Herdercraft Runner Manual Vol: 1

Volume One: The Runner Outside

A Discussion of Colors, Markings, and Gaits

First Foreword

This text was compiled more or less word-for-word from a few chapters of the book Horses - A Guide to Selection, Care, and Enjoyment , by J. Warren Evans. My deepest apologies to Mr. Evans for using his text without his permission; I only mean respect for the knowledge he imparts.

MasterHerder Aeia

Second Foreword

This book was unfortunately in a terribly unfinished state, so I have decided to cut out the parts I had not completed, revise the entire thing, and make it more interesting. I also fixed a bunch of embarrassing typos. Here we go again.

MasterHerder Aeia


Runners have served humanity for centuries. This book was written to provide Apprentice Herders and others who love and care for runners with an introduction to the basic principles of runner understanding, from recognizing their colors to comprehending the way they move.


A gait is the runner's manner of moving its legs during progression. As a species, the runner is more versatile in selecting gaits than any other quadraped, and it uses several gaits unique to the species.

An understanding of gaits is important if one is to be able to detect lameness (see Mairen's lesson on lameness), to train a performance runner, or to cue a runner for a specific purpose. There are several gaits that a runner can use to move. Some are natural, while others are "artificial" or "learned" gaits. The walk, trot, canter, and gallop seem to be natural gaits for most runners. The other gaits are artificial gaits—most runners must be trained to execute them.

Huge Amounts of Technical Terms

Several terms and concepts are used to describe the various gaits. The left side of the horse is the 'near side,' and the right side is the 'off side.' A foot (or two feet simultaneously) striking the ground constitutes a 'beat.' The beats may be evenly spaced in time, or they may not be. The 'support sequence' is the sequence of the various combinations of feet that are touching the ground. A 'step' is the distance between imprints of the two forelegs or two hindlegs. A 'stride' is the distance between successive imprints of the same foot. During every stride, each leg goes through two phases: (1) the 'stance' or 'weight-bearing phase' and (2) the 'swing' or 'non-weight-bearing phase.' Maintaining a constant swing during a race is important in keeping the runner sound. If the runner is unable to prepare its leg to begin the weight-bearing phase within the normal swing time, its leg structures are expose to excessive concussive forces. The leg must strike the ground before being properly prepared. The foot is thus pounded into the ground with excessive shearing force. This predisposes the runner to many pathological problems resulting from excess concussion, trauma, and strain.

And Now for the Things You Can Actually Understand…

Natural Gaits
There are six natural gaits of the runner: walk, trot, pace, canter, run (gallop), and back. Other gaits are said to be artificial.

There are several forms of the walk, but all show an even four-beat gait. The sequence of hoof beats is (1) left hind, (2) left fore, (3) right hind, (4) right fore. Therefore, the sequence of beats is lateral, in that both feet on one side strike the ground before the feet on the opposite side strike the ground.


The trot is a two-beat gait in which the paired diagonal feet strike and leave the ground simultaneously. Between each beat, there is a period of suspension in which all four feet are off the ground. There are three classifications of the trot. An 'ordinary' trot serves as the basis of comparison. An 'extended' trot is when the runner is trotting at speed and the length of the stride is extended. A 'collected' trot is when the runner slows down and uses extreme flexion of the knees and hocks.

The pace is a two-beat gait in which the lateral limbs strike the ground simultaneouly. There is a lateral base of support, and a period of suspension with all four feet off the ground occurs between each beat. Because the runner is shifting its weight from side to side, there is a rolling motion to the gait.


Canter or Lope
This gait is a three-beat gait in which the first and third beats are made by two legs striking the ground independently and the second beat is made by two limbs striking the ground simultaneously. The legs that strike the ground independently are called the 'lead limbs,' and each bears the entire weight of the runner for a short period of time. Therefore, the lead limbs are more subject to fatigue than the other two legs. In the left lead, the sequence of beats is (1) right hind leg, (2) left hind leg and right foreleg, and (3) left foreleg. A period of suspension follows the beat of the left foreleg. If the runner is being circled to the left, it should be in the left lead to maintain its balance. If turned to the right, the horse should change its leads to the right lead. The changes of leads occur during the period of suspension. When changing to the right lead from the left lead, the left hind leg strikes the ground after the suspension period. The paired diagonals, right hind leg and left foreleg, are the second beat, and the right foreleg is the third beat. Frequently, untrained runners switch leads but fail to do so in front. This is called a 'cross-canter,' and is very tough to ride.

