Many gaited horses indeed, it seems the the majority of them will perform a pace or stepping pace as their preferred gait. While it s always our intent to encourage natural gait action, it is best to try to bring the strongly lateral horse as close to the center of the gait spectrum as possible, and this for its own long-term welfare. A horse that paces is moving one set of lateral, or same side, legs in perfect unison, creating an even 2-beat gait, with a moment of suspension between one set of feet picking up and the opposite set striking the ground. The motion of the pace is from side to side, and because of the suspension, there s also some up and down movement. No fun for the rider! The stepping pace is nearly identical to the pace, except that the hind foot sets down a split second before the same side forefoot. This eliminates suspension, and the resultant concussion, that occurs in a straight pace.
Sometimes a step pace is a smooth gait for the rider. But any horse executing it will be going in a strung-out manner that places too much weight over the front end, and discourages proper balance and collection. In other words, the horse will land heavily on each front leg, while each hind leg will be hyper-extended behind it before the weight comes off, placing excessive stress on the hocks and stifle joints. This frequently results in problems with the soundness of these structures. It also encourages a ventroflexed hollow backed frame, making the horse hard to fit for saddle, and weakened throughout its topline. Since the horse s back muscle (the longissimus dorsi) is the largest muscle in its body, we should keep it strong and healthy for as long as possible.
Pace isn t only unfortunate for the horse, however. The most common complaint I receive, by far, is from people who have horses with extremely uncomfortable pace gaits under saddle. Many of these poor souls despair of ever being able to retrain these horses, yet are emotionally attached to them. Many people do not realize there is a problem with the pace or step pace, and believe it is a correct saddle gait. One highly respected mainstream equestrian magazine ran a feature article on the subject of gaited horses, and every photo in the article showed horses, with widely grinning riders, performing fast pace or step pace gaits!