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Are gaited horses more prone to lameness

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Hi,
I am an Animal Sciences student (pursing a Molecular Genetics minor) with an interest in genetic health and conformational health in animals (such as arthritis in Scottish Fold Cats, deafness in white ferrets, etc). I also love horses and I'm currently taking an Equine class.

While learning about Ambling gaits (fox trot, "paso", rack, running walk, slow gait, tolt) I came up with the thought, since we are genetically selecting for a mutation that changes movement and, thus, balance and how they are using their muscles, joints, etc, does this lead to increased lameness or other health problems? What about pacing (since it is a lateral gait)? Or Peruvian Paso Finos with their swinging leg motion?
My teacher said trotting is the most efficient gait for horses, and if we are selecting for horses that don't trot, would this cause discomfort?

I asked my teacher and tried researching it but couldn't find any studies or data on it. Does anyone have any experience?

This is not meant to look down on any breed of horse, genetic health just fascinates me!

Thank you in advance!
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Interesting topic. I have no science on this. From what I have seen of people riding gaited horses they seem no more prone to lameness than a horse of standard movement. Perhaps it is to do with muscle fitness, the muscles we work become stronger. And horses bred to gait do it naturally, they do not have to be taught . . so where did it start?

I find it interesting about trotting being the most efficient gait for horses. When working for strength a good exercise is to trot uphill. The horse will often try to canter because it is less strenuous for him. I read (or was told) that the lope that western riders specialize in is a pace a horse can keep up all day (meaning for long stretches of time) surely that would make it a very efficient gait.

Look forward to hearing replies from more informed people here :)
 

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While learning about Ambling gaits (fox trot, "paso", rack, running walk, slow gait, tolt) I came up with the thought, since we are genetically selecting for a mutation that changes movement
Unless I am misinterpreting this sentence This ^^^^is a misnomer - huge misnomer:). Humans originally did NOT genetically select for a mutation that changes movement.

Several breeds possess different INHERITED intermediate gaits. What humans have tried to do in some breeds is change that natural gait; it may be improved but not acquired by a horse without the natural ability.

Case in point are the Appaloosas and the Morgans. Appaloosas have gene that allows them to perform “The Indian Shuffle” and Morgan’s have a gene that allows them to perform the Singlefoot. Humans have tried their darndest, over decades, to wipe out that gene and happily for my part they have been unsuccessful.

It should be noted I have never shown. My horses were die hard, 4-wheel drive trail horses, sliding down river banow, swimming across the River. I also did a lot of road riding, if I didn’t have time to load up and haul out to trails.

I have owned Tennessee Walkers since 1990, so I can address your question with a bit of accuracy, as I’ve only owned four. Three are laid to rest on this farm, the fourth one is 28-1/2 and still going strong.

TWH Duke was a hard lateral pacer in the pasture and performed a champagne-smooth stepping pace when being ridden. He was with me 24 of his 27 years. He was not lame a day due to body structure but in his later years, he did have some stifle issues.

TWH Sultan was on his way to performing a solid running walk when I lost. Him to a freak pasture accident as a coming four year old. I was just starting g to ride him, so he was too young for any structural issues. Also never lame a day in his young life.

TWH Joker was with me almost 16 of his 27 years. He could saddle rack and perform a running walk. His structure issue was that he was sickle hocked to the point he could twist out of his shoes in a way no farrier had ever seen . Naturally speaking, he did not have any lameness issues, stifles we’re working at 100% at the end. His lameness was strictly due to founder from insulin resistance and he fractured his sacrum twice; once from catapulting backward off the trailer, once from getting caught in the pasture in a big hail storm.

TWH Rusty has been with me 26 of his 28 years. Rusty performed the champagne-smooth running walk people pay big dollars for; past tense because his Running walk is interspersed with trotting in the pasture. Partly because I have not been able to ride for several years and partly because his remaining pasture mate trots:) If I could still ride, I could still do some rough riding on him but he does have some stifle issues that would prevent us from yahooing it up like we once did. He gets supplements and is on 19 acres of hills which helps keep him conditioned.

**
So no —IMHO being gaited does not lend itself to structural problems and it really does not lend itself to hoof lameness unless some one has the misfortune to have a farrier who thinks gaited equals long toes, causing the horse to end up with stretched soles and underrun heels.
 

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I don't think being gaited makes horses more prone to lameness. However, in some breeds they have tried for extremes, for example breeding tendon laxity into some Tennessee Walkers that ends up causing soundness issues.

I've learned that the most efficient gait will be specific to the horse. Some gaited horses are very efficient and can gait all day. For some horses, a smooth trot is most efficient (evidenced by heart and respiratory rate). But others seem to work harder at the trot, and find the canter easier.

The intestines move forward and back at the canter, pushing against the diaphragm and then allowing for its expansion. This can make the canter very efficient. Because of this, the respiratory rate at canter and gallop are directly linked to the stride. One stride is one breath.
 

