Gaited horse breeds have the natural ability to perform ambling gaits not observed in other equines. While different breeds have unique gaits, most gaited horses share a common genetic mutation linked to ambling patterns of locomotion.

These breeds gained popularity in certain regions for their smooth gaits, which offer advantages for long-distance travel over rugged terrain. Today, their comfortable ride and distinctive movement makes gaited horses popular pleasure and show mounts.

Unfortunately, some breeds also carry a risk of genetic diseases that impact vision, muscle and skin health.

This guide discusses the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of gaited horse breeds. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for your gaited horse.

Gaited Horse History

Gaited horses are found worldwide, but research suggests most gaited breeds share a common genetic origin. Selective breeding for ambling gaits in different regions led to a variety of breeds suited to many historical uses.

Origin

A mutation in the DMRT3 gene commonly found in gaited horse breeds affects locomotion patterns. Horses with this mutation, also known as the gait keeper mutation, can perform alternative gaits naturally. [1]

The DMRT3 mutation is also found in horses used for harness racing. Researchers have linked the mutation to the ability to pace faster without transitioning to a canter. [2]

Interestingly, a study analyzing historical horse remains traced the origin of the DMRT3 mutation to Medieval England, around 850 to 900 AD. [3] However, this study only included two horses from southern Europe and none from Asia between 0 and 800 AD. Some researchers believe the mutation may have originated elsewhere. [4]

Research also shows that Icelandic horses have a high frequency of the DMRT3 gene mutation. This suggests that settlers brought ambling horses from the British Isles to Iceland between the 9th and 11th centuries. [3]

Early ambling horses also likely accompanied Norse settlers and Vikings on their journeys to continental Europe and beyond, allowing the DMRT3 mutation to spread. [3]

Historic Use

Ambling gaits allow horses to maintain continuous contact with the ground, reducing the vertical oscillation of their center of mass. As a result, horses with ambling gaits conserve energy while travelling at speed. [5]

Using less energy allowed these horses to travel greater distances at faster speeds without tiring. Ambling gaits are also more comfortable to ride than gaits with a moment of suspension, quickly causing ambling horses to become favored choices for long-distance travel.

Most modern gaited breeds originated in rocky, hilly, sandy, or other challenging types of terrain. [6] Maintaining constant contact with the ground also helps these horses stay balanced over uneven terrain.

Gaited breeds declined in 17th-century Europe with the rise of better roadways and heavy carriages for long-distance transport. But they retained their popularity in North and South America. [6]

List of Gaited Horse Breeds

There are many different breeds of gaited horses around the world. Some of the most popular gaited horse breeds include:

American Standardbreds that compete as pacers are also considered gaited horses.

While some horse breeds are predominantly non-gaited, individual horses within these breeds can still exhibit gaited abilities, often due to their bloodlines containing gaited breeds. This is observed in breeds such as the Morgan Horse and Appaloosa, where certain horses can perform unique gaits.

Mad About Horses
Join Dr. Chris Mortensen, PhD on an exciting adventure into the story of the horse and learn how we can make the world a better place for all equines.
Apple Podcasts Spotify Youtube