Gaits are typically classified as walking or running based on kinematics, the shape of the vertical ground reaction force (GRF) curve, and the use of inverted pendulum or spring-mass mechanics during the stance phase. The objectives of this review were to describe the biomechanical characteristics that differentiate walking and running gaits, then apply these criteria to classify and compare the enhanced natural gait of collected trot with the artificial gaits of passage and piaffe as performed by highly trained dressage horses. Limb contact and lift off times were used to determine contact sequence, limb phase, duty factor, and aerial phase duration. Ground reaction force data were plotted to assess fore and hind limb loading patterns. The center of mass (COM) trajectory was evaluated in relation to changes in potential and kinetic energy to assess the use of inverted pendulum and spring-mass mechanics. Collected trot and passage were classified as running gaits according to all three criteria whereas piaffe appears to be a hybrid gait combining walking kinematics with running GRFs and COM mechanics. The hind limbs act as springs and show greater limb compression in passage and piaffe compared with trot, whereas the forelimbs behave more like struts showing less compression in passage and piaffe than in trot.
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