It is very important to understand the foot falls of our horses and how they correlate to our riding. When we understand the footfalls and how horses move during each gait, it can help us understand how our horses move us, how we need to move with them and lastly, how we can move them.
By watching and getting to know how your horse moves, it will become easier to see when your horse is lame or having issuing moving.
The last two gaits of the horse are the fastest gaits. The canter is a three beat gait, starting with the outside hind leg, followed by the diagonal pair of inside hind leg and outside front and lastly the inside front. While the footfalls of the canter remain the same, the legs which perform these movements changes depending on the direction of travel. During the walk and trot, the legs performing the footfalls remains the same no matter the direction of travel.
When cantering to the left, the first leg to push off is the right-outside hind leg and the last leg in the sequence is the left-inside front. When cantering to the right, the first leg to push off is the left-outside leg and the last leg in the sequence is the right-inside front. The inside-front leg should reach just little further forward than the outside-front leg.
When a horse picks up the correct sequence of legs in the direction we are tracking, this is called the correct lead.
If a horse picks up the incorrect sequence of legs, right lead canter when you are tracking left or visa versa, this is called the wrong lead. If you specifically ask the horse to pick up the right lead canter when you are tracking left, this is called a counter canter. Whether your horse is on the wrong lead or you are asking for a counter canter, it is a difficult for most horses to maintain, esp on circles or around corners.
If a horse picks up one lead on the front end (ie the left lead) and has the opposite lead on the hind end (ie the right lead), we call this cross-firing.
The gallop is a four beat gait with a moment of suspension between footfalls. The first footfall of the gallop is the Outside Hind leg, followed by the Inside Hind leg, followed by the Outside Front leg, and lastly the Inside Front leg. Before the Outside Hind leg starts the sequence again, there is a moment of suspension where all four legs are off of the ground.
Like the canter, the footfalls of the gallop remain the same but the legs which perform these movements changes depending on the direction of travel.
I have added a video from YouTube showing horses galloping because I do not have enough room to get my horses up to speed! Enjoy this great compilation of horses galloping. Watch for that awesome moment of suspension. That's really flying!
The gallop is the fastest of all the gaits. You will see horses galloping on a race track or for very short bursts if they have a field or area large enough. Most horses, that are not trained racehorses, will canter instead of gallop if given the choice.