Way back in 1878 Eadweard Muybridge disproved the idea that that a horse gallops with its front and hind legs in pairs, stretched out. Or so the story goes. That is the version most tossed around barns, and occasionally makes it into academic circles. In 2012, one of Muybridge’s series was the subject of a Google Doodle, and he briefly re-entered the spotlight. Since then, the version that has become common is that he sought to prove that there was a moment of suspension in the gallop. Stanford University calls this their “first research project,” because Muybridge used Leland Stanford’s racehorses as his models, allegedly to assist Stanford in winning a bet on the topic.
But, wait, let’s talk about this “racehorse” term that gets bandied about. Muybridge’s first “horse in motion” photos were, indeed, of one of Stanford’s “racehorses.”
“In 1876, the experimental photographer Eadweard Muybridge captured on film Leland Stanford’s prized horse, Abe Edgington, at full gallop in an attempt to prove Stanford’s theory of “unsupported transit”, the idea that all four hooves of a horse at speed leave the ground. The plate itself was fuzzy and unsuitable for publication, so it was left to a little-known painter of horses to strengthen the image. Thomas Kirby Van Zandt reproduced the image twice, first as drawing of “crayon and ink wash” dated September 16, 1876, and again as the finished canvas, Abe Edgington (Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University), dated February 1877 (1).” Cooley Gallery, emphasis mine.
Stanford University’s account of the “first research project” concurs that this test was conducted at a gallop, and provides this picture:
There’s one problem. The photo series above, “Sallie Gardner,” was taken in 1878. The original photo series, from 1876, was of Abe Edgington, a Morgan. Abe Edgington did race, but in harness at a trot. Whether or not Stanford had made a bet about the results, the first trial was at a trot, and he supposedly used the results to adjust the training of his harness horses.
Now that’s what I call a road horse! While there was some discussion as to whether or not all four feet left left the ground in the gallop, it was generally accepted that they did; the question was when.
Note: what they call canter, we would consider a collected canter or park canter. Every Horse Owner’s Cyclopedia, 1871, pg 89 Courtesy of the NSLM
But, that question of timing was not Muybridge & Stanford’s original inquest. Stanford, being more owner than rider, may not have been aware of the consensus. Or, just as likely, he was, and that is why his first efforts focused on the trot. He was aware of Prof. Marey‘s work, but commented on his depiction of the walk, not the idea of suspension in the gallop.* It was photos of the trot suspension that were submitted to newspapers as proof, and even by 1881, after Sallie Gardner was photographed at the gallop, the trot continued to receive the greatest amount of column space. Finally, Muybridge’s own Animals in Motion, finished in 1885, made much of the trot suspension, and little of that in the gallop.
No such dispute was mentioned for the gallop. To the contrary, some surprise was expressed at maintaining a slow enough canter (what we might call a lope, though far more upheaded) to remove the moment of suspension.
*See the 1881 article.
This in an update on a prior series from Oct. ’16 on four beat gaits.
This in an update on a prior series from Oct. ’16 on four beat gaits.
First, let’s talk about an anomalous form of the gallop whose existence is still, with todays slow motion video technology, debated. That is the double suspension gallop. In this, there are two moments of suspension, similar to a running greyhound. The hoof-falls would be hind, hind, suspension, opposite fore, fore, suspension. Secretariats immense stride is sometimes credited to his use of this gait. His winning photo from the Belmont Stakes shows him in a strange position, with all feet off the ground but legs outstretched. His outside fore hangs slightly, much like the dog in the photo above. It looks so strange that I, like many, wondered if it was a glitch. Then I realized that foreleg, and the opposite hind, could still be in the process of moving forward. He is on the left lead, with his left (inside) fore about to land. So I looked around to see if this glitch was repeated anywhere.
I looked at some “most obvious suspects.” California Chrome. American Pharoah. Cigar. Zenyatta. All had huge closing strides– and acceleration within the gallop is where the double suspension seems to show– and none of them seem to exhibit this gait. And then I stumbled across this photo finish from the 2011 Melbourne Cup. Red Cadeaux, the chestnut on the inside, is in almost the exact strange position that Secretariat was in at his Belmont finish. The photo IS distorted– the larger version shows one horse with a ridiculously large hock– but the distortion seems greatest the furthest from the finish line. And there are now a handful of interesting non-finish line photos floating around, like this Quarter Horse Mr Premier LV. This photo could be the moment after the phase shown above. The left fore has just touched the ground, but both hinds are already well in the air. The double suspension gallop’s effects on speed and soundness, as well as it’s possible heritability, are all conjecture at this point, as is its very existence. Finding evidence of horses galloping with out fulling weighting the diagonal at the same time is easy. Evidence of a second true suspension is inconclusive. Studies are ongoing.
