Galloping is a fairly distinctive walking pattern that’s generally associated with horses. That being said, horses aren’t the only critter out there capable of galloping.
There has been a surprising amount of research done by scientists regarding the gait of various animals. When it comes to those that gallop, some like gazelles are horse-like, while animals like the crocodile gallop and don’t resemble a horse in the least.
So, what are the animals that gallop?
Aside from horses, animals that also gallop include crocodiles, camels, llamas and alpacas, deer, antelopes, bears, wild boars, giraffes, hippos, dogs and wolves, hyenas, and members of the cat family. All galloping animals have an asymmetrical running pattern. They run using a transverse or rotatory gallop, though some animals are capable of both.
Let’s jump into all the different animals that gallop and which type(s) of gallops they are capable of.
Horses are a pretty obvious contender when it comes to animals that gallop, particularly since they are likely the first animal that comes to mind when you think of the word, “gallop”. Horses have four distinct gaits, including walking, trotting, cantering, and galloping.
People didn’t learn exactly what horse footfalls looked like until the 1870s though because horses moved so quickly when galloping. This changed when Eadweard Muybridge, a British photographer, captured a series of photographs of a horse in motion.
When a horse moves at a slower rate like a trot, it actually uses a symmetrical gait instead of an asymmetrical gait. This is because the limbs mirror each other on the left side and right side of the body.
As the horse speeds up, however, it starts to move with the asymmetrical gait known as a gallop. Cantering is also an asymmetrical movement. Both of these types of movement are also used by other animals in the horse family, including donkeys and zebras, though they are a little slower than the horse.
Horses move using a transverse gallop because of their large body. Other types of cattle capable of galloping do a transverse gallop, while predators like wolves and cheetahs are capable of a transverse gallop but are more likely to do a rotatory gallop at high speeds.
When horses are moving at their highest speed, they max out at around 35-40mph. They’re considered one of the fastest land animals at this speed and they can gallop at these high speeds for two hours or longer.
Crocodiles aren’t really a critter that comes to mind when you think of animals that gallop. However, crocodiles are very capable of galloping at high speeds. This varies between different species of crocodile, but their top speeds are around 15-20+ mph.
At one time, researchers thought only a handful of crocodile species like the freshwater crocs from Australia were capable of achieving a gallop. With an additional five species being identified, however, a galloping crocodile might be a lot more common than was once thought.
That being said, it’s only crocodiles and not alligators that are capable of achieving a gallop. Even though alligators move at similar speeds to a crocodile, they do this using a symmetrical gait instead of a gallop.
Crocodiles are capable of either a transverse or rotatory gallop depending on the speed they are moving and what is most efficient for their species. They’re most often to run at full speed when running from predators or chasing something.
Camels have a lot of interesting features, from their three separate eyelids that let them see with their eyes closed to water storage in their hump that helps them survive desert heat. Like horses, camels also move at high speeds and are capable of galloping.
Camels move with a transverse gallop, meaning their left rear foot moves first, followed by the right rear, left front, then right front. They move as fast as 40mph in short bursts but are also capable of traveling for 18 hours at the pace of 12mph.
With their similarities to horses, camels are commonly used for transportation or hauling. They are even used for racing (though this is controversial in a lot of countries because of the treatment of the camels and the history of child labor associated with the sport).
Llamas and Alpacas
While llamas and alpacas have several traits that make them different, they are both members of the Camilidae family and the domesticated cousins of the camel. They are also both capable of galloping.
Llamas and alpacas gallop with a transverse gait, though they aren’t nearly as graceful as the horse. In fact, they look a little funny as they bounce along at high speeds- as you can see in the video above!
Surprisingly, these critters actually move a lot faster than you’d think. Alpacas are able to reach speeds of 35mph, while llamas move at up to 40mph.
Galloping is most likely to happen when animals reach high speeds, so it’s no surprise that the deer gallops. They are a favorite food for predators including bears, cheetahs, coyotes, mountain lions, alligators, and many others. There are even instances where birds of prey have killed deer.
To get away quickly from predators, deer gallop. They move using a transverse gallop that is shared by the horse and other members of the Cervidae family they belong to including elk, moose, reindeer, and caribou.
Even though predators like the cheetah are much faster than deer, they don’t have the same stamina. This is the reason that a deer can outrun a cheetah. Deer can maintain a speed of 25-35mph for as long as 3-4 hours and can run as fast as 40mph in short bursts.
There are actually a wide variety of animals classified as antelopes, which are part of the Bovidae family that cows and goats also belong to. Many of these animals are capable of galloping including antelopes, gazelles, impalas, elands, and others.
Members of this family are characterized by long legs and a sleek body. Their ability to reach high speeds while galloping is critical to survival, since many of these animals are common prey for the predators of Africa and Asia.
Like deer, antelope move using a transverse gallop. Many types of antelopes are fast, with the lower range being around 25mph for antelope species like the eland and dik-dik.
At the higher end, animals like the wildebeest and gazelles move as fast as 50 mph, while the pronghorn antelope can achieve speeds of 60mph. This makes the pronghorn antelope one of the fastest land animals next to the cheetah.
Bears are another bulky predator like the crocodile that you wouldn’t really expect to be capable of galloping. While bears prefer walking, climbing, and running to galloping, they will break into a gallop when chasing food or when they feel threatened.
There hasn’t been a lot of research done on the movement of bears. In one study, however, it was noted that bears move differently than other quadrupeds, particularly when cantering or galloping. They allocate about 60% of their weight to their forelimbs and 40% to their hindlimbs.
One hypothesis is that bears allocate their weight this way because they are so heavy. This helps them stop faster when they are running, which is important when you have hundreds of pounds or more of forward momentum.
