoing personalities and generally are considered a good horse for beginners to ride and to show.

National Show Horse

The National Show Horse is a relatively new breed created in the 1980s by crossing Arabians to American Saddlebreds. The resulting horse turned out to be a flashy and refined animal perfect for the show ring.

As a result of its Saddlebred heritage, the National Show Horse is trained in two other gaits besides the walk, trot, and gallop. National Show Horses are capable of performing the slow gait and the rack, both four-beat gaits that are comfortable to ride.

National Show Horses are on the taller side, standing 15 to 16 hands in height. They come in a variety of horse colors, and tend to be spirited. Their primary use is in the show ring (hence the name), where they can show off their high-stepping gaits.

Paso Fino

You most often see the Paso Fino breed in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Colombia, although it has quite a few fans in the United States, too. Paso Finos originally were created by crossing Spanish Andalusians with the now extinct Spanish Jennets a couple of centuries ago.

The Paso Fino gaits include the paso fino, paso corto, and the paso largo. Each gait varies in speed and is a four-beat lateral gait (each foot hits the ground separately, and the legs on each side move in unison) that is extremely comfortable to ride, and covers considerable ground. Some Paso Finos can also canter.

Paso Finos typically measure around 14 to 15 hands in height and have a pleasing and distinctive conformation. Paso Finos possess a personality trait known as brio, which means controlled spirit. Horses with brio are full of energy but are completely under the rider’s control. Superb on the trail, Paso Finos also are shown extensively in their special gaits.


Peruvians (once called Peruvian Pasos) have found a devoted following in the United States. Developed in Peru in the 1800s to carry landowners across vast areas of the country, the breed contains the blood of Spanish Andalusians, Arabians, and Thoroughbreds.

Peruvian Photo by: Audrey Pavia

Peruvians possess three gaits: the paso llano, the sobreandando, and the huachano. Each of these gaits is a four-beat lateral gait and is designed to be comfortable while covering considerable ground. Peruvian horses that are in top condition can maintain these gaits for hours on end.

Peruvians are on the small to medium side, measuring 14.1 to 15.1 hands in height. They have well-muscled necks and long, thick manes and tails. They make excellent trail horses, and are shown under saddle in their natural gaits. You can see a Peruvian horse in the color section.

Racking Horse

The Racking Horse is not as easy to define as most other breeds of horses. Racking Horses shared a history with the Tennessee Walking Horse until 1971, when a group of Alabama horsemen broke off from the Tennessee Walking Horse breed for political and economic reasons, and started a registry for what they dubbed the Racking Horse. A few years later, in 1975, the House and Senate of the Alabama Legislature named the Racking Horse the official state horse of Alabama.

Racking horse Photo by: Sandra Hall

What makes the Racking Horse so special is that it is a gaited breed, able to perform a four-beat racking gait, in addition to a walk and a canter.

Racking Horses have graceful builds, with long, sloping necks. Their legs are smooth and their hair finely textured. The typical Racking Horse averages around 15.2 hands, and comes in a number of colors including sorrel, chestnut, black, roan, white, bay, brown, gray, yellow, dun, and palomino. You may also see a pinto coloration, known within the breed as spotted. These horses are willing to work and eager to please their handlers.

Riders exhibit Racking Horses in saddle-seat and driving classes that are meant to show off their racking gait, but they also show less flashy individuals in more traditional pleasure classes. Racking horses make good trail horses and are popular for simple pleasure riding.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Connie Isbell is a former editor and writer atAudobon magazine, as well as the editor of numerous pet books. Audrey Pavia is the author of many books on pets and animals, including the bestselling Horses For Dummies and The Rabbit: An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet. She has been a frequent contributor to numerous pet publications, editor-in -chief of Horse Illustrated, and senior editor of The AKC Gazette.

Audrey Pavia is the former editor of Horse Illustrated magazine and an award-winning writer of numerous articles on equine subjects. The author of seven books about horses, she has also contributed to Thoroughbred Times, Horse & Rider, and many other animal magazines.

Janice Posnikoff, DVM, is a highly respected equine veterinarian with over 20 years experience. She is a graduate of the Western College of Veterinarian Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

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