If you spend a lot of time in the saddle every day or suffer from lower back pain, you’ll know how comfortable gaited horses can be, but while their popularity is growing they’re still not that well known, especially in some countries.
What are the best gaited horse breeds?
In this article, we’ll cover the best gaited horses which, in alphabetical order, are:
- Florida Cracker
- Icelandic Horse
- Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
- Mangalarga Marchador
- Missouri Fox Trotter
- Paso Fino
- Peruvian Paso
- Racking Horse
- Rocky Mountain Horse
- Tennessee Walker
What is a gaited horse?
Known for their comfortable and smooth way of traveling a gaited horse is any horse who has the ability to perform either the pace (a two-beat gait similar to the trot) and/or at least one of any of the four-beat gaits known as ambling gaits. Some horses can be trained to perform such gaits but around 12% of all horse and pony breeds are naturally gaited which means that they inherit the genes to perform such gaits, which they can do without any additional training.
Some gaits are performable by multiple breeds (even if each breed has a different name for the gait) while other gaits are unique to a particular breed, such as the tølt (or tölt) that is specific to the Icelandic Horse or the Indian Shuffle (or Shuffle) of the Walkaloosa.
Height: Most horses stand between 13.2hh (53 inches) and 15.2hh (61 inches).
Color: They can be found in most colors although, bay, black, chestnut, and gray are the most common.
Character: The Florida Cracker is famous for its incredible strength and endurance as well as for its natural herding instincts.
Country of Origin: USA
The Florida Cracker can trace its ancestry back to the horses that were introduced into the southern state in 1521 when the Spanish explorer, Ponce de León, made his second voyage to the North American mainland. These horses were extremely popular with the region’s cattle drivers who were known locally as Florida Crackers (due to the cracking sound their whips made) and it wasn’t long until the horses were lovingly referred to as Florida Cracker Horses.
Originally used to drive the Florida Cracker Cow, the introduction of western cattle in the 1930s and 1940s meant that the Florida Cracker was no longer able to stand its ground against these bigger cows. This meant that a larger horse was needed to drive the cattle so the Florida Cracker was replaced with the Quarter Horse, almost leading to the breed’s extinction. Thankfully though a handful of die-hard Florida Cracker breeders continued to use and breed these horses, saving them from extinction and securing their future.
A four-beat gait where the legs move in a similar fashion to that of the walk but with a lot more speed, allowing the horse to travel at speeds ranging from 10mph (16 kph) to 20mph (32 kph).
A single-foot gait where the horse lifts each foot separately, this makes the movement fast but also immensely comfortable.
Want to know more about the Florida Cracker? Check out the Florida Cracker Horse Association’s website.
Height: Horses can be any height from 12hh (48 inches) to 14.2hh (58 inches) although most will stand between 13hh (52 inches) and 14hh (56 inches).
Color: Most colors are allowed although gray, dun, chestnut, and brown are the most common.
Character: The Icelandic Horse is a very sensible horse that won’t spook and can easily fend for itself. They have loving personalities and can be handled by children of all ages.
Country of Origin: Iceland
One of the purest breeds in the world, the Icelandic Horse hasn’t been influenced by any foreign blood for over well over a thousand years. No ‘outside’ horses are allowed into the country which is one of the reasons why it’s remained unchanged for so long, in fact, once a horse leaves Iceland it’s never allowed back into the country.
As well as being a very comfortable ride, these horses are also extremely safe because they won’t spook when startled by something unfamiliar. This is largely due to the lack of natural predators in their native Iceland but also aided by the presence of quicksand which means that the Icelandic Horse has to assess anything strange before proceeding.
Tølt (or Tölt)
A four-beat lateral gait that is known, not just for its speed, but also for its acceleration. The tølt’s speed can be anything from that of a fast walk to canter.
Also known as the pace, not all Icelandic Horses can perform this two-beat lateral gait. It’s a super-fast gait (horses can reach speeds of up to 30mph (48 kph)) in which both legs on one side touch the ground at the same time. Only performed over short distances it can be as fast as a full gallop.
Want to know more about the Icelandic Horse? Check out then check out this recent article on the Icelandic Horse.
Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse
Height: In order to be registered horses must fall into one of two classes, Class A requires a horse to be taller than 14.2hh (58 inches) while horses in Class B must stand between 11hh (44 inches) and 14.1hh (57 inches).
Color: Any solid color is allowed but horses with white faces, pinto markings or white above the knees are only allowed to be registered with the subsidiary Spotted Mountain Horse Association.
Character: The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse has a kind temperament and is eager to please, they’re also easy keepers.
