WHY “V” FACTOR

Ever since the dawn of the “horse age”, there have been gaited horses. Research into the ancient progenitors of modern gaited stock show that the earliest “pacing” horses appeared or at least were recorded around the Mediterranean about 4500 years B.C. From this stock stem most if not all gaited horses in the world. They were distributed to the far reaches of the globe by the Phoenicians, Goths, Visigoths, Celts and many other tribes of people who traveled, traded and plundered the ancient world.

Everywhere the trade routes or conquering hordes went, pockets of gaited horse sprang forth where before had been only trot based horse types if indeed horses existed in those realms. Ever after that for many centuries gaited horses existed as yet today they do in many isolated pockets around the globe from China, Russia, the Ukraine, Tibet, Africa, Morocco, Spain and Europe.

Finally the descendents of these early pioneers of gait migrated to North America (as well as South America) and the Caribbean. From those early imports spring our modern gaited breeds.

The largest percentage of early stock in America were gaited whether they were considered Thoroughbred, Standardbred, Morgan etc. The ratio of gaited to non-gaited in the early centuries of this nation were approximately 14 gaited to 1 non-gaited. English Thoroughbred stallions were brought over to upgrade the stocks and from those crosses spring all American breeds with a few other crosses coming by way of Spanish, French and Dutch horses but those were predominantly of the light draft type.

The earlier Saddlebreds were largely Narragansett Pacers and gaited Thoroughbreds. Later Morgan, Hackney, Standardbred and Canadian Pacer were added to the meld until the American Saddlehorse ( not the same as Saddlebred as we know it) was developed.

Those horses were utilitarian, versatile animals with placid dispositions, good work ethic and willing natures. They were used as saddle mounts but also to plant crops, pull wagons, work cattle and perform other ranch work. The Saddlehorse pulled wagons cleared the land and became stylish roadsters once road systems allowed for carriage travel. A portion of them became in later days, the beginning of the Show Horse in America. This stock eventually evolved into what we know today as the American Saddlebred.

Much of the old Saddlehorse stock, however, also branched off to become part the foundation for the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Kentucky and Rocky Moutain Horses, the Virginia Highlander and many other small obscure gaited types around the country. Keep in mind there was only so many horses or horse types in the country from which to develop specific strains so all American breeds are related to one degree or another.

For our purpose it was this fine old Saddlehorse stock that was at the very tap roots and foundation for the original type of Missouri Foxtrotter. These horses pioneered the Ozarks where they were used to till crops, pull cotton wagons to the gins, work cattle, pull the family buggy, provide transport for the mail carriers, doctors, judges etc. But most importantly they became the solid family, utility horse of the Ozarks. The horse all the family members could use and enjoy. They were sure footed, athletic, capable horses with natural gaits. Many of these early horses preferred to foxtrot and the foxtrot gait proved to be the most sure footed and useable gait in the rugged Ozark hills. It was a working gait that allowed for the utmost athletic ability, sure footedness, and a steady, smooth ride even in the hills.

Toward the end of the 1800’s a new concept was developed among horse breeders whereby the recording horses in order to track pedigrees evolved into the development of breed registries. This allowed breeders to be more efficient at the art of selective breeding. America entered the world of Registered breeds with more than a dozen registries forming within a span of a few decades. The Missouri Foxtrotter breed was established only 65 years after the Standardbred became the first registered breed in America!

Where gaited horses were concerned this phenomenon of registries created a situation no one had considered and for the most part do not consider to this very day. By closing ranks and limiting outside influence to the type, there was no way to control the amount of pace in any of the gaited breeds. Before breed registries if a bloodline got to pacy, breeders simply crossed out to more trot. Within breed registries this was not always possible.

For those gaited breeds that rely upon the more lateral gaits this process was to alter the balance of the pace to trot ratios very quickly. By the late 1900’s many of the gaited strains were being over taken by pace. Horses that were bred supposedly to rack were hard pacing, those bred to running walk were pacing. More and more frequently horses bred for one gait became disappointments when they were born pacing.

The same phenomenon began to appear in the Standardbred community where they do not recognize intermediate gaits. Horses are bred to pace or trot. Anything in between is not given attention.

In the late 1900’s a study was conducted whereby a number of pacing Standardbred mares were bred to trotting stallions. As a result the large majority of foals born paced. The same number of trotting mares were bred to trotting stallions… again a substantial percentage of the offspring paced. BUT, when pacing mares were taken to pacing stallions, 100% of the offspring paced.

From this study it was deduced that pace was stronger than trot. The study also illustrated that pace tends to quantitate within a bloodline until it becomes the overwhelmingly stronger gait.

