Walking Horse Group, UT to Collaborate on Gait Analysis Study; Funding Sought

The University of Tennessee (UT) and the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders' and Exhibitors' Association (TWHBEA) are working together to develop and secure funding for a balance and mobility study to analyze the natural gait of the Tennessee Walking Horse.

"The Tennessee Walking Horse industry provides a very significant economic impact and much recognition for our state," said Alan Mathew, MS, PhD, head of the Department of Animal Science at the University of Tennessee. "As Tennessee's Land Grant University, we are delighted to have this opportunity to collaborate with TWHBEA to provide expertise and science-based information for the benefit of Walking Horse owners, trainers, pleasure riders, and others involved with this unique breed."

Using high performance 3D cameras and analysis from judges and veterinarians, coupled with genetic markers, researchers will be able to record the gait of today's Tennessee Walking Horses in different disciplines. Historical films will be used to analyze the natural movements of the breed at its inception. Researchers will then compare the motion of the breed's foundation horses to the motion and mobility of today's Tennessee Walking Horses.

The study would also analyze potential differences in horses' weight distribution based on the way they are shod.

"Certainly there's a natural evolution in the performance of show horses through breeding and improved training methods, but this study will finally help us determine if today's horses are still in synch with the natural gait of this breed," said Mathew.

Chuck Cadle, executive director of the TWHBEA, said, "We base breeding decisions on performance in the show ring, and that may not be the best way to preserve the natural gait of this breed. This study will help us make the best breeding decisions so we don't dilute our population and compromise the gait that makes our horse famous.

"We hope that with this scientific information, we can all agree on what's in the best interest of the breed and how to move forward together," Cadle continued. "If today's show horses are not functioning the way the breed's founding sires and mares did, then we as an industry may need to change our expectations for this breed."

If the study can be initiated within the year, it could be completed by 2011. TWHBEA and UT intend to seek funds for the project and are willing to discuss it with interested parties.

See the TWHBEA Web site  for more information.

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