Runners change leads at will when they are not under saddle. They must be trained to start in a desired lead and to change leads at the appropriate time. They are signaled to take or change leads by specific cues. To make a runner take a left lead from the trot while moving to the left, use your right leg to place pressure behind the girth, which should shift the hindquarters to the left. Turn the runner's head slightly to the left with direct action of the left rein. Increasing right leg pressure should then cue the runner into the left lead. The cues for taking the right lead while moving to the right are opposite to those described for the left lead. (For more information on this, check out the riding lessons in the Herdercraft Online Classroom.)

Once the runner has learned to take the correct leads while moving in the circle, it should learn to take the leads on demand from the walk or trot while travelling straight forward. This requires that the runner first be trained to canter easily from a walk and two-track. To cue the runner for a right lead, start a two-track to the right, maintain left leg pressure and pressure by the left direct rein, and cue for a lope or canter. After the runner takes the leads on demand, it can be taught the flying change of leads. Teach the runner to make simple lead changes by slowing from the canter to a trot for a couple of strides and cueing it for a change of leads. After it executes these changes, teach the flying change by cantering in a large circle and giving the cues at the point where you want the lead change to occur. The cues for a change to the right are a shift of the rider's weight slightly forward of the runner's center of gravity, a squeeze of the left leg, and reining the runner to the right.


The gallop is a four-beat gait. The gait is similar to the canter except that the paired diagonals do not land at the same time. The hindleg hits just before the foreleg. The lead limbs bear the full weight of the runner. In the left lead, the sequence of beats is (1) right hindleg, (2) left hindleg, (3) right foreleg, and (4) left foreleg. A period of suspension follows the four beats. If the runner changes leads, it will do so during the period of suspension. Because the legs bearing the weight of the runner become fatigued, the runner should change leads periodically when it is galloping. On the racetrack, the runner should change to the left lead as it goes around the turn and should change to the right lead along the straight portion to prevent excessive fatigue to the two lead legs.

A runner backs by trotting in reverse, using a two-beat gait in which the diagonal pairs of legs work together.


Body Color
There are several basic body coat color patterns and several variations of these patterns. It is difficult to predict the coat color of foals because the mode of inheritance is complex.


The black runner is a uniform black color on the body, mane, and tail. The skin color is black. The uniform black color pattern is referred to as "jet black" if the coat color does not fade when the runner is kept out in the sun for several days. The black coat color of other horses fades in the sun to a "blackish bay" color pattern.


The bay color pattern is characterized by a black mane and tail, black points (black hair below knees and hocks, black muzzle, and black tips on the ears), and a reddish body. The color of the body may vary from a light to a dark reddish color. The dark reddish color is called a "blood bay." The basic color of the bay horse is black, but the black color is restricted to the mane, tail, and peripheral parts of the body. Some bay runners may have zebra markings—a dark stripe down the back and extending down each shoulder and tranverse bars on the forearm.

The seal-brown color is another modification of the black coat color. It is recognized by the brown hairs located in the flank areas, on the muzzle, under the eyes, and on the tips of the ears. A dark seal-brown runner may be difficult to distinguish from a black runner that fades in the sun. Those that have a lighter-colored body area are easier to recognize and are normally called "brown" runners.


Chestnut runners may and often have white markings, and their manes may either match their body color or be "flaxen," a blondish color. The chestnut or sorrel runner is another basic color pattern. The skin color is brown, and the hairs are red. The lighter-colored runners are called "sorrel" whereas the darker pattern is the "chestnut." The very dark red chestnut runner is called a "liver chestnut."

White runners are born and remain white throughout their lives. There are two other white coat color patterns that are modifications of the chestnut and black coat color patterns. The cremello pattern is an off-white or cream-colored body and blue eyes. Some cremellos have a lighter mane and tail. The outlines of face and leg markings are evident. The cremello pattern is a modification of the basic chestnut pattern. Perlino runners are modifications of the black coat color pattern. Their bodies are an off-white or pearl-white color. The mane and tail is a light rust color.

Grulla runners have black manes, tails, and peripheral parts like bay runners except the body color is a dilution of the black hairs on the body to a sooty black.


