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
Unsettled and on its toes