Gaited Horse vs Quarter Horse: Unveiling Distinct Traits

Are you looking to buy a new horse but struggling to choose between a Gaited Horse vs Quarter Horse? With distinct traits and unique characteristics, it can be a tough decision to make. In this blog post, we’ll unveil the key differences between these two popular horse breeds, helping you make an informed decision. So, let’s dive in and explore the world of Gaited Horse vs Quarter Horse!

Gaited Horse Vs. Quarter Horse

The Peruvian Paso

General Characteristics

Gaited horses are known for their smooth, comfortable gaits and exceptional stamina, making them suitable for long rides and ideal for riders with joint issues or those who prefer a less bouncy ride Equine Helper. These horses naturally possess unique gaits and carry this quality in their genes. Gaited horses often have a higher head carriage compared to stock-type horses such as Quarter Horses or Paints Horse Rookie.

On the other hand, Quarter Horses excel in short sprints with powerful bursts of speed, making them perfect for events such as barrel racing, cutting, and reining. Their compact muscular build and strong hindquarters contribute to their powerful, agile movements. Quarter Horses typically have a shorter stride and are well-suited for western disciplines and ranch work.

Types of Gait

Gaited horses display a variety of unique gaits, with some of the most popular gaited breeds like the Tennessee Walking Horse, American Saddlebred, and Icelandic Horse The Spruce Pets. These gaits often include:

  • Running Walk: A four-beat lateral gait demonstrated by the Tennessee Walking Horse, providing an incredibly smooth riding experience.
  • Rack: An evenly timed, four-beat gait seen in the American Saddlebred, creating a smooth and swift ride.
  • Tölt: A rapid, four-beat gait unique to the Icelandic Horse, known for its stability and smoothness.

Gaited horses can also display a variety of intermediate gaits, such as the paso fino, foxtrot, and Appaloosa shuffle The Spruce Pets.

In contrast, Quarter Horses are non-gaited horses exhibiting the basic natural gaits: walk, trot, canter, and gallop. While they do not possess the same smoothness in their movements as gaited horses, their powerful strides and agility make them a popular choice for various equestrian activities.

In summary, both gaited and Quarter Horses have their unique characteristics and specialized purposes. Gaited horses are favored for their stamina, smoothness, and comfortable ride, while Quarter Horses are prized for their power, agility, and suitability to western riding disciplines.

Gaits and Movement

A Morgan Horse stallion with gaited movement


The walk is a natural four-beat gait where each foot moves individually. It is considered the slowest and most relaxed gait for both gaited horses and Quarter Horses. Known for its smoothness and efficiency, the walk provides a comfortable ride for both horse and rider. Gaited horses often have a more ground-covering stride that allows for a brisker pace while maintaining a smooth ride.


The trot is a two-beat diagonal gait, featuring a suspension phase when all four feet are momentarily off the ground. This gait is performed by both gaited and Quarter Horses. While Quarter Horses are known for their controlled and balanced trot, gaited horses may offer a smoother trot due to their natural body movement.


The canter is a three-beat gait characterized by its rolling movement. Both gaited horses and Quarter Horses perform this gait. Quarter Horses often display a more relaxed and controlled canter, while gaited horses may exhibit a uniquely smooth canter that provides a comfortable experience for the rider.


The gallop is the fastest four-beat gait where all four feet leave the ground during the suspension phase. In both gaited horses and Quarter Horses, this gait is used for covering long distances at high speeds. However, the gallop of gaited horses may feel smoother due to their natural ambling gaits.


Back is a gait where the horse moves in reverse, requiring precise control by the rider. Both gaited horses and Quarter Horses can perform this maneuver. The ease of performing the back gait depends on the individual horse’s training and natural ability.


The lope, considered a slow canter, is characterized by a rocking, relaxed motion. Quarter Horses, known for their agility and control, often exhibit a balanced and comfortable lope. Some gaited horses may also perform the lope, and their natural ability to provide a smooth ride can enhance the rider’s experience during this gait as well.

Ambling Gaits

Ambling gaits, including the racking horse, running walk, and tölt, are unique to gaited horses. These gaits are performed at varying speeds and offer a remarkably smooth ride due to the horse’s ability to maintain continuous contact with the ground. These gaits are characterized by their stamina, efficiency, and the lack of suspension phase, which conserves energy for the horse, making them ideal for long rides or trail excursions. Ambling gaits are a distinguishing factor between gaited horses and Quarter Horses and are indicative of the gaited horse’s genetic predisposition to provide a comfortable, smooth ride source.