Because the study did not recognize those horses that fell between pace and trot…those that performed intermediate gaits, we cannot be 100% certain what the balance needs to be for any particular gait in order that one particular gait could be consistently produced.

Dr. Gus Cothran, of Texas A & M, participated in a study whereby geneticists were able to identify the difference between pace and trot at the molecular level. This was the first time science could substantiate a genetic difference between the two gaits. But again intermediate gaits were not examined. The tests were looking simply for the difference between pace and trot. The results show there is as much difference between pace and trot as there would be between totally unrelated horse breeds. That is a very substantial difference.

In private research among gaited horses it was found that horses that fell within a certain ratio of pace to trot consistently performed the same gaits…or preferred to perform the same gaits. This was the first time pace ratios were considered in the intermediate gaits. Hundreds of horses were examined and then their pedigrees studied.

The result of this study was the realization that in order to consistently produce a particular gait the pace/trot ratios in the horse needs to fall within certain ranges with a tolerance varying between the gaits. The more refined that ratio becomes the more limited numbers of gaits a horse performs.

Since most of the gaited breeds are suffering with the run away pace influence it became paramount to identify the cause for pace taking over these breeds in order to prevent the same thing from occurring among the Missouri Foxtrotting Horse.

Pedigrees were analyzed and traced back to their full pace progenitors in order to get an idea as to how the pace modifies the trot. In order to have an intermediate gait a horse must have some pace. The key appears to lie in the balance of the trot/pace ratio as to which dictates to what gait that horse will naturally gravitate.

From this study it became possible to give a mathematical identity to the various balances. These numbers represent percentages of pace however in order to make this type of factoring practical for the average breeder to benefit, it had to be simplified.

In the original formative years of the MFTHBA all horses entering the breed were inspected to see if they would foxtrot under saddle. The flaw to this is that some gifted riders could make a Grizzly bear foxtrot while some less adept riders may prevent a natural foxtrotting horse from functioning properly. This also did not consistently limit or preserve a specific balance of pace and trot.

The early horses reproduced far more consistently however, than later generations. Had breeding been consistent and cognizant of the pace/trot ratios, the breed should have been settling and standardizing for gait. Instead of standardizing, the horses began to deviate more and more from the original goal.

Tracing back on the pedigrees of these generations of horses it became evident that the heavy influx of Tennessee Walking Horse blood during the 1970’s and 80’s likely over balanced the pace ratio of the group. This gave the pace opportunity to quantitate….( get stronger) more rapidly. Even though the horses themselves gaited, they carried more pace genes from a closer source than was present in the old Saddlehorses.

Because pace is already stronger than trot, as soon as the pace influence reached a certain point, there was not enough trot influence in some bloodlines to consistently modify that pace. The result was more horses began to running walk than to foxtrot naturally. Then the next generations or certain bloodlines began to rack, stepping pace and then finally pace. Some bloodlines sprang directly from running walk to hard pace.

This same thing occurred in the Tennessee Walking Horse, the Paso Fino, the Peruvian Paso, the Saddlebred, the Mountain Horse breeds etc. Because the trot base was not well preserved the pace took over.

The process was delayed in the Missouri Foxtrotter primarily because the foxtrot is the most diagonal of all the intermediate gaits and therefore was initially the strongest in trot ratio…farthest from pace. In specific groups that were closed and standardized to the desired ratios of pace to trot, the horses indeed began to breed true. The horses were uniformly born foxtrotting to the exclusion of any lateral gaits.

Most of these horses foxtrot and running walk because the running walk is the same gait as a flat walk. The flat walk and running walk are both 50/50 gaits. It would be very difficult to breed all running walk out of a line and yet preserve a good flat foot walk. It is highly possible to breed out the flat walk AND the running walk and yet preserve a natural foxtrot.

From the early years of the Foxtrotter Registry the show ring was the focus point of the breed. In the 1980’s however, the type of foxtrot awarded first prize in that show ring began to change.

The original Foxtrotters were known for capping their tracks or barely stepped over them when they foxtrotted. This is how the breed and the gait got it’s very name. However that type of gait is not as fast as a big lick stride. For show ring purposes the cross with Tennessee Walking Horse blood tended to lengthen the stride and thus add speed to the gait. Those first crosses were quite impressive, however the more crosses that were made the closer to pace the group drifted until the style of foxtrot began to evolve away from the true rhythm of the original type. The horses no longer capped their tracks which also diminished the surefootedness of the breed.

Over the course of several decades the strides became longer and longer until conformation also began to change. The athletic ability of the very long strided horses was not nearly so handy and versatile as the more compact original stocks.

Eventually the pace reared it’s ugly head until more and more pace became the outcome of matings between horses that could foxtrot. Just as in the earlier Standardbred study, the foxtrotting horses were producing pacing offspring or offspring that preferred a more lateral intermediate gait.

