Four On the Floor

A lope should be a definite three-beat gait.

From The American Quarter Horse Journal, with trainer Clark Bradley

Most horse-show competitors have seen it: the horse that appears to lope in the front and trot in the rear. Called the "trope," the "shuffle" or just the "four beat," it can be almost painful to watch. And once a horse learns to four-beat, it's a habit that can be difficult to correct without proper training.

Judges agree a western pleasure horse should be a good mover and a pleasure to ride. However, just because a horse is a pleasure to ride doesn't necessarily mean the animal is moving correctly. Despite the fact that a horse may be performing at the correct speed, relaxed and responsive to the rider, if he's four-beating at the lope, he is not considered to be performing the gait properly. It can be easy to ride a horse that's four-beating because it's generally smooth. However, just because it is smooth does not mean it's correct.

A correct lope on the left lead, for example, means that the horse first engages with his right hind; this foot hits the ground first. Next, the left rear and the right front hit the ground simultaneously. The left front is the last hoof to hit the ground.

A four-beat lope on the left lead would mean that the right front hits the ground first, and the left front is the last hoof to hit the ground. However, in the four-beat, the left rear and the right front do not hit the ground simultaneously; they strike the ground separately, making the fourth beat.

An integral part of the lope is rhythm. Richard Shrake addresses the importance of rhythm in our FREE Riding Lessons with Richard Shrake report. Download it today!

Origin of the Four-Beat

In the case of most horses who four-beat the lope, the condition is manmade. It often is the result of a rider who, in an effort to set a horse's head and make him lope slowly, allows the animal to shorten his stride thereby losing impulsion in the rear, which creates a four-beat lope. Too often, the rider becomes too concerned with making the horse slow down, as opposed to ensuring that the horse moves correctly. In general, the more slowly a horse moves, the more likely he is to shorten his stride and begin four-beating, particularly if the rider lacks the training or experience to avert the problem.

Riding solely with your hands and not using enough leg to keep the horse driving from behind -- allowing the horse to become lazy or sloppy at the lope -- are the primary reasons for a horse to begin four-beating. When a horse is tired -- physically and mentally -- he will look for an easy way out. Loping properly, in a three-beat cadence, is hard work for some horses.

Timing and precision are crucial in preventing and correcting the four-beat lope. Learn more about these important ideas in our FREE Riding Lessons with Richard Shrake report.

Watch for future articles about how to fix this common problem!