Dressage Question

Is the four-beat gait the suppling, strength-building, and rhythm creating gait to the gaited horse as trot is to the trotting horse?”  

The trot is a diagonal gait and the majority of four beat gaits are considered lateral. It is to be assumed that the lateral and diagonal gaits require the use of different muscle groups. Although I do not have extensive study in biomechanics and anatomy, I do believe I have read that the previous statement to be correct.

The question then becomes – can suppleness, rhythm and strength building be created from a four beat gait?

The walk is four beat gait considered by many to be the foundation for all movement. The walk is common to all horses. The quality of the walk may vary, but the basic elements of the walk are present. Suppleness and rhythm can be developed at any gait including the walk, the trot and the canter.

Riders of gaited horses may spend more time developing suppleness and rhythm at the walk than non gaited horses; however if the work is done correctly, suppleness and rhythm are the result. At any gait, the rider should be aware of the basic elements required in the exercise in order to determine if the outcome of the exercise is achieved. This is as true for the gaited horse rider as it is for the walk/trot rider. The rider must recognize the elements required to achieve rhythm and achieve suppleness while working on these elements in order to achieve the desired outcome.

Rhythm is defined as the sequence of footfalls and phases of a given gait. If the desired result is rhythm, rhythm can be developed at the walk if the rider is aware of the elements that make up the walk as well as the consistency of the rhythm. As the horse progresses or develops, the speed of the walk can be increased and the length of stride at the walk can be lengthened. This can be done while maintaining rhythm at the walk.

Suppleness means pliable and flexible. The degree of suppleness possible is different for each horse and is determined by the length of the tendons, ligaments and muscles, and the configuration of the joint faces. If the desired result is suppleness, suppleness can be developed at the walk and progress to work at the intermediate four beat gait and canter. Again I would emphasize that the correctness of the movement is as important as the gait at which it is performed. As the horse progresses in training, increased suppleness will result in greater balance and better gait.

Once the goals regarding rhythm and suppleness have been achieved at the walk, the rider will begin to develop both rhythm and suppleness at the four beat gait that is distinctive to the breed. It must be recognized that each gaited breed has a distinct intermediate or middle gait. This is an extension of the work done at the walk with the same goal – consistency of rhythm and increased suppleness expected at the level of training of the individual horse.

I have left addressing strength building until the end. I am not certain what is meant by strength building, but I assume it involves development of the musculature and stamina of the horse. From the question, I assume (perhaps incorrectly) that some believe strength building is best achieved at the trot or a diagonal gait. I would suggest that strength building can be developed at the four beat gaits. Consistency and stamina are elements of strength as is the ability to develop increased power from the hind quarters. As the horse develops, consistency should also develop if the rider is aware of the importance of consistency and rhythm at any gait. Stamina results from increasing interval training at any gait. As the interval of time increases at which a horse can maintain gait, balance and of course rhythm, so does the stamina of the horse. This can be done at the walk or at the unique four beat gait of the gaited breed. It can also be done at the canter or lope, another gait that is common to all horses no matter the breed. It should not be overlooked that correct transitions from one gait to another gait are also important factors in building strength.

When responding to questions, it is important to understand what is meant by the terms used. Often people use terms and assume they mean the same thing to all people, but in reality a term may mean something different to each person.