Tuesday, September 30, 2014

What is show jumping?

Show jumping, called stadium jumping (or simply jumpers) in the US, is a sport in which horses jump a set course of obstacles in an arena.

Show jumps are designed to be very easy to knock down and the task of horse and rider is to jump a clear round (i.e., get all the way around the course without knocking any of the various poles, plants, or bricks down). Its scored "in reverse" with zero being a clear round and horses losing points or "faults" for knocking a fence down.

In traditional scoring, knocking a fence down is penalized four faults. A refusal is three faults for the first refusal (over the entire course), six for the second, and elimination for the third. A fall of horse or rider used to be penalized eight faults, but in modern scoring generally also results in elimination (due to people trying to carry on riding with injuries). In modern FEI rules, refusals are punished with four faults and the number of refusals for elimination has been dropped from three to two. Time penalties are also awarded for taking longer than the time allowed.

If there are ties, a jump off is performed, which involves a shorter and more difficult course, and the competitors are scored by time. (Speed classes, which are timed from the start, are often seen at shows). In high level competitions, it's not uncommon to do two planned rounds before the jump off.

Other unusual classes include Puissance (a high jump competition, with the highest jump being a wall. The high jump world record was set over a puissance wall, and still stands at 8 ft 1 in) and Gambler's Choice (where jumps are worth points and riders have to jump as many as they can in a set time).

Image source: Ronald C. Yochum Jr. via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, September 29, 2014

What Is Vaulting?

You might sometimes hear the word "vaulting" used meaning to get on a horse from the ground without using stirrups. (If you have a character do that, "vault on" is a legitimate term).

Vaulting is also an equestrian sport in which athletes perform gymnastic movements on a horse which is cantering in a circle, either as individuals or as teams. Draft horses are most commonly used (but not always) as they have to be really quiet and tolerant of people jumping all over them.

Here's a video of the top three women from the FEI World Cup in Paris in 2012.

Friday, September 26, 2014

How much do horses weigh?

Horses are big animals - but they also vary in size a lot. The figure of 1000 pounds is generally cited as the weight of an average, medium-sized horse.

Draft horses generally weigh between 1,500 and 2,200 pounds, but horses of over 3,000 pounds have been recorded. Meanwhile, miniature horses might weigh as little as 100 pounds and the smallest horse weighs 57 (however, as a dwarf, she should definitely be considered an outlier).

Ponies, of course, weigh less. Either way, except for the freakish minis, they really are big animals and need to be handled accordingly.

This smallish draft horse probably weighs about 1,800 pounds.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

What Is Heaves?

Heaves is slang for COPD in horses. "Broken wind" is another term used, especially in the 19th century and earlier. I've also seen RAO (Recurrent Airway Obstruction).

COPD - Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease - occurs in horses as well as humans. It's often caused by allergies and is generally seen in older horses - usually 12 and above. It causes a chronic cough and heavy breathing - sometimes horses have a "heave line" - extra muscle development along the flanks caused by the effort of breathing. Symptoms can range from a few coughs at the start of work to debilitating asthma-like problems.

Horses with heaves should be turned out as much as possible (in some cases they need to be moved from urban barns with limited grazing to more rural areas. Their hay has to be soaked and they often have to have special bedding to reduce dust. Some horses with heaves cannot be ridden in indoor arenas or have to be ridden right after the arena is watered. Medication is sometimes indicated.

Heaves is incurable and can be difficult to manage. In older eras a horse with "broken wind" would be put out to pasture or even slaughtered, and even now, some horses with heaves have to be retired from work.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What Is White Line Disease?

Otherwise known as "seedy toe," white line disease is caused when the hoof wall separates from the sole at the toe. This tends to cause an infection between the hoof layers that damages the hoof and may or may not make the horse lame.

Some horses are prone to getting white line disease - otherwise, it's generally caused by a hoof injury that was not detected at the time.

It's treated by opening the bottom of the hoof wall and cleaning the area thoroughly, then applying a special shoe temporarily. Some horses can continue in work, others may be lame until the hoof grows out (which can take up to 8 weeks).

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

What Is A Sand Crack?

Grass cracks are cracks at the bottom of a horse's hoof. Sand cracks are far worse - they actually start at the top, in what's called the coronet band.

These cracks are generally caused either by an injury to the coronet band (sometimes caused by a horse stepping on its own hoof), by poor angles of the leg or hoof, or by stress caused by riding - racehorses are very prone to getting these kinds of cracks. Poor shoeing can also cause them. Damage to the coronet band can cause a permanent crack that has to be held together artificially for the rest of the horse's life.

The treatment is to stabilize the crack until it heals - these days that's usually done by glueing synthetic material across the crack. More traditionally, the hoof would be pinned together with a metal band. If a conformation defect is involved, then special shoeing is indicated to correct the hoof angle.

A crack from the top of the hoof generally takes about a week of treatment before the horse can be ridden or worked.

Monday, September 22, 2014

What Is A Grass Crack?

A grass crack is a crack in a horse's hoof that starts at the bottom and works upward.

Grass cracks are seen more often on unshod horses, and may or may not make the horse actually lame. They are caused by excessive moisture and are basically harmless, but they can spread up towards the top of the hoof. Some horses are more prone to them than others - and often horses that are particularly prone to cracking have to be shod. Aggressive trimming can also help reduce cracking (and poor trimming can cause it).

Another way to treat chronic cracking is to add biotin and calcium to the horse's diet to support better keratin production. (You may see biotin supplements in the drug store advertised as helping your nails and hair, but it hasn't been proven that they work in humans, who are less likely to be deficient in biotin than horses).

(Note that the term quarter crack