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Lead (leg)

File:Muybridge race horse animated.gif
Transverse, right fore and right hind leading
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Rotatory, right fore and left hind leading
File:Dog galloping slow motion.gif
Rotatory, right fore and left hind leading, slow motion

In the context of a quadruped that is cantering, galloping, or leaping, lead refers to which leg (or which foreleg), left or right, leads or advances more. The foot on the leading leg touches the ground after and forward of its partner. On the "left lead", the animal's left leg leads. The choice of lead is of special interest in horse riding.

In a transverse or lateral or united canter and gallop, the hind leg on the same side as the leading foreleg (the lateral hindleg) advances more.[1] In horses this is the norm.

In a rotatory or diagonal or disunited canter and gallop, the hind leg on the opposite side (the diagonal hindleg) advances more.[1] It is also known as rotary and round galloping, and as moving disunited, cross-firing, and cross-cantering. In dogs, deer, and elk, among others, this gait is the norm.[1]

Some authorities define the leading leg as the last to leave the ground before the one or two periods of suspension within each stride.[2] Because the canter has only one moment of suspension, the leading leg necessarily is a foreleg. Because in some animals the gallop has two moments of suspension, some authorities recognize a lead in each pair of legs, fore and hind. Hence references to the rotatory gait as disunited.[2]



Eadweard Muybridge illustrated both rotatory and transverse canters but did not stress the difference of lead.[2]

Comparison of transverse and rotatory gaits

These tables outline the sequence of footfalls (beats) in the canter and gallop, the animal on the right lead.


Stride Transverse Rotatory
Footfall 1 Left hind Right hind
Footfall 2 Left fore and right hind Left fore and left hind
Footfall 3 Right fore Right fore


Stride Transverse Rotatory
Footfall 1 Left hind Right hind
Footfall 2 Right hind Left hind
Suspension (in some animals)
Footfall 3 Left fore Left fore
Footfall 4 Right fore Right fore

Usage in horse sports

Transverse Canter

The standard canter is movement where the horse travels in a transverse canter bent slightly in the direction of the leading inside front and rear legs. In standard horse show competition, travel on the inside "lead" is almost always considered correct, and horses on the outside lead or those performing a disunited (rotatory) canter are penalized. The only exceptions are when a counter-canter is specifically requested, or in some timed events where leads are not evaluated.

Hand gallop

In equestrian competition, a show ring "hand gallop," or "gallop in hand" is a true lengthening of stride. However, the horse remains in control and excess speed is penalized. Usually the constraints of a show arena and the presence of other animals prevent the gait from extending into the four-beat form of the racing gallop.

Counter canter

The counter-canter is a movement in which the animal travels a curved path on the outside transverse lead. For example, while on a circle to the left, the horse is on the right lead. When performing a counter-canter, the horse is slightly bent in the direction of the leading legs, but opposite to the line of travel.

The counter-canter is primarily used as a training movement, improving balance, straightness, and attention to the aids. It is used as a stepping-stone to the flying lead change. It is also a movement asked for in upper level dressage tests.

File:Dressurviereck - Einfache Schlangenlinie quer.svg
A shallow loop, often used for teaching the counter-canter

Most riders begin asking for the counter-canter by riding through a corner on the inside lead, then performing a very shallow loop on the long side of the arena, returning back to the track in counter-canter. As the horse becomes better at the exercise, the rider may then make the loop deeper, and finally perform a 20-meter circle in counter-canter.

In polo, the counter canter is often used in anticipation of a sudden change of direction. For example, the horse travels a large arc to the right while staying on the left lead, then suddenly turns sharply to the left with a burst of speed and on the correct lead.

Rotatory canter and gallop

In the rotatory gait, the horse balances in beat two on both legs on one side of its body, and in beats one and three on the other side. This produces a distinctive rotary motion in the rider's seat. For the majority of horses and riders this rotary motion is awkward, unbalanced and could be dangerous.[3][4]

In equestrian disciplines in which gait is judged, the rotatory canter (there often called disunited canter) is considered a fault and penalized.[5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19] [20] However, in horse racing, the rotatory gallop (there often called round gallop) not only is common at the start of races but also is about 5 miles per hour faster than the transverse gallop.[21]

See also

  • Gait (dog)
  • Terrestrial locomotion

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Tristan David Martin Roberts (1995) Understanding Balance: The Mechanics of Posture and Locomotion, Nelson Thornes, ISBN 0412601605.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Eadweard Muybridge, edited by Lewis S. Brown (1955) Animals in motion, Courier Dover Publications, 74 pages, ISBN 0486202038.
  3. [http://nicholnl.wcp.muohio.edu/DingosBreakfastClub/BioMech/BioMechGaits.html "Gaits in General for Dressage: Math & Variations on a Theme of Walk, Trot, Canter (or, Why the Old Classical Masters Were Right)"] Web page accessed April 5, 2008
  4. Ziegler, Lee. "What is a Canter?" Web site accessed April 5, 2008
  5. USEF Welch pony division rules requires ponies to be straight on both leads
  6. USEF Hunter division penalizes missed lead changes
  7. Friesian division requires horses to be straight and correct on both leads
  8. Equitation division requires correct leads
  9. Dressage division describes correct canter footfall pattern, requiring front and read footfalls to lead
  10. Arabian division requires correct and straight on both leads
  11. Saddlebred division requires correct leads, explicitly penalizes cross-cantering
  12. [http://www.usef.org/documents/ruleBook/2008/04-AL.pdf Andalusian/Lusitano division requires correct and straight on both leads
  13. Reining division penalizes out of lead 1 point for every 1/4 of a circle
  14. Paso Fino Division requires true three beat canter, true and straight on both leads
  15. National Show horse division requires true and straight on both leads, singles out cross-cantering
  16. Morgan division requires canter true and straight on both leads
  17. Western division penalizes cross-cantering, not changing leads simultaneously and requires correct leads
  18. Natinal Reining Horse Association General rules for Judging, penalizes failure to change front and back leads
  19. United States Dressage Federation describes and defines disunited canter.
  20. American Quarter Horse Association Rule Book explicitly penalizes cross-cantering in several events (including Working Hunter, Western Riding, and Equitation) plus 62 other references to being correct and straight on both leads)
  21. Rooney, James DVM (1998) The lame horse, The Russell Meerdink Company Ltd., 261 pages, ISBN 0929346556.


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