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Walking, Trotting and Cantering

By: Joanne Walker BA (hons) - Updated: 1 Nov 2010 | comments*Discuss
Gait Trot Canter Walk Horse Rider Move

Walking, trotting and cantering are three different gaits. The word gait refers to a movement of the horse, usually one which occurs naturally, which the rider can control. But different gaits are not just about the speed the horse is moving at. In different gaits, the horse’s legs will work differently. Sometimes they will work in diagonal pairs and sometimes the opposite pairs of legs will work together. Of course, the gaits are also about speed, with walk being the slowest, followed by trot and then canter. A beginner will always learn them in this order and will master each one before moving one to the next.


As you would imagine, walking is the slowest, most relaxed gait there is. The horse will be moving at a similar speed to human walking speed although he will be able to build up to walking faster, when the rider is ready. A beginner will always start with a walk and may not move on from this at all in the first lesson. It is important to practise walking when you first learn to ride because it is the basis for everything else, and, you will learn how to perfect the correct seat and hold the reins, not to mention control the horse, while walking.


The trot is the next speed up from the walk. It is also what is known as a two beat gait because there are two steps – or two beats of the horse’s feet hitting the ground – in every stride. In the trot, the diagonally opposite legs work together. When the horse is changing between the pairs of legs going forward, there will be two instances every stride where he is completely off the ground.

The trot is really the most stable gait and one which the horse will use the most often. In fact, the trot is used in dressage events for this exact reason, because it is well balanced and looks elegant.

There are also different types of trot and these are usually told apart by the differing length of stride. The longer the stride, the more laboured the trot for the horse and the shorter it is, the more relaxed the horse is.

The rider usually rides in what is called a posting trot – where they rise up out of their seat for one beat each stride. There is less control for the rider when out of the saddle, but this allows the horse’s back muscles to warm up properly. Sitting the whole time is more difficult but does give more control over the horse.


The canter is faster than the trot although slower than the gallop. It is also a three beat gait – with three instances of the horse’s feet hitting the ground per stride. This means there is just one point where the horse is completely off the ground in each stride. The faster the horse moves, the longer this instance becomes.

A canter becomes a gallop by lengthening the stride of the horse until it is a four beat gait- with each leg hitting the floor independently of each other.

Riding a canter is harder and more advanced than riding the trot as it is important for the rider to really feel the beat because it is less balanced.

The competent rider will, eventually, need to master all three gaits. They are all important in different events and disciplines, and, what is more, they form a base for the next skill up. As each gait improves, so does the rider’s ability to improve in all aspects of riding.

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