Horse Gaits: Sound Doesn’t Equal Symmetrical

Research indicates that most sound horses’ movements differ depending on direction of travel on a circle.
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Researchers found that most horses' movements differ depending on the direction they travel on a circle. | Photo: Mallory Haigh/The Horse
A sound horse is one that doesn’t limp or drag his feet, but it’s by no means a horse that moves symmetrically. Results from new three-dimensional (3-D) studies of the angular motions of horses’ legs suggest that most horses’ movements differ depending on the direction they travel on a circle, according to a Dutch equitation scientist.

“In equestrian sports, symmetry is an important part of training,” said Lotte Hardeman, PhD candidate and researcher in the equine sciences department at Utrecht University. “This is especially true for dressage horses because we expect our dressage horses to perform forward and lateral movements symmetrically to the left and to the right.”

But previous research led Hardeman and colleagues to suspect that sound horses did not necessarily move symmetrically. To test their theory, the team used 3-D technology to study the precise variations of angles in horses’ legs during straight and circular movement, Hardeman said during her presentation at the 2011 International Society for Equitation Science Conference, held Oct. 26-29 in Hooge Mierde, The Netherlands.

Hardeman and her colleagues evaluated the angles horses’ cannon bones create while walking and trotting straight and in circles and on soft and hard ground. For each leg, the researchers measured the angle of front-to-back movement of the bone (the “segmental” angle) and the side-to-side movement of the bone (the “coronal” angle)

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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