Now, back to the greyhound. The greyhound tends to employ a rotary gallop, with the hind-fore pair being lateral (usually the outside pair). The second non-standard hoofbeat pattern is what is often called the “gaited canter,” which is a rotary canter. The hoofbeats are hind, lateral pair, fore, which the pair occasionally exhibiting a slight break. It is often seen as just another crosscanter (i.e., disunited, with the fore and hind legs on opposite leads), but the tendency of gaited horses– especially those who exhibit lateral gaits– is strong, and the pairing of the lateral in the canter is not generally seen in other crosscanters. It is not a gait I would encourage, but for these horses it appears to be “natural.” I find that strengthening these horses diagonal gaits, if any, a great deal of working on circles, and is possible introducing haunches-in, helps to develop a standard canter, which is both more comfortable and better for long term soundness.
There is a great deal of discussion among western riders & judges about what a lope should look (and sound) like. The primary split is between those who favor the four beat lope, which became common in the last half century, and those that consider it an abomination. I’m going to complicate that by looking at cases where the canter also becomes four beats, most commonly in dressage and in saddleseat. In all disciplines, the number of beats can be the easiest criteria to look at, but it does not denote quality or lack thereof on its own. A more detailed understanding of the mechanics can benefit both riders and judges, and help us articulate and achieve a variety of goals.
First, let’s take a look at some official definitions:
SHW330.3 The lope is an easy, rhythmical three-beat gait. Horses moving to the left should lope on the left lead. Horses moving to the right should lope on the right lead. Horses traveling at a four-beat gait are not considered to be performing at a proper lope. The horse should lope with a natural stride and appear relaxed and smooth. It should be ridden at a speed that is a natural way of going. The head should be carried at an angle which is natural and suitable to the horse’s conformation at all gaits. (pg. 114)
Canter: Smooth, collected and straight on both leads.
Lope: Smooth, slow, straight and a three beat cadence.
Extended Lope: A lengthening of stride while maintaining a smooth, straight, three beat cadence.
Extended Canter: The extended canter should be ground covering, free moving and smooth. The extended canter should show a definite lengthening of stride, while still being controlled and mannerly. Extreme speed SHALL be penalized.
Hand Gallop: Long, free ground covering stride under control. Not a fast collected canter, but a true lengthening of stride, correct and straight on both leads. Extreme speed penalized. (pg. 943)
Note: number of beats is only specified for lope. Within the chart for “major and minor” faults in the Morgan Western Pleasure division (pg. 951), number of beats is not listed. Thus, it is up to the discretion of the judge whether it should be considered a major or minor fault. The Arabian Western Pleasure division does specify “not performing a three beat lope” as a major fault (pg. 345). The Arabian division, in general, has stricter and more cut & dry rules. The Morgan Park Saddle section uses “proper cadence” as one of its criteria, but never mentions number of beats (pg. 944).
The canter is a three-beat gait where, in canter to the right, for example, the footfall is as follows: left hind, left diagonal (simultaneously left fore and right hind), right fore, followed by a moment of suspension with all four feet in the air before the next stride begins.
The following canters are recognized: Working canter, lengthening of strides, Collected canter, Medium canter and Extended canter.
Working canter. This is a pace between the collected and the medium canter, in which a horse’s training is not yet developed enough and ready for collected movements. The horse shows natural balance while remaining “on the bit”, and goes forward with even, light and active strides and good hock action. The expression “good hock action” underlines the importance of an impulsion originating from the activity of the hindquarters.
Lengthening of strides. In some tests, “lengthening of strides” is required. This is a variation between the working and medium canter in which a horse’s training is not developed enough for medium canter.
Collected canter. The horse, remaining “on the bit”, moves forward with the neck raised and arched. The hocks, being well-engaged, maintain an energetic impulsion, enabling the shoulders to move with greater mobility thus demonstrating self carriage and an uphill tendency. The horse’s strides are shorter than in the other canters, without losing elasticity and cadence.