Country of Origin: USA
As its name suggests, the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse was developed in Kentucky although its thought to be closely related to the Tennessee Walker and the now extinct Narragansett Pacer. Like a lot of other American gaited breeds, it was developed by farm owners who wanted a multi-roll horse that was comfortable to ride all day, able to pull the family carriage and, if necessary, work on the farm too.
The Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse is a tough little horse that is extremely good over the roughest of terrain which, combined with their endurance, is one of the reasons why they’re becoming more and more popular as trail horses.
Also known as an amble, the rack is a gentle four-beat gait that has the same footfall as a walk but is much faster. This means that the rider is hardly moving while the horse is covering rough ground at a fast speed.
Want to know more about the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse? Check out the Kentucky Mountain Saddle Horse Association’s website.
Height: The average height of the Mangalarga Marchador is 15hh (60 inches), but anything between 14.2hh (58 inches) and 16hh (64 inches) is allowed.
Color: Gray is the most common (and most popular) color but bay, black, chestnut and dun can also be found, along with palomino although spotted isn’t allowed.
Character: The Mangalarga Marchador is extremely intelligent and is willing to learn, they’re kind horses that love being around people.
Country of Origin: Brazil
There are a few different stories about the breed’s origin, some say that it was the Emperor of Brazil Prince Pedro I, that first created the breed by crossing his Altér-Real horses with Barb horses while others cite the Baron of Alfenas, Francisco Gabriel Junqueira, with using imported Lusitanos and Barbs to create the breed. Whichever story is true they both tell of a stallion, called Sublime, who was the founding father of the breed.
The name comes from the breeding farm, Hacienda Magalarga, that bought Sublime and started a breeding program in order to create a new gaited horse. The Marchador part of the name is derived from their smooth gaits that are known as marcha.
Meaning beat or hit, the batida is a diagonal gait where all feet are on the ground at one point, this gives the rider a rocking feeling as they gently move in time with the horse’s movement.
Translating to mean light touch, it involves the horse ‘rolling’ its shoulder as it moves. Having a similar footfall to the walk it makes for a very comfortable ride with the rider hardly moving.
Want to know more about the Mangalarga Marchador? Check out the US Mangalarga Marchador Association’s website.
Height: Anything between 14hh (56 inches) and 15.2hh (61 inches) is allowed but most horses stand at around 14.2hh (58 inches).
Color: Any color is allowed but bay, chestnut, and brown are the most common.
Character: Famous for its curved ears that often touch, the Marwari is a very hardy horse that’s capable of surviving in the harshest of conditions, they all have a great ‘sense of home’ and can find their way back, regardless of how far from home they are.
Country of Origin: India
Sadly much of the history of the beautiful Marwari is unknown, although local folklore tells of them originating from ‘a time when the ocean was churned to extract nectar for the Gods and the horses had wings’. While this obviously isn’t true it does hint at the fact that the Marwari is actually an ancient breed that’s been around for many thousands of years. It is believed though, that the warrior clan Raipur where, in the twelfth century, the first people to breed them.
Having been bred in the desolate and barren region of India known as Maru Pradesh, the Marwari has evolved into a hardy breed that can survive in difficult conditions with very little water or food. They also have very thin coats which helps to prevent heatstroke in the arid desert.
Also known as the rehwal or the aphcal, this is a fast, four-beat gait, similar to the pace, that gives the rider a comfortable and smooth ride. This gait gives the Marwari the ability to cover a lot of ground quickly but also without any trouble.
Want to know more about the Marwari? Check out the Marwari Horse Society’s website.
Missouri Fox Trotter
Height: Typically anything from 14hh (56 inches) to 16hh (64 inches) although there is a separate registry for fox trotting ponies and they have to stand between 11hh (44 inches) and 14hh (56 inches).
Color: Sorrel and chestnut are the most common but any color is allowed.
Character: Noted for its stamina and comfortable gait, the Missouri Fox Trotter is a gentle horse that can easily be handled by children of all ages.
Country of Origin: USA
The Missouri Fox Trotter originated in the Ozark Mountains region of Missouri where the rough and uneven terrain of the Rocky’s meant that it developed into a surefooted breed that was capable of cover vast distances at speed, while at the same time giving the rider a smooth ride.
A number of gaited horses influenced the Missouri Fox Trotter but none more so than a Canadian Pacer known as Tom Hal. A stunning blue roan stallion, Tom Hal was famous for his stamina and endurance, especially when his owner rode him from Lexington to Louisville in one day, just to win a $100 bet. The next day he road the 70 miles back to Lexington!
