Before you read this article please keep in mind the following. When we are talking about beats in gallop we are talking about the sound, and when we are talking about landing, we are talking about the actual physical landing sequence of the legs. For example if a horse is fairly collected, while galloping/cantering in the riding arena with plenty of cushion/soft surface, we will hear three beats, though the actual landing sequence is four, but because the landing of the diagonal legs is almost simultaneous we hear three beets. In the same principle in the racing gallop we can hear only two beats.

    We can hear the four beats in two instances, when the horse's gallop/canter is not collected and is off balance without sufficient impulsion, and when the horse gallops/canters on very hard ground. Please notice when watching horses galloping on the hard ground the stride significantly shortens and the action of the legs is higher (similarly to galloping on a very deep footing), and so the four beat is for this reason even more pronounce; all this because the horse is trying to reduce not only the break over stress, but also the impact of the front legs because of obvious pain and discomfort, hence we do not gallop/canter horses on hard surfaces, but we can ride at the walk or trot (not too fast) on hard surfaces fairly safely.

    The gallop is the most natural gait of the horse when he needs to move quickly to another place. It is the fastest gait, but also the most strenuous.

(3)      (2)
(2a)      (1)
The numeric sequence 
in the gallop (left lead)

Right lead
(2)    (3)
(1)    (2a)

The "a" added to the numeric sequences presented in the above demonstrations are pointing out the fact that the "2a" lands slightly earlier than the "2", where the timing is the subject to balance and collection, and mainly to the speed and surface, and so when galloping on very hard surfaces, like the streets, we hear something like pa da-da dap instead of pa da dap. This is not the same as the so-called four beat canter, but it has to do more with the horse trying to reduce the impact of the front legs against the hard surface or in higher speeds. Therefore galloping on hard surface is detrimental to riding horses, and no decent horseman ever does that.

     The actions of the legs are series of uninterrupted jumps initiated in the strong pushing action (impulse) of the hind legs, transferred through the muscles of the back onto the front (impulsion) that is thus lifted, at which point the hind legs, which are strongly set under, with an immense muscular effort throw the entire body forward and the prepared front legs then catch it and support it. Here the leg interchange is lateral, hence even-sided, which means that the diagonal legs will land almost simultaneously. Therefore, we can hear three hoof-beats. The movement of the legs follows in this order: right hind – left hind almost simultaneously with right front – left front, after that follows a moment when the body is moved forward without touching the ground (suspension). Henceforth, we can hear a series of regular three-beats*, which is followed with regular pauses (the entire body of the horse is above the ground).   

    The bracing of individual legs gives the body interchanging support; it is – on one leg, on three legs, on two legs and on one leg, before the entire body is for a brief movement lifted above the ground without the support of the legs.

    According to the phase at which the individual front leg supports the entire body by itself, either left or right, we then talk about a gallop on the right or left hand/lead. If the horse is galloping in the circle or in the limited space of a riding arena, he must jump and gallop on the inner front leg (correct lead). If he is galloping on the outer leg, we are talking about an incorrect gallop (wrong lead). In the higher level of arena training/riding, this incorrect gallop is a mandatory exercise (renvers). Outside this renvers there is also a demand for various lead changes by certain counts of gallop jumps.

   Cross galloping/cantering is usually caused by tiring (pain, injury etc.) or by the off balance attempt to change the direction of movement during gallop. The horse changes (cross jumps) in the front while the hind remains galloping incorrectly. At the landing of the inner right hind, also lands the front leg of the same side. The horse is in the opposite gallop in the hind end in reference to the front. The advancement of the body is not in a straight line with the forward motion, the movement is “broken” and the tendons are more stressed.

    Lead change
is executed during the “in the air” moment. The inner hind leg that was working simultaneously with the diagonal front leg lands first after the lift earlier, and thus begins the first phase of the gallop jump to the opposite leg. The hind leg of the formal inner diagonal becomes the outer leg (pushing forward), after that follows the diagonal, and last the inner front leg. The horse must not lose the rhythm or the motion (advancement) forward. The lead change is mandatory in the medium and advance levels of dressage.

    According to the speed, we recognize – the short or school gallop, medium (long - extended) gallop, gallop and racing gallop (full run).

    The school - collected - short gallop does not differ from the normal gallop by more hoof-beats. The gallop is uplifting (buoyant), cadenced, rhythmical (fluent), and impulsion-full.

    Once the impulsion is lost, the outer diagonal legs no longer work simultaneously and the false, broken down (four beat) gallop develops. During the correct gallop jump, the outer hind leg pulls in and then strongly pushes forward, while the inner hind leg sets it self more under and takes part in the carrying and supportive function.