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I've owned 2 gaited horses and have been around multiple ones over the years. I've never dealt with lameness issues from them. I did have one that developed ringbone as he got up in the years but I've never had one with so much as an abscess. I don't show or force a gait though.

I have a feeling the ones that are prone to lameness are the ones that are being sored.
 

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In that video I would suspect that is just poor conformation. The legs are not straight and rotate during movement. I've seen that as well in some gaited horses. People need to be more picky about conformation.
 

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I have a foxtrotter, close to her mid 20’s, whom I have had for many years now. She has quite a repertoire of gaits - foxtrot, ‘normal’ trot, pace, running walk, canter, gallop and sometimes weird in between stuff (can foxtrotters rack as well? She’s got a super fast, super comfortable, gait she’ll use when out and about sometimes. She tends towards being cowhocked. She also has long pasterns with lots of flexibility in the fetlock joints.

This past summer she had a laminitis episode (therapeutic shoes, good recovery, dry lot in her future) and I notice this winter she has one knee that is showing a bit of an arthritic bump. Otherwise she has always been sound and presently continues to zip around with ease. I had wondered given her fetlock situation, that if she had ever been worked hard on a regular basis that it would end in dropped fetlocks in her later years.

Also, it is my observation that when she is in a relaxed state of mind, she will choose the trot if needing a bit of speed; when she is more emotional about things she chooses the specialty gaits.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 · (Edited)
Thank you for the responses!

I just wanted to clarify that I understand it can be natural for a gaited horse to show their gait. My thought process is that this does not mean it is "wild-type". In other words, it is a mutation and some mutations can be detrimental, just as short faces are selected for in Bulldogs and are "natural" for that breed but often lead to surgeries being required to correct breathing complications, along with numerous other health problems.
Other mutations are harmless though, such as many coat color changes or hair texture changes.

One change in movement that has a negative affect on an animal is that seen in Waltzing mice, which can't walk in a straight line and tend to circle excessively. This is an extreme mutation compared to gaiting, but is is an example of a mutation affecting movement.

In horses a nonsense mutation in DMRT3 (known as the "Gait Keeper" mutation) is associated with changes in how they walk (though other genes seem to be involved). The A allele is found in gaited and pacing horses while the wlid-type C allele leads to the normal walk, trot, canter gaits. Some horses can switch between a gait or pacing and trotting.

Here are a few papers on it:
 

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In other words, it is a mutation and some mutations can be detrimental, just as short faces are selected for in Bulldogs and are "natural" for that breed but often lead to surgeries being required to correct breathing complications, along with numerous other health problems.
Poor choice of analogy.

Brachycephalic dogs do not have flat faces because of a mutation, they're been selectively bred for increasingly flatter faces for over a hundred years. And only because people find flat faced dogs cute! Apparently they're flat faces remind of of infants.

I don't find them cute, I can't even look at a brachycephalic dog without cringing. All I can think of when I see them is the miserable quality of life they have, can you imagine just trying to live an average everyday life when you can't even draw a proper breath?

It's not even natural for those dogs to be so flat faced! Look at photos/paintings of the founding dogs of the various brachycephalic breeds - They all started out with muzzles! Those dogs could breath naturally and live regular lives. It's the fault of mankind and our gross tendency to breed for extreme exaggeration that lead to the sad state of those dogs in the modern day.

The only silver lining regarding brachycephalic dogs is that some countries are finally recognized their poor quality of life and restricting the breeding of them on animal welfare grounds. A few places have even banned them altogether.

Other breeders have recognized that continuing to breed these dogs is cruel without the government having to step in and are breeding better dogs - Ones with actual muzzles! Here are a few examples:

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olde_English_Bulldogge


Retropugs - Pug Dog Passion

 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I agree, I don't think breeding Bulldogs is ethical and I've seen some of the recent studies and how it is changing people's views (same with French Bulldogs, Pugs, Boston Terriers, etc). In Europe they are also looking into the arthritis affecting Scottish Fold cats, lack of whiskers in some hairless cats, inability to behaviorally signal in tailless cats, etc.

Genetically the short muzzle and bowed legs of a Bulldog is still caused by mutations, it's just more than one mutation. Any heritable change selected for by humans (not including the complications of epigenetics) is caused by mutations in the genes, it is just often so many mutations that we can't pinpoint a single one.
 

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@GitaBooks

Regarding gaited horses, my own argument is this.

The DMRT3 gene is not a new mutation, it arose over a thousand years ago in Medieval England. Invading Vikings apparently found horses who amble to their liking, because it's currently believed that they're the ones who took gaiting horses out of their area of origin and spread them all over the world.

They took them to Iceland, back to Scandinavia, to Continental Europe and possibly even to Asia! Vikings weren't just raiders, they were traders. My thinking is that if the gene was harmful, it wouldn't have survived to the modern day. Let alone spread to nearly every corner of the world.