Medium canter. This is a pace between the working and the extended canter. Without hurrying, the horse goes forward with clearly lengthened strides and impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to carry the head a little more in front of the vertical than in the collected and working canter, and at the same time allows the horse, to lower the head and neck slightly. The strides should be balanced and unconstrained.
Extended canter. The horse covers as much ground as possible. Without hurrying, the strides are lengthened to the utmost. The horse remains calm, light and straight as a result of great impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to lengthen the frame with a controlled poll and to gain ground. The whole movement should be well-balanced and the transition to collected canter should be smoothly executed by taking more weight on the hindquarters.
In all of these very different competitions, a four-beat canter or lope is considered a flaw. So what is the difference between them? Are good canters and lopes always three-beat? Problematically, no.
The most visible, and visibly problematic, of the four-beat canters and lopes are in Western divisions, especially among stock horse breeds. AQHA specified four-beat lopes as a flaw after USEF did, and there is still some disagreement among judges in all breeds about if it is a flaw and how severe a flaw it is. There are related discussions on headcarriage, as often an extreme four-beat lope also has a very down hill appearance, with the horse leaning on the forehand and the head carried below the chest. This sort of movement that is very recognizable, and while it does cause the horse to cover a minimum of ground (i.e., go slow), it is clearly detrimental to the horse. I won’t show examples here, but if you search youtube for “western pleasure” you will find a range of examples. While seeing the break of the footfalls can sometimes be difficult without slow-motion, horses that move in this way have a noticeable hitch in their stride as they move forward using their backs and forelegs rather than their hips and hindlegs.
The second place where this type of gait is very noticeable and not uncommon is in saddleseat. It is not, however, talked about as a number of beats issue. It is most often talked about as a shoeing issue, as the heavy shoes and action devices can often cause the same hitching four-beat gait as western pleasure riders can achieve by backing the horse out of the bridle. In saddleseat, this gait is hugely animated, and when achieved more by equipment than by training and conditioning it can appear very strange and un-horselike. This is, of course, exemplified most by the “big lick” walking horses, but can be seen in varying degrees anywhere a collected, animated canter is desire: park classes, most other saddleseat classes, and yes, even in dressage.
But wait, didn’t I say that a four-beat canter or lope isn’t always bad? I did. The reason lopes often devolve into four-beat eyesores is because we humans, as rider, trainers, and judges, get stuck on the idea of “slow.” We forget that the lope is actually a type of collection, and requires building up the horse’s strength, stamina, and coordination. The reason saddleseat and even dressage fall prone to a similar four-beat gait, with the horse laboring more from its front end than its hind, is the same. It is a lack of conditioning. That lack can be temporary, a moment in the horse’s progression, or it can become chronic if we are not aware of the issue. The problem, however, is not actually in the number of beats.
These are all cases of four-beat canters that are ‘correct;’ meaning, they maintain the soundness of the horse and its balance to be able to move into a different gait or maneuver. They tend to go to four beats due the the degree of collection, with the hind of the diagonal pair landing before the fore, but the pair leaving the ground together. Now go back and look at those youtube videos. Look closely at the ones you didn’t like. Play with the pause button. Are any of those broken looking lopes three-beat? I’d bet a few of them are. Because of the focus on the number of beats, that issue is often fixed without addressing the underlying cause. Just as shoes aren’t necessarily the issue in saddleseat (plenty of keg-shod horses also move in a disunited fashion), not all three-beat lopes are good and not all four-beat lopes are bad: it is a question of carriage, not beats. The canter, or even the lope, moves fast. So we have to learn to see fast, or take advantage of the technology we have that lets us see it more slowly, in more detail, and play it over and over again. We need to look at the quality of the movement, rather than the quantifiable numbers of how they move. No matter the discipline, we need to look at the whole picture.
I should also footnote this post with two other cases of (non-gaiting) fourbeat, being the true gallop (which is by definition four beats) and the breakor jump, the little-discussed transition ‘gait’ see in racehorses, barrelhorses, ropers, and others who accelerate suddenly.
This article says that “if you look up the word canter, it means to maintain a canted position.” While this is true, this is not the origins of the word “canter” for the three beat ‘running’ gait of the horse. If you’ve taken any Romance languages, you might have wondered why trot and gallop tend to be cognates, but canter doesn’t translate well. In French, it is a ‘petit galop,’ or little gallop. In Spanish, it is ‘medio galope,’ or mediumgallop (which may say a little about the relative riding styles). German does havea cognate for canter, being ‘kanter,’ which at first may seem to be because German does not stem from Latin, but it is simply taken from English. Germany’s domination of Equestrian sport came fairly late, and so much of the equestrian vocabulary in German is borrowed from English and French. So why does English stand alone in this? English tends to steal words and grammatical structures from a variety of languages, but the term ‘canter’ originated in English, in England. It is short for the ‘Canterbury gallop,’ which has more to do with an easy or lazy pace than with the angle of the gait.