Flat foot walk
Often described as a proper flat foot walk, the horse lifts each foot up and puts it back down in perfect rhythm. It’s a four-beat gait where the hind feet reach forward and slide over the track left by the front feet. The horse’s head also nods in time with the movement of the rear feet.
The gait that gives the breed its name, the fox trot, is a diagonal gait where the front feet move a fraction of a second before the rear feet. This means that the horse is always in contact with the ground which not only gives the gait its distinctive rhythm but also makes it extremely smooth.
Height: Most Morgans stand between 14hh (56 inches) and 15.2hh (62 inches).
Color: Any solid color is allowed but black is the most common color, gray is very rarely found within the breed.
Character: Morgans are loyal horses that are brave and strong, they have a kind nature and don’t spook easily.
Country of Origin: USA
Some people argue that the Morgan can’t truly be classed as a gaited breed because, although the breed’s trot is genetic, it doesn’t guarantee a horse’s ability to perform to form it. Horses that can though are able to perform a number of different variations such as the fox trot, rack, or pace. That said though a single horse can’t necessarily perform all of them.
Descending from just one horse, known as Figure, all Morgans today bear the same characteristics (from their strength, speed, courage, and endurance to the intelligence and kind temperament) that made him such a popular horse.
More commonly associated with the Missouri Fox Trotter it’s a diagonal gait where the horse always has at least one foot in contact with the ground. This makes the gait incredibly smooth because the constant contact with the ground eliminates any bounce that would otherwise occur.
Like the fox trot, horses performing the rack always have contact with the ground although the rack is a lateral gait instead of a diagonal one. This means that both the left and right legs move together which makes it much smoother than a trot while also being much faster too.
The pace has a similar footfall to the walk but with more collection, rhythm, and speed. The speed of the pace can vary which will affect the comfort of the ride, at slower speeds it’s very comfortable but at faster speeds can become a little choppy, in some horses at least.
Want to know more about the Morgan? Check out the American Morgan Horse Association’s website.
Height: Most horses stand between 13.3hh (54 inches) and 14.2hh (58 inches) but anything from 13hh (52 inches) to 15.2hh (62 inches) is allowed.
Color: Any color, included spotted is permissible.
Character: As well as being unbelievably comfortable to ride, the Paso Fino also has a kind nature and is very loyal. They have big hearts and make great family horses.
Country of Origin: Puerto Rico
The Paso Fino is directly descended from the horses that Christopher Columbus brought with him on his second voyage to the New World, these horses, which were a mix of Barbs, Spanish Jennets, and Andalusians were the first ever horse in the Dominican Republic (or Santo Domingo as it was known then). They were favored by the conquistadors for their comfortable ride which meant that as the Spanish conquerors spread out and across the continent they took their horses with them. They were introduced into Puerto Rico by Diego de Velasquez and Hernando Cortez during the sixteenth century.
Often referred to as ‘Los Caballos de Paso Fino’ or ‘the horse with the fine walk’, the Paso Fino is often said to be the smoothest riding horse in the world but it also has the beauty and elegance to match.
Also known as the classic fino, it’s a collected gait that involves the horse moving forward while slowly covering ground. Being very collected, it’s mainly reserved for the show ring where horses are disqualified if they break from the gait at all.
Similar to the trot in terms of speed, it’s more extended than the paso fino and isn’t draining on the horse at all. A popular ‘trail gait’ is said to be the breed’s most comfortable gait.
A four-beat lateral gait, the paso largo is incredibly fast with horses reaching speeds of up to 30mph (48 kpm), the stride is extended and very graceful.
Want to know more about the Paso Fino? Check out the Paso Fino Horse Association’s website.
Height: While most horses stand between 14.1hh (57 inches) and 15.2hh (62 inches) anything above 13hh (52 inches) is acceptable as long as they don’t exceed 15.2hh (62 inches).
Color: Solid colors are the most common (and most popular) but any color is allowed.
Character: The Peruvian Paso is a gentle horse that is extremely obedient, they’re intelligent and are always willing to learn.
Country of Origin: Peru
Despite its name the Peruvian Paso is a completely different breed to that of the Paso Fino, yes they do have the same distant ancestry but so do a lot of other unrelated breeds. They both originated, over 500 years ago, from the same Spanish stock and are both gaited horses with extremely comfortable rides but that’s where the similarities end.
Described as a ‘something for everyone’ horse, the Peruvian Paso has a unique way of moving its front legs. Known as the término, the horse ‘rolls’ his legs, from the shoulder, outwards as he moves, giving the impression that he’s ‘scooping’ through the air as he moves – similar to the way a swimmer moves his arms while performing the front crawl.
Translating to mean flat step (or even step), it’s a four-beat lateral gait that has the same footfall as a walk but is characterized but the término.
