There are many different ways to ride a horse, and both pacing and foot placement play a large role in overall presentation. Each movement is calculated and precise, down to the individual beats of the horse’s hooves. These first four gaits are the four most common gaits that horses are ridden in.
Walk – Walking simply means that the horse walks as it normally would. It’s classified as a “four-beat gait,” as there are four, distinct beats produced from the horse’s hooves. The rider can make their horse walk by applying gentle pressure from their legs.
Trot – Trotting is a fast type of walk, characterized by the horse’s diagonally symmetrical movements, and is otherwise known as a “two-beat gait.” During this higher speed pace, the horse is prompted to pick up a front leg and a back leg simultaneously, while keeping the other two on the ground. For example, if a horse were to pick up its front left leg, it would also pick up its back right leg. Conversely, if it were to pick up its front right leg, it would then also pick up its back left leg. In this way, the movements of its legs are paired together in a crosswise manner, producing a steady rhythm for both the horse and the rider.
To spur the horse to move in this way, the rider simply squeezes the horse with his or her legs, harder than when telling the horse to walk. Sometimes, a gentle nudge or kick is required.
Canter– Cantering is one of the speedier ways of moving for a horse. Faster than a trot and yet slower than a gallop, it’s known as a “three-beat gait.” This is because three of the horse’s four hooves are on the ground at any given time.
A left-lead canter simply means the cues for the horse are being given from the left side of the rider. In order to command a horse to left-lead canter, there needs to be a firm grip on the outside right reins, and the rider needs to intermittently apply pressure to the inside left reins. While doing this, he or she must also apply pressure with the left leg. The same steps are applied for a right-lead canter, except the right side is the one that delivers the cues.
Gallop – Galloping is the absolute fastest a horse can travel, and it’s a “four-beat gait,” as each of the horse’s four hooves are on the ground within a millisecond of each other. This gait is not often used by riders, as it can be incredibly dangerous. A rider can command a horse to gallop by following the same steps he or she uses to induce a canter, and then use additional cues to increase the speed. These are often specific to the rider, but can include more leg pressure, clucking or kissing noises, or hand movements.