The fastest pace of a horse or other quadruped, with all the feet off the ground together in each stride: the horse broke into a furious gallop

The difference between a canter and a gallop lies in the footfalls. The canter is a three-beat gait with the outside hind being the "strike-off" leg, then a diagonal pair of footfalls landing at the same time, then the inside front leg landing before the moment of suspension.

The gallop has four beats while all four legs strike the ground separately. It also has a moment of suspension.


Race horses gallop at full speed on the track. 

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Our less speed-inclined horses probably rarely gallop, if at all. Most of the time, they canter bigger or faster. But in order to gallop, the footfalls actually have to change to 4 beats. 

When I was younger, we had a "racing stretch" where my friends and I would head to for a fun run. It was a straight, flat quarter mile and the horses were all familiar with with the lay of the land. Some of my best memories are of the times spent on that racing stretch. We never forced the horses to run hard - just as fast as they wanted. Even then, I doubt that the horses really broke into a gallop. They just cantered merrily along until the end of the stretch and then we walked them out on the way back to the barn.

How about you? Have you ever galloped on a horse? Tell us about it in the comments below.

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  1. Interesting comment with Gallop, its not the fastest gait for all breeds of horses. Icelandics have Flying Pace-they often Gallop to get into pace. The word Canter does not exist in Iceland-they tend to use the word Gallop, when the horse is really doing what we call canter-but faster and sometimes Gallop-

  2. I’ve had a couple of real gallops in my past….not my idea!!! Several of them on the paved road….eyes watering, no control…not my idea of a fun time!!!

    1. I’ve also had a couple of unplanned very unwanted. One on slippery sandstone at the beach. We stopped when his back end went under him :(. Dumbarse! It was a long walk home. Thankfully someone drove me about the last 1/2. Must have felt sorry for a person carrying a helmet with a limp & wet bum. Horse was at the gate eating grass as if nothing had happened. We went to that beach 1x week. He’d never taken off before

  3. Great description of the difference between the 2 gaits and the video really shows the gallop stride and moment of suspension. Love it!

  4. Yes! I’ve galloped once – and hope to never do that again! Eighteen of us were on a trail ride and paid no attention to the no trespassing sign until the farmer got his shotgun. I’m sure he was shooting straight up in the air, but the trail leader took off, assuming we were all as accomplished at riding as she was. We went back at the barn faster than we had planned. I learned to respect boundaries that day and have not trespassed since.

  5. I’ve galloped a horse when I was young and carefree. My friends and I would trail ride through the woods and out to a dirt road. About half a mile down the dirt road was an open grassy field. We would fly, four horses side by side, across that field. It was wonderful then. Now? Not on your life would I do that again! My mare does love a good gallop, but not with me on her. Sometimes it looks like all four feet are leaving the ground at the exact same time. She usually ends her galloping session with her tail over her back, high headed and making loud high-pitched snorts! I think she scares herself a little bit with the power and speed!

  6. The very best definition of a gallop I’ve ever heard came from a young girl at the barn where I was teaching. I had taken her out on a trail ride, a reward for her had work as a junior counselor at summer riding camp, We came to a hill which my mare loved to gallop, she said she was good with that, and up we went. After we got back to the barn someone asked her how she knew she had actually galloped – she said “it’s when you automatically rise up out of your saddle and smile!”

  7. My mustang was never super fond of arena work, so if he had a good dressage session we’d hit the trail after. Whenever we got to an open field where I knew there were no holes, I’d let him go as fast as he wanted. Gallop was his choice and it was glorious! He frequently outran the OTTB ‘s twice his size.

  8. My first horse was an off the track thoroughbred and boy could he gallop! But a quarter a mile stretch would never have been long enough for him. My older mare is a full thoroughbred and she just loves to gallop. In fact it is the one pace where she will be completely relaxed even though she is going fast. Myself I love the gallop but only when the horse is fit enough and wants to go faster. I never make them.

  9. Love to gallop and only ever as the horses choice, but Love a horse that wants to let go like that. Have always tried to, as a child on my pony on the beach and as an adult through known fields on “Titch” with my friend on her horse and a deerhound called Mole, and once, a hare!