Breeding and conformation predispositions an animal to gait. Here Beverly Whittington looks at the gaits that require a ventroflexed back. One of the main truisms of the gaited community is that gait is made in the breeding shed. Gait is inherited and conformation is a key ingredient of this inheritance. It is important to look hard at your horse’s conformation and work your horse for a gait he is physically able to perform. Asking a horse to perform a gait he is built to do will make the task of training (polishing what nature has provided) easier on both of you.
Gait falls within three basic spectrums, gaits that require a level back, a ventroflexed (hollow) back or a slightly dorsiflexed (rounded) back. Here we will concentrate on the gaits performed using a ventroflexed back – the pace, stepping pace, sobreandondo, skeith-tolt, amble, ‘saddle’ or stepped rack, rack, tolt, marcha picada, corto, single-foot and largo.
Ventroflexed back - conformation tendencies
A horse with a neck that ties in higher, with extra development in the upper half of the neck, has been ridden in and/or is predispositioned to a gait that requires a more upright carriage of the head and neck such as the lateral gaits.
A steeper shoulder angle and a humerus that is a bit shorter than half of the length of the shoulder blade allows the horse to have a higher action of the front limbs - one of the signs of a racking gait because it allows the most lift and fold of the front limbs
The Lumbosacral joint (where the loins meet the hip) being lined up behind the point of the hip can cause a horse to go more toward a lateral (ventroflexed) gait
A horse longer in the cannons and with short gaskins will lift the hocks higher before reaching forward - again a trait of ventroflexed gaited horses
Horses with rear ends with short femurs and long tibia/fibulas are less likely to be able to round their backs and step strongly under themselves, and so are inclined to more lateral gaits, usually with a shorter, higher step behind
A horse with short hips (less than a quarter of their body length) and steep pelvic angles (more than 45 degrees) will lend itself to the ventroflexed gaits
The influence of condition The appearance of the neck and shoulder of a horse can be influenced by the way it is ridden. The shoulder is not attached skeletally to the horse, so the angle of the shoulder can be modified slightly when a horse is caused to maintain a specific frame while being ridden. Development of the neck will differ with how a horse is ridden, and can mislead the eye as to the true base conformation of the horse.
Since we are interested in what nature and breeding have influenced, we need to exclude these influences. Therefore, let us turn our attention to gaited foals. Foals will only exhibit the conformation influenced by their natural carriage since birth. The examples shown here are natural, strongly gaited foals. They are all performing gaits in the ventroflexed gait spectrum and are not old enough for any influence, except that which they have inherited.
Conformation is only one of the elements that contributes to a naturally well-gaited horse. It will not guarantee gait. However, it is important to remember that if the conformation is there, the other attributes are more likely to fall in place.
The foals pictured were raised by Beverly Whittington from stock bred for generations for gait - atigradoacres.com