Thursday, July 31, 2014

Why is "A Good Horse Never A Bad Color"?

You might or might not have heard this saying. It's the horseman's equivalent of "don't judge a book by its cover."

What it really means is that color isn't really that important. A good horse is a good horse - some of the best horses I've known have been pretty much plain brown.

That aside, though, humans have bred horses for color from pretty much the start of domestication. The Roma prefer black and white horses (although there's some association between pinto markings and quiet temperaments). Many draft breeds have been bred to come in only two or three colors, or even just one - all Suffolk Punches, for example, are chestnut - perhaps in part to make matching teams visibly easier. The Queen has her Windsor Grays.

And, of course, America has the beautiful Paints and Appaloosas and many breeders breed Quarter Horses for dilute colors such as palomino or buckskin.

What the saying really reminds us, though, is that color has no impact on performance - and every so often horsemen need to think about that, especially if breeding for color.

Maybe in your world there are color breeds too, and arguments about whether certain colors are better than others. I'll talk about color myths tomorrow - there are some doozies.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Why Does A Horse Run Away With Its Rider?

You might hear somebody saying that a horse "took off" or "ran away." Or that somebody was dealing with a "runaway."

Runaways happen both under saddle and in harness, and there are five reasons for them:

1. The horse is bolting and panicked, per my last post. This is always dangerous and particularly so with harness horses.

2. The horse startled and ran away from something briefly - for example, I've had a horse take me halfway across the arena jumping and bucking because a tree fell down in the woods on the other side of the street. It wasn't a true bolt because he got his composure back very quickly.

3. The horse is in pain or discomfort, for example from ill-fitting tack or a need to visit the equine dentist.

4. The horse is over-excited and wants to run, or thinks it's "time" to run for some reason. This is most often seen in retrained racehorses, who sometimes seem to forget they're not on the track any more (not all of them, mind). I was also once with a trail ride of 30 horses and somebody blew a hunting horn. Every horse that had followed hounds immediately tried to take off running. The horses that hadn't looked at them like they were crazy.

5. The horse doesn't want to work and is taking off as a way of avoiding a difficult exercise or intimidating its rider.

A good horseman eliminates number 3 before addressing 4 or 5. Number 4 is often best addressed by more work or more turnout, or sometimes by taking the horse out on the trail and running it out of their system. 5...well, I tend to put a horse that tries that to more work. I also know one horse who takes off if he's bored...if you work him hard, he stops doing it.

Regardless, being "run away" with is an occupational hazard of being a rider and trainer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

When And Why Does A Horse Bolt?

Bolt is one of the most overused words in the equine lexicon. Some people say that any horse that goes even a bit faster than its rider intends is "bolting." (The more correct term is "running away" or "taking off with them").

A horse that is truly bolting is a horse that has completely panicked. If you read Watership Down, they talk about how rabbits go "tharn" - freeze, and lose all reason. True bolting is similar, except that the horse will run as fast as physically possible away from the source of its fear, not caring for anything or anyone that gets in the way.

If you're riding a horse and it bolts, it's likely to forget you're there and scrape you off on a tree branch (I've known horses to try that on purpose, but believe me, there's a difference). It may stumble, pitch you over its head, and then step on you as it keeps running. I once saw somebody almost get killed stepping in front of a bolting horse trying to stop it. The woman was at least 200 pounds. The horse didn't even slow down.

Fortunately, horses don't bolt very often! (Again, it's a very overused term). A good horseman knows to wait until its calmed down and not attempt to catch it unless it's running into a dangerous situation, such as a busy road. When I rode with cowboys they carried lassos - so that if a horse tried to run for a road, they could rope it and catch it that way. For that matter, it's dangerous to try and catch any horse that's moving at speed unless you're on another, preferably larger, horse.

The best thing to do is to shut all gates and let the horse run itself out - they stop eventually. If that doesn't work, pacing them on another horse and waiting for them to return to sanity, then gently turning them to a stop is also effective.

If you want your hero or heroine in real trouble on horseback, have something panic their horse...and you can have them end up on foot in the middle of the woods, or maybe still on the next county. With a lame and upset horse.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Why do we say "For Want Of A Shoe, The Horse Was Lost?"

