Gaited horses, from the Paso Fino to the Icelandic, and the Saddlebred to the Tennessee Walking Horse, provide equestrians with a smooth ride and an outstanding partner. Riders enjoy carrying a glass of water on a gaited horse without spilling, showcasing the easy glide of a gait. The smooth ride and easygoing temperaments of gaited horses have dramatically increased their popularity.
Gaited horse breeds are popular with equestrians because of their elegant motion and the smooth, comfortable ride they provide. Each of the gaited horse breeds has unique strengths that attract equestrians. Many riders are seeking gaited horses first now, whether they are new to the sport, coming back after a break, or transitioning away from horse breeds with natural gaits.
Paso Fino and Peruvian Paso
The Paso Fino and Peruvian Paso are distinct breeds; both descended from Spanish conquistador ancestors that included Andalusians and Barbs. Paso means step in Spanish, and this is where the name of both gaited horse breeds comes from. The Paso Fino was bred throughout South America and the Caribbean; while the Peruvian Paso was a distinct breed developed in Peru, and not outcrossed.
The Peruvian Paso is the national horse of Peru and a beloved part of the culture because of its friendly and curious nature. Endurance and stamina in the challenging terrain, as well as their smooth, gliding gait, were primary considerations while developing the breed.
Similarly, Paso Finos are a popular mount among trail riders and are beloved for their smooth gait. Much of the breed’s development happened in Colombia and Puerto Rico. Paso Fino means “fine step” and the gaits look like an amble and include the classic or Paso fino (standard gait), the Paso Corto, which is equivalent to a trot, and the Paso largo, which is equivalent to a canter.
The Vikings arrived in Iceland between 860 and 935 AD and brought horses with them. Icelandic horse lineage is unknown. Most agree that the Vikings chose small horses because they would fit on the ships. A law was passed in 982 AD stating that no other horses could be brought to Iceland. This law protects the integrity of the breed. Similarly, once an Icelandic horse leaves the country, it cannot return.
Icelandic horses have five gaits, walk, trot, canter, tölt, and flying pace. The tölt combines speed and the smoothness of a gaited horse. It’s a gliding gait, one hoof is always on the ground in this four-beat gait. The hooves move in the same formation as the walk, but with the speed of a gallop. Tölting occurs naturally, foals perform the gait out in the fields. The flying pace is only done for shorter periods of time and averages about 30 mph. Both legs on one side move simultaneously, and again, is a smooth ride. When Icelandic horses race, they are in the flying pace and truly appear like they are flying as all four feet are off the ground at certain intervals.
Tennessee Walking Horse
Tennessee Walking Horses have a unique gait – the running walk – that only they perform. Watching a Tennessee Walking Horse in the running walk makes other horses look like they are standing still. Riding a running walk feels like sitting on a glider. The gaits are fast and smooth, and the horses average a taller height, up to 17 hands, making an even more impressive image. As the name implies, they originated in Tennessee to travel the varying terrains of the central part of the state, and quickly move people among the tobacco and cotton fields of large estates.
Tennessee Walking Horses are popular with many equestrians today, from trail riders to therapeutic riding and lesson programs. They are a versatile breed. Kind and gentle temperaments are a hallmark of the breed.
The American Saddlebred is perhaps the rock star of gaited horse breeds and the first gaited horse most people think of because of the renown they have in the show ring. The breed originated in Kentucky and included the bloodlines of Thoroughbreds, Morgan horses, Hackneys, and others. These horses love the thrill of a horse show class. Their animated and impressive performances showcase their athleticism.
Saddlebreds are trotting horses. They can also be trained to gait and perform a slow gait and rack. Both the rack and slow gait are four-beats. High leg action and a proud, upright head and neck are distinguishing characteristics of the Saddlebred. This conformation allows the knees to lift higher. They are popular in more than just the show ring. Western, hunt seat, driving, and many other disciplines including dressage and endurance have Saddlebred representation.
Other Gaited Horse Breeds
These gaited horse breeds are popular, but they are not the only ones. In fact, there are at least 20 breeds of gaited horses. There are common breeds like the Missouri Fox Trotter, and breeds like the Morgan that have some gaited horses in them. Then, there are the breeds that originated from other gaited horse breeds, including the Walkaloosa, Spotted Saddle Horse, and Racking Horse. Finally, there are obscure breeds we do not hear much about, including the Florida Cracker Horse and Marwari horse. Each of these gaited breeds has distinct features and characteristics that endear it to owners and riders.
Gaited Horse Breeds Today
Gaited horses surged in popularity in the 1950s and 60s and continue delighting riders with their smooth gaits, amiable personalities, and beautiful heads. The sheer number of gaited horse breeds available today is just one indicator of their continuing place in the equestrian world, as riders experience the difference of riding a gaited horse.