Standardbred Horse Gait Training: Stepping it Up to the Rack

Gaited horses are popular amongst casual riders who seek smooth moving, comfortable horses for pleasure riding. Some ambling, or walking and running gaits are lateral, where the feet on the same side move forward, but one after the other, usually in a footfall pattern of right rear, right front, left rear, left front. Others are diagonal, meaning that the feet on opposite sides of the horse move forward in sequence, usually right rear, left front, left rear, right front. A common trait of these gaits is that usually only one foot is completely off the ground at any one time, except for the single-foot rack.

Stepping it up to the Rack

There are many simple variations of the rack.The flat walk, running walk and saddle rack can be achieved by slightly restraining the horse. The running walk has the same footfall pattern as the flat walk, with a strong neck and head nod, but is significantly faster. While the rider asks the horse to alter its balance to break up the strides in a manner that maintains a four-beat footfall, the strides are kept long, appearing as if "trotting in front and walking behind"

  1. When moving from a flat walk into the rack there will be no more up and down head and neck motion. The head swings slightly from side to side in a V motion, the front hoof oversteps the hind, sometimes as much as one length of a hoof, there will be the same foot fall as at the walk, but longer steps with moderate action.
  2. Some breeds, in this case a Standardbred mare has hardly any high knee action, other breeds will have lots, and exaggerated knee action at the rack.
  3. The rider notices a "leaping" weight transfer from leg to leg, or side-to-side and hear four equal beats in a 1-2-3-4 rhythm; or a non-isochronous 1-2, 3-4 rhythm where there is a slight pause between the ground strike of the forefoot on one side to the rear foot on the other, creating the typical bock-a, bock-a, bock-a sound.

Some horses are so smooth they appear to float. There's lots of animation and only one foot on the ground at certain points of the footfalls. Smaller horses with blocky body types may tend toward the step-rack, or stepping pace with little, with little or no over stride.

Brenda Imus, renowned gaited horse trainer and author gives the following advice: "Until the gaited horse is well conditioned to perform it’s own best 4-beat gait in good form, a correct 4-beat walk, with impulsion, is more difficult to maintain than a stiff, incorrect gait. Therefore, after the horse has picked up speed it’s likely he/she will initially stiffen up and break to trot, pace, or inappropriate gait. Use your rein to check the horse out of the wrong action, and your leg/riding aid to encourage continued active forward motion. At this point you must persistently insist on forward action. After you’ve asked twice, and insisted once don’t drop back to merely ‘asking.’ Persistently use your crop or other aid to insist on continued active walking. The horse should be moving at a correct 4-beat walk as fast as possible without breaking to another gait. Every time the horse stiffens up and breaks from a loose, flowing walk, check him in the bridle and at the same time use your ("ask, Ask, INSIST") aids to demand continued active forward motion.

Disclaimer: I am a horse owner, but not a trainer.
I train my own horses to gait but only occasionally
ride an outside horse.  I’ve studied Brenda Imus's
gaited horse training methods (Gaits from God, and
Gaited Horse Bible) extensively, but do not claim
to be an expert in the field.

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