There are quite a few sayings that have an equestrian origin. This one is still sometimes used to refer to a small thing that causes a large problem:

For want of a nail, the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe, the horse was lost.
For want of a horse, the man was lost.
For want of a man, the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost
All for the want of a horse-shoe nail.

(Several variants exist, this is the one I grew up with).

So, why is a horse lost "for want of a shoe." To understand, put one shoe on and walk across the room. Not very comfortable, is it.

A horse that loses or "throws" a shoe has one foot slightly higher than the other (horse shoes are about half an inch thick). This causes discomfort for the animal, especially if working on harder surfaces. Some horses come up outright lame right away. Continuing to work a horse with a thrown shoe can cause soft tissue injuries. In some cases, you can pull (remove) the opposite shoe to solve the problem, but much of the time, you're stuck with a horse you can't work until the shoe is replaced.

If that happened in the middle of a battle, then the cavalryman or knight would, at best, have to go to the back of the lines for a remount, or continue to fight on foot - which could well turn the tide of combat.

(If you're writing, this is a good way to put a horse out of action for a short period of time without actually hurting it).

Friday, July 25, 2014

What kind of treats do horses like?

Horses eat hay, grass, grain...they're herbivores. But what kind of little extras do we give our horses when we're happy with them?

Horse cookies or horse biscuits can be bought at tack stores or baked in your own kitchen. They're generally carrot, apple, or peppermint flavored.

Horses, by the way, love peppermint. Adore it. It isn't horse catnip, but it might be horse chocolate. Other than specially made horse cookies, the kind of treats we give horses include:

1. Root vegetables, especially carrots. Horses also like turnips and swedes - in fact the old English hunt cure for boredom in stalled horses is a large turnip or swede suspended from the ceiling of the stall using baling twine.

2. Apples, including crab apples - crab apples are too bitter for the human palate, but horses like them fine. Because of their size, it's also safe for horses to eat apple cores/apple seeds, and many riders will take an apple with them on a long trail ride, eat the flesh and feed the horse the core.

3. Peppermint candy. It's safe for horses to eat hard candy (in fact, at Christmas, I often hand out candy canes). Soft candy such as toffee should not be given to horses as it can give them cavities. In Britain, Polo mints - the local equivalent of Lifesaver mints - are in the pocket of most horsey teenagers.

4. Watermelon. On a hot day, horses appreciate watermelon - and they will even eat the rind.

5. Grapes. I've given grapes to old horses with no teeth before. Unlike small animals, they can also eat raisins. Other small fruits and berries are fine too.

Horses, like dogs, should not be given chocolate. They also shouldn't be given dairy - horses are very lactose intolerant.

Another thing horses like: Beer. (And it's almost impossible to get them drunk).

For worldbuilding, of course, you can always invent a fruit or herb horses are particularly fond of.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why Are Quarter Horses Called That?

The American Quarter Horse is the most common and popular breed of horse in the United States, but it's not a "quarter" of a horse, right?

Quarter Horses were bred for use on ranches, primarily to assist in herding cattle. Cutting cattle from the herd and dealing with them requires short bursts of speed. Humans, of course, race everything.

Because the early "stock horses" were built to sprint over very short distances, they were raced over short distances - which became standardized to a quarter of a mile.

So, a Quarter Horse is a horse that runs its fastest over a distance of about a quarter of a mile. Thoroughbreds, in contrast, race over distances ranging from four furlongs (half a mile) to a couple of miles.

The Quarter Horse remains popular because of its versatility.

The horse in the foreground here is PWF's Gooseberry, a "foundation-bred" Quarter Horse.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Why Don't We Spay Mares?

I've mentioned before that the vast majority of male horses are gelded (neutered). Mares, however, are generally left intact.

There's a good reason for this. A safe anesthetic for horses did not exist until the 1980s - I actually remember the first one being invented. General anesthesia in horses is also risky - they are inclined to injure themselves when they go down and again when they get back up (They often freak out in recovery). They may also injure assistants or handlers. Post-operative colic is also common.

