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Gaits of the Heritage Walking Horse

The IHWHA is focusing on natural gaited horses barefooted or with keg shoe only. In the past decades, too much focus was on stride and animation causing function to be overlooked by speed and animation. The signature gaits of the Heritage Walking Horse are flat-foot walk, also called flat walk, running walk, and canter. The walk and gallop are inherited by all horses.  Heritage Walking Horses may also inherit the ability to other gaits like foxtrot, trot, rack, stepping pace and pace. These gait standards are based on the documented speed, gait, style, and performance characteristics of the ancestors of the Heritage Walking Horses.  We thank Allanna Jackson for her support in describing the various gaits. 

Flat Walk

The flat walk is the same gait as the walk that is universal to all horses when we look at the footfall. The walk is an evenly timed four beat gait in which the horse keeps two or three hooves flat on the ground at all times. The stride is balanced with the hock action the same height as the knee action. A leisurely flat walk of less than 3 mph may be referred to as an ordinary walk, among other terms, and is useful for many purposes. The flat walk is purposeful, brisk, yet relaxed, at a speed of 3 miles per hour to 5 miles per hour. It is desirable and practical to use the full range of speeds of the flat-foot walk, from a slow ordinary walk to a brisk flat walk, when training and using a Walking Horse. The Heritage Walking Horse nods its head “yes” from the shoulders when walking. At the flat walk a Heritage Walking Horse may overstride, which is setting the hind hooves down on top of or in front of the hoof prints left by the front hooves. Overstride does not define the flat-walk. The overstride may be only a few inches and should not exceed 14 inches at the flat walk. Too much overstride is a sign that the horse is ambling or pacing. There is no swinging, swaying, hopping, bobbing, or bouncing in the flat-foot walk.

Running walk
The Heritage running walk is a smooth, gliding, extended walk that retains all the characteristics of the flat-foot walk with a speed range of 5 mph to 8 mph depending on the height and conformation of the horse. The flat-foot walk is the foundation of the running walk. It is a square 4 beat gait with the timing of the 4 beats as precise as a metronome. The hock action is the same height as the knee action. The gait and stride are balanced. At the running walk the horse keeps two or three hooves in contact with the ground at all times. At the phases of the stride when only two hooves are on the ground it is always one front hoof and one hind hoof. The increased stride length and speed of the running walk results in overstride of a few inches up to a maximum of 24 inches. The length of overstride is proportional to the horse’s size, conformation, and total stride length. Overstride does not define the Heritage Running walk. Too much overstride is part of the evidence that the horse is ambling, pacing, or racking. The head nod of the Heritage Running walk is an up and down “yes” nod from the shoulder. The head nod is an integrated and co-ordinated part of the horse’s stride. There is no swinging, swaying, hopping, bobbing, or bouncing in the Heritage Running walk. A swinging head nod or a circular head motion indicates the horse is doing an amble, stepping pace, or rack. Popping the head or throwing the head in ways that are out of sync with the horse’s stride are faults. Dragging the hind toes, crawling on the back end, throwing the front feet, and dropping the front feet are faults. Front stride action that is markedly different from the rear stride action of the same horse is a fault and a sign that the horse has probably been subjected to inappropriate training methods or shoeing and equipment that is incompatible with using the horse in real world working conditions.

The canter of the Heritage Walking Horse is a relaxed, comfortable, rolling, moderate speed 3-beat, four count gait. The canter stride starts on the non-leading hind leg as beat 1. The diagonal pair of the leading hind leg and non-leading foreleg move forward and are set down together as beat 2. The set down of the leading foreleg is beat 3. The 4th count of the canter stride is the suspension phase or flight interval when the horse has all 4 hooves in the air after lifting the leading foreleg and before landing on the non-leading hind leg. Flying lead changes occur during this flight interval of the canter stride. The horse’s head and neck move with the forehand. Loss of the flight interval at the canter is a fault and may be evidence of pacyness, inappropriate training, inappropriate shoeing or equipment, or physical unsoundness of the horse. Because Heritage Walking Horses are not bred to pace or swing, a Heritage Horse learns the canter readily.

Additional gaits
​Some Heritage Horses are multi-gaited and can also perform other four beat saddle gaits, like the rack, foxtrot, or saddle rack. These gaits come in
addition to the flat walk and running walk.


The beat is an even 1-2-3-4. however, in the rack the horse is supported first by two, then by one hoof at a time. In a rack, the lateral hooves lift at the same time and set down separately. The horse jumps forward between his transverse pairs of legs (both front, both hind) so that there is a moment when all his weight is supported by first one hind hoof, then by one front hoof. This gait is also known as tölt in Icelandic horses.

There is no head nod in this gait, and the shoulders and hindquarters are very active. There is some overstep in this gait, but not as much as in the running walk. The horse can travel at significantly higher speed than the running walk.

How it looks

Videos with examples of the gaits IHWHA is looking for might say more than written words. We set up a YouTube playlist with several certified Heritage Horses for you to see the various gaits of the Heritage Walking Horse.


In motion