Long stride gallop (D2)
 by a steeplechaser

    Sometimes, during the racing gallop we cannot hear the third beat, and it seems that there are only two contacts with the ground. This is due to the fact that the hind legs land in small intervals earlier (2a) (see "The horse in motion" below). During the racing gallop the horse’s body is horizontally stretched, the head and the neck are stretched in the direction of movement, synchronized with the back muscles. This then enables easier breathing and maximum freedom of movement in the shoulder blades. The hind legs are reaching far under the horse, that uses the limits of his strength and adjusted muscles to advance his body forward as much as possible; when he leaves the ground the hind legs are stretch backward to maximum. The function of the front and hind legs fall more or less together and the tracks often lay the same height (D1)-(2b)


   The speeds of the gallop differ greatly. The school gallop is much slower than a trot; as apposed to the racing gallop, which is the maximum speed that the horse can reach.

    The length of a regular gallop jump is on the average 3,60 to 3,90 m. The racing horse, in open gallop, is 7m and the average speed is about 13,39 m in one second, about 836 m in one minute (often referred to as two-minute clip in the thoroughbred racing, covering one mile in two minutes, or in other places referred to as the steeplechase gallop or canter.) There are other terminologies referring to the particular speeds in gallop like canter, lope etc., but they are subjects not only to the specific areas (places, countries, languages), but mainly to the particular use of riding horses or horses in general, hence no use to mention them.

    Through a special training, especially by the English thoroughbred, the speed can be 15 m per second, for a distance1600 m (1 mile) about 1 minute and 35 seconds (Dr Fager 1:32 1); the stride (jumps) reach 8 meters or more (Secretariat about 9m - 29.5 feet).

    World Records on dirt:
¼ m Big Racket 4 114 Mexico, 5-Feb-1945 0:20 4
½ m Adventuresome Love 7 115 STP, 3-Apr-1993 0:43 4
¾ m 6f G Malleah 4 120 TuP, 8-Apr-1995 1:06 3
1m Dr Fager 4 134 AP, 24-Aug-1968 1:32 1
1and ½ m Secretariat 3 126 BEL, 9-Jun-1973 2:24 0
2m Kelso 7 124 AQU, 31-Oct-1964 3:19 1
3m Farragut 5 113 AC, 9-Mar-1941 5:15 0
4m Sotemia 5 119 CD, 7-Oct-1912 7:10 4
(For more records click here)


Dr Fager

The flat jump style of 
steeplechase horses

This photo demonstrates the immense talent and flexibility in the joins required by the high jumpers.

      The jump in relevance to an obstacle is a gallop motion. With the influence of the hind end and the back muscles, the front end of the horse is lifted by the strongly under-set hind legs, and by a quick extension of the muscles the body is thrown forward.

    During a correct jumping of obstacles, the horse is jumping with sufficient impulsion and arched back. The neck and the head form a kind of  “balance stick” with which the horse maintains his balance. The legs interface remains similar to the gallop. The jump over an obstacle is a huge but interrupted gallop jump. The hind legs push off the body during the take off and the front legs catch it during the landing.

    The incorrect jumping is so-called “deer or buck jumping”. The horse is jumping with an in-caved (flat) back, with neck and head upward. In most cases the horse will land on all four legs simultaneously, then looses the impulsion and when landing often catches the obstacle with his hind legs.

    In the flat jump, the body is only slightly lifted in the upward direction; the jump is executed within the gallop interval, but covering more ground – hurdle racing - steeplechase (brush jumps) and with increased speed the distance jumping.

    In the high jump, the torso is lifted more upward by the hind legs, and then thrown over the obstacle. This very much depends on the training of the horse, on the unity of the rider and his/her horse to prevent disturbance, and with the correct transfer of the rider’s body weight to ease the workload. The forms of setting-under and bending of the legs during the high jump are decisive factors in determining a high quality jumping horse.

    The other sought out qualities of a good jumper, besides good general physical condition, is a massive hind end equipped with adequate mechanics (sharp angled joints) and accompanied with well-developed long muscles. Long, wide, slightly slanted hindquarters, long and strong leg muscles, and a strong back are essential for the high-jumping horse.

Translated by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a Lee Stanek from the 1953 Special Zoo-Technique - Breeding of Horses
Published in 1953 by the Czechoslovakian Academy of Agricultural Science and certified by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Written by: MVDr Ludvik Ambroz, Frabtisek Bilek, MVDr Karel Blazek, Ing. Jaromir Dusek, Ing. Karel Hartman, Hanus Keil, pro. MVDr Emanuel Kral, Karel Kloubek, Ing. Dr. Frantisek Lerche, Ing. Dr Vaclav Michal, Ing. Dr Zdenek Munki, Ing. Vladimir Mueller, MVDr Julius Penicka, pro. MVDr Emil Pribyl, MVDr Lev Richter, prof. Ing. Dr Josef Rechta, MVDr Karel Sejkora and Ing. Dr Jindrich Steinitz.