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This article appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of the ALBC newsletter. ALBC members receive 6 bi-monthly newsletters that contain articles about the breeds of livestock and poultry that we work to conserve as well as the people involved in these efforts. Members also receive an annual breeders directory that provides contact information for ALBC members who have breeding stock available, as well a list of products from these breeds that they offer for sale.

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From the January/February 2010 ALBC Newsletter:

Exciting Research on the Gait of Colonial Spanish Horses
By Dr. Molly Nicodemus, PhD, Gaited Locomotive Research Program, Mississippi State University, and Jeannette Beranger, ALBC Research and Technical Programs Manager

Due to the breed’s Colonial Spanish heritage, the Marsh Tacky horse was thought by some to be gaited, but there had never been any research conducted concerning their gaits. One long-time breeder once described the Tacky gait as a “rocking chair gait.” One thing for certain, many Marshy Tacky horses have been found to be particularly comfortable under saddle. This thinking led to the start of a project to try to understand why the Marsh Tacky, when ridden, was often different from the feel of other horses.

A study was undertaken by Dr. Molly Nicodemus of Mississippi State University (MSU) and the American Livestock Breeds Conservancy (ALBC) to explore and define the gait of the Marsh Tacky by using video of the horses and analyzing the temporal variable measurements of the horses. Ten horses from various bloodlines were selected and filmed. ALBC staff filmed the horses performing their intermediate gait. Using frame-by-frame analysis, ten strides that showed clearly visible hoof contact and lift-off were evaluated for the study. As the study progressed, an interesting development occurred. Every one of the Tacky horses that Dr. Nicodemus viewed had periods of "gaiting." This meant that they demonstrated a symmetrical, 4-beat stepping gait (no suspension) with a lateral footfall sequence (meaning the footfall was left hind, left fore, right hind, right fore) in which all of these variables are similar to the walk of other gaited horse gaits (running walk, rack, fox trot).

What Dr. Nicodemus found is that the Marsh Tackies perform a broken trot similar to the fox trot of the Missouri Fox Trotter horse. Instead of diagonal pairs, the two diagonal limbs disassociate creating four-beat gait with diagonal couplets (instead of a two-beat gait). In place of the suspension, the horse has created a quadrupedal support phase where all four limbs are on the ground. The durations, timing, and limb support are more similar to the marcha batida of the Mangalarga Marchador, the national horse of Brazil. The fox trot does not demonstrate quadrupedal support and instead shows more tripedal support. However, the marcha batida does show quadrupedal support along with the diagonal couplets. Both the Mangalarga Marchador and Marsh Tacky breeds share similar Spanish ancestries which may explain the similarities of their gaits.

At faster speeds than what was measured in the study, the Tackies can produce a true trot similar to other gaited breeds. (Gaited breeds can produce either a pace or trot at faster speeds depending on the breed.) Some Marsh Tacky horses in the study could not hold their gait as well at the speeds that were observed. This can make the gaits look and feel rough as they switch in and out of the trot and broken trot. Conformationally, some horses may be better suited for this gait than others, but the study has not yet examined enough research to understand this point. The lack of suspension, the periods of quadrupedal support, and the longer periods of stance (where the hoof is more on the ground) assists the Marsh Tacky in traveling through such terrain as marshy land.

The next step for MSU’s research study will be to look at joint angles, head displacements, back movements, and croup movements to further determine what the horses are doing with the body to assist in producing the gait. Based on the current findings, the Marsh Tacky can be considered gaited. The findings were published in the Journal of Animal Science in 2009. The gait variables found in the study will assist in identifying characteristics that are unique to the Marsh Tacky breed in comparison to other gaited horse breeds.

Dr. Nicodemus writes, “While the gait looks like the marcha batida, it is not exactly the same, so it truly needs its own name.” She has invited the Carolina Marsh Tacky Association to coin a name for their breed’s gait.

Because the gait of the Marsh Tacky is unlike anything Dr. Nicodemus has ever seen in other gaited horses, it has encouraged further research on other Colonial Spanish breeds. Work is currently under way to collect video footage of the other Colonial Spanish horse breeds listed on the ALBC Conservation Priority List. ALBC is looking for video footage of purebred horses from the following strains:

1. Banker (includes Shackleford, Ocracoke, Corolla, Carrot, Core,Hatteras, and Cedar Island)
2. Belsky
3. Cerbat
4. Choctaw / Cherokee
5. Florida Cracker
6. New Mexico (includes Mt. Taylor, Baca, McKinley, but not New Mexico Horse Project horses)
7. Pryor
8. Sulphur
9. Wilbur-Cruce
10. Santa Cruz

If you are interested in participating in the study please contact Jeannette Beranger at the ALBC office or e-mail jberanger@albc-usa.org . In the meantime, a big “thanks” goes to all of the owners who helped to collect video footage of their horses.

For more information about the Marsh Tacky horse breed, contact: Carolina Marsh Tacky Association, 6685 Quarter Hoss Lane, Hollywood, SC 29449, (843)906-2274, www.marshtacky.org.


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