Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Gaits part 4: Glossary of lesser known terms

In reading about gaits, I ran across some interesting terms --like galop en arrière, or the backwards canter (see video, right). Considered by some to be part of classical dressage, it is hard for me to think of as anything but controlled rearing and bucking.

Anyhoo, this post is is a half-serious attempt to present some new and lesser known dressage terms, mostly related to riding and gaits. I think some of these terms are described, if not coined, in the book Tug of War: Classical vs. Modern Dressage. The links for each term are video illustrations -- some don't fit exactly, but you'll get the idea. Also, it's hard to resist a bit of personal commentary for the terms I'm sure we all know...


Absolute elevation (video example): The raising of the horse's neck (in isolation) without shifting the horse’s balance to the rear.

Against the bit (video example): When the horse braces against or fights the contact (see video at 4:00 minutes).

Backwards canter (video example 2): IMHO a variation on rearing. And bucking. Obediently.

Behind the vertical (video example): the way practically every upper level dressage horse is ridden :-)

Broken Neckline (video example): The position of the neck in which there is excessive longitudinal flexion approximately one third of the way down the neck, so that the poll is no longer the highest point of the skeleton, and the topline of the neck no longer forms an even, smooth arc.  Not to be confused with sweetheart neckline.   [from PVDA document listed under RESOURCES]

Closed Halt (video example) : A posture at the halt in which the horse is secure in balance and attitude and has the hind legs sufficiently under the body. [from PVDA document listed under RESOURCES]

Goose-stepping (video example): Refers to exaggerated or artificial action of the forelegs. Usually applied to the walk. [from PVDA document listed under RESOURCES]

Hocks trailing (video example) : When the hind legs don't "step under" the body when trotting.

Lateral canter (examples: Quarter Horse and Bashkir Curly/QH): When the inside hind and foreleg on each side of the body tend to move together (2 beat), rather than the normal pattern of inside hind, diagonal inside hind/outside fore, inside fore (3 beat).

Lateral, ambling, or pacey walk (video example): An irregular walk rhythm in which the time intervals between the beats are not equal (the interval between the hind hoof and same-side fore hoof is shorter than the interval between the fore hoof and its diagonal hind hoof). [from PVDA document listed under RESOURCES]

Leg mover vs. back mover (great article): a real distinction, but sometimes used inappropriately and jealously IMHO. 

Nodding/Bobbing (for example, see 4:42 of this video): A rhythmic up-and-down or backward and forward action of the horse’s head and neck which is not part of the normal mechanic of the gait. It may be caused by the past use of gadgets, by constraint, or by lameness. [from PVDA document listed under RESOURCES]

Passagey trot (video example): from what I've read, this is a trot that horses offer defensively to avoid engaging the hind end. The telltale sign for the rider is that the horse loses the ability to collect/extend on request. The PVDA document states: "A trot in which the phase of support of one diagonal pair of legs is prolonged, while there is a hesitation in the forward travel of the other diagonal pair of legs, giving a floating, hovering impression. Also called 'hovering trot.'” [from PVDA document listed under RESOURCES]

Wide behind (video example): Hind legs stepping outside the normal track, especially in the bigger gaits. Can be due to an upper limb lameness. Note: if you watch the video (link) look at sequence between 00:34-40 seconds.
The reason some of us ride in 18" saddles...


Unusual action vs. slightly lame from Horseandhound.com

Correctness of gaits in horses
(video) from extension.org

Faulty gaits in dressage from equisearch

Judging terms from PVDA.org

Ultimatedressage passagey trot thread

Regularity: Rhythm, Tempo, Stride Length, Energy Level from artisticdressage.com

Hot to trot by Hillary Clayton in USDF Connection, July 2002

How does a dressage judge score gaits? from Aiken Horse, Feb/March 2009


  1. Wow, you've been busy. I only looked at the first video for now. Most of the other terms I am fairly familiar with, but I will look at the examples when I have more time.

    As for the backwards canter, I had heard of it, but this is first time I've ever seen it. However, if you watch the stallions in the Spanish Riding School perform the airs above the ground, especially the croupade and capriole, they start with a similar movement. They kind of bounce up and down in the canter...wonder if they are schooled in the backwards canter to prepare them for the leaps?

  2. I only had a chance this morning too look at the first video. That's the first time I've seen it. Was it Racinet who was into the backward canter? I felt tense the whole time because it went on and on. And I wonder why that Prokovief? It made it even more tense. I found myself pitying the horse, especially on that hard surface. Thanks for all the hard work. I look forward to watching the other videos.

  3. I think I've done quite a few of these at one time or another by accident - or as the kind dressage judges put it, 'not required at this level' :-)

  4. Thanks for the compendium - I shall save the link to delve into on my lunch breaks. I read the passagey trot link - very educational. Agree with Jean about the backwards canter at the Spanish Riding School - that was my first thought too.

  5. This backwards canter reminds be of a movement I researched some time ago when I was looking dressage in the 16th century and the origins of the musical freestyle. The movement is called the "terre a terre," there's a video of it here. The pattern of the footfalls is interesting - there's definitely a canter "lead" behind, but it's very hard to see whether or not the front feet hit the ground at the same time and whether one is in front of the other. Odd!


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