By Josephine Cozean Styron
Do you know if your horse is doing a foxtrot or a running walk ? If you are new to Fox Trotters, you ride by yourself or with friends on non-gaited horses, you may not know exactly what the difference is. The running walk is usually associated with the Tennessee Walking Horse, while the foxtrot is the signature gait of the Missouri Fox Trotter.
How can you tell difference? Here is a short description of the two gaits and the horse’s body moves that could serve as a very basic guide.
The gaits: The foxtrot is a diagonal gait, which means the legs on the same side move in opposite directions. The rear feet slide into (cap) or beyond the tracks made by the front feet, making the ride very smooth. A foxtrotting horse looks like he is walking in the front and trotting in the back.
The running walk is a four-beat gait with a lateral sequence in that the hind hoof will set down right before the fore hoof on the same side. It is usually considered to be a lateral gait or square gait. The running walk is a smooth gait, with the horse’s rear feet overstriding the tracks left by the front feet.
Footwork and Rhythm: In the foxtrot, the horse’s diagonal pairs of hooves lift off and move forward together, but the front foot touches the ground a split second before the opposite rear foot slides into place. As the legs move forward together, they will be slightly out of time with one another. This movement results in the beat of 1-2–34, also known as “a chunk of meat and two potatoes” rhythm.
In the running walk, the hooves on the same side lift and set down separately. This results in an even 1-2-3-4 rhythm.
Rear and Front Action: When a horse is correctly foxtrotting, he will have a sharp bend at the hock (called breaking over) as each back foot is picked up. He will take quicker, higher steps with his hind legs, and his hindquarters will bob up and down with the rhythm of his gait. At the same time, the foxtrotting horse will move his front end with his shoulder, which results in smooth, long-reaching front strides.
The running walk requires that the horse take long, reaching steps with his hind legs, unlike the higher action of the foxtrot. Sometimes horses performing a running walk will overstride their front tracks by a couple of feet. There is no breaking over as there is in the foxtrot, and the croup remains level in the running walk. Another difference is that the running walk does not require the extension of the front stride that the foxtrot does, resulting in much less reach. There is more vertical movement in the front legs, resulting in the higher front action often associated with Tennessee Walking Horses.
Animation: Animation is the head shake and tail movement of the horse as he gaits. A horse that is foxtrotting will shake his head up and down in time with his rear feet, using his head as a counter balance to his back end. His tail will bounce when his rear foot passes the breakover point. The ears of some Fox Trotters flop as they perform the gait.
The horse performing the running walk also shakes its head vertically, with the head at its lowest point when the back of the horse is at its highest level. The tail will bob in rhythm with the horse’s motion. Like some horses performing the foxtrot, many horses flop their ears at the running walk.
These are just some basic of the foxtrotting and running walk gaits. It’s easy to see the difference by watching some of the many videos available online. Better yet, climb into the saddle on a horse doing these gaits and have fun figuring it all out!