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:
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.
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