The Vikings are a fascinating people, but overtly sentimental they were not. I kinda doubt they would've kept gaiting horses around if they weren't useful to them. If the gene caused severe problems to the horses that had it, then it would've become fairly evident quickly. So it would've died out, probably by selection for the dinner table.

Even today Iceland is still a major consumer of horse meat. And a great majority of the horses who go to slaughter there are those who either don't gait well or who don't gait at all.

 

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@charrorider I don't think it's fair to say that Peruvian horses are prone to DSLD. That's kind of a blanket statement. It only runs in certain bloodlines so appears hereditary. But because a genetic marker hasn't been found yet we can't test for the disease. Quote from DSLD article in 2021--

"While some breeds, such as Peruvian Pasos, are predisposed, studies have not reported the prevalence in affected breeds. For example, some Peruvian horse herds have NO cases of DSLD, but in other packs, the incidence of DSLD may reach ~40% of horses."

I bought my peruvian at age 5 and now he is 29 and 100% sound. Had a couple abcesses in the past and that's it. His pasterns are upright and strong. I'd be glad to share his bloodlines if anyone wants to know. My sister also has a peruvian and a 1/2 peruvian. The purebred is around 9-10 and also sound. The crossbred mare is about 12-13 and did develop some lameness a couple years ago from being grossly overweight when a friend gave her to us. Now she is fit, trim and sound.

Also the swinging out of their front legs is called termino and is not harmful to them. It's encouraged in the breed and isn't an issue.
 

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@pasomountain, actually this fall the first genetic test has been made available. The lab of comparative genetics at the University of Wisconsin has been doing a genetic study in affected and controls, trying to identify responsible genes. It is still not a complete yes or no test, but at least it gives breeders a tool. IF they test their stock before breeding.
 

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In that video I would suspect that is just poor conformation. The legs are not straight and rotate during movement. I've seen that as well in some gaited horses. People need to be more picky about conformation.
Yes, poor conformation, but those who are trying to breed big lick horses select for the loose tendons that create those instability/wobbling issues with the hind legs. If they get just the right combo, it can allow the horse to make the big lick movement. But it often leads to horses that have unstable joints and end up with injuries and/or arthritis from the excessive motion. I find it extremely unethical. But it's a reason I've seen lameness issues due to breeding in gaited horses. Rather than being picky about conformation, the breeders are trying to go as far in this direction as they can without making the horse completely lame. This is similar to the german shepherd breeding in the show world.
 

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@charrorider I don't think it's fair to say that Peruvian horses are prone to DSLD. That's kind of a blanket statement. It only runs in certain bloodlines so appears hereditary. But because a genetic marker hasn't been found yet we can't test for the disease. Quote from DSLD article in 2021--

"While some breeds, such as Peruvian Pasos, are predisposed, studies have not reported the prevalence in affected breeds. For example, some Peruvian horse herds have NO cases of DSLD, but in other packs, the incidence of DSLD may reach ~40% of horses."

I bought my peruvian at age 5 and now he is 29 and 100% sound. Had a couple abcesses in the past and that's it. His pasterns are upright and strong. I'd be glad to share his bloodlines if anyone wants to know. My sister also has a peruvian and a 1/2 peruvian. The purebred is around 9-10 and also sound. The crossbred mare is about 12-13 and did develop some lameness a couple years ago from being grossly overweight when a friend gave her to us. Now she is fit, trim and sound.

Also the swinging out of their front legs is called termino and is not harmful to them. It's encouraged in the breed and isn't an issue.
I know a veterinarian who rides Paso Finos. He tells me three of his Peruvian Paso Finos have DSLD. I'm glad the latest data you know of indicates the presence of DSLD runs only in certain lines of Peruvian Paso Finos. I have nothing against Paso Finos, Peruvians or otherwise. I have nothing against any breed of horse.
 

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From my understanding is that there is just very poor breeding with some gaited horse breeding. With my TWH there are some places where you can find better bred horses but its not nearly as popular compared to other breeds. Theres just less of a standard
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
Again, thank you for the responses! I love reading them and learning from them.

There are a number of genetic diseases that animals can suffer from. Some are accidental. They are usually recessive and people try to select against them in a breed but it can be hard because carries don't show symptoms. Inherited cataracts in certain dog breeds is an example. I believe DSLD would be an example of an unwanted mutation in horses.

Other genetic conditions, however, are associated with the behaviors and appearance of a breed. This includes brachycephaly in dogs and cats, deafness in certain white horses and dogs, and skull deformities in crested ducks and chickens.

While the argument that mutations that continue through the generations should be healthier ones makes sense, with artificial selection this isn't always true. Pugs apparently have existed for over two thousand years and their wrinkles, short muzzle, bowed legs, and even curled tail are associated with health conditions. If people want a trait, they can help it continue to exist even if it isn't as healthy.
 
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