Gait Analysis is best broken down into its parts- 1. The Type or style of Movement exhibited and 2. The Quality of movement. First, it is important to note that the three styles of movement I discuss are clearly defined extremes to aid in identifying movement styles. They are Baroque Movement, Low Straight Movement and Combination Movement.
As you evaluate horses you will see examples of good and poor quality motion in each type of movement. No movement type is inherently “better” than another. What is important is to select a horse that has the movement style that is best suited to the type of sport horse work that the individual will be asked to perform. Additionally once a horse has been assessed for its general “type” of movement it is necessary to assess itsquality footfall/rhythm, good natural engagement and overall balance.
If a horse shows correct rhythm/ footfall sequence , optimum hind leg motion ( ability and willingness to engage ) coupled with balance/freedom and lively impulsion , he may be rewarded with high marks ( i.e. 7-10) for gaits/movement.
Baroque Movement is characterized by high, round action of the front and hind legs. It shows a lot of joint closing and suspension in each stride and excellent shoulder freedom with forearm lifting ability. Some Breeds frequently exhibiting Baroque Movement are: Lipizzaner, Lusitano, Andalusian, PRE, Freesian and some Draft and draft cross breeds. Horses with good Baroque Movement generally excel in collected work, often exhibit a natural talent for Paiffe/passage tour; taking time and strength to develop Extension work later in their development.
Low Straight Movement is characterized by long, low swinging of the legs in which the leg joints show little bend or closing ( less engagement – more ground covering) . As the horse moves, the legs appear to be fairly straight in the hind leg joints (swing the leg to cover ground rather than compressing the hocks/stifle/SI to take weight for engagement) and little or no “knee action” is shown. Thoroughbreds and many breeds that have been heavily crossed with thoroughbreds such as the new style Quarter horse , frequently exhibit low straight movement which is prized for its ground covering abilities and is coveted in Hunter, Jumpers , Combined Training and Racing circles where these qualities are trained and developed successfully. Collected work especially work exhibiting high collection or high suspension i.e. . . Passage and other movements requiring engagement (the ability and willingness to compress the SI, Stifle and hock to take weight to produce balance and suspension and impulsion) tends to be more difficult as this movement style shows less of the natural joint bending. It is not however impossible as many individuals of this style have shown and developed engagement performing successfully due to their willingness to be trained.
Combination Movement is characterized by long fluid strides that exhibit bend in the joints and arc to the stride as well as being long and ground-covering. There is some” knee and hock action” but it is not as high or extreme as in Baroque Movement: Neither is the leg straight and low swinging as in the Low Straight Movement. Most of the warmblood breeds exhibit good combination movement (although not all of them) AND it is true that individualsof many other breeds, such as Appaloosa, Arab, Morgan andothers exhibit Combination Movement. This style of movement shows high, forward extension well, as the slight arc to the stride coupled with ground covering abilities makes for natural brilliant , eye catching extended movement . Collection is generally good: however, it is not as easily achieved or as extreme as in baroque movement. This movement shows an eye pleasing adaptability for changes in pace, gaits, balance, and flexibility but is not as sought out for steeds needing truly ground covering gallops.
In an in-hand class if good quality movement is exhibited, no style of movement need be more desirable than any other. Combination movement is frequently prized by competition dressage trainers who must show extremes of both extension and collection, but it is true the classical dressage purist and some competitors prefer Baroque Movement for its superior collection abilities. Low Straight Movement is often more popular and prized by those looking for hunters, jumpers and eventers for its desirable ground covering abilities.
Almost all leading judges of sport horse disciplines agree that good movement of any of the three styles of movement may be functional for sport horses and that each horses movement must be analyzed for footfall sequence/rhythm, good natural engagement ,balance and willingness to show impulsion.
The sequence of the footfall (Rhythm) is very important in gait analysis. The walk must be a true four beat gait. “Tracking up” (meaning the hind leg foot print steps into the front foot print) is required and over tracking (having the ability to reach further forward with the hind leg than just tracking up) is prized and rewarded. The walk is viewed from the front to see that the horse moves straight forward and the legs don’t swing excessively from side to side as in a paddling or rope-walking movement. From the rear the judge looks for the same straightness and looks to seethat the horses does not move “wide behind” i.e. Spreading the hind legs wider while traveling to avoid compressing the SI, Stifle and hocks thereby avoiding engagement. From the side, the judge views the amount of engagement and suspension in each stride in the trot as well as the horses overall balance. In the walk the side view assists in checking quickly the sequence of the footfall. If the rhythm is correct at walk from the side there is a moment when the hind leg is forward and the front leg is back on the same side and the side view of the legs form a clear ”V ” If this is clearly visible there is no problem with the walk being lateral or pace-lie. This is a quick visual check and may not be substituted for counting the clear four beat sequence, for it is possible for the “V” to be slightly unclear when a horse exhibits a large amount of over tracking
The Trot must be clearly two beats, and no evidence of broken diagonals should be shown. As with the walk, straightness of movement is best seen from the front and back, Going “wide” behind” to avoid engagement is a fault seen primarily at the trot and will be seen from the rear. Tracking up is a minimum requirement. Over tracking is generally rewarded, while under tracking is penalized. Balance (freedom of movement) as well as engagement (bend of the hind leg joints for weight bearing and forward reach under the body) are best viewed from the side.
