Gaiting Horse Breeds Known for a Smoother Ride

Iceland, Wild horses with snowy mountains in background
Westend61 / Getty Images

In the horse world, gaited breeds are considered rare, but are a welcome prospect. Of the 350 breeds that make up Equus caballus, 30 breeds are gaited or have a natural footfall pattern outside the usual walk, trot, and canter sequence. "Gaiting" is the term for a horse that single-foots (one foot on the ground at all times), ambles, paces, or does a running walk. Gaited horses have a smoother, easier ride and are favored by people who have back, knee, or joint aches and pains. Many gaited horses use a four-beat movement that looks extravagant and very attractive. Take a closer look at 10 horse breeds that are known for their natural gaiting ability.

Tip

Gaiting is an inherited trait to look out for when considering adopting, rescuing, or buying a horse. Although some horses are born with this ability, some non-gaited horses can be trained to be gaited horses. Other horses, like mixed-breed graded horses, mules, or ponies have genetic material passed down from gaited horses in their bloodline and may gait naturally.

  • 01 of 10

    Icelandic Horse

    Icelandic Horse doing Tolt

    Tim Graham / Getty Images

    Icelandic horses are a smaller horse breed that are sure-footed, long-lived, and resistant to cold and harsh conditions. The Icelandic word "tolt" is used to describe its single-footed pace in addition to walking, trotting, and cantering. This gait is comfortable for the rider and can carry a full-grown person quite briskly over rough terrain.

    Icelandic horses are commonly used for pleasure riding, harness races, and horse shows. The breed is about 400 years old. Its lineage goes back to early Icelandic settlers from Scotland and the other British Isles who brought Shetland and Welsh ponies with them. Icelandics are considered one of the purest breeds in the world. According to Icelandic law, once an Icelandic horse leaves the country, it cannot return. Also, other horse imports to Iceland are banned. These laws are helpful in preventing the introduction of horse diseases from other parts of the world and for keeping their bloodlines pure.

    Breed Overview

    Height: From 13 hands (52 inches) to 14 hands (56 inches)

    Weight: Between 730 and 840 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Squat-legged; deep-chested; muscular, sloping shoulders; long back; and long, shaggy fur

  • 02 of 10

    American Saddlebred

    An American Saddlebred horse.

    Kit Houghton / Getty Images

    The American saddlebred is one of the most popular gaited breeds often used in parades. It is prized for its smooth gait and flashiness. They may be three-gaited or have five distinct gaits including a slow gait and a rack. Racking is a quickened lateral gait that has a four-beat movement with equal intervals between each beat.

    Around the American Revolutionary time period, horse breeders developed these smooth-gaited horses to make them suitable for driving and riding. Saddlebreds were developed with a mixture of thoroughbreds, the now-extinct Narragansett pacer, Canadian pacers, Morgans, and Hackney horses.

    Breed Overview

    Height: From 15 hands (60 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)

    Weight: Between 1,000 and 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Lean and elegant, well-set neck; and high tail carriage

  • 03 of 10

    Paso Fino

    Two Paso Fino Horses in the snow.

    Luc Novovitch / Getty Images

    In Spanish, the words "paso fino" mean "delicate passage" and describe this breed's gait. The paso fino was developed in Colombia, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and other Spanish-speaking Caribbean countries. They are small, sturdy, and their physical appearance harkens back to their Andalusian forbearers. These small, agile horses were developed to carry riders over the rugged terrain of their island and coastal homes.

    Breed Overview

    Height: From 13 hands (52 inches) to 15.2 hands (62 inches)

    Weight: Between 700 and 1,000 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Small, convex head; strong, sleek legs with small hooves; relatively short back and prominent withers

  • 04 of 10

    Peruvian Paso

    Male Peruvian Paso Horse tied to a tree on a big garden in Mamacona, 32 kilometers south of the city of Lima.
    ManuelGonzalezOlaecheaFranco / Getty Images

    The Peruvian paso or Peruvian horse has been declared a cultural heritage breed by the National Institute of Culture of Peru. Peru’s national horse has many fans for its elegant carriage and smooth gaits. It is famous for its two special gaits: the "paso llano," a slower speed gait, and the "sobreandando,” a faster tempo gait. What sets it apart from the paso fino is its show gait has a lengthier stride, which is so essential in Peru for enduring travel over long distances.

    Breed Overview

    Height: From 14.1 hands (56 inches) to 15.2 hands (61 inches)

    Weight: Between 900 and 1,100 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Deep chest with a muscular neck and body; short to medium-length back; low-set tail clamped between buttocks

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    American Standardbred

    Standardbred racing horses on track.

