The image of a horse in western tack galloping across a field or rodeo arena is an iconic part of western riding. In truth, galloping a horse in a western saddle is not something that someone can do easily by just jumping on and taking off. It takes significant riding experience before a rider is ready and able to gallop a horse for the first time.
Horses have four basic gaits: the walk, trot, canter and gallop. The gallop is the fastest gait your horse is capable of performing. It is a four-beat gait, with each foot falling independently. Horses gallop at an average speed of 25 to 30 miles per hour. Some race horses have been recorded as galloping at speeds that exceed 40 miles per hour.
Western saddles often are the saddle of choice for individuals who want to remain secure in the saddle regardless of the activity in which they are participating. Western saddles are used commonly for beginning riders because they are shaped to help hold the rider in the saddle and, if the rider starts to lose his balance, he can grab onto the saddle horn to help avoid falling off. Western saddles are used for barrel racing, as well as several other high speed riding disciplines. They are not used in traditional horse racing events, because western saddles are heavy and the weight can slow a horse down.
Controlling Your Horse
The average person cannot safely hop onto any horse and take off at a gallop. Even if you are riding in a western saddle, you still must be able to sit securely on the horse's back while he is galloping. The gallop can be a very bouncy gait and it takes practice to be able to sit a gallop smoothly so that you are not bouncing out of the saddle during each stride. Furthermore, many inexperienced riders have difficulty controlling their horses at high speeds.
Galloping Your Horse
You should have spent enough time in the saddle that you can control your horse easily at the walk, trot and canter before you attempt a gallop. It also is a good idea to try your first gallop in an enclosed area, such as a riding arena, and with other people around just in case of an accident. To gallop your horse, you should get him moving at a canter and then cue him to accelerate his speed. You will know your horse is galloping because he will be moving more quickly and you will be able to feel a distinct four-beat movement underneath you rather than the canter's three-beat movement.
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Jen Davis has been writing since 2004. She has served as a newspaper reporter and her freelance articles have appeared in magazines such as "Horses Incorporated," "The Paisley Pony" and "Alabama Living." Davis earned her Bachelor of Arts in communication with a concentration in journalism from Berry College in Rome, Ga.