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CURE THAT PACE

By Lee Ziegler,revised 1998

Old timers will sometimes tell you that if a horse does not have a "little bit of pace" in him he will not be ble to do a runningwalk. If you notice the number of Standardbred pacers that contributed to the breed, it is no wonder that the pace lurks in so many Tennessee Walking Horses. The "pace problem" is not unique to the Tennessee Walkers. Although they do not advertise the fact, all of the gaited breeds produce individuals that prefer to do a stepping pace from time to time, as well as others that seem to do nothing but a hard pace when pushed for speed. Some of these horses are so "hard wired" in the pace that they will not do any other gait, even when free in a pasture. However, most pacey horses are not "stuck" in the gait to that degree, and with training can ge persuaded to do a more desirable gait.

Because no one wants to ride a pace (other than the Icelanders, and theirs is a special type of pace, done at speed) many methods have been developed to overcome the gait in saddle horses. Most Tennessee Walker trainers these days get rid of a pace with the help of their shoer (low angles in back, high ones in front, or vice versa, depending on who is doing the trim) their tack or shoe supplier (rattles, chains, weighted shoes, boots, "developers") or their back pasture (plowed ground, deep sand, mud, high grass, and hills). These ways of dealing with a pace treat the symptoms (the way the hooves hit the ground) not the "disease". To cure a pace, you need to know how and why a horse chooses that gait, and then eliminate the root cause.

HOW DOES A HORSE PACE?

The body position and muscle use of horses that pace are easy to see.

Movement: In the pace, a horse moves alternating lateral (same side) pairs of legs together. He does this by shifting his weight from side to side, away from each advancing pair of legs. In a true, fast, hard pace, he jumps from each set of lateral legs to the other, with a brief moment when all four legs are clear of the ground. At slower speeds, the jumping motion is gone and the lateral hooves do not touch down at the same moment. Usually the hind hoof sets down just before the front on the same side. This type of "broken pace" is just slightly more lateral than the "stepped pace" in which the hind hoof sets down noticeable before the front on the same side. For training purposes, everything from a hard pace to a stepped pace is usually labeled a pace.

Position: Horses that pace always do so with "hollow" or slightly swayed backs. /this position comes about in two ways:

    1. The horse travels with a high head and stiff neck muscles which in turn lead to stiffened muscles along the back, on either side of the spine. This allows the horse's hindquarters to trail along behind him, with no lowering of the croup or shift in balance to the rear.
    2. The horse travels "strung out" with a low head and neck, slack neck and back muscles, and, again, little thrust from the hindquarters.

Muscle use: Pacing horses have a unique way of using the muscles in their backs, whether they are the high-headed or loose type. While trotting horses maintain some tension and elasticity in the muscles on both sides of the spine at all times as they move, pacers tighten first one side, then the other as they move along. This contributes to a visible "wagging" from side to side of their hindquarters and a swing in their necks. Pacers also move with slack belly muscles and little push from their hind legs. In addition, their necks are often "ewe" shaped, with overdeveloped muscles on the lower side from traveling with high heads, little muscle mass at the true crest, and overdeveloped muscles half way down the neck--a "false crest" in the middle.

 

WHY DOES A HORSE PACE?

No one knows to what extent a horse voluntarily chooses a gait. They probably rely on both instinct and direct conscious neural signals to get themselves around. Despite what some may believe, there is no single scientifically identified "pace gene" that determines whether a horse will use that gait, or any dilution of it by the "trot gene" that then produces the easy gaits. The gait's root cause is much more complex than a single gene. A horse paces because for some reason his body is in the physical position necessary to produce the gait. His back sags, his neck is "hollow", his hind legs are trailing, and he is using muscle groups that make him swing from side to side. There are several physical reasons for a horse to move this way.

    1. Conformation: A horse that has trouble rounding his back because of his basic bone structure is likely to pace. Pacers usually have long functional backs (more than 48% of body length, when the body is measured from the point of shoulder to the point of the buttocks, and the back is measured from the crest of the withers to the lumbo-sacral junction), short, thick, high set necks, short "goose-rumped" hips, and hind legs that are "camped out" (center of hock lies well behind a plumb line dropped from the point of the buttock, with the hind cannon vertical) as well as very long from the stifle to the hock, with an open (over 110 degrees) angle at the stifle.
    2. Condition: A horse with weak, unconditioned muscles in his back and hindquarters will naturally sag under the weight of a rider. This puts him in an ideal position to pace. If you have ever wondered why a young horse will sometimes move out nicely in gait before he is ridden, but starts pacing as soon as you mount up, the answer lies in the lack of weight-carrying strength in his back.
    3. Attitude: Some horses pace because they are high-strung, high-headed, or tense from fear. This tension tightens their muscles and activates their flight reflex, causing them to travel with their heads high and a hollow or "dip" in their backs just before the point at which they attach to the wither. This in turn hollows their backs and causes their bellies to sag.
    4. Pain: Sore muscles are usually stiff and stiffness usually produces a pace. An unconditioned horse that has been ridden hard one day, allowed to stand in a small space overnight, then taken out for a ride the next will often pace the second day, even if he gaited well the first. He paces because he hurts. Pain can also be caused by injuries to the back, neck, rump, or joints of the hind legs. All will incline to the pace. In fact, a good clue to check a horse for injury of some sort is the sudden onset of a pace, when he has previously been working in gait.
    5. Wiring: Some horses pace because they have the gait ingrained in their nervous systems and muscles. They will do nothing but pace, ridden or free, at all speeds over all kinds of ground. They may have been born with this tendency or been inadvertently trained to do it be being ridden too young and allowed to pace consistently under saddle. They are very difficult to cure of the pace, but if they are not to set in their ways, their neural synapses can sometimes be reeducated over time into a different gait pattern. However, the success rate of retraining a horse that never does anything but a pace free in a pasture is not high.

Curing the Pace: Page 2
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