    Barrett & MacKay / Getty Images

    The American standardbred is a track star in harness races. They make great riding horses, too. They are bred to have two distinct, two-beat gaits: pacing and trotting. Standardbred pacers and trotters compete in separate races, not against each other. Pacers tend to race faster than their trotting relatives. Trotting is a single-foot walk or running walk. Pacers have a single-foot amble or "pace." There is a difference between temperaments, too. Pacers are often considered more easygoing than trotters. Trotters tend to behave more like spirited thoroughbreds. These horses are descended from a mixture of English thoroughbred, the now-extinct Narragansett pacer, the Morgan, and Hackney.

    Breed Overview

    Height: From 14 hands (56 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)

    Weight: Between 900 and 1,300 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Delicate, almost thoroughbred-type heads; longish ears; long legs with muscles that are flat and strong; deep chest

  • 06 of 10

    Tennessee Walking Horse

    Tennessee Walking Horse
    Ryan Courson Photography / Getty Images

    The smooth gait of the Tennessee walking horse makes it one of North America’s most popular breeds. The Tennessee walker was developed to give riders a more gentle ride as they tended to acres of farmland. It is known for its unique four-beat running walk and flashy movement. You can often find it in the show ring. The calm disposition of the Tennessee walking horse makes it a suitable horse for pleasure riding and trail riding.

    Breed Overview

    Height: From 14.3 hands (59 inches) to 17 hands (68 inches)

    Weight: Between 900 and 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Tall with a long neck and well-defined head with small, well-placed ears; long, sloping shoulders and hips; strong-muscled hindquarters; and short back

  • 07 of 10

    Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse

    beautiful kentucky mountain saddle horse running in nature
    Carmelka / Getty Images

    The Kentucky mountain saddle horse is somewhat smaller than some of the other North American gaited breeds. Even though they are called a saddle horse, they are equally comfortable in a harness. Sure-footed and quiet-tempered, their origins are somewhat similar to the Tennessee walking horse and American saddlebred.​ Its natural four-beat gait is called an amble or rack. One hoof is always in contact with the ground, lending the horse reliable stability. The rider sits almost motionless while the horse travels at a fast canter.

    Breed Overview

    Height: From 13.1 hands (53 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

    Weight: Between 950 and 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Mid-sized, well-muscled, and compact; flat facial profile: well-arched neck; deep chest; and well-sloped shoulders

  • 08 of 10

    Marwari Horse

    A traditional Indian Mawari mare and her foal with unique pointy ears.

    Max Paddler / Getty Images

    The Marwari horse hails from the Marwar or Jodhpur region of northwestern India. It is rare to see this horse breed in North America. It has a natural, ambling gait, similar to a pace. Its gait is called a "revaal," "aphcal," or "rehwal." This leggy, elegant breed has distinctive inward-turning ear tips. It had been used throughout history as a cavalry horse and was noted for its loyalty and bravery in battle. Considered natural performers, they are particularly suited to competitive dressage and exhibitions. Marwari horses are also used to play polo, sometimes playing against thoroughbreds.

    Breed Overview

    Height: From 14 hands (56 inches) to 16 hands (64 inches)

    Weight: Between 750 and 1,000 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Unique sickle-shaped ears; arched neck that is carried high; deep chest; muscular, broad, and angular shoulders with a long back; slender legs with small, well-formed hooves

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Morgan

    morgan horse

    dcdebs / Getty Images 

    Morgans are commonly regarded as a non-gaited horse breed, but many will gait naturally and can do a four-beat saddle rack, running walk, and rack. A review of the genetic makeup of gaited Morgans shows a mixture of saddlebred, standardbred, and thoroughbred in its DNA. In fact, scientists have isolated the gaiting trait in DNA tests and have found that 17 percent of all Morgans have the gaiting genetic trait.

    Breed Overview

    Height: Between 14.2 hands (57 inches) and 15.2 hands (61 inches)

    Weight: 900 to 1,100 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Smooth lines; small ears; expressive eyes; and a nicely crested neck

  • 10 of 10

    Appaloosa

    Appaloosas in Pasture

    Marilyn Angel Wynn / Getty Images

    Another non-gaited horse, the Appaloosa, can often gait naturally. A gaited Appaloosa does a lateral gait, which is when the legs on the same side of the horse move together. It is often referred to as the Appaloosa shuffle or the Indian shuffle. This four-beat gait resembles the pace, although it is smoother. It looks a lot like the running walk that is performed by the Tennessee walker.

    Breed Overview

    Height: Between 14.2 hands (57 inches) and 15 hands (60 inches)

    Weight: 950 to 1,200 pounds

    Physical Characteristics: Colorful coat patterns; mottled skin; white sclera; and striped hooves