Some of these horses could manually be squared up enough to foxtrot, but the fact remained a foxtrot was not their natural gait of choice.

The breed went from a base of 80% Saddlehorse/Morgan influence to what today is nearly 90% TWH influence. That is to say it is very difficult or nearly impossible to find a registered Missouri Foxtrotter that does not have Tennessee Walking Horse in it’s pedigreed. Indeed today many of the registered blue papered Missouri Foxtrotters are actually 100% Tennessee Walking Horse by blood. Many, many more are 7/8 to ¾ Walker which is the exact opposite of the original foundation stocks that created the original breed of Missouri Foxtrotting Horses.

Because we know that pace is stronger than trot and we know that the Tennessee Walking Horse represents more pace from closer progenitor, the logical way to preserve a strong trot base is to limit the influence of the TWH on the breeding nucleus of the breed.

This was not likely to occur breed wide because to do this would also be to limit the big lick stride so desired in the show ring. The desire is not to remove all TWH blood from the breeding core, but rather to take advantage of some of it’s attributes such as longer stride ( within reason) and larger bone and joints, while not allowing it to totally consume the original Saddlehorse/Morgan base or overpower the strong trot base those two types represent

The desire to preserve the original style of Missouri Foxtrotter, however, was left to the silent majority of the breed as so often is the case. The large majority of horses never go to a show ring, nor need they! The show horses are not superior in any way to the original style of horse when it comes to function and ability. Far the reverse. Yet the public eye focuses on the “Champions” of the show ring and rarely get to see the quietly working, solid, more foundation type Missouri Foxtrotting horse.

To overcome the imbalance of pace to trot and preserve the original style horse many people were talking about splitting away from the mother registry. They were dissatisfied at what appeared to be a disproportionate amount of attention and funding spent on shows and show horses than was meted out to those who had no interest in showing. The large majority of horses that don’t go to the show ring do not go there because they are inferior, but rather because not many people enjoy the politics and pressures that come along with the competitions of the show ring.

It became evident that if the trot base of the breed were to be preserved, quick action needed to be taken. It was necessary to identify the foundation type horses and in some manner collect them into a group whereby breeders could utilize them to more advantage. It was also apparent that if a market share was to be developed for this wonderful style horse, such a goal would get no backing from the Association at large.

Rather than tear apart the very small breeding gene pool of the Missouri Foxtrotting breed, it seemed more logical to work within the original Association by developing a secondary registry for the Foundation type horses. In this manner those horses with the proper trot/pace ratios could be better matched and the natural foxtrot gait better preserved.

To do that meant the limiting of Tennessee Walking Horse blood. The V-factor is a formula which allows each horse to carry a known value for pace to trot ratio. A full blooded Tennessee Walking Horse receives a factor of V-256. A full Saddlehorse or Morgan receives a factor of V-0. Cross breds fall between these two extremes depending upon how many crosses of TWH are in any given pedigree.

The Foundation Foxtrotter Heritage Association was formed. It’s mission is to preserve the original style Missouri Foxtrotting Horse. Any horse applying for registry in the Foundation Foxtrotter Heritage Association must carry a V-factor of 128 or less to qualify for registry. That means it must be no more than half Tennessee Walker by blood.

By factoring and building a data base of these V-factors, breeders can plot matings to advantage with a goal to standardize the group to a level conducive to foxtrot to the exclusion of lateral gaits without doing away with a natural running walk.

Breeders can take the V-factor of their mare and match it to the V-factors of available stallions as part….Repeat PART…of their considerations for breeding. Breeders always should compare conformation and match mares well, but the V-factor will be one more tool they can use to assure the consistent reproduction of natural foxtrot in their offspring.

The V-factor system was taken to Dr. Gus Cothran at Texas A& M for his learned opinion. He claims the factoring method to have merit.

Once the registry has sufficient numbers of horses registered, Dr. Cothran would like blood samplings from two dozen low factored horses and samples from high factored horses to study and compare. The goal would be to see if at the molecular level he can see a difference between the two types.

This year the genome of the horse was complete and the sequencing released to the equine geneticists of the world. This means that rather than trying to fathom the complex mysteries of equine genetics by the use of approximately 12 genetic markers, these scientists will now have in the neighborhood of 12,000 genetic markers with which to work. Because of this dramatically amazing increase in available markers,
Dr. Cothran and other geneticists may soon be unlocking many of the genetic mysteries of gait.

The V-factor may well be a very helpful part of some of this research. We can hope it is and that with this DNA study of the samplings we can identify the specific ratios of pace to trot needed to produce foxtrot into the distant future without the pace diluting it into extinction.

 

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