What's a pacing horse?
October 18, 2005 4:18 PM   Subscribe

What is a pacing horse, and why is it considered a bad thing?

I just finished reading Lonesome Dove, and the book makes repeated references to Jake's "pacing horse." I assumed that it was some desirable fancy gait, but from some random googling, it appears that pacing isn't a good quality, except for a harness racer. Or is the point that Jake, as befits his personality, had a horse with a fancy-looking gait that's not very practical?
posted by footnote to Pets & Animals (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Good question. I grew up around horses, and am a fair rider, and have been inculcated to the idea that horses that pace are a 'bad thing', but I've got no idea why.

Maybe they're uncomfortable to ride at the trot?

If I ask my mother I will get the answer. But she's not around...
posted by wilful at 4:25 PM on October 18, 2005

It's unnatural, causing arthritis, but more comfortable and faster.
posted by wilful at 4:29 PM on October 18, 2005

Response by poster: Hmmm...I'm still confused because I've read things from distressed owners who find their pacing horse uncomfortable to ride. Maybe it's a confusion between the Icelandic horse's "tolt" and a "pace," described here?
posted by footnote at 5:12 PM on October 18, 2005

As I understand it, a pacing horse is less stable on uneven ground, which would make it less practical as a cowboy's horse. A pacing horse lifts the front and back leg on the same side, and rocks side to side as it moves forward. A trotting horse lifts right front/left rear (left front/right rear) together, and it's a much more even gait for the horse (and the rider). If you're used to riding a trotter, a pacer just feels wrong. Pacing is faster than trotting, which is why pacers and trotters run separately in harness racing
posted by jlkr at 5:20 PM on October 18, 2005

For some horses, pacing is a fairly natural gait because it's been bred into them. It is possible that in the Lonesome Dove example, they are not referring to an actual pacing horse, but just any horse with a fancy gait that wasn't necessary, such as a Tenneesee Walking Horse. You've probably gotten it right on your own -- they're giving him crap because he's got a fancy-pants horse when any regular horse would have been a more practical choice.
posted by Medieval Maven at 7:03 PM on October 18, 2005

I guess it's like guys with Hummers who end up being rescued by the Jeeps. Don't ride a Tennessee Walker when you should be on a Morgan.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:56 PM on October 18, 2005

A girl who had a horse that paced at the stable where I used to ride said that posting--for the non-equestrian Mefites: rising up at alternative strides while the horse is trotting--was difficult at the pace.
posted by brujita at 9:07 PM on October 18, 2005

Like brujita said you can't post and most horses that pace were bred to pull and they don't canter well or at least don't pick up the canter well under saddle naturally. In addition pacing is not a recognized gait for showing so you'd have to train it out of any horse you wanted to compete on. A lot of "gaited" horses like Icelandics, TWHs etc. don't actually pace but do some variety of a fourbeat running walk (often called pacing or gaiting), which makes for a smooth ride and gives the horse a lot of endurance. In contrast, true lateral pacing is not smooth or fun to ride as you are slung side to side pretty strongly.
posted by fshgrl at 10:36 PM on October 18, 2005

In addition pacing is not a recognized gait for showing so you'd have to train it out of any horse you wanted to compete on

Unless, of course, you're showing in a gaited class where the pace is allowed. And in the extremely remote instance where you might compete in a jumper class on a pacing horse and didn't canter the course, there would be no penalty for pacing, since they're judging whether or not you get around the course cleanly and within the time frame, not how pretty you look doing it or what gait you use.

Riding a pace on a gaited horse is relatively comfortable (if hard to get used to), riding a pace on an ex-racing Standardbred is like being inside a washing machine on the "agitate" cycle.

It's extremely desirable to have a natural pacer in Standardbreds and some gaited breeds, in a normally non-gaited and non-pacing breed, it usually means there's something off about the horse's conformation (the way it's put together). I do agree that in this instance it's probably a comment about the horse being too fancy-pants for the situation, or being in some other way unsuitable.
posted by biscotti at 5:37 AM on October 19, 2005

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