Monday, September 10, 2012

Viking Health Care: Veterinary edition

It was noted many years ago by an astute naturalist that when a horse is bisected by the rapid descent of a portcullis, the sudden absence of its hindquarters may not immediately register with the beast's dim little brain (for horses are not the brightest of foodstuffs our animule friends), with the compensatory changes of balance and fine limb-movement timing required to remain upright and in motion being handled at the level of the shoulders.

Naturally bipedal horse, or double
amputee? Only the "My Little Pony"
apotemnophila fetishists
know for sure
There is a broader lesson here about the extent of self-organisation and local autonomy involved in mammal locomotion, from swimming to galloping. The precise sequences of muscle contractions to produce a stable, periodic gait arise spontaneously among neural networks in the spinal cord rather than being sent down from the brain. At this point it behooves you** to read about central pattern generators. Come back when you've done that.

It transpires that many Icelandic horses are homozygous for a mutation on the DMRT3 gene, which controls the development of spinal neurons. The results are TOTALLY PREDICTABLE -- they have fewer of the commissural interneurons involved in cross-lateral coordination; their left hooves are less aware of what their right hooves are doing. This makes it possible for them to override the usual left / right timing constraints and perform the skeið or flugskeið (also known as 'pacing' among horses that don't speak Icelandic), not to mention the tölt, a kind of amble.

The mutation is not necessarily an advantageous one; it carries the downside that Icelandic ponies are not as adept at the more conventional equine gaits (Supplementary Table 5). This explains why Iceland has never won an Olympic Gold medal in dressage.

Grettir's Saga relates how Grettir attempted to produce these extra gaits by rewiring the spinal circuitry of Kengala the weatherwise mare,*** using the primitive equipment available to Viking neuroscientists.
Sadly, this pioneering line of research was not pursued further due to the hostile response from Ásmundr (father of Grettir, owner of Kengala and probably a climate-change alarmist). A millennium later and Icelanders are still speaking of how Ásmundr slammed the stable gait after the horse had bolted.

Bonus Keats-&-Chapman punchline:
* Below: Unintelligence of horses proven by their failure to learn to count up to 4, even when the numbers are fastened to cages strapped over the subjects' heads.

** I didn't hear a laugh from that man over there.

*** Kengala was "so wise about the weather and the rain that a storm invariably follows when she refuses to go out to graze".

13 comments:

fish said...

Grettir's techniques were perfected for the treatment of macular degeneration by Alan Strang.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

And that is why it is also called "animal husbandry".
~

fish said...

Also where did you get all that money in the header?

M. Bouffant said...

an astute naturalist
A Kraut baron, wasn't he?

That is a lot of money. What's the exchange rate, though?

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

Naturally bipedal horse, or double
amputee? Only the "My Little Pony"
apotemnophila fetishists know for sure


I'm going to disavow any knowledge of the J.G. Ballard/"My Little Pony" mashup fanfic Stampede.

I know NOTHING!!!

Smut Clyde said...

the treatment of macular degeneration by Alan Strang
Heh indeed.

vacuumslayer said...

As B^4 has pointed out before, this guywould have no use for that first horse. Despite his name.

Another Kiwi said...

Sirs, the money in the header is holey money and we therefore cannot talk about it. HATERS!

Substance McGravitas said...

Sadly, this pioneering line of research was not pursued

If he'd added four more legs there'd be an ode on it.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...

Other Viking news.

alison said...

A millennium later and Icelanders are still speaking of how Ásmundr slammed the stable gait after the horse had bolted.
hahahahaha! Still laughing as I type! Well done, that man!

Grant said...

Er, that last photo isn't promotional material for the colourfully gay version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail clippy-clopping is it? (I never said this would be PC!)

Smut Clyde said...

I believe that photograph was taken down at the Sensitive Frog, where the barstaff lack morality and decency and compunction. They are willing to keep serving spiritous liquor to innocent young customers from the country until the i.y.c.s become insensible and allow themselves to be photographed in all manner of incriminating and uncharacteristic poses. Or so I hear from a friend.