Because of this, major surgery in horses is avoided as much as possible. If it's at all possible to do a procedure under local anesthesia plus sedation...

Spaying is generally not considered worth the risk unless there is a genuine medical reason for it or the mare has such bad "female symptoms" that she cannot be used or worked. Laproscopic spay has been developed for use in horses within the last five years, but very few vets are trained in the technique.

So, no, mares are rarely spayed. Gelding and proper handling of stallions is relied on for population control (Of course, surprise foals do happen after stallions get over the fence and almost every long-term horseman has some story about arriving at the barn to find they had one more horse than they thought they did), and other methods such as herbs and drugs are used to control heat-related behavior.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Is A Broken Leg A Death Sentence For A Horse?

If you read older literature, you'll see that a broken leg always seems to mean the horse has to be euthanized.

It's actually more complicated than that - but the answer ultimately depends on the level of medical technology (or magic) in your world.

Horses cannot survive lying down for extended periods of time. If a horse is down for more than a few hours, organ damage ensues (this is also, incidentally, even more true of elephants). Therefore, a horse cannot "stay off" a leg injury for the six to eight weeks it takes even a simple fracture to heal.

Minor breaks can be handled with a cast. Major breaks usually end in euthanasia, but with modern technology it's possible to save the animal. This usually means putting the horse in a sling that supports its weight and keeps it on its feet. (Slings are also sometimes used to save horses that are extremely emaciated).

Magical healing, of course, can change the situation entirely.

The short version for a writer: If you're writing in the real world prior to about the 1990s, then a broken leg is a death sentence for the horse. Hairline fractures or stress fractures might be survivable.

In the modern world? It depends on the value of the animal (harsh, but true). In a fantasy world, you can make whatever decision you want - and it may also depend on the value of the animal (how expensive is magical healing?)

Monday, July 21, 2014

What Is Rearing?

Rearing is the "opposite" of bucking. A rearing horse stands up on its hind legs.

Rearing is considered more dangerous than bucking - although a buck is more likely to unseat the rider, a rear is somewhat more likely to end in serious injury to both. A horse that rears with a rider may fall over backwards, landing on the rider.

Like bucking, rearing is often caused by pain - sometimes a horse may rear because his mouth is sore and I once had to deal with a horse rearing, repeatedly, because the saddle was just lightly touching his withers (A change of saddle stopped the behavior instantly). Rearing can also be aggressive behavior. A horse that is seriously attacking a predator or another horse may rear and strike with the front legs. Stallions are more likely to rear than mares or geldings and I've seen a breeding stallion rear simply to impress the mare waiting for him.

Because the rear is so spectacular it's sometimes intentionally taught as a trick (not recommended unless you know what you're doing). Skilled trick horses will rear and even strike on command - and war horses would be taught to do the same thing on the battlefield. The classical dressage movement known as the levade is a highly controlled rear.

This Haflinger pony (Image source: Karakal via Wikimedia Commons) is rearing during ground work. He does not look happy at all - note the pinned ears and the white of the eye visible. This is a fear or startlement reaction, likely to something we can't see. He's off balance and in grave danger of going down, although fortunately away from the handler. From the fact that this horse is being led in a bridle with a special lead, I suspect he's an intact stallion.

Friday, July 18, 2014

How Do You Stop A Horse From Bucking?

I talked about bucking yesterday - and why you might not want your horse to do it.

So, how do we stop them?

Bucking is caused by one of four things:

1. Pain.
2. Asking a horse to do something it is not physically or mentally ready for.
3. High spirits.
4. The horse becoming "angry" at the rider.

The most common cause of bucking in an otherwise trained horse is pain or discomfort from ill-fitting tack or from back soreness (modern horsemen often retain the services of an equine chiropractor). Horses may also buck because they got bitten by a fly in a particularly sensitive spot. Not tightening a back cinch the correct amount can also cause bucking.

So, obviously, you want to avoid all of these scenarios.