Gaited Horse Breeds

Tennessee Walking Horse

The Tennessee Walking Horse is a popular gaited horse breed known for its unique running walk, which provides a smooth and comfortable ride. This breed is often used for trail riding, showing, and pleasure riding, with its calm temperament and exceptional endurance making it a great choice for riders of all levels. The Tennessee Walking Horse is also known for its flashy appearance and high head carriage, adding to its appeal as a show horse.

Paso Fino

The Paso Fino is a breed originating from Latin America, known for its natural, four-beat gait called the “paso fino.” This gait offers a smooth and comfortable ride, allowing for long distances to be covered with ease. Paso Finos are versatile horses that excel in various disciplines such as trail riding, endurance, and competitive events. Their characteristic movement and exceptional temperament make them a popular choice among gaited horse enthusiasts.


Morgan horses, one of America’s oldest horse breeds, are prized for their versatility, beauty, and strong work ethic. While not exclusively gaited, some Morgans exhibit a smooth gait called the “single-foot” or “amble,” which provides a comfortable ride for the rider. Morgan horses are used in a variety of equestrian disciplines, including driving, dressage, and western pleasure riding, showcasing their diverse talents and abilities.

American Saddlebred

The American Saddlebred is known for its extravagant and high-stepping gaits, including the slow gait and the rack. These gaits, which are both four-beat with a lateral pattern, provide smoother alternatives to the trot, making the ride more comfortable for the rider. American Saddlebreds are often used in saddle seat competitions and are also known for their flashy appearance and powerful, arched necks.


Standardbred horses, initially bred for harness racing, are known for their ability to perform a smooth, lateral “pace,” a two-beat gait that provides a comfortable ride for their riders. Some Standardbreds may also perform a “trot,” a diagonal two-beat gait, but their pacing ability is what sets them apart from other breeds. Standardbreds are often repurposed for pleasure riding, driving, or equestrian sports after their racing careers have ended, showcasing their adaptability and versatility.

Peruvian Paso

The Peruvian Paso breed, originating from Peru, is celebrated for its distinctive, four-beat lateral gait known as the “paso llano.” This gait provides an exceptionally smooth ride, which, combined with the breed’s incredible stamina, makes it perfect for traversing long distances. Peruvian Pasos are often used for trail riding and endurance events, and their graceful movement and elegant appearance contribute to their popularity among gaited horse enthusiasts.

In summary, gaited horse breeds such as the Tennessee Walking Horse, Paso Fino, Morgan, American Saddlebred, Standardbred, and Peruvian Paso offer riders a comfortable and smooth riding experience. These breeds are versatile and excel in various disciplines, making them a popular choice for those seeking a horse with natural gaiting abilities.

Naturally Gaited Horses

A magestic standardbred horse galopping in the snow

Naturally gaited horses refer to horse breeds that possess distinctive gaits apart from the usual walk, trot, and canter found in non-gaited breeds. These gaited breeds, such as the Tennessee Walker and the Appaloosa, provide a smoother ride due to their even, four-beat movements. They are often preferred by riders who are looking for comfort during long rides, as the horses’ natural gaits reduce bounce and impact on the rider’s body.

Gaited breeds often exhibit stamina and endurance, making them excellent choices for long treks or trail riding. These horses are able to conserve energy by never suspending themselves in the air, unlike trotting horses. This natural tendency is a genetic trait that makes them particularly sought-after by riders seeking a comfortable mount (source).

Dressage, a form of horse training and competition, can be particularly beneficial to naturally gaited horses. It helps to develop their smooth gaits by encouraging relaxation of the mind and body, improving stride length, and promoting even rhythm and tempo (source). These factors contribute to a strong partnership between horse and rider while promoting trust and harmony.

Some examples of naturally gaited horse breeds include:

  • Tennessee Walker: Known for its running walk, this breed moves with a distinct four-beat gait that provides a smooth ride.
  • Appaloosa: Often referred to as the “Appaloosa shuffle,” this breed’s lateral gait resembles a pace but is smoother, similar to the running walk of a Tennessee Walker (source).

In comparison, Quarter Horses are non-gaited breeds, known for their sprinting abilities and predominantly used in Western-style events such as reining, barrel racing, and cutting. They are versatile and known for their compact, muscular build, but they do not possess the naturally smooth gaits found in gaited breeds.

In summary, naturally gaited horses provide a comfortable and smooth ride due to their distinctive gaits, making them a preferred choice for riders who prioritize comfort during long rides. These breeds can greatly benefit from dressage training, which helps enhance their natural gaits and promote a strong bond between horse and rider.

Temperament and Courage

Gaited horses and Quarter horses possess distinctive characteristics when it comes to their temperament and courage. Understanding these traits can help riders make informed decisions about which breed best suits their needs and preferences.