Gait is one of those traits that often gets sly looks and questions about pedigree when it shows up in “unexpected” places, such as the Arabian Raseyn (below), and other gaited sons and grandsons of the Polish Arabian Skowronek. Skowronek’s parentage has been questioned in part because of this trait, but a number of other early Arabians, including many offspring of the Egyptian Arabian Mesaoud, were also known to gait.
Many travelogues and British soldiers’ diaries mention this trait in desert bred animals, though sorting out which ones would be considered “Arabian” by todays standards is challenging. Non-trotting gaits gaits in early Thoroughbreds have often been attributed to the ‘native’ mares of Britain, but by the 18th century gaitedness was probably more common among the desert-breds than among the British stock used in establishing the thoroughly-bred horse.
The piaffe is part gait, part maneuver. I generally classify it as a gait, because it is possible (with great difficulty and endless training) to perform other maneuvers in piaffe, as you would in any other gait. The piaffe, however, stands alone as being the foundation for most of the “airs above ground.” Although the airs are not called for in tests today, I still consider the piaffe’s function as a foundation for further maneuvers when evaluating it. Piaffes tend to fall into four basic shapes:
First Shape: all four legs landing roughly perpendicular to the ground, which is usually the first steps a horse attempts. It can be useful for working transitions within gait, but keeping the horse from hollowing in a “square” piaffe is difficult, as is attaining animation.
Second Shape: all four legs towards the center of the body, sometimes called “pedestaling.” This tends to be the second shape a horse takes in learning the piaffe. It varies considerably in quality, depending on where the horse’s weight is balanced and whether or not it occurs due to an overuse of rein.
Third Shape: on the forehand, generally with the front legs coming slightly behind the vertical but the hind legs landing under the hip. This can be a result of over-reliance on the whip and/or use of pillars, though it can also be a just a rough stage in the horse’s development. Often very flashy movement behind, very little in front. Often disunited and/or laterally uneven. This photo isn’t the best example, but people seem hesitant to post photos where the horse’s balance is more obviously shifted forward. However, note that the haunches are not significantly lowered when compared to how far under the body they are; action is much more exaggerated behind; and the horse is leaning slightly forward over the standing front leg.
Fourth Shape: Front legs land roughly perpendicular to the ground, hind legs somewhat under. This is the shape that can be developed into the levade or pesade, and from there into other airs. The pelvis is tipped, haunches lowered, and weight clearly on the haunches. Often the hind of each diagonal will land a hair before the fore, but they should pick up together. A cowhocked, wide behind way of sitting is a common flaw; this is not immediately problematic, but something to be wary of. If it is extreme in an otherwise straight horse, it may indicate a lack of strength or conditioning.
Every gaited American breed claims as its progenitor the “Spanish Jennet.” Unfortunately, there was no such breed. These folks might be a little upset by that. The Jennet, or Gineta, horse was a riding discipline, rather than a breed. For more on this, I recommend The Art of Riding on Every Saddle (a 15th century riding manual), and this article. So what were these horses? The mythos of the Spanish Jennet is not a modern invention. There are multitudes of records outside of the Iberian peninsula referring to horses an “Spanish Jennets” (or Genets, or Genetas), and they do all share a number of characteristics. Regardless of how they were categorized at home, an Iberian animal whose primary purpose was aristocratic travel was called a “jennet.” The common characteristics were: a “small” head, an abundance of hair, often an unusual coat color, high set neck, and usually an “amble.” In paintings they often have long backs, and while we consider this a flaw is does prevent an exuberantly gaiting horse from stepping on itself (ever wonder why you usually see boots on Icelandics?). These were also not exceptionally large animals. If you’re looking for a modern “Jennet,” I recommend the Peruvian Paso:
Or a Mangalarga Marchador:
Currently only Pasos (both the Peruvian, and the Puerto Rican Paso Fino) are allowed to be registered with the Spanish Jennet Horse Society which seeks to recreate this historical horse, except in the case of “atigrado,” or appaloosa-colored, division where Paso-crosses are permitted.