On the second thing - the most common time you see this is when a horse is saddled for the first time and again when mounted. Cowboys used to "break" a horse by getting on and letting it buck until it realized it wasn't getting it anywhere - which is where bronc riding comes from. (This technique would probably be used by any culture with a high demand for mounts and limited time to get them ready - it works, but is generally considered "harsh" by modern standards). If time is taken to get the horse used to tack and weight, they're less likely to buck.

Obviously, a horse that's showing high spirits and wants to play just needs to be worked harder...and gently reminded that it's rude to buck while somebody's sitting on you. I think some of them just forget.

The horse getting mad with you is harder to avoid. Sometimes you just have to get into it with a horse and some of them will use bucking you off as a weapon. Others will buck when you hit them with a whip, and I suspect most that do this have learned that gets most people to back down.

So, what do you do if the horse actually bucks? The answer is to make them go forward. You use legs and seat to really drive the animal forward. A horse has to slow down or even stop to be able to buck.

The horse also has to be able to get its head down. English riders will sometimes use a technique called "bridging the reins" on a horse that is bucking repeatedly. The reins are crossed between the hands and then braced against the withers. This both stops the horse from getting its head as far down and helps the rider stay on.

Habitual bucking tends to require that a horse be sent back to a trainer.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What is bucking?

I've mentioned "bucking" before.

It's easier to show than to explain, so I'm going to stick in a Youtube video here.

(Video from horsescanter's channel).

As you can see, the head goes down and the rear end comes up. Sometimes the horse will bounce off of all feet and spin in the air.

A horse bucks to get something off its back...which in domestic horses often means you. (Some horses may pop a little buck out of excitement...there used to be a top show jumper who would buck three times after every clear round he jumped!).

Most commonly, horses buck because they are in pain, badly spooked, or fed up with their rider for some reason. Bucking is most often caused by ill-fitting tack. It's also fairly common for a horse to buck the first time a saddle is put on its back (and sometimes the first time a rider gets on). But some horses will buck just because they're "mad" with their rider and want to get them off. Which has happened to me a few times. I also knew a pony who would try to buck people off into the manure heap or the nearest mud puddle. He definitely aimed and he was more likely to do it if you were wearing something light colored. Nasty sense of humor, perhaps?

Broncos are specifically bred and trained to be really good at bucking cowboys off. I'll talk about that at some point when I get into rodeos.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What Is HYPP?

If you're browsing through horse ads you may see "HYPP negative" or "HYPP N/N" (Or N/H).

HYPP is Hyperkalemic periodic paralysis. It's also called Impressive syndrome.

Impressive was a Quarter Horse stallion who lived from 1969 to 1995. He started a new trend in halter Quarter Horses, for heavily-muscled horses, and was the first World Champion Open Aged Halter Stallion in his breed.

He sired over 2,000 foals.

Unfortunately, he also carried a genetic defect - although he himself showed no symptoms, the condition cropped up in his foals and most obviously in horses that had been linebred back to Impressive. Because he sired so many foals, the condition is fairly common in Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Paints (and very rare outside them).

HYPP causes "episodes" of muscle trembling and weakness in the hind end. The horse may even go down, the voice changes and the third eyelid flickers across the eye. Because of the high risk of falling, horses with severe HYPP are not ridable, and it's also believed that they are in significant pain.

The AQHA has attempted to eliminate the disease by requiring testing and refusing to register homozygous (H/H) horses. The Appaloosa and Paint societies, however, have not yet followed suit - and many breeders of heavily muscled halter horses (which are not ridden) continue to ignore or even favor horses with HYPP.

If worldbuilding, consider how a defect like this showing up in particular lines might be treated in your world. Humans are notorious for breeding for traits that have downsides, even major ones.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Different Ways Of Riding: Saddle Seat

I'm starting this post with a confession. Saddle seat is something I don't know as much about as the others.

Saddle seat is how you ride a gaited horse. Gaited horses move a bit differently from non-gaited horses. You can't ride a gaited horse in the forward seat (even the slightly less forward version used by dressage riders). I learned that in Iceland, with apologies to my horse. Fortunately for her, I got it quickly.

