Understanding Horse Racing Gaits

Standardbreds Pace, or Trot; Thoroughbreds Canter, Run, or Gallop. In his time, the pacer Dan Patch was the fairest of them all, losing only two heats in his lifetime, and never losing a race. He was born fast, and he paced lights out in the late 1890s and the early 1900s. But like all pacers, trotters, and Thoroughbred runners, Dan Patch had to be taught to maintain his gait for a certain length of time, and to maintain a desired speed, easy, then faster and faster, around a race track. He was a quick learner and a great competitor.

What Is A Pacing Gait? Pacing is generally the faster of the two Standardbred gaits. Pacers have a lateral motion, that is they extend their right front and right rear legs at the same time in the same direction. That motion is followed by extension of the opposite side of their bodies – left front and left rear legs reaching forward at the same time.

Pacers have been referred to as “sidewheelers” because their gait, moving one side of the body, then the other, creates a lilting, rocking motion, one side to the other and back again. Pacers are trained to maintain their gait to compete in their races, usually for a mile on a mile track, or for two trips around a half mile track. To aid them, pacers wear hobbles, or leather (or plastic) straps that fit loosely around the upper portion of the legs. Leather strips attach the hobbles on the two legs that move at the same time, thus teaching the pacer to keep his gait.