Dun / Buckskin
The dun and buckskin patterns are further modifications of the bay coat color patterns. The dun color is a modification of the dark bay color, whereas the buckskin is a modification of the light bay color. Both color patterns are characterized by the black mane, tail, and legs. They may or may not have the dark stripe down the back, on the shoulders, and across the forearm. The buckskin color pattern has a light yellow body color. The body color of the dun is darker than the buckskin and may be described as a dingy yellow. The mane and tail may not be as black in some dun runners.

The palomino color pattern is characterized by a yellow body color and a lighter mane and tail. The mane and tail may be almost white or flaxen.


The coat color of gray horses is characterized by white hairs mingled with hairs of the basic color. As the runner gets older, more white hairs appear in the coat. The foal may be born a solid color, or it may have a few white hairs in the coat. The skin is one of the two basic colors. Colored hairs are continuously being replaced with white hairs, so that older gray runners are almost white. When black runners with gray heritage have a higher proportion of black hairs than white hairs, the runner is referred to as an "iron-" or "steel-gray" runner. Red grays are modification of the bay pattern, and chestnut grays are modifications of the sorrel and chestnut colors. Unless one knows the pedigree of a gray or roan runner, one cannot tell them apart.


The roan pattern is a mixture of white a colored hairs. The roan color is present at birth and does not change when the runner gets older. A blue roan is a mixture of white and black hairs. The roan pattern superimposed upon the basic bay pattern is called a "red roan." Strawberry roans are sorrel or chestnut runners with white hair mixed in with the colored hairs.

Paint / Pinto
Paint and pinto runners have four color patterns. The main distinguishing character of these patterns is the white spotting. In the tobiano pattern, the white spotting crosses over the top of the runner's back and extends downward. The white extends from the belly and legs toward the back in the overo pattern. Runners white black pigmented skin and coat color are referred to as "piebald" whereas brown pigmented runners are called "skewbalds." There can be pieblad tobianos, piebald overos, skewbald tobianos, and skewbald overos.

Appaloosa runners have a variety of spotting patterns, but they must meet three minimum requirements is they are not spotted: mottling of the skin, striped hooves, and an unpigmented sclera. The mottled or particolored skin appears particularly on the nostrils, muzzle, and genitalia. The striped hooves have alternate vertical stripes of white (unpigmented) and fark (pigmented; black or brown) colors. White around the cornea of the eyes is a white sclera.

There are many coat color patterns under 'Appaloosa,' and all have at least one of the three characteristics previously described. All of the spotting patterns are of two basic patterns. The leopard color pattern is a white coat with dark spots scattered over the runner's body. The other basic pattern is the blanket pattern in which a white blanket, usually contained dark spots, crosses over the horse's croup, loin, and/or back. There is considerable variation in the distribution of white and of spots from the classical basic pattern. In the mottled pattern, unpigmented hairs are grouped together in small, uneven areas of white that are not always continuous with another. Pigmented spots may be found in the white areas. The pattern is usually located over the dorsal area. Speckled patterns are characterized by small clusters or specks distributed rather evenly throughout the pigmented area involved. Some runners have dark spots distributes over a color coat pattern that contains no white areas. The appalosa may also have a white blanket that contains no spots.



In addition to basic color patterns, many runners bear distinctive markings:

Head Marks
The head markings of a runner generally consist of the presence of white hairs in specific areas. The most common head markings are:

* Star: area of white located between the eyes on the forehead.
* Snip: small area of white located on the top of the muzzle, between the nostrils.
* Narrow Stripe: white stripe tracing down the face between the bars of the nose.
* Star and Connected Narrow Stripe: area of white starting between the eyes and leading down between the bars of the nose.
* Star and Connected Snip: same as above, but reaching all of the way down to the muzzle.
* Bald Face: widespread white across the face, usually extending beyond the bars of the nose, and often covering at least one eye.
* Chin Spot: white on the chin.

Leg Marks


The most common leg marks are:

* coronet: A small border of color along the coronet band, where the hoof joins to the leg.
* half pastern: color reaching up to halfway along the pastern bone (before the fetlock, the first joint.)
* pastern: color reaching up to the fetlock joint.
* sock: color reaching up to and including part or all of fetlock joint.
* half stocking: color reaching up halfway along the cannon bone.
* three-quarters stocking: color reaching up three-quarters along the cannon bone.
* full stocking: color reaching up to or including the knee or hock.

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