Caturday Felid

February 21, 2009 • 6:52 am

This is Dusty, a bedraggled kitten found by my technician in the alleys of the Pilsen district of Chicago.  Dusty was brought up in the lab, where he loved to sleep in plant pots.  After several months we adopted him out to a nice couple who promptly renamed him (ugh) “Odin.”

Cat fact (from here; I don’t vouch for its truth!):  “Did you know that cats share something in common with only two other species on the planet, the giraffe and the camel? These three beasts are the only ones that when running do not alternate their gait. This means that they run forward with both right feet in one stride, and then both the left feet in the next. All other animals advance with one right and one left, then one left and one right.”

6 thoughts on “Caturday Felid

  1. That should be giraffe, camel and pantomime horse. All are descended from an early Oilyobscene pantomime wombat.

    I thought you knew your evolution.

  2. So they’re pacers, not trotters.

    Which brings up the question: do harness race horses have the natural ability to run both ways, or is this solely the effect of training? Or is it training plus natural proclivity? If the latter, is it true that some horses have more of a bent to run as pacers than others? At some point early on there must be a decision to train a horse as a trotter or pacer based on natural proclivity.

  3. I noticed that my previous comment is awaiting moderation. I’m not really a creationist troll mocking you. I just have a bit of impulse control where humour is concerned. I had just finished reading Sam Harris’ bit over on Edge and was in that frame of mind.
    I have the new book on order and am much looking forward to reading it. thanks in advance.

  4. Paul,

    I worked in the restaurant at a racetrack years ago and I remember wondering the same thing. Part of the harness of the pacers is some sort of hobble thing to force the legs to go that way so, how natural could it be? Also, it often happened the horses would ‘break stride’ and have to drop out of the race.

  5. Horses naturally walk, trot, canter and gallop. (Although there is some argument as to whether the gallop is a separate gait or just a slower canter.)

    We’ve bred all sorts of additional gaits into horses over the years. While they could be called artificial since wild horses don’t do them, most of these gaits are impossible (or extremely hard) to develop from training alone. So, there is definitely a genetic component involved. Many of the American gaited horses were developed on plantations and in other rural areas where landowners needed smooth horses who they could ride at a medium gait for long distances (without getting too saddle sore!)

    American Saddlebreds are known as five-gaiters because they walk, trot, canter/gallop, slow-gait and rack.

    Standardbreds pace. The Missouri Foxtrotter has a 4-beat diagonal gait. The Tennessee Walker has a special running walk. Icelandic horses have several specialized gaits.

    Many horses that are gaited breeds will exhibit the gaits naturally, some will not. I rode a part Standardbred mare for several years who had never been taught any sort of special gaits. She would occasionally pace instead of canter. However, some horses of the gaited breeds will be more gaited than others, and training definitely helps bring out the special gaits. I took lessons on an American Saddlebred gelding growing up who had never been known to display any of the specialized gaits. (Much of today’s training, especially of Saddlebreds involves getting highly artificial gaits, sometimes by extremely inhumane means, including soring the horses feet by pouring harsh chemicals on them to make them step higher.)

    Occasionally, you also get surprise horses that can gait in breeds that traditionally do not gait. Every now and then a quarter horse turns up who can do a good running walk. I’ve known one, and she was quite a pleasure to take on trail rides.


  6. The hobble is to keep the pacer from breaking into a canter around the curves; the pace is faster than the trot but less stable, so horses have a tendency to pace only on straightaways. They do, however, pretty clearly prefer one or the other gait: the pace is natural.

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