Wild Boars and Other Pigs
While they can’t look up, wild boars, pigs, warthogs, and other pig species are hooved animals like the horse and they also share the ability to walk, trot, and gallop. Unlike the horse, however, wild boars do a rotatory gallop that is common for predators like the cheetah.
While the average feral hog won’t move faster than 1-3 mph unless necessary, they are capable of achieving speeds of up to 20-30mph when they are galloping across open ground.
Giraffes are another one of those animals that looks quite awkward once it picks up speed. They have long, lean legs and a long neck that makes it hard for them to move gracefully at all.
Researchers took a close look at the way that the giraffe gallops in the 1960s by analyzing stills of various giraffes galloping. They learned that for the giraffe to maintain a gallop without losing balance and toppling over, it has to pick its head up and stretch its neck back at the end of each series of strides.
Giraffes move using a rotatory gallop. They can move at speeds of up to 35mph when running, though they often don’t reach these speeds unless it’s necessary and prefer to move at a trot.
Hippos are semi-aquatic animals that live on land and in water. While their large bodies and short legs don’t make them very graceful, they’re still capable of galloping. They also float on water instead of swimming because of the shape of their body.
Hippos move using a transverse gallop like a horse. While they can’t quite reach the same speeds, this large, round critter actually moves at speeds of up to 20-30mph on land. This is much faster than the 5mph they move underwater.
Dogs and Wolves
Dogs, both domesticated and wild varieties like coyotes and wolves, are capable of running in a gallop. Like horses, these animals are capable of both a transverse and rotatory gallop depending on their speed and foot placement.
The speed of various dogs and wolves depends on their species. For example, the average gray wolf reaches speeds of 30mph, however, it can’t sustain it for long. While they do have an advantage as pack animals, they’re still likely to give up the chase if they can’t reach their prey fast enough because they can’t maintain these speeds for long.
With dog breeds, it really comes down to factors like limb size and the breed of the dog when it comes to their speed. For example, German shepherds reach speeds of 30mph, while great Danes reach speeds of 45mph.
House Cats, Cheetahs, and Other
Wild cats and house cats all belong to the feline family and are all considered predatory animals. Like other predatory animals, they are most likely to use a rotatory gallop when they reach high speeds.
Cheetahs achieve the fastest speeds of around 58mph, while jaguars, lions, and the Eurasian lynx max at around 50mph. Tigers, cougars, and leopards max out around 35-40mph. Even domesticated house cats are fast, reaching speeds of 30mph when running.
Though cats are generally fast, like many other animals on this list, they can’t achieve these high speeds for too long. They’re most likely to run this fast when chasing after something or when outrunning danger.
Hyenas have features that resemble both the dog family and the cat family (though they are genetically closer to the cat), so it’s no surprise that this animal is also capable of achieving a gallop. They use a rotatory gallop as they pick up speed like many other predatory animals.
Hyenas run at speeds of up to 35-40mph, which is good because they often find themselves competing with lions for food. They are also pack animals, which allows the smaller-sized hyena to take down big prey like wildebeests.
Other Animals That Galloped Before Horses
At one time, researchers believed mammals were the first animals to gallop because they were the first to move their limbs independently of one another. Today, researchers no longer believe that is true and it’s thought that animals may have galloped 472 million years ago, more than 250 million years before it’s believed mammals first emerged.
While I didn’t include them on this list, even amphibious fish are known to move with an asymmetrical gait. They can use their fins to drag themselves on land and they do something called “punting” to move across the sea bed.
Interestingly, it is also believed that there are a lot of animals that lost the ability to gallop over time. While they may still be capable of it, some animals may have lost the ability to gallop because it wasn’t the most energy-efficient way for their species to move.
This chart identifies the likelihood of 308 different species being able to gallop in the past.
What Is Galloping?
Have you ever placed all four of your fingers on a surface like a desk or a table, then hit them on the table one after another starting with the pinky?
The sound that this makes is pretty much as close as you can get to the sound of a gallop using your fingers. Galloping is a type of gait, or walking pattern, where an animal’s feet hit the ground at different times.
Essentially, a gallop is an asymmetrical gait. This means that the limbs on the right side and left side of the body do not mirror each other.
While most animals are capable of a symmetrical gait, not all animals are capable of an asymmetrical gait. It often happens as animals try to reach higher speeds, so it’s common when animals are startled, running, or chasing prey.
What Are the Different Types of Gallops?
Gallops are identified using the terms “transverse gallop” and “rotatory gallop” (also sometimes called a rotary gallop). Since the only animals capable of a gallop are quadrupeds (meaning animals that have four legs), the two different gallops are identified based on the pattern of an animal’s paws, hooves, or feet.
A transverse gallop happens when the footfalls follow a pattern of left rear, right rear, left front, then right front. Since two feet move one after another on the same side of a body, it’s not uncommon for some animals to have all their feet in the air at once like you see with horses sometimes.
A rotatory gallop follows the pattern of left rear, right rear, right front, then left front. Basically, the animal’s footfalls move one after another in a circle. In addition to being capable of one or the other, some animals are capable of both kinds of gallops.
Horses aside, crocodiles, camels, llamas and alpacas, deer, antelopes, bears, wild boars, giraffes, hippos, dogs and wolves, hyenas, and members of the cat family are all capable of galloping.
Some animals use a rotatory gallop, particularly predatory animals like big cats, dogs, bears, and even pigs. Other animals like horses, giraffes, and antelopes use a transverse gallop. Some animals like wild and domesticated dogs use both types of galloping movements.
Hopefully, you’ve enjoyed learning about all these different animals that gallop!