A mechanical trigger for the trot-gallop transition in horses

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Science  19 Jul 1991:
Vol. 253, Issue 5017, pp. 306-308
DOI: 10.1126/science.1857965


It is widely thought that animals switch gaits at speeds that minimize energetic cost. Horses naturally switched from a trot to a gallop at a speed where galloping required more energy than trotting, and thus, the gait transition actually increased the energetic cost of running. However, by galloping at this speed, the peak forces on the muscles, tendons, and bones, and presumably the chance of injury, are reduced. When the horses carried weights, they switched from a trot to a gallop at a lower speed but at the same critical level of force. These findings suggest that the trot-gallop transition is triggered when musculoskeletal forces reach a critical level.

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