The saddle seat saddle is positioned slightly further back to allow extra freedom of movement for the horse's shoulders, needed to gait correctly. When it comes to the hands and the bit, however, saddle seat is just like English - the horse is ridden on contact, but the hands are held higher due to the higher head carriage of a gaited horse.

Saddle seat is worth studying (and trying) if you're writing medieval fantasy. As a means of transport, gaited horses are superior to non-gaited horses and saddle seat is the closest to how people rode back then. (Icelandic saddle seat, in fact, pretty much is how they rode back then, and the horses are pretty much what they rode back then. If you can track down a local Icelandic breeder, you'll be golden).

Saddle seat show riders. Note how far back the saddle is on the nearest horse. These horses are American Saddlebreds. Image source: John Goetzinger via Wikimedia Commons.

An Icelandic Horse, Saevar fra Stangarholti, gaiting at speed. Again, see that the saddle is further back, but a slightly different bridle. Those Icelandic saddles are incredibly comfortable. Image source: Dagur Brynjolfsson via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Different Ways Of Riding: Western

What we now call "western" riding was invented by the Spanish for the purpose of - chasing cows. The western saddle is more similar to a lancer's or jouster's saddle than the lighter saddles used in other modern styles, with a higher pommel and cantle designed for a more secure seat. (Australian seat is very similar). The western saddle also has an elevated horn - useful for hanging things off of. Including yourself in a tricky situation.

The biggest difference between the western style and other styles, however, is that the western rider typically keeps only one hand on the rein. In other styles, both hands are kept on the reins outside of emergency situations. The horse is trained to steer from a touch of the rein to the side of the neck and the bit is used only to stop (and then only when absolutely necessary). Because of this, western riders use apparently harsher bits than English. The reason? The cowboy needs to keep a hand free at almost all times, be it to use a rope, open a gate, drink a canteen, etc. In America, the western style is preferred for long distance trail riding (outside of endurance racing, where the 40-50 pound saddle is considered too much weight) and especially sight seeing. You can use a DSLR from a western trained horse. Not happening when riding English.

For worldbuilding, something like the western style could well be developed by any herding culture. In the modern world, western is more popular in most of the United States and Canada and, as you might suspect from the name, becomes more popular as you travel west. It's rarely seen in Europe outside some parts of Spain and southern France (and when it is, it's only seen in the show ring as an interesting variant). It's also more popular in Australia and New Zealand.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Different Ways Of Riding: The Forward Seat

The forward seat is how modern English riders ride (unless doing dressage, but even that is more "forward" than other sorts of riding). The leg is positioned further back and when jumping or moving at speed, the rider moves into the "two point" position, crouched over the horses neck or shoulders. This position allows maximum movement for the horse's spine and makes it easier for the horse to gallop or jump.

A lot of people think this is how English people have always ridden. Not true. The forward seat was invented by Captain Federico Caprilli, an Italian cavalry officer. He analyzed how horses jumped and discovered that the typical jumping seat in which the rider leaned backward to encourage the horse to land hind end first was actually painful and uncomfortable for the horse. His students demonstrated the forward seat at the 1906 Olympic Games and their success...and apparently some demonstrations of bridleless jumping...caused the style to be adopted so widely that almost nobody still rides English in the old "chair seat" style. (It still exists in a few corners, and I'll talk more about that next week when I discuss saddle seat and variations).

So, the modern English style of riding is only a bit over a hundred years old.

The modern jumping position is being demonstrated by a rider in the stadium jumping phase of a three-day event. The rider is looking to the left, presumably because the pair will be turning soon after the landing. The armband contains her medical details, a requirement in three-day eventing (but not seen in pure stadium jumping). Image source: Ronald C. Yochum Jr., via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Different Ways Of Riding: Side-Saddle

As far as we know, riding side saddle was invented in Medieval Europe to allow women to ride in long skirts. (It wasn't considered appropriate to wear trousers and in many cases the woman would be trying to get somewhere where she had to look good).

The earliest side saddles didn't really allow women to ride - she sat sideways and her mount was led or ponied by a man. The proper side saddle wasn't developed until the 16th century and the modern side saddle, in which a woman could do anything a man riding astride could do, came into existence with the invention of the leaping head in the 1830s.

