What is the Indian Shuffle?

Q. I was browsing through your wonderful site and noticed a comment regarding Foundation Bred Appaloosa's and their "Indian Shuffle." We just bought a 2 year old and wondered if you might be able to provide more of a description of this type of gait. Also, are Appaloosas, as a breed, considered a gaited breed?
Thanks for your site and time.

A. A true Indian Shuffle consists of the horse moving two lateral sets of legs nearly, but not quite, in unison. The hind leg sets down an instant before the fore leg. In other words, it is a form of the stepping pace. What sets it apart from other stepping paces is that the hind leg literally shuffles as it sets down under the horse. This has a fabulous shock absorbing effect for the rider. Unlike many other kinds of horses that do a stepping pace, these horses generally will not 'square up' their gaits--the shuffle is an entirely dominant genetic characteristic. Also unlike other pacey animals, Indian Shuffling horses tend to have an easy, wonderful canter, and a very lateral walk.

I've seen the gait crop out in the occasional Mountain type horse, as well as in Colorado Ranger bred animals. Most often, however, the gait is found among the Appaloosa breed. Some Native American tribes bred their beloved Appaloosa type horses to possess this easy-to-ride gait. Unfortunately, our early calvary found such fast, smooth horses hard to beat during battles with Native American horsemen. . .so our Army stealthily infiltrated their free roaming herds, killed off the shuffling stallions, and replaced them with heavy draft horse studs. The unfortunate results of these crosses were evident throughout the breed for many, many generations.

The tendency to gait still cropped out among Appaloosa horses, but the trait was further weakened when the ApHC was formed. This registry permits out-crossing of Appaloosa stock only to Thoroughbreds, Quarter Horses, and Arabian Horses--all of these being strong trotting blood breeds. The shuffle was not accepted as an alternative gait in the Appaloosa show ring, either. All of these factors led to a fast decline in the number of well-bred Appaloosa horses who could perform, and pass on, the breed's inherent gait.

There has been a concerted effort among Foundation Appaloosa breeders for the past 15 years or so to breed only the 'best to the best,' thereby eliminating some of the negative influences that the early draft horse blood brought in. They have concentrated on producing sound, well-balanced, and beautiful riding stock. Even better (to my way of thinking), is that this effort has resulted in a resurgence of horses who perform a true Indian Shuffle--and some breeders are indeed concentrating their efforts on producing this wonderful pure bred gaited horse.

Of course, there are also registries, such as the Walkaloosa and Tiger Horse registries, for gaited horses with the traditional Appaloosa color variations, but not necessarily of pure Appaloosa background. Often any gait performed by such an animal is called the "Indian Shuffle,' but of course that's not always, or even often, the case. Like any gaited horse, the intrinsic gait among these horses vary widely.

I've long been interested in the genetics of this type of color breeding, combined with producing gait. We've owned a few true Indian Shuffling horses, and have several fantastic colored horses out of good quality Appaloosa mares and by my TWH stallion. The horse I'm currently grooming to become my personal mount is a three year old red leopard filly with gorgeous saddle horse conformation, a sweet, solid no-nonsense temperament-and a wonderful, natural running walk. She has combined the finest qualities of the old time Appaloosa with the style and gait of the Tennessee Walking Horse.
Variety IS the spice of life!