Paddock Behaviour (2)

In July 2018 I looked at how a horse carries its head as it walks around the paddock, which can be a good indication of its mental state, whether that be alert, relaxed, tense or nervous. In this month’s blog we’ll consider the horse’s gait, which can reveal a lot about its mood and readiness to compete.

Ideally the horse should stride out willingly, and with a bounce in its step. It shouldn’t be jumping around and fighting its handler. As the horse walks away, look for a bit of a swagger of the hips and a gentle tail swing.

As an equine chiropractor I like to see a horse that ‘tracks up’ at walk – that is, a horse whose hind feet are placed more or less in the tracks of the forefeet. This shows that the joints if the hind limbs, hips and back are moving freely and easily.

Tracking up well

However, it’s true that a lot of good racehorses don’t move particularly well in their slower paces. In the paddock this may be because the handler has a tight grip of their head, and so they’re unable to stride out properly.

I also like to see a horse really extending its forelegs at walk, exhibiting freedom of movement through its elbow and shoulder joints.

Extending well in front

Sometimes it’s difficult to judge how well a horse tracks up or extends because it is not walking calmly around the paddock, but instead is jig-jogging or, in racing parlance, ‘on its toes’. Whether this is a good or a bad sign depends on the horse’s accompanying body language. A horse will often jig-jog if it’s feeling good and is eager to run. Its neck may be arched, with its head tucked in towards its chest. Its ears will be pricked forward, and it won’t be sweating much, if at all. It will be moving in a reasonably straight line, and the handler will be in full control.

On its toes and ready to race

On the other hand a horse may be on its toes because it is unsettled and worrying about the race to come. Its ears may be flicking this way and that, and its tail swishing. It may be sweating excessively. The handler may be having difficulty getting it to move forward in a straight line as it leans in, or swings its quarters away, or tries to wheel or rear.

Unsettled and on its toes

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