By Margie Sugarman
I’m experiencing some issues as I’m moving up and starting to do certain classes at the shows. I’ve always been told it’s “track and pace,” and I hear this all the time when watching competitions on TV. My biggest issue right now is pace. I understand the word but don’t really get how to find the correct “speed.” What should I do?
Breeding has quite a lot to do with gaits and ultimately the pace of the horse. Through observation over years of study, it appears that some rhythms and movements are permanently imprinted in the horse’s brain. Furthermore, a horse’s physical build impacts stride and, consequently, pace. For example, a horse with a long neck usually has a longer stride. We can speak about all the physical characteristics that determine the best discipline for a horse, but of paramount importance is the fact that a horse’s desire often overrides its physical limitations.
Although some breeds have additional gaits, all horses have these natural gaits:
- The walk—a comfortable four-beat stride
- The trot—a diagonal two-beat gait
- The canter—an asymmetrical three-beat gait
- The gallop—an asymmetrical high-speed, four-beat stride.
Of importance in understanding the pace of a horse is the “speed” at which we perceive him going.
In actuality, the walk is considered a gait of 4 miles per hour, the trot is averaged at 8 mph, the canter averages 10-17 mph and the gallop averages 25-30 mph.
However, actual numbers don’t really matter: What is important in helping to understand the “pace” is the perceived speed at which one is going. Start by finding the speed at which you would normally travel going around a show ring. This is the basis for the exercise. Perhaps you might say that’s 12 mph—fine. Then you must come up with the number for a collected canter—let’s say 5 mph. Lastly, the gallop—hypothetically that’s 15 mph. Whatever your numbers are, you must be able to find that pace immediately, so this is where the practice comes in.
Ride and practice making sure that you know what 5, 12 and 15 mph feel like. You must be able to find those speeds and maintain them. Have your trainer call out your numbers at various times and you respond with riding that pace. It’s important to practice and play such games because you need to be able to connect the mind and body: the cognitive thought and the physical response (feeling). In forming this connection, you will ultimately just be able to ride at the correct pace without thinking about the number.
In this way, knowing your basic three strides, you can dissect a course and figure out what pace to use where. Remember, your 12 mph might be someone else’s 14 mph—that doesn’t matter. What matters is that you can, and will, be able to dissect your course knowing when to turn up the pace and when to collect. Moreover, you’ll know just how fast or slow you’ll have to go, based on your own numbering system.
Remember, one of the first things a judge looks at when you’re in the ring is your pace—your miles per hour, your horse’s speed. The consistency of your rhythm stands out to the judge. Of course, you’ll have to shorten and lengthen a stride on a rhythm, but the consistency is the key.
You’ll know your miles per hour, you’ll know your pace—and you’ll never have to worry about a speeding ticket!
Your “pace” is the perceived speed at which the horse or pony is going.
Photo by Ali Kelman