Of course, some Medieval women chose to ride astride so they could keep up with the men. There's a famous portrait of Catherine the Great riding astride in a cavalry uniform.

Nowadays, almost all women ride astride, but side saddle classes are often seen at shows. Queen Elizabeth II rode side saddle on formal occasions (but preferred astride in private). Women often ride side saddle in historical reenactments.

Modern side saddle rider at a horse show in Ireland. Source: Declan via Wikimedia commons.

I once saw a woman do ring jousting side was quite a display of horsemanship. Some women also find side saddle more comfortable and it can sometimes be safer (harder to fall off, but with a greater risk of injury if the horse falls). A few men also ride side saddle - it can be more comfortable if you have a bad back. And side saddles are sometimes used by disabled riders, especially individuals who have lost part of a leg.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

What Kinds of Whip Are There?

A lot. I'm going to describe a few of them, though, to help give you some idea:

1. The lunge whip. The lunge whip is very similar to a ringmaster's whip, but with a longer "stock" or cane. It's used during lunging and groundwork as a signaling device. The lash can be very long.

2. Driving whip. A driving whip has a short stock and a long lash and is used as a reinforcement device when driving.

3. Dressage whip. A dressage whip is a whip with a long cane and a short lash. It's used by dressage riders when training advanced movements, to allow a "touch" to be made closer to a horse's hindquarters.

4. Crop. A crop is a short whip that does not have a lash. It does have a "flapper" on the end. The crop is the standard whip carried by English riders. Modern crops are made of fairly flexible plastic wrapped in either leather or synthetic material.

5. Show Cane. Show canes are carried by English riders in the show ring, primarily in Britain. They may be natural or leather covered, and are essentially a length of wood. This kind of whip is never used on the horse. Ever. It purely exists to "finish" a turnout and look good.

6. English hunting whip. An English hunting whip is also not for use on the horse. It consists of a cane similar to a show cane but with a 5 to 7 foot lash on it. The hunting whip is used to dissuade hounds from getting too close to a horse's hooves (a light flick with a lash is better for the dog than getting picked).

7. Quirt. A quirt is a rope or leather braid with a loop at one end. It's often carried by cowboys, and is left hanging on the saddle horn unless needed.

8. Over-under. A longer quirt, often used by barrel racers, but I've also seen them carried and used by muleskinners. An over-under makes a lot of noise and fuss but barely touches the horse - it's a good "incentive" for very lazy animals.

9. Jumping bat. A jumping bat is a very short crop that's normally only seen in the stadium or show jumping arena. It's used on the horse's shoulder gently to remind them to pick their hooves up.

10. Racing whip. The whip a jockey carries is a bit shorter than a crop with a much longer flapper, but is otherwise similar.

So, ten different kinds of "persuader" as we sometimes call them.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Why Do Horse People Carry A Whip?

I'm going to start this by saying beating a horse is never right. It is not just cruel - it's counterproductive. Excessive use of the whip may get an immediate response at that moment, but I have never in my life seen it fix the underlying problem. I once worked with a trainer who believed in beating horses that were spooking to make them "more afraid of you than whatever they were afraid of." Most of the horses she tried this tactic on got spookier. She never changed it, though.

That said, you will often see horsemen carrying a whip. I'll talk about different kinds of whip later, but the plain truth is this:

Even the smallest horse outweighs even the largest handler by at least twice (with the possible exception of some of the very small minis). These are big, dangerous animals - and sometimes the whip has to be carried and used.

A whip is used in three ways: Reinforcement, discipline, and signaling.

1. Reinforcement is backing up a cue the horse is ignoring, normally a cue to move forward. Some horses are naturally lazy and horses used for training beginners get very "numb" to leg aids. And, of course, you always carry a whip when driving as the only other forward signal you have is your voice. On a riding horse, the whip is used lightly right behind the leg that is being ignored, normally on the inside when traveling in a circle. If the horse is being particularly stubborn, you may hit them a little bit harder. When driving, the lash is touched lightly to the hindquarters. The whip is never used hard for reinforcement and it's really the equivalent of "raising your voice" to the horse (remember that to horses visual and tactile contact is part of their language).

