Foals Don’t Learn to Pace From Their Dams

Some horses with two copies of the gene associated with pacing don’t pace, so are they learning from their dams? Not necessarily, researchers have learned.
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The Hokkaido horse is a four-gaited breed native to Japan’s Hokkaido region. | Photo: Courtesy Tomoko Amano, PhD
Some horses’ ability to pace is associated with the “Gaitkeeper” gene (DMRT3). But being homozygous (having copies of the gene from both the dam and the sire) for the Gaitkeeper gene doesn’t seem to be enough, because some horses with the gene still don’t pace. So could these genetically capable foals learn how to pace by watching their dams?

“Although there is a traditional belief that foals learn the gait from their mothers in Hokkaido Native Horses, the mother’s gait did not affect the choice of gait of the foals in our study,” said Tomoko Amano, PhD, of the Laboratory of Animal Genetics at Rakuno Gakuen University College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment Sciences Department of Sustainable Agriculture, in Hokkaido, Japan. “We now speculate that several other genes which have less effect than the DMRT3 work with the DMRT3 on the pacing trait.”

The Hokkaido horse is a four-gaited breed native to Japan’s Hokkaido region. People traditionally used them to transport goods over mountainous regions inaccessible by wheeled vehicles. They preferred the pace to the trot because the gait is smoother, resulting in less damage to transported goods, Amano said. Today, Hokkaido horses are mostly used for local sporting competitions such as mounted archery.

In their recent study, Amano and colleagues analyzed 130 Hokkaido horses’ gaits and ran genomic tests to investigate chromosomal regions that might be related to pacing

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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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