The origin of ambling horses. Academic Article uri icon


  • Horseback riding is the most fundamental use of domestic horses and has had a huge influence on the development of human societies for millennia. Over time, riding techniques and the style of riding improved. Therefore, horses with the ability to perform comfortable gaits (e.g. ambling or pacing), so-called 'gaited' horses, have been highly valued by humans, especially for long distance travel. Recently, the causative mutation for gaitedness in horses has been linked to a substitution causing a premature stop codon in the DMRT3 gene (DMRT3_Ser301STOP) [1]. In mice, Dmrt3 is expressed in spinal cord interneurons and plays an important role in the development of limb movement coordination [1]. Genotyping the position in 4396 modern horses from 141 breeds revealed that nowadays the mutated allele is distributed worldwide with an especially high frequency in gaited horses and breeds used for harness racing [2]. Here, we examine historic horse remains for the DMRT3 SNP, tracking the origin of gaitedness to Medieval England between 850 and 900 AD. The presence of the corresponding allele in Icelandic horses (9(th)-11(th) century) strongly suggests that ambling horses were brought from the British Isles to Iceland by Norse people. Considering the high frequency of the ambling allele in early Icelandic horses, we believe that Norse settlers selected for this comfortable mode of horse riding soon after arrival. The absence of the allele in samples from continental Europe (including Scandinavia) at this time implies that ambling horses may have spread from Iceland and maybe also the British Isles across the continent at a later date.

published proceedings

  • Curr Biol

altmetric score

  • 385.53

author list (cited authors)

  • Wutke, S., Andersson, L., Benecke, N., Sandoval-Castellanos, E., Gonzalez, J., Hallsson, J. H., ... Ludwig, A.

citation count

  • 14

complete list of authors

  • Wutke, Saskia||Andersson, Leif||Benecke, Norbert||Sandoval-Castellanos, Edson||Gonzalez, Javier||Hallsson, Jón Hallsteinn||Lõugas, Lembi||Magnell, Ola||Morales-Muniz, Arturo||Orlando, Ludovic||Pálsdóttir, Albína Hulda||Reissmann, Monika||Muñoz-Rodríguez, Mariana B||Ruttkay, Matej||Trinks, Alexandra||Hofreiter, Michael||Ludwig, Arne

publication date

  • August 2016