Are riding horses gait

Horses: The origin of Tölt and Pass is in England

Surprising find: Contrary to previous assumptions, the ability to walk and tölt in horses does not come from Iceland or Scandinavia. Instead, horses in England were the first to develop the mutation that made these unusual gaits possible, as genetic analyzes show. These "gaited horses" only came to Iceland when the Vikings captured them in England and took them with them.

All horses can walk, trot or gallop. But some horse breeds such as the Icelanders can also do two other gaits, the pass and the tölt. The first is a trot, in which both legs on the same side swing forwards or backwards at the same time, similar to the camel walking. The tölt is a quick sequence of steps with no suspension phases.

Both special gaits are very comfortable for riders because the horse's back swings up and down less jerkily than when trotting or galloping. Already in the Middle Ages, such gaited horses were therefore considered to be particularly valuable and were used, for example, as riding horses for aristocrats or women - and were specifically bred.

A mutation is to blame

As early as 2012, researchers found that the ability to pass and tölt is genetically determined: only horses that carry a mutation in the DMRT3 gene learn these gaits. So far, however, it has remained unclear where the first gaited horses came from. Because Icelanders are most likely to master passports and tölt, it was assumed that they originated in Scandinavia.

Saskia Wutke from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin and her colleagues have now investigated whether this is true. For their study, they analyzed the genome of 90 European horse fossils from the period between the Copper Age around 6000 BC and the Middle Ages around 1000 AD. They specifically looked for the mutation in the DMRT3 gene.

Origin in England

Surprisingly, the researchers found something different than they had expected. Until now, the origin of this mutation has been assumed to be in early Scandinavia - because the Icelander horses most often have this mutation and they were once brought to this island by the Vikings. In addition, the earliest evidence of the mutation in Iceland dates back to 870.

However, in Scandinavia and throughout continental Europe, the scientists did not find a single horse fossil with this gene mutation from before 870. However, they came across the gait mutation in two English horses from around 850. This suggests that this mutation originally originated in this region: "We used it to trace the origin of gaited horses back to medieval England," says co-author Arne Ludwig from the IZW.

Booty of the Vikings

But how did the first gaited horses come to Iceland? According to researchers, this must have happened to the Vikings. There is historical evidence that the Vikings repeatedly pillaged Britain. In the 9th century they also subjugated the Yorkshire area where the two historic gaited horses came from. "So it stands to reason that the Vikings first encountered gaited horses in England and took them from there to Iceland," explains Wutke.

Once on the island, the Vikings apparently quickly recognized the advantage of gaited horses and began to breed with them in a targeted manner. The gentle gait was probably particularly suitable for covering longer distances in the rough terrain of Iceland. Only later did the gaited horses spread from Iceland and England to the rest of Europe. (Current Biology, 2016; doi: 10.1016 / j.cub.2016.07.001)

(Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V., 09.08.2016 - NPO)

August 9, 2016