The Tennessee Walking horse’s gaits were developed for smoothness and surefootedness for long hours working on a farm or trail riding. The Walking horse has three signature gaits: the flat foot walk, the running walk and the canter. While many Walking horses can perform the rack, fox-trot, single-foot and other variations of gaits, the flat walk, running walk and rocking chair canter are what make the breed famous and give to it its name.Flat Walk: The flat foot walk is a brisk, long-reaching walk that can cover from 3 to 6 miles an hour. This is a four cornered gait with each of the horse’s feet lifting up and hitting the ground separately at regular intervals. The horse will glide over the track left by the front foot with his hind foot (right rear over right front, left rear over left front). The action of the back foot slipping over the front track is known as over-stride. The resulting pushing motion with those deep stepping hind legs results in a gentle counterbalanced head nod, often called a head shake, which nods down as each hind hoof plants and pushes off. The horse should be relaxed and alert, with the hind legs sweeping forward more than upward in its stride, while the front legs often lift higher. This gait can be maintained for long periods of time, and is the foundation for all other walking horse gaits.Running Walk: The running walk is the gait which gives the walking horse its name. This extra-smooth gliding gait is similar to the flat walk, with a marked increase in length of stride and often a corresponding lift through the horse’s shoulders and withers as it carries more weight in its long stepping “walking” hind legs while the front end begins to lift in a steady even ‘running’ motion. This breed can travel 5 to 14 miles per hour at this gait. As the velocity of the gait is increased, the horse will increase overstride, often overstepping its front track by 6 inches to 5 feet. The head shake becomes more pronounced in a good running walk, but remains timed with the landing of the hind feet, becoming a deeper nod due to the increased push of the hind feet. The quality of a running walk is determined by the horse’s ability to lengthen stride instead of just speeding up its motion, resulting in a smooth powerful gait that can be maintained for five to fifteen minutes in a well conditioned horse.Since their gaits are easy for them to perform, Walking Horses relax certain muscles while doing the running-walk; some nod their heads in rhythmic timing, swing their ears in perfect motion, and some even snap their teeth or flap their lips. The running walk is a smooth, powerful gait for both horse and rider. There should be a noticeable difference in the rate of speed between the flat walk and the running walk, but a good running walk should never allow proper form to be sacrificed for excessive speed, and there should always be clear separation in the horse’s foot rise and foot fall for each hoof. Show Running Walk: In the upper levels show competition, focused training has increased and lengthened the stride of the walking horse’s running walk into an extended running walk with some signature differences in style. A standard running walk always has at least two hooves on the ground at the same time, providing stability and surefootedness that is ideal in a working walking horse. The show running walk can often result in what is known as a 3-2-1 foot pattern, which means that for a split moment, the show walking horse in a running walk will have only one foot bearing weight, with the other three feet in motion. The horse maintains overstride and head shake during this showy, powerful gait, and keeps a clean separation of feet during departure and landing of each hoof.Rocking Chair Canter: The third signature gait is the rocking chair canter, which is a highly collected and balanced three beat canter with cadence and lift. The canter is performed in much the same way as other breeds, but the walking horse should be able to balance and lift its front end, driving forward from behind to create the visual picture of a horse that is as smooth and balanced as the rocking chair that gives this gait its name. The rocking chair canter is often a slower movement of legs combined with enough power and drive from behind to cover ground efficiently and smoothly, carrying the rider in an easy rolling motion with a lot of spring and rhythm. Like any good canter, the horse should begin this gait with its outside hind leg, followed by simultaneous steps of the inside hind and outside front leg, and finishing with its inside front leg. This gives the horse two directions, or leads, to perform when cantering. Alternative Gaits for Walking HorsesThe Rack: The rack is a even four beat gait that is exceedingly smooth and easy for rider and horse. Performed correctly, the horse should travel balanced, without being hollow or tight in its back, in a steady motion that brings each foot off the ground separately and lands each foot separately as well. Because horses in this gait usually drive forward equally from front and hind legs, and because the horse carries its weight evenly between front and back legs, there is usually limited push or overstride from the hind feet, and consequently little or no head shake. The rack may be divided up into three speeds: the slow rack, the show rack, and the speed rack.
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World Walking Horse Association
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Medina, OH 44258
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