2. Discipline. Yes. Sometimes you need to hit a horse that's misbehaving. Once. Immediately after the misbehavior. Horses are traditionally stated not to understand delayed consequences - but it's more that they get confused about what they're being told off for. However, only a skilled horseman should be using the whip in this manner - one who can tell the difference between a misbehavior out of "evasion" - that is a desire to get out of work - and one that's coming out of fear or pain. You also need to know the personality of the horse. I know one horse who's ass I kicked a few times who now whickers whenever I show up, but I've worked with others I wouldn't dare touch with a whip even once because they'd just melt down. And, again, you don't beat the horse - you don't hit them multiple times per incident, you don't hit them as hard as you physically can. You only hit a horse on or around the head if it just bit you and then never with a whip or device - only your open hand.

3. Signaling. Signaling is using the whip to give the horse an instruction. If you go on Youtube and look at videos of people lunging horses, you will see the whip pointed to the quarters for go faster, to the shoulder for slow down. Show jumpers will sometimes tap a horse lightly on the shoulder to remind them to pick their hooves up and try not to hit the jump. The use of a whip at the end of a horse race is primarily a signaling thing - a lot of the time the jockey waves the whip around a lot and barely if ever touches the horse with it, basically reminding the animal that the race is nearly over and he should be putting in all of his effort now. Watch any circus involving animals and you'll see the use of the whip as a signaling device in its highest form.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Review: Share And Share Alike by Hannah Hooton

According to the author, "Share And Share Alike" is aimed at those who liked "pony books" as children. Pony books are a rather specifically British thing (the closest United States book I can think of right now is My Friend Flicka).

I'm not sure "Share And Share Alike" fits that bill. A true pony book focuses on the rehabilitation or training of a horse, with the human drama secondary. Instead, "Share And Share Alike" is all about the human drama. It's primarily a genre romance, with a strong narrative (and chemistry) between the male and female leads and moderate heat level. It's secondarily a mystery - the members of the syndicate have to work out who "nobbled" their horse right before a big race.

The on the track action is definitely secondary to the drama between the characters. It is, however, well written and researched - and unusual. Most racing books focus on the high stakes, high glamor world of flat racing. Share And Share Alike (which is the third in a series) is centered around British National Hunt racing - steeplechasing and hurdling. A much more relaxed endeavor. This may make it either more or less interesting to American audiences outside the high steeplechasing areas in, say, Maryland.

The book stays accurate to my knowledge of National Hunt, and stops on a couple of occasions to highlight the importance of the "lads" and "lasses," as British racing calls the grooms who often care for a horse throughout its career. (Another book in the series focuses on them entirely - I may want to read that one now). The expense, the difficult decisions that have to be made - the author clearly knows racing. However the horse, Ta' Qali, exists primarily as a plot device to bring the various human characters together - he's not nearly as well rounded or realized as the humans. He does have some interesting quirks, though, and his brief appearances are well described.

So, would I recommend "Share And Share Alike?" I'd recommend it more to romance and mystery fans than to "pony book" fans - but I would recommend it. It's a well written book with an interesting cast of characters - and the racing syndicate device was beautifully used to bring together people who would not otherwise have met.

I'm going to give it four stars with a recommendation that romance readers with an interest in racing will definitely enjoy this book.

(I was provided with a copy of this book by the author for review purposes).

Or if you prefer the hard copy go here.

If you want your book reviewed on this blog, here are the guidelines:

1. The book must be one of the following:
a. Fiction of any genre that has horses or equestrian activity as a major component. Other equines are fine too - be they mules or unicorns.
b. Equine related informative non-fiction aimed at non-riders or beginner riders.
c. Memoir, creative non-fiction or biography of horse people or horses.
2. Self-published titles are welcome.
3. I don't publicize my email because of spam bots. Please go to and use the contact form there to send an initial query including the title, publisher, and which category the book falls into. Not all requests will be read and not all books I read will be reviewed. Note that if I say yes I will also need the book's release date and the price. I prefer to review books in .epub format.
4. Be ready for honesty.

