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The Indian Shuffle

There are as many names and opinions of gaits in horses as there are breeds of horses. We breed all of our Foundation Spanish Mustangs to have the natural gait that the old timers called the "Indian Shuffle". For those of you who have never come across the term "Indian Shuffle" before, here is a brief explanation of this smooth, ground covering gait:

The Indian Shuffle is an ambling, lateral gait, which means the two legs on the same side of the horse move forward before the opposite two legs move forward. In the pure Indian Shuffle, each foot hits the ground a fraction ahead of the other, this results in 4 beats or hoof falls for each full movement of all four legs. It is very similar to the stepping pace or broken pace, the primary difference being the Shuffle has less knee action and lower hoof elevation.

The horse moves with a rolling motion of the shoulders and hips, the motion of the horse is absorbed in its back and loins giving the rider a smooth, gliding ride. Also, because the movement is broken into 4 separate beats or hoof falls, it lacks the side-to-side motion of the true pace.

The Spanish were the first to bring horses to the Americas. Among their horses were many the Spanish called "paso fino," which simply means smooth-gaited. These horses were not then a breed, but were prized for their natural stepping pace type of gait that forced any other horse to trot or lope to keep up.

These horses are still prized by the Spanish descendents in South America where selective breeding for their gait has been maintained for hundreds of years. You may recognize the names: The Paso Fino, the Peruvian Paso, the Columbian Paso. All are now true breeds, descendents of the easy-gaited horse brought to the Americas by the Spanish.

What happened to the Spaniards paso fino in North America? The Spanish established settlements in New Mexico, taking local Pueblo Indians to work as serfs, farming and taking care of the large numbers of horses the Spanish kept to herd their cattle.

From the Spanish the Indians learned how to care for horses, and though it was forbidden, they also learned to ride. Occasionally a stable boy would run away with one of his charges, or some of the plains Indians would capture strays or bargain with the Spanish for horses.

The Indians acquired many of their horses in the Pueblo Revolt of 1680. Under the leadership of Pope, a deposed medicine man, Indians all over New Mexico arose on the same day, killing some 400 Spanish. The rest of the Spanish fled leaving behind their settlements and their herds of horses. The Pueblo Indians, being a sheep-herding people, traded most of the horses to the buffalo hunters of the plains.

Slowly the horses moved northwards and were eventually claimed by the Nez Perce and other tribes. The Nez Perce learned to recognize good horse flesh and, almost from the start, practiced selective breeding. Many of their horses had the enduring, smooth gait so prized by the Spanish. It is not known whether the Nez Perce bred specifically for the gait but it is known that they valued horses that could move out well. It has also been said they were pleased with the Shuffle because they could move their households quickly without shaking things up.

The Nez Perce horse eventually became the horse most prized by the old time western ranchers. They were the ones who noticed its unique gait and dubbed it the "Indian Shuffle". It is said cowboys would pay up to 50 dollars more for a horse that had the gait: it saved a lot of wear and tear on the cowboy, just as it had on the Indian and Spaniard before him.

It has been said that rough country cowmen are unanimous in praising the remarkable lack of leg trouble in the colorful, ground-covering Spanish Mustangs. They are quick to point out that an Spanish Mustang that has this natural traveling gait, the Indian Shuffle, is a seemingly tireless animal. Sadly, the Indian Shuffle is a characteristic found now in just a few of these remarkable horses.

The closer a breeder stays to foundation stock, the greater the likelihood that a percentage of his herd will have the Shuffle. The greatest instance will occur from strict gaited to gaited breeding, just like the breeding program that we have here at the
Sunflower Ranch .

The paso horses claim nearly 100 percent heritability of their gaits. Spanish Mustangs on the other hand come nowhere near that figure, though it appears to be a dominant trait in gaited to gaited breeding where both parents have it. Crosses to other breeds tend to erase the gait quickly. In fact, as years go by, it is increasingly difficult to find Spanish Mustangs that have the Indian Shuffle, and many breeders have never even heard of it. Will the Indian Shuffle eventually be lost to the Spanish Mustang? Hopefully not. Other breeders, like us here at the
Sunflower Ranch , find the ride so comfortable that they encourage it in their stock. Like us, they are breeding their gaited Spanish Mustangs for endurance riding and comfortable, long distance trail riding.

Today it appears that this gait was made for the endurance enthusiast and pleasure rider. The Indian Shuffle requires a minimum effort on the part of the horse, and those who ride it say it is the perfect smooth, sure-footed gait for hilly country.

Some folks think the Indian Shuffle is a birthright of the Spanish Mustang. Others have never heard of it. In our opinion, the Indian Shuffle is an overlooked yet very valuable asset to the classic Spanish Mustang.


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