Single-footing Horse

  • HEIGHT: 14.3–15.2 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: North America, earliest origin probably in the Southeast, but breed organization efforts came from the West
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: A gaited horse with good stock horse conformation, “cow sense,” and a natural, strong, solid single-footing gait; also known for its pleasant, willing character
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Trail riding, endurance, ranch work

The term single-foot refers to a particular type of smooth gait. It comes from the tendency, among horses able to perform it, for the horse’s weight to be supported by one foot on the ground at a time. Ideally the single-foot is an intermediate, four-beat gait with very even timing. It can be performed at a wide range of speeds, from a trail speed of 7 to 9 mph to a road gait of 12 to 15 mph up to a racing speed of more than 20 mph.

The speed at which an individual horse begins to single-foot varies; some will perform it at the road gait and others only at racing speed.

Historically, there have been many breeds and strains of single-footing horses in North America, including free-ranging feral horses. Good single-footing horses have been discovered within several gaited breeds as well, where certain lines produce single-footers instead of the prevalent gait for the breed. An occasional single-footer may also turn up in non-gaited breeds.

History of the Breed Association

The North American Single-footing Horse Association (NASHA), a performance-based organization, was established in 1991 by ranch owners and avid trail riders interested in developing horses that naturally travel with a true single-footing gait. Each of the founding groups logged many miles in the saddle every year under a wide variety of conditions, and each group held strong opinions about what makes a useful, smooth-gaited horse.

Despite the differences in their type of riding, both groups noticed that in general they desired the same traits in their horses: a natural, solid single-footing gait with a wide range of speeds and maximum smoothness at all speeds. They wanted a tractable, willing temperament that was neither hot and explosive nor lethargic and stubborn. In addition, they looked for good general working conformation, including good feet and legs and a strong back, well formed for saddles. All these traits were to be combined with reliable endurance and athletic ability.

The range of speeds at which the single-foot could be performed was another important consideration. For long-distance and trail riding, the single-foot has been recognized for centuries as being easy and comfortable for both horse and rider. Today’s riders seem less aware that, given the medium length of stride at most speeds, horses of good stock-type conformation can perform this gait while executing stock horse moves, such as quick turns and roll-backs. Smooth-gaited ranch horses can and do work cattle, rein, and compete successfully against other breeds.

The trail riders in the organization wanted horses with natural lift in front to clear uneven ground without stumbling. This is a natural tendency for horses that are well built to perform the gait, because the front end has to get out of the way of the driving rear end, especially at speed. The association agreed that both excessive hock action and low, skating action in the rear that might lead to tripping were to be avoided. The gait was to be evenly timed and not extreme in length of stride, so they felt there should be no head nod as the horse worked.

Working Qualities Rewarded

It was absolutely essential to the organizers of the registry that these horses continue to be working horses. The rules were specifically set up to reward working qualities. To this end, the rules require that no horse in any show class may carry a shoe heavier than a trail shoe. Of the forty-five categories offered for high-point awards, only two are show ring classes.

Road gait is the premier gait class at shows, but rather than simply reward a perfectly trained horse, the judges of these classes push the horses to see at what point the gait breaks down. This is to confirm the strength of gait, which is essential in good trail horses, thus emphasizing the genetics of a horse’s gait rather than the training. Training is important, however, particularly regarding good trail manners, so horses in road-gait classes are asked to stand quietly while the rider mounts and dismounts, to ground-tie, and to back willingly. In addition to showing, horses may earn points and awards for trail and endurance riding.

All colors are acceptable in the registry of Single-footing Horses.

Breed Characteristics

Initially, the association accepted for registration any horse of any breed with a demonstrated intermediate, four-beat gait, as long as the owners were dedicated to producing single-footing horses from that point on. Beginning in 1998, horses with a running walk, fox trot, or pace, and horses with either extremely long or short strides, were no longer eligible. Beginning in 2000, any horse that did not exemplify the true single-footing gait as well as display superior conformation was excluded from registration. The registry’s books remain open, but the organization will continue to place appropriate restrictions on new applications to ensure overall quality and correctness of gait. Horses with several generations of registered NASHA parentage do not need to be evaluated in order to be registered.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

According to the North American Single-footing Horse Association (established in 1991):

• There are about 700 registered horses.

• Fifty new foals are added to the registry each year.

• The horses are found throughout the United States and Canada. There are some very active Single-footing Horse breeders in Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Texas.

Conformation

Not surprisingly, as time has passed and single-footing horses have been selectively bred for several successive generations, a conformation has emerged that lends itself to the type of horse that the members find highly useful. This seems to be a horse similar to the old-type Morgan but with a slightly more refined neck and, of course, a natural, well-balanced, single-foot gait.

Color

Color is not a consideration in the registry of single-footing horses.