Faster than the paso llano, the sobreandando is characterized by a slight pause between the first two and second two-beats.
Want to know more about the Peruvian Paso? Check out the North American Peruvian Paso Association’s website.
Height: The average height for Racking Horses is 15.2hh (62 inches).
Color: Any color is allowed, including spotted.
Character: Incredibly intelligent and friendly, they make very good family horses and are eager to learn, a characteristic that makes them suitable for most disciplines.
Country of Origin: USA
Famous for its beauty, stamina, and calm nature the Racking Horse also has the ability to work anywhere, and on any terrain. With its origins in Tennessee Walker bloodlines, the Racking Horse became a very popular and much-loved sight on the plantations of Southern America before the Civil War. While the ‘racking’ name hints at the breed’s gait it was actually chosen so that the Racking Horse wouldn’t be tied to any particular state.
The goal of early Racking Horse breeders was to develop a horse that was desired by everybody, a breed that was comfortable to ride on any terrain, one that could be ridden for hours without the rider or the horse tiring.
More or less the same as the walk, the show walk is more exaggerated and is unique to the Racking Horse but is reserved for breed-specific competitions.
Ranging in speed, the rack which starts at 8mph (13 kph) can go up to 30mph (48 kph), it’s very collected but unlike some other breeds the Racking Horse doesn’t nod its head.
Want to know more about the Racking Horse? Check out the Racking Horse Breeders Association of America’s website.
Rocky Mountain Horse
Height: Rocky Mountain Horses can be anything between 14.2hh (58 inches) and 16hh (64 inches).
Color: Silver dapple is the most common but any color is allowed.
Character: Known, and loved, for their gentle natures, the Rocky Mountain Horse is a calm horse that’s highly intelligent.
Country of Origin: USA
Despite being able to trace its ancestry back to the Spanish horses that were first introduced into America around 500 years, the Rocky Mountain Horse, as an officially recognized breed, is relatively new with its registry having been established in the mid-1980s.
The breed’s existence is largely due to one person (and one horse), Sam Tuttle, who used mountain horses to carry people over the rough and uneven terrain of the Appalachian Mountains (despite its name the Rocky Mountain Horse actually evolved in the foothills of the Appalachians). Sam had a number of horses but his finest (and most popular) was a stallion known as Old Tobe who was said to the most surefooted and gentle horse even known. Today all Rocky Mountain Horses can trace their pedigree back to Old Tobe.
While it’s known as a single-foot gait in the Rocky Mountain Horse, in many other breeds it’s known as the rack and is a four-beat lateral gait that’s much smoother (and often faster) than the trot.
Want to know more about the Rocky Mountain Horse? Check out the Rocky Mountain Horse Association’s website.
Height: As a general rule Saddlebreds stand between 15hh (60 inches) and 16hh (64 inches) but there’s no limit to the breed’s height.
Color: Any color, including pinto, is allowed.
Character: Saddlebreds are very reliable horses that are known for the strong work ethic as well as for their happy and curious natures.
Country of Origin: USA
The Saddlebred (or American Saddlebred as its sometimes called) was purposefully bred for comfort by landowners who wanted a horse that they could happily ride during the day to surveying their estates and use at night to pull the family carriage. To achieve this they crossed Canadian and Narragansett Pacers with Morgans, Thoroughbreds, and Arabians, this resulted in the Saddlebred type which was officially recognized as a breed at the end of the nineteenth century.
There are two types of Saddlebred depending on their gaits, the three-gaited type, and the five-gaited type. While the three-gaited type was, in the past, always shown with a roached mane and a trimmed tail today they’re both shown with full manes and tails.
Flat foot walk
Performed by all Saddlebreds, the flat-footed walk is a fast four-beat gait that covers a lot of ground. Some people confuse the flat foot walk with the flat walk but they are two separate gaits, in the flat walk, the horse’s back remains still but in the flat foot walk the horse’s back continues to move and the rider needs to follow it.
Only performed by five-gaited horses, the stepping pace, like the single foot gait of the Rocky Mountain Horse, is a variant of the slow gait and is often referred to as an amble because of its smooth but fast way of covering the ground. The drawback of the stepping pace though is that it’s not as energy efficient as the running walk.
While many breeds can perform the rack it’s more commonly associated with the Saddlebred. It’s exaggerated in the show ring but is an elegant, showy gait where the horse demonstrates a lot of speed and action. Like the stepping pace, the rack is only performed by five-gaited Saddlebreds.
Want to know more about the Saddlebred? Check out the American Saddlebred Horse Association’s website.