Gaited horses are known for their stamina and endurance, which make them ideal for long rides [1]. These horses are able to conserve more energy due to their unique gait patterns, which prevent them from suspending themselves in the air. This quality is naturally present in their genes. Gaited horses usually display higher head carriage than stock-type horses, such as Quarter horses or Paints [5]. The higher head carriage enhances the smoothness and lightness of their movements, making them comfortable to ride.

On the other hand, Quarter horses are typically docile and highly trainable [2]. Their calm disposition makes them a popular choice for beginner riders, while their versatility and athleticism cater to the needs of advanced riders in various equestrian disciplines.

When it comes to courage, Quarter horses demonstrate great potential in jumping [4]. They possess the conformation, strength, and quickness required for successful jumping. Good jumpers often stand at a height of around 16 hands, a range in which Quarter horses typically fall, varying between 14.5 to 16.5 hands tall.

Regarding temperament, both gaited horses and Quarter horses boast desirable traits. Gaited horses provide a smooth and comfortable ride, while Quarter horses exhibit a docile and trainable nature, suitable for riders of all skill levels. For courageous jumping endeavors, Quarter horses emerge as the favorable choice due to their physical abilities and inherent courage.

In summary, gaited horses and Quarter horses offer slightly different qualities in terms of temperament and courage. Assessing riders’ unique preferences and riding goals will help them choose the most suitable breed to match their needs.

Athleticism, Strength, and Height

American Saddlebred horse galloping across the meadow

Gaited horses and Quarter Horses possess unique athletic abilities and strengths, which influence and define the activities they excel in. Gaited horses, such as the Missouri Fox Trotter, Mountain Horse, Spotted Saddle Horse, and Tennessee Walking Horse, are known for their smooth gaits offering a comfortable ride, often at a fast canter. Quarter Horses, on the other hand, are renowned for their versatility, sprinting ability, and aptitude for various equestrian disciplines such as jumping, racing, and Western sports.

When assessing athleticism, it’s essential to consider height, as taller horses often possess a more significant stride length, providing an advantage in certain sports. Gaited horse breeds can range in height from 11 hands (44 inches) up to 16 hands (64 inches). Quarter Horses also exhibit varied heights between 14.5 and 16.5 hands. The optimal height for a good jumper is typically around 16 hands, which is achievable by both gaited horses and Quarter Horses.

Strength is another crucial component of athleticism. Both gaited and Quarter Horses exhibit the muscular build and deep chest necessary for exceptional performance. Gaited horses are thought to be reliably stable due to their gaits, which ensures that one hoof is always in contact with the ground. Quarter Horses are known for their conformation, strength, and quickness, lending themselves to be fantastic jumpers.

In summary, Gaited and Quarter Horses display distinct athleticism and strengths, influenced by their height and muscular build. While gaited horses are admired for their smooth gaits and comfortable rides, Quarter Horses demonstrate exceptional versatility, aptitude for various equestrian sports, and the ability to be great jumpers. Both breeds possess the physical characteristics necessary for athletic performance and are adaptable to various equestrian activities.

Gaited Horse vs Quarter Horse

Appaloosa horse enjoys time on the meadow with a gait

Gaited horses and Quarter horses are both popular breeds in the equestrian world, but they have several differences. Gaited horses are particularly known for their unique gaits, which are characterized by stamina and endurance, making them easy to ride for long periods of time with a smooth ride experience. These horses inherit their gaited qualities through their genes, and the most popular gaited horse breed in the United States is the Tennessee Walking Horse which is known for its easy-going temperament and smooth gait.

On the other hand, Quarter horses are the most popular American horse breed. Though they are not gaited, they are an excellent choice for a variety of equestrian disciplines due to their calm and cooperative nature. Quarter horses excel at jumpers, even though they are not considered Warmbloods. They are not a gaited breed, but they are versatile and athletic, making them suitable for various uses, including racing, ranch work, and even riding.

When comparing gaited horses and Quarter horses, there are a few key differences to consider:

  • Movement: Gaited horses have unique gaits with a four-beat pattern that conserves their energy, whereas Quarter horses have standard gaits (walk, trot, canter, and gallop) that can be more tiring for the rider.
  • Breed Origins: Gaited horses are often bred for their smooth gaits and endurance, while Quarter horses are bred for their versatility and athleticism.
  • Equestrian Disciplines: Gaited horses are ideal for long trail rides and endurance events, while Quarter horses excel in jumping, racing, and ranch work.


In summary, gaited horses and Quarter horses each offer unique aspects that cater to different types of riders and equestrian activities. Gaited horses provide a smooth ride with natural stamina and endurance, making them perfect for long trail rides and individuals who prefer a comfortable experience. Quarter horses, on the other hand, are versatile and athletic, excelling in jumping, racing, and other disciplines that require agility and speed. Ultimately, the choice between these two breeds depends on the rider’s preferences and intended use for the horse.