A new study reveals that the genetic mutation for an ambling gait, found the Icelandic horse, first appeared in horses in Medieval England and was subsequently spread around by Viking traders. This smooth gait, which makes a long ride comfortable, is an inherited trait, springing from a single genetic mutation, the BBC reports.
According to the study, whose authors include two Icelanders, the ambling gait first appeared in horses in York around the year 850. The gait has a four-beat rhythm and is characterized by both legs on the same side moving at the same time.
In 2012, researchers discovered that the gait originated in a single mutation in a gene. The new study examined the specific DMRT3 gene by looking at genetic material from 90 horses, that lived between 6000 BC and 1000 AD, according to the Guardian.
“The first occurrence of this mutation was in two samples from medieval England from the York Archaeological Collection,” stated one of the authors, Dr. Arne Ludwig, from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research. The horses in question existed between 850 and 900 AD.
These horses were brought to Iceland, and the English imports were crossbred with the local horse population. The Vikings “had the benefit that Iceland had a small population of horses, and it is much easier to fix a trait in a small population than in a population with a huge number of horses," explained Ludwig.
The trait is believed to have been spread by Vikings involved in trade:
The Vikings had a strong presence in York in the 9th and 10th centuries, and they had established trade routes to numerous countries. “Thus ambling horses might have been introduced to Asia by Vikings during their journeys to the Caspian Sea and the Middle East,” the authors write.
The study was published in Current Biology.