Hoofloose: Footfalls Explained

Janelle Casey

Hoofloose: Footfalls Explained

At each gait, a horse will move its feet in a particular pattern. We call that pattern their footfall. When we understand the way a horse moves, we can better time our aids and increase their effectiveness. More effective aids mean better and quicker responses from the horse.

The Walk – 4 beat gait 

A horse at the walk will move the left hind leg, left front leg, right hind leg, right front leg, in a regular 1-2-3-4 beat. At any given time in the walk, the horse will have 2 or 3 hooves on the ground.

2     4

1     3

The Trot/Jog – 2 beat gait

Do you remember learning to post the trot? Putting your hands on the pommel of the saddle and lifting yourself slowly from the seat to a rise, then lowering yourself gently back down to complete one post. Studying intently the one-two motion. Saying it out loud. Up-down, Up-down. One-Two. Over and over and over. 

Posting works in your horse’s trot rhythm because of their footfall pattern. The diagonal pair footfall of a horse at the trot allows us to divide the gait into two beats, the up and the down. Recognize the word diagonal? We refer to matching the rise of your posting to the forward extension of the outside leg of your horse as being on the correct diagonal. This is because you are moving in sync with a particular diagonal pair of your horses’ legs! At the trot, there is a moment of suspension, when all of the hooves are off of the ground.

When your horse backs up, they also move their legs in diagonal pairs. 

1     2

2     1

The Canter/Lope – 3 beat gait 

Your horse will always depart from the hind hoof opposite of the canter lead (Right lead will start with left hind, left lead will start with right hind). Next, the diagonal pair will move together. Lastly, the leading fore leg will hit the ground, reaching further out in front of the horse than the diagonal pair did (making it the leading leg, hence, the lead). Like the trot, there is a point of suspension in the canter.

L              R

3   2        2   3

2   1        1   2 

The Gallop – 4 beat gait

While we don’t spend much time at the gallop in lessons, it is still worth noting that the footfall pattern changes again when your horse reaches full speed. Jockeys regularly gallop their racehorses, but high level eventers can reach this gait in conditioning and competition as well. 

1      2

3      4

See it in Action

Here’s a video of the walk, trot and canter in slow motion.

Here’s a video of the 4 beat gallop in slow motion.