THE usual equitation regards the horse as an animated machine already adjusted to carrying the rider's weight at various gaits. Means of securing regularity of gait or of correcting irregularity belong to the rational equitation, and are quite outside the ordinary form.
The horse has three natural, or regular, gaits — the walk, the trot, and the run. He has, besides, two other irregular or artificial gaits, the amble and the single-foot, which are not natural to the animal, except where they are the result of special breeding or training.
The walk progresses by a succession of strides, in which the four limbs move two by two, diagonally. It is, therefore, said to be in "diagonal biped." In the fast walk, called by Newcastle, in French, le pas relevé, though the animal still keeps at all times three feet on the ground, the diagonal movement is no longer apparent.
The means for making a standing horse change to a walk are so various in the usual equitation, that it is not possible to touch upon any but the most commonly practiced, such as chirping with the tongue, the moderate use of the whip, advancing the bridle hand. Turning is brought about by the traction of one rein; stopping and backing, by pulling upon both.
If, when at the walk, the horse is urged to go faster, it breaks into the trot. The trot is like the walk, except that the diagonal action is more pronounced and more apparent, and that the feet are kept a shorter portion of the time on the ground. In trotting, the horse's spine at the haunches delivers a succession of shocks to the seat of the rider, who neutralizes them by rising from the saddle an instant before each blow. This device secures both comfort and exercise. Except for this, the conduct of the trot is the same as of the walk.
The fastest gait is the run. The action is a succession of leaps executed by the two sides of the body symmetrically, or, as it is called, in "lateral biped." A somewhat slower run is a gallop. A slower gallop is a canter.
If at the run, gallop, or canter the two legs on, let us say, the right side, gain more ground than the other two, the horse is said to run, gallop, or canter to the right, or, more simply, to lead to the right; and vice versa. But whenever a horse at run, gallop, or canter turns its course to either side, it has to lead with that side. Conversely, when the horse is urged to any of these gaits, and at the same time is compelled to turn to either side, it will, almost always, take the lead to the same side. Otherwise, these gaits are managed like the walk and trot. Of the irregular gaits, the amble, widely esteemed in the days of the instinctive equitation, is still favored by the Cossacks of the Ukraine and Crimea, the Arabs, certain American Indians, by Mexicans, and in our own Southern States. A few unskillful riders, also, even in the more sophisticated
parts of the world, still prefer the comfort of the amble to the exhilaration of the trot.
In the amble, the horse, instead of striding with two diagonal members, as in the trot, advances together the two limbs on the same side. There is, therefore, no play at the coupling, no trajectory, and the rider is pushed alternately from side to side, instead of being propelled upward as in the trot. So far as this gait is the result of training, it can be corrected, though with difficulty. But if it is hereditary, it can seldom be changed. I have myself had occasion, in the United States, to alter a good many amblers into trotters. My own method is by cavesson and breaking-strap, a tiresome device, but fairly quick and sure. The progression through the reasoned equitation is the best corrective; but this also is very tedious, since the work must be done, partly on foot, and partly mounted in place. Even then, if the horse is put to the trot and begins to amble, he must be stopped at once, lest he become confused and not understand what is asked of him.
The rack is between a walk and an amble. The four limbs advance by a lateral motion, slower than at the amble, faster and shorter than at the walk. But in order to do this, the muscles of neck, back, loins, and haunches have to be kept contracted, so that the entire vertebral column is held immobile. This is especially noticeable in the pelvic region and at the coupling. The hind hand receives no trajection as in the walk and trot. The rear limbs move below the croup without any lift-and-drop at each step. The sacral region remains rigid. The stride is short and quick.
The front legs are neither completely in lateral, nor yet completely in diagonal. Each reaches forward and returns supporting the load, a little in advance of the rear limb on the same side. But the return of the feet is quicker than at the walk, and their beat is about equally spaced. In other words, at the regular walk there are heard two beats in diagonal; at the amble, three beats in lateral; at the rack, four beats in lateral.
The rack was much favored in ancient times, when there were no roads, when horses were ridden without saddle or bridle, and the best gait was the one which needed least skill and balance on the rider's part. It is now obsolete.
Single-foot is almost never taken by instinct, unless the animal suffers from atrophy, weakness, or fatigue. Occasionally, however, it is hereditary. In the latter case, the correction of the fault is nearly impossible and never permanent. If the gait is the result of training, as it is sometimes in Brittany, Mexico, and the western parts of the United States, it is best cured by cavesson and longe.
The action in single-foot is a slow trot in front, and a fast walk behind. It is exactly the movement of a horse thoroughly tired out by a long journey, which is nevertheless being urged forward by its rider. Such an animal, again rested, will return to his normal walk and trot.
The irregular or artificial gaits may be the result of training or of heredity.
The amble is the same the world over, though called amble in England, but rack, pace, or fox-trot in the United States. The word does not matter, except that "pace," ambiguous in this sense, had better be kept to mean all the gaits of a horse, and not restricted to a particular one.
When a horse, already at a fast trot, is urged to move still more rapidly, so that action in diagonal
biped becomes impossible, he may change to the amble. For this, he stiffens the spine, and replaces the up-and-down motion of the trot by an oscillation from side to side in lateral biped. Fore and hind legs on the same side advance together; but the motion is so rapid that the animal appears to the eye to be running with the hind legs and trotting with the front. Curiously, certain ambling horses have been, on the track, faster than the fastest trotters.
In the single-foot, the hind legs move at a fast walk, while the fore legs execute a slow trot. Both these irregular gaits can be cured by the reasoned equitation, or by the cavesson and breaking-strap.