The gallop is very much like the canter, except that it is faster, more ground-covering, and the three-beat canter changes to a four-beat gait. It is the fastest gait of the horse, averaging about 25 to 30 miles per hour (40 to 48 km/h), and in the wild is used when the animal needs to flee from predators or simply cover short distances quickly. Horses seldom will gallop more than 1 or 2 miles (1.6 or 3.2 km) before they need to rest, though horses can sustain a moderately-paced gallop for longer distances before they become winded and have to slow down.
The gallop is also the gait of the classic race horse. Modern Thoroughbred horse races are seldom longer than 1.5 miles (2.4 km), though in some countries Arabian horses are sometimes raced as far as 2.5 miles (4.0 km). The fastest galloping speed is achieved by the American quarter horse, which in a short sprint of a quarter mile or less has been clocked at speeds approaching 55 miles per hour (89 km/h).
Like a canter, the horse will strike off with its non-leading hind foot; but the second stage of the canter becomes, in the gallop, the second and third stages because the inside hind foot hits the ground a split second before the outside front foot. Then both gaits end with the striking off of the leading leg, followed by a moment of suspension when all four feet are off the ground. A careful listener or observer can tell an extended canter from a gallop by the presence of the fourth beat.
Contrary to the old "classic" paintings of running horses, which showed all four legs stretched out in the suspension phase, when the legs are stretched out, at least one foot is still in contact with the ground. When all four feet are off the ground in the suspension phase of the gallop, the legs are bent rather than extended.
In 1877, Leland Stanford settled an argument about whether racehorses were ever fully airborne: he paid photographer Eadweard Muybridge to prove it photographically. The resulting photo, the first documented example of high-speed photography, clearly showed the horse airborne.
According to Equix, who analyzed the biometrics of racing thoroughbreds, the average racing colt has a stride length of 24.6 feet (7.5 m); that of Secretariat, for instance, was 24.8 feet (7.6 m), which was probably part of his success.
A controlled gallop used to show a horse's ground-covering stride in horse show competition is called a "gallop in hand" or a hand gallop.
Note that when a horse jumps over a fence, the legs are stretched out while in the air, and the front legs hit the ground before the hind legs, which is completely different from the suspended phase of a gallop. Essentially, the horse takes the first two steps of a galloping stride on the take-off side of the fence, and the other two steps on the landing side. A horse has to collect its hindquarters after a jump to strike off into the next stride.More info: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_gait#Gallop
March 2nd, 2012
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