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The Mountain Gait

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The Mountain Gait
A Brief Essay on the Mountain Gait Miracle

Nothing beats the Rocky Mountain Horse 4-beat lateral gait.  Understanding the gait is no mystery but riding it is a miracle.  Instead of moving up and down like a trot, the rider moves slightly forward and back  in the Mountain gait with a smooth four-beat rhythm.  And we are talking speed - from 7 to 20 miles per hour!  There are two concepts you need to grasp to appreciate the mountain gait:


Lateral - Gaits are often differentiated as either diagonal or lateral.  Most horses trot.  This is a diagonal gait because it moves from the back right to front left and then from back left to front right.  The Mountain Gait is a lateral gait because it moves from the back of the right side to the front of the right side and then from the back of the left side to the front of the left side.


4-beat - Any good horse person knows that riding is all about rhythm.  And rhythm is all about the beat.  The trot is a two beat gait. You count it 1,2..1,2.  Or back right to front left...back left to front right.  The 4-beat gait counts 1,2,3,4.  Or back right, front right, back left, front left.  If you count the footfall of the best mountain gaiters, there will be a even - "square" - 4 beat rhythm.

Yankee Silver & 2005 foal

The best way to learn to see the Mountain Gait (or any gait for that matter) is to watch a horse on DVD or video and slow the speed way down.  (DVD is especially good because you can go one frame at a time.)  You will quickly see if the horse moves diagonally or laterally.  As the horse moves, count out loud as each foot hits the ground.  You will hear the distinct rhythm as each foot hits the ground.    


One final point should be made in this brief gait primer.  Rocky Mountain horses don't just gait.  Quite the opposite.  They add the 4-beat lateral gait to the usual repertoire of walk, trot, canter and gallop that all horses share.  Just watch a field of Rocky babies playing and you will see they whole range of gaits.  Of course the 4-beat lateral looks the best to us...


 "The Rocky Mountain Horse naturally demonstrates a smooth, ambling gait which glides forward. The horse moves out with a lateral gait in which one can count four distinct hoof-beats that produce a cadence of near equal rhythm. The speed may vary but the four beat rhythm remains constant."                                                  

Rocky Mountain Horse Association Bylaws 

Our friends at Stone Bridge Farm have put together a great page on their website with charts and photos describing the Mountain Gait. Check out their vacation opportunities while you are on their site: Click here for the Stone Bridge website.