The Elegant Gaits of a Horse: Walk, Trot, Canter, and Gallop

woman riding horse in arena during winter with snow

What are the differences between walk, trot, canter, and gallop?



The walk is a horse’s most natural and relaxed gait. It’s a four-beat gait, meaning each hoof touches the ground independently. This results in a smooth and steady rhythm.


  • Speed: Typically around 4 mph.
  • Footfall sequence: Left hind, left front, right hind, right front.
  • Best for: Cooling down after work, relaxed traveling, and teaching young riders or horses.

Tip: For those searching for beginner horse-riding techniques, always start at the walk to ensure safety and understanding of basic horse movements.



The trot is a two-beat diagonal gait. Horses move their diagonal pairs of legs together, creating a rhythmic and slightly bouncy motion.


  • Speed: Ranges between 8-12 mph.
  • Footfall sequence: Left hind with right front, then right hind with left front.
  • Best for: Intermediate riding lessons, aerobic exercise for the horse, and quick travels over short distances.

Tip: If you’re looking to improve your horse-riding posture and balance, practicing the trot is invaluable. The rise and fall motion challenges riders to maintain a steady seat.



The canter is a three-beat gait with a moment of suspension. It’s often described as a controlled, rhythmic gallop and feels rocking to the rider.


  • Speed: Typically between 10-17 mph.
  • Footfall sequence: For a left lead canter – left hind, right hind with left front, right front, then a moment of suspension.
  • Best for: Advanced riding lessons, show competitions, and covering ground efficiently without overexerting the horse.

Tip: For those working on equestrian performances or horse shows, mastering the canter’s leads and transitions is a game-changer in impressing judges and audiences.



The gallop is the fastest and most exhilarating of the horse gaits. It’s a four-beat gait with a moment of suspension, allowing horses to cover the maximum ground.


  • Speed: Can reach up to 30 mph or even faster for certain breeds.
  • Footfall sequence: Similar to the canter but more extended, with each foot touching the ground separately.
  • Best for: Racing, chasing, or allowing a horse to expend excess energy.

Tip: Racing enthusiasts and those keen on equestrian sports should always watch horses in a gallop. The sheer power and speed showcased during this gait are unmatched.


Understanding the nuances of a horse’s walk, trot, canter, and gallop can drastically improve your riding skills, appreciation for equestrian sports, and connection with these magnificent animals. Dive deep into each gait, practice regularly, and soon you’ll be galloping your way to equestrian expertise.

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