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Quarter Horse Gait
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RDS
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 Posted: Fri Oct 7th, 2022 02:20 pm
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I have a quarter horse, age 18, who has a normal walk, trot, and canter. But when she is anxious, she has a rushing, fast running type walk, short quick steps, choppy, some say its resembles pacing. She is registered, and no indication of any gaited horse in her blood line. Is there any explanation for this, what causes it, is it something that has been seen before in quarter horses? Thanks for any assistance.
RDS

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 Posted: Sat Oct 8th, 2022 08:06 pm
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There is much on this site to help you answer your question. If you head over to the Knowledge Base button and get reading you will enjoy all the information. Happy reading!

DrDeb
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 Posted: Sun Oct 9th, 2022 08:58 am
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Dear Richard: Sorry it took a while to get back to you on this; we have been very busy in the office here with final details on the new 3-volume set of books.

The question you ask needs to be approached a couple of different ways. First, there are plenty of gaited Quarter Horses. They don't "gait" like Saddlebreds or Tennessee Walkers or Missouri Foxtrotters, i.e. it's not a big flashy type of thing as for a show. Nonetheless it is a fluid, smooth and even way of going in four beats with no period of suspension. It proceeds at a forward speed greater than an ordinary walk, i.e. in the range of 7 to 10 mph. You can call this gait an amble; that's a generic term; but on a more specific level, one person might call it a fox-trot or another one a stepping-pace, or anything in-between. Practically, it doesn't really matter what you call it. Cowboys since Day One have appreciated stock horses that do this gait -- whether they were registered Quarter Horses or not -- especially when their job was "ridin' fence", which entails miles and miles of traversing country, following fence-lines on the big ranches. It's especially adaptive for this job because it proceeds faster than an ordinary "flat" walk and thus the cowboy can cover more ground in a day's ride, yet without beating himself and his horse to death by trotting all those miles.

Another part of this is that, as I said, the propensity to amble goes back in Quarter Horses to Day One. "Day One" for Quarter Horses is the 18th century, in the Thirteen Colonies. The root sire for the Quarter Horse breed is a Thoroughbred stallion named Little Janus, or Imported Janus, also called "Little Dick", who was born in England and then imported here when it became clear that he could not perform on the English track as his breeders had hoped. The problem was that the premier English races of the day, for which he had been bred, were races for "stayers". These King's Plate races were held over a turf course of four miles in length, and they were "heat" contests, meaning that the horse who won the first 4-mile heat had to repeat the feat -- all on the same morning -- before he would be declared winner. If there was a three-way split, meaning a different horse won each of three heats, they ran a fourth heat that was four and one-half miles long. To be able to succeed in this form is the very definition of what it means when we say a horse has "bottom".

So a horse can have bottom, and he can have speed, and he might have both, and this is what Little Janus's breeders were hoping for. However, he inherited only the speed part of the equation, and that defines him as a "sprinter", not a "stayer". Sprint-racing, i.e. straight-track contests over a course of two furlongs or one-quarter mile were not a thing in England in the 18th century but they were very popular here and so Little Janus found a ready buyer. He first stood in Virginia, where they put him to Thoroughbred mares; this did not work out real well. He was then sold to a breeder in North Carolina where there were many partbred or "short pedigree" mares who themselves were excellent sprinters, and that was where Little Janus founded the bloodline that would later (in the 1940's, after the AQHA was founded) be called the Quarter Horse.

All of this history is detailed in my series on American horse breeding which has been running in EQUUS Magazine for a number of years. If you go to http://www.equusmagazine.com, it is possible (although not certain) that they might still have some or all of the relevant back issues; those would be 446, 448, 467, 473, 475, 477, 488, 490, 492, 493, 495, and 496-501 which includes the history of the King Ranch and other large Texas ranches such as the 6666.

If you get the first suggested number, you'll see that it deals with a breed called the English-Irish Hobby. This is an extinct breed but nonetheless it is the most important horse breed in the world in terms of its influence in developing other breeds. It is more important in this respect than the Thoroughbred, which is often given credit for playing that role. Most people think a Hobby Horse is a child's toy or something seen on a Merry-Go-Round, and of course its presence there is a kind of historical "fossil" or remnant memory of something that was once very important.
Because -- you'll remember all those short-pedigree mares that Little Janus covered -- most of them were of Hobby extraction. Hobbies were imported to both the New England colonies and to the Carolinas and Virginia from their earliest days, primarily because they were easy-gaited amblers.

The Hobby has its origin in early Medieval Ireland; the Irish kings bred them for sprint-racing, but their easy-gaited way of travelling did not go unappreciated. In Medieval and Elizabethan England, they were called Palfreys or Hobs. When in the 17th century the English began importing Moroccan Barbs, the cross was called an English running-horse. The American colonies tended to prefer the pure Hobby strain and there are to this day thousands of these horses in back-country Virginia and the Appalachian counties of eastern Kentucky. One usually hears that the Banker ponies are the descendants of survivors of Spanish shipwrecks, and there is a tiny amount of Spanish blood in them, but they are 99% Hobby, something that recent genetic research has proven. To the poor smallholder of Colonial times, an island just far enough offshore to discourage escape was the equivalent of cheap fencing, and farmers everywhere from Rhode Island all the way down to South Carolina put their broodmares and their livestock on these low-lying islands.

So the second aspect to your query is that the DMRT3-STOP gene complex that facilitates ambling gaits was present in the bloodline later to be called the Quarter Horse from Day One. We do not see many ambling QH's today because the DMRT3-STOP gene also often has the effect of making it hard for a horse to "find" his canter-gallop coordination or any diagonal coordination of the limbs. Thus horses who inherit speed but NOT the ability to amble tend to be the successful racing sires, from which the next generation is bred, and this has caused the ambling genes to go to a very low frequency in the modern QH. Nonetheless it is a huge breed with millions of registered animals, and a certain percentage of them -- which in such a large breed still equates to thousands of individuals -- can and will amble.

Now there is one other consideration, and this is I think why Judy jumped in there with the suggestion that you pursue reading more widely in this Forum: if your horse only produces this rapid, laterally-coordinated "odd" gait when it is tense or worried or frightened, then we are looking at biomechanical dysfunction, not genetics. A horse cannot properly coordinate its limbs when its tongue, hyoid apparatus/pharynx, neck, back, or upper haunch muscles are tight -- and they are liable to get tight anytime there are those negative emotions.

If this sounds more like the right track, you can write in again and we'll go into it further. Cheers -- Dr. Deb




RDS
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 Posted: Sun Oct 9th, 2022 12:31 pm
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Thanks so much, this is so helpful. I will need to think about this more, espectially the issue as to when my horse uses this gait, i.e., only when anxious or otherwise. Thank you!

Rich

DrDeb
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 Posted: Mon Oct 10th, 2022 08:25 am
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Yes, Richard, I was hoping you'd be curious enough and brave enough to want to know where "negative emotions" in horses actually come from. Not from being beaten up or mishandled or abused by you or anybody else, I assure you. But there is a reason why horses get "tight" on the inside, and once you understand it, I can promise that wherever you are with your horses currently, this will open the door to a whole new level, a whole new world. Cheers -- Dr. Deb


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