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365 Days in Horse Country – Pacing

Blog by Michael Stuart Webb | November 21st, 2013

365 Days in Horse Country – Pacing



If your horse were a Standardbred pulling a sulky, you might want him to pace.  This is the gait performed by many Standardbred race horses that involves the legs on both sides of the horse moving at the same time.  Standardbreds trained for the track can pace at speeds of around 35 miles per hour (15.6 m/s).

While pacing is a desired gait on the Standardbred track, it’s usually not a good thing when under saddle.  The problem with pacing is that it’s very uncomfortable for the rider.  A two-beat gait is like a trot, the pace is unsettling to sit and difficult to post.  It’s especially disconcerting for riders of gaited horses who are looking for a smooth four-beat gait and end up with the jarring two-beat pace instead.

Standardbreds aren’t the only horses that can pace.  Any breed can do it, although it’s most often seen among gaited horse breeds.  Icelandic horses do have a desired pace, a gait called the tolt, which is slightly different from the pace seen in other breeds and that is more comfortable to sit.

Horses pace for a number of reasons.  One is that they have trouble rounding their backs, which is necessary to perform a four-beat gait.  The horse may also be sore, tense, weak, or afraid.  All or even one of these elements can lead to pacing.

The best way to correct undesired pacing is to establish what is at the root cause and treat the problem.  Have a vet examine your horse to make sure pain isn’t the culprit.

Next comes conditioning.  Slowly condition your horse so his muscles are strong enough to hold him in frame where he can do a four-beat gait.  Next, consider retraining.  A horse that has been given a clean bill of health and is well conditioned but still won’t stop pacing needs help from a trainer, specifically one who deals with gaited horses.