Height: There’s a wide range in the breed’s height but typically they’ll stand between 15hh (60 inches) and 16hh (64 inches), that said horse’s standing at 14hh (56 inches) aren’t uncommon, nor is 17hh (68 inches).
Color: Any solid color is allowed but bay is by far the most common.
Character: The Standardbred is very intelligent and easy train, they have friendly personalities and are said to be very people-oriented.
Country of Origin: USA
Breed purely as a trotting horse, the Standardbred is born with the ability to perform both the trot and the paces through the speed of the gaits come with training. While the trot is reversed mainly for harness racing, the pace is far more comfortable and therefore a more desirable gait for riding. Unlike a lot of gaited horses, the Standardbred is also still able to perform the canter, although if a horse caters during a harness race it’s penalized.
A large number of different breeds, such as the Thoroughbred, Morgan, and Hackney, have all played a role in the development but the most influential horse was a Thoroughbred stallion known as Messenger. Foaled in 1780 and imported to the United States in 1788, all Standardbreds can trace back to him through his great-grandson, Hambletonian 10.
While most horses can perform the trot, in the Standardbred it’s much faster than the ‘normal’ trot with horses regularly reaching speeds in excess of 30mph (48 kph). Mainly reserved for harness racing its speed makes it more comfortable than a normal trot.
Like the trot, the pace is a two-beat gait but unlike the trot is lateral rather than diagonal. This means that the horse’s back remains still and the rider, therefore, doesn’t move as much, making it far more comfortable. You might be surprised to know that the pace is faster than the trot.
Want to know more about the Standardbred? Check out the United States Trotting Association’s website.
Height: The Tennessee Walker’s height can range from 14.3hh (59 inches) to 17hh (68 inches) although 15.2hh (62 inches) is the average.
Color: Any color is allowed but solid colors such as black, chestnut, bay, brown, and gray are the most common.
Character: Said to be a perfect family horse, the Tennessee Walker is a willing horse that has a kind and gentle nature.
Country of Origin: USA
Like the Saddlebred, the Tennessee Walker was developed specifically as a daily workhorse that could be used as a family horse in the evening, this is also reflected in the fact that the Saddlebred was (along with Standardbred, Morgan, and Thoroughbred) was used heavily in the breed’s creation. Originally called the Turn Row (because a lot of the landowners would inspect their estates ‘row by row’), the Tennessee Walker wasn’t officially recognized until 1950.
In recent years the Tennessee Walker has been crossed with Welsh ponies to create a new breed, the American Walking Pony, which aimed solely at children.
The flat walk is a ground covering four-beat gait that’s similar, albeit faster, to the normal walk. With the flat walk, there’s no ‘rocking’ motion from the horse and the rider is almost completely motionless.
This is a four-beat gait with the same footfall as a walk but much faster with horses traveling at speeds of between 10mph (16 kph) and 20mph (32 kph). While performing the running walk the hind feet of the horse overstep the prints made by the front feet.
Want to know more about the Tennessee Walker? Check out a recent article I wrote on the Tennessee Walker.
Height: While most horses stand between 14hh (56 inches) and 15.2hh (61 inches) anything from 13hh (52 inches) to 16hh (64 inches) is allowed.
Color: Spotted, although bay with any spotted pattern is the most common.
Character: A friendly horse, the Walkaloosa is a quiet horse that’s eager to please and has a gentle nature.
Country of Origin: USA
Often referred to as a gaited Appaloosa, the Walkaloosa is a breed in its own right, and while it’s said by some to be the original Appaloosa, it has been heavily influenced by other breeds such as the Peruvian Paso, Paso Fino, and the Missouri Fox Trotter. It’s believed that the horse was originally bred by the New Percé Indians in the American northwest and prized by them for its unique gait, the Indian Shuffle.
In the early days of the Appaloosa Horse Club, gaited horses were allowed to be registered but this is no longer the case so, in 1983 the Walkaloosa Horse Association was established to protect the breed and ensure it’s future was safe.
A four-beat lateral gait the Indian Shuffle involves each foot moving separately, this makes the gait incredibly comfortable and gives the rider the sensation of floating.
Want to know more about the Walkaloosa? Check out the Walkaloosa Horse Association’s website.
If you enjoyed reading about different breeds then you’ll love these breed articles
- The best choices for barrel racing
- Ideal breeds for trail riding
- Perfect horses & ponies for kids
- The friendliest breeds around
- The worlds most unusual horses
- Most expensive horses money can buy
- Spotted breeds to get you noticed
- The best horses for beginners
- Eventing horses for all levels
- Full steam ahead: the fastest breeds
I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.
Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.
- Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
- TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
- Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
- Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
- Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.
I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