Getting in Rhythm with the Feet

To become an outstanding horse person, you need to understand how your horse’s body works and how your horse moves.  Each gate your horse travels on requires your horse’s feet to move with a different beat.  Along with this change in beat comes a difference in weight distribution on your horse’s front and hind ends.  Hopefully this article will help you better understand your horse’s movement and help you “Get in Rhythm with the Feet”.

Your horse basically has five gates in which it travels: walk, trot, canter (lope), gallop and back-up.  Now we are just talking about average horses here.  Gaited horses travel differently and we aren’t going to try to cover that here.  By knowing how where your horse’s feet are in each gate, you can become a better partner with your horse and help him better maintain his natural balance.


The walk is a four beat gait in which your horse will care 60% of his weight on his front end and 40% on his back end.  When riding at a walk I try not to lean forward and sit in the seat. Doing this will help your horse by not adding unnecessary weight to his front end.  Counting the beats of the walk go like this 1. right back, 2. right front, 3. left back, 4. left front.  (By the way you are not aloud to make fun of my drawings)


In the trot your horses feet work in diagonal pairs making it a two beat step.  The beat of this gait goes 1. right hind – left front 2. left hind –  right front.  In the trot your horse will carry his weight equally on his front and back ends.  To make it easier on myself and my horse I like to post when I trot.  I stand when the right hind foot lifts and sit when the left hind lifts.  If you show western style horses you will need to learn to sit a trot.  When I sit a trot I just try to let my hips rock with my horse’s back.  When he lifts his left hind leg my left hip slightly rises, and my right hip rises with his right leg. If your horse has a rough trot you may want to stand if you are trotting a distance.

Canter or Lope

When your horse canters, the majority of his weight, about 60%, shifts to the back end.  We count the lope  starting with the opposite hind leg than the lead we are in.  If we are going to be in the right lead, we start on the left hind leg. Our count will go like this 1. left back, 2. right front, 3. right hind and left front, then a pause while all feet are suspended.


In a gallop your horse will be running pretty hard.  In this gait only one of his feet will be touching the ground at a time.  Then like the canter, he will have a moment of suspension.   Just to save you from more of my drawings, refer to the pictures of the canter,  but instead of his right hind and left front feet touching the ground at the same time they will hit the ground first the right hind then the left front.  Counting the beats of the gallop in the right lead go like this 1. left back, 2. right back, 3. left front, 4. right front, then a moment of suspension.


Like the trot, the back is a two beat gait.  As your horse backs the opposite front and back legs hit the grounds. Count in the beats of the trot will go 1. right front – left back 2. left front – right back.

As you progress as a rider, you will find more importance on knowing where your horse’s feet are.  By knowing where they are and how your horse’s body works, you will be better able to work as a partner with your horse when learning new maneuvers.  As you ride try to see if you are able to pick out the rhythm of your horse’s feet.Pictures is Emily Thompson riding her paint Nehi Charm.  They are on beat one of the canter.

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