Hoofbeats: Gaits and Footfalls

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

GaitsI recently wrote an article on Hoofbeats: Gaits and Footfalls for Riding Instructor Magazine. Rhonda, an ARIA instructor, wrote in and said there were certain gaits I'd missed--she described "The Boink: a one-beat gait with suspension, often exhibited by horses ridden into a field of white-tailed deer." This got me thinking about other gaits and movements that certain horses have been practicing lately. These are obviously "natural" movements because many horses perform them enthusiastically with no training, and often in spite of their riders' best efforts!

Here are some "Natural" Gaits and Movements:

The Boink: a one-beat gait with suspension, often exhibited by horses ridden into a field of white-tailed deer.

The Lateral Swoop: a sudden sideways leap with shoulder horizontal to the ground, leaving the rider hovering briefly over where the saddle used to be before descending to the ground. Can be precipitated by a tractor starting up outside the arena, snow sliding off the arena roof, a white rock that magically turns into a dog or a green plastic garbage bag.

The Whirling Dervish: Advanced version of the Lateral Swoop in which the horse spins like a top, frequently launching the hapless rider a long distance by centrifugal force. Specialty of certain Arabians, often caused by viewing a 4-wheeler approaching on the trail ahead.

The Yahooey: one of the natural Airs Above the Ground, a highly suspended movement exhibited when turned out or during the first canter in an open field. A variation is the Jet-Assisted Buck & F@rt, in which the horse achieves maximum height and momentum aided by the loud expulsion of exhaust gas. Occurs on cold, windy days when the wind goes up the horse's tail and blows his brains out his ears.

The Omigod: sudden backwards movement accompanied by loud, rolling snorts, ears stiffly forward and eyes bugging out, exhibited by a horse that has spotted a monster (invisible to the human eye) advancing on him from the front. Can be precipitated in visible form by riding up to a large blue tarp, which the wind then moves slightly.

The Hot Wheels: speed gait in which all 4 legs rotate at high speed, often leaving rubber strips on the ground. Frequently exhibited by runaway ponies, rushing jumpers and horses returning to the barn.

The 2 Footed Lean: gait exhibited at speed around turns, in which the horse proceeds only on the inside legs with the outside feet airborne, while the rider's inside boot & stirrup scrape a furrow in the arena surface. Often used in conjunction with the next:

The Shark Circling the Rowboat: characteristic movement of lesson horse in ever-decreasing concentric circles around the instructor, until the horse is in the center standing on the instructor's left foot and further progress is impossible. (Old school horses tell new school horses how to do this.)

The Sloth: typical gait of school horse who has perfected the art of laziness. No perceptible forward movement, in spite of encouraging kicks, clucks, flapping reins, ineffective crop swats, shouts and jumping up and down. (Note: the Sloth can be transformed into Hot Wheels by the sight of the instructor advancing with lunge whip in hand.)

The Flapper: movement in which the horse shakes like a wet dog, totally terrifying the beginner rider. Horse then grins an evil grin and eats grass.

The Wallow: rotational movement performed on the ground, especially in mud, sand or water. Always performed when the instructor is at the other end of the trail ride or not looking. Followed by the Upsie Daisy, which always occurs before the arrival of the instructor.

Allie Thurston, a Level III CR Instructor, has added two further gait descriptions:

The Ooo-Baby: A swanning-about trot often mistaken for extension, identified by eyeballs jutted out, tail straight up and back as rigid as cement with pounding heart shape visible at chest. Often practiced by the normally so-very-quiet lesson gelding (see Sloth) who has suddenly decided to display behavior irresistible to the new mare in the other field, indicating that he doesn't believe he was
really gelded..

The Sailfish: an advanced movement resembling a game fish breaking out of water, involves humping buck, followed by twisting airborne moment, with tornadic spin on landing that would score an 11 for pirouette on a dressage test. Often combined with Jet-Assisted Buck and F@rt.