Friday, July 4, 2014

Are Saddle Blankets Necessary?

I've had somebody ask why English show people so often skip the saddle blanket.

If the saddle actually fits correctly, at least with an English saddle, there is no need for a blanket or pad. However, most people still use one for the following reasons:

1. It saves a lot of time cleaning tack. A lot of time. Especially in spring when your horse is shedding.

2. Saddle blankets are often used to indicate the identity of a horse and rider, to carry sponsor symbols in competition and, of course, the visible numbers on racing horses. Many riders color coordinate saddle pads, browbands, boots and even their own clothing for a distinctive "look."

3. Some saddle blankets are made of material that wicks sweat away from the horse, which can help them stay cool when working on a hot day. Cotton saddle blankets are popular amongst English riders for this, while cowboys tend to prefer wool.

4. Western saddle blankets actually unfold into a good-sized blanket...that a stranded rider can then use as part of a bedroll.

Saddle blankets are not a substitute for saddle fit, except on a short term, very temporary basis. In fact, I know one horse that, because of her odd back conformation, is banned from saddle blankets - they only make her more sore.

This horse is wearing a white cotton pad under an English saddle.

Wool squares are the blanket of choice for these western horses preparing for a multi-day trail.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Do All Horses Have Brown Eyes?

Not at all - but the vast majority do. So, most of the horses you see will have brown eyes, with some small variation in shade.

In fact, four eye colors are observed in horses:

1. Brown. Brown is the "standard" color for equine eyes and is seen on the vast majority of horses.

A brown eye. Source Waugsberg via Wikimedia Commons.

2. Blue or "wall" eyes. Wall eyes are most often seen when a white marking crosses the eye - in fact, sometimes the eye can be part blue and part brown. They occasionally show up on their own. Wall eyes are a rich blue with an almost crystalline effect to the iris.

3. Dilute blue. Cremello and perlino horses also have blue eyes, but this is a different shade of blue - these eyes are a very light blue almost shading to grey.

The top image shows the pale blue eye associated with cream horses, the bottom one is a "wall" eye. Source: Countercanter and Ejnot via Wikimedia Commons.

4. Amber. Amber eyes are seen only with the champagne gene. The foals are born with nearly white eyes that fade to golden amber or a shade similar to human hazel by maturity.

(I wasn't able to find a good picture of a champagne horse eye - if anyone has one they'd be willing to let me use I'd appreciate it).

There's a superstition amongst some horsemen that blue eyes are associated with blindness or compromised vision. This is not true; nor is there any known association between eye color and hearing in equines.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Do Horses See In The Dark?

Horses have much better night vision than we do. They have a tapetum lucidum - a reflective layer behind the retina which is seen in most mammals other than primates.

Although they can't see in total darkness, horses can safely navigate in forest on a moonless night. They can manage quite happily if left to their own devices in an enclosed arena all night with no lights, without walking into the walls or each other and ending up injured.

The downside is that equine eyes do not adapt to sudden light changes as quickly as ours do. It's not uncommon for horses to spook or start when entering or leaving the barn (or a trailer) on a sunlit day. Also, horses can easily be dazzled by flash photography - it's not recommended to use flash close up with horses. (Fortunately, modern cameras can take some quite nice pictures without flash in fairly low light, especially if you have a tripod).

For writing purposes - a character who gets benighted in the woods might be able to drop the reins and trust the horse to get them home. (I've personally been on a horse in light where I would have wanted a flashlight if walking and just let the animal handle it).

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Do Horses See Color?

A lot of people assume that horses, like dogs, are color blind.

This is not true. Horses do, in fact, see color. They do not, however, see color as well as we do.

Horses have, in fact, dichromatic vision - they see the world the same way as a human male with red-green color blindness. They have particular difficulty distinguishing between yellows and greens - but they see various shades of green very well.

This all makes sense for a herbivore who needs to be able to quickly identify various plants.

The tradition of painting show jumping fences bright colors is actually to make sure the horse can see them. "Natural" obstacles are more challenging to horses.

More on equine vision tomorrow.