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Feeling for footfalls

Shannon has a nice thread going on right now about "feel" in an abstract sense, from the horse's mind to the human's mind, if I understand the intent of the thread correctly.  But there is also a "physical feel" between horse and human and that perhaps could be best illustrated by a study of footfalls. I think it is obviously a less abstract concept than the "mind feel" but the two might be good companion threads.  That is to say, perhaps the study of one type of "feel"  might enhance the study of the other type of "feel".  

If not, then footfalls, in and of themselves, are interesting

Blue Flame

Very timely thread for us as we're just beginning to touch on timing aids to footfalls. Off to read the link . . .

I have a suggestion for people starting this, is to put a different sound on each foot...a bell, plastic beads, wood beads, metal beads...just so each has a distinct sound.   Your ears are much more perceptive then your body.  

Another trick I learned from working on gait alone is to mount my camera on the fence with a gorilla tripod and digitally tape my session.   It definitely helps when you can SEE if you are accomplishing what you want or not.  

You could isolate the feet and say "Left front Now, Now, Now" with each step and then see if you identified it correctly.   Of course with the fronts you can look down and see, but that does change your focus and the idea is to teach yourself to feel it.  

I find if I ride the hinds with my hips and the fronts with my hands, I can isolate pretty easily.  

BTW - this is much harder with a gaited horse then a trotter.
Blue Flame

Just an option for those that might want material to study . . . Was looking around Mark Rashid's site for his Footfalls DVD and noticed that he now rents out his materials as well - $10 for 15 days including postage and no membership fee. Will add this to helpful links.

Go here:

the only thing I would add is that when the horse has relaxed muscle, they swing their ribs from side to side, when they have topline they lift each side!

Julie wrote:
the only thing I would add is that when the horse has relaxed muscle, they swing their ribs from side to side, when they have topline they lift each side!
Do you mean they lift each side in addition to swinging from side to side when they have topline? Or less swinging, no swinging?


Can recommend Mark Rashid's DVD on footfalls although his horse models would be clearer if they had bigger swinging bellies and he filmed their momement for longer so the viewer could actually get into the rhythm.

They swing more up and forwards than side to side!



The front is easy for me.  The back, not so much.  Every chance I get, I rope a friend into calling out the hind feet for me so I can close my eyes and feel what's happening when they call it out.  I'm getting better - I can get it about 50% of the time by myself now.  Other than that, I'm always late.  We work on that a lot - almost every time I ride, I do some hind footfalls.  

I like Carol's suggestion of putting something different on each hoof to make a different noise.  Good idea!

I took a lunge line dressage lesson on Saturday - my first one with a new instructor. She had me ride with a bareback pad/vaulting surcingle and at one point asked me to call out footfalls of the front legs at walk and trot. No other riding instructor I've had has ever focused any time on footfall. I'm happy to say I was consistently correct. Riding in a bareback pad makes it easier to feel the horse for sure!

I always think of a horse's hind leg movement being reflected by the side to side movement of its ribs and front leg movement being reflected by the up and down movement of the horse's head and neck.  So, time your legs with the hind legs and time your hands with the front legs, at the walk of course.


Study the footfalls from hind to fore.  Ride the horse from back to front.  The hinds determine where the fores will be.  Walter Zettl has a segment in his dvds about applying leg aids - when to apply according to where the feet are.  I am sure there are others.  There are also a lot of internet articles on footfalls.  It's a good starting place to know where the fores are, but get those hinds and you'll know where the fores should be.

another great way to figure out footfalls, is to Do IT: literally do it yourself!

Get down on your hands and knees, and mimic the horse, look at a books/videos that show the gaits (walk trot canter etc) and then do them.

Most horse care books/beginner riding books have some section that has that information in it, I believe even Pat's Natural Horse-man-ship book has a section showing the sequence of footfalls. I know the pony  club manuals have such a section.

I do this frequently, even practicing canter, pirouettes, sidepasses, shoulder-ins etc, even though I am not able to do all of those on my horse yet, by doing them myself I can then feel what he will need to do in his body/what he will be doing with his feet, to get it done.

I think it is very helpful, though I am not perfect in my footfalls either. I actually started doing this when I was a little girl, I was so proud of myself that I knew how to correctly canter, and would teach my nieces and nephews about the leads and how to correctly canter, and this was before I even had a horse, or had taken riding lessons. I taught myself this from books, and wanted to play 'horse' and to move like a horse, so I learned how to truly canter, not knowing that it would help when it came time to learn to ride.

So if you are physically capable get down there on the floor and canter about, it will make you feel youthful again anyway.    

No can do...I'm a pretty lame horse...bad elbow, horrible knees.  I'm afraid someone would just shoot me.

I did say if you were physically capable   you could watch someone else do it, but then again you might as well just watch a lot of horses moving, and watch their feet.  

The moment you want to feel for, according to Mark Rashid, is the moment the foot lifts up.  

It is as the foot comes off the ground that you can influence it to move over or stretch further or change gait before it is put down again.

Thinking right hind foot - it comes off the ground as the horse swings his ribs to the left.  He has to move his ribs over BEFORE he can lift the leg and swing it forward.

At the walk, if you catch that moment - your hips will move left with his barrel - and count it as ONE, then the left front lifting is TWO, the left hind lifting is THREE and the right front lifting is FOUR.

Once you reliably can get the ONE, start feeling for the THREE - the left hind lifting off when your hips move to the right with the horse's barrel.

When you reliably get ONE and THREE, you can fit in TWO and FOUR (the fronts).

Carefreegirls's suggestion of getting down there and doing it yourself is the best.

If you're like me (and like PasoCarol by the sound of it) make sure you have something or someone nearby to pull your self up again     .