Examining the Trot to Canter Transition Step by Step

Researchers found that the moment when horses switch between the trot and the canter results in a brief loss of stability and coordination, which appears to happen just after a change in the angle of the horses’ joints.
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Whether your horse takes several short, quick trot steps into the canter or jumps right into that rocking-horse gait, the moment when his legs change sequence probably seems fleeting. To a group of researchers from Michigan State University (MSU) though, that moment of change is of great interest.

In their recent study, the researchers found that the moment when horses switch between the trot and the canter results in a brief loss of stability and coordination, which appears to happen just after a change in the angle of the horses’ joints.

Researchers observed four Miniature Horses moving from the trot to the canter using infrared cameras that photographed 34 reflective tape markers placed on different parts of the horses’ bodies. The horses, without being given cues about when to pick up the canter, were led by a human who increased speed gradually, and the researchers analyzed the angles and ranges of motion captured on film.

The team observed that the joints closest to the center of the horse's body—the hip and the shoulder—showed an increase in variability of their angles, meaning that the legs were swinging farther forward and farther back during the transition than they did at a normal trot. The angles returned to the expected range once the transition to canter was complete

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Natalie Voss is a freelance writer and editor based in Kentucky. She received her bachelor’s degree in equine science from the University of Kentucky and has worked in public relations for equine businesses and organizations. She spends her spare time riding her Draft cross, Jitterbug.

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