The Canter, while not exhibited in the in-hand classes, is analyzed in under saddle classes, and I will touch on it briefly. The canter must be in a clear three beat gait and, to be truly correct, must have a moment of suspension within the movement,. The canter must not appear to be lateral or pace-like at any time nor appear stiff and flat. Many trainers refer to the moment of suspension in the canter as “jump” or ‘roll” if the ‘jump” is gone from the canter, the horses may not exhibit true three beat rhythm or may have difficulty exhibiting clean flying changes or good collection.
Engagement is the willingness and ability of the horse to close the joints of the hind leg from the SI, hip, through the stifle, hock, and fetlock and carry more weight on the rear legs. In doing so, the horse slows a lowered haunch and croup, and brings the leg well under the body to show a long smooth stride with an increased ability to lift the forehand and to produce impulsion through spring power of the hind legs.
In general there are four styles of hind legmotion that typically occur while a horse is engaging- or avoiding good engagement. Hind leg motions: Sewing Machine, Pendula, Pushback and Optimum.
“Sewing Machine” hind leg motion is characterized by very high hock action. The joints of the rear legs close in an exaggerated manner, but the leg moves primarily up and down and does not move forward well under the body. Horses with this type of hind leg motion generally do not track up easily and propel themselves forward by their forehand and shoulders.
“Pendula” (like a pendulum) shows very little bend in the hind legs. The legs remain quite straight and appear to swing from the hip. Although the leg is often brought well for5ward under the body, the horses does not exhibit increased engagement, as it does not bend the joints of the hindquarters/croup and doesn’t carry increased weight on the rear end. Horses with this type of hind leg motion often track up and even over track but can still be heavily on the forehand.
“Pushback” can be seen in allthree types of movement and is often overlooked by lay people and even some judges. The horse characteristically propels himself forward by raising the leg and pushing down and back against the ground so that the leg pushes well back behind the body of the horses. The key here is that the leg does not come as far forward as it pushes back. At the time that the leg is out behind the body it cannot properly take compression and weight over the joints. This type of hind leg motion can often produce what appears to be a ‘flashy” mover with incorrect extensions and lack of engagement/ collection. Push back can occur any time a horse loses balance and the hind leg ends out behind his center of balance but may be naturally occurring if the hind leg is conformationally set out behind.
“Optimum “hind leg motion can be seen in all three movement styles. “Optimum” shows good fluid bending of the hind leg joints through-out and the ability to lower the haunch /croup and increase weight bearing on the hind legs. It is Important to wee that the hind legs step well under the body. In general the hind legs should step under the body as far as they push back during the stride sequence. “Optimum” motion generally produces and exhibits correct and rewardable engagement.
Lastly, any movement must be analyzed for balance/ freedom and impulsion. Balance/freedomgives the movement the illusion of ease and lack of heaviness, freedom from being downhill. . Does the horse move freely? Impulsion is the strength /force with which the horses pushes against the ground to propel himself either forward or upward. Impulsion and engagement can, with correct training, be improved and enhanced. In an in-hand class a judge will see the general type of movement that a horse exhibits based on its conformation and breeding… Its balance, impulsion and hind leg motion may be disturbed or not exhibited optimally due to distractions, lack of balance, temperament or poor handling,
In the evaluating and judging of the gait the most serious fault in gait analysis is loss of rhythm ( i.e. walk is no longer 4 beat.. pace-like), trot loses the diagonal and is broken, canter is not three beats) followed by poor hind leg motion I.e. sewing machine, pendula, pushback. Lack of straightness in motion such as ropewalking or severe paddling will be marked down. Less severe faults but ones not to be overlooked are the overall balance, freedom and impulsion.
If a horse shows correct rhythm/ footfall sequence , optimum hind leg motion ( ability and willingness to engage ) coupled with balance/freedom and lively impulsion in any of the three types of movement styles he should be rewarded with high marks ( i.e. 7-10 ) for gaits/movement.
Originally published in Dressage And Ct. May 1991/ updated for Dressage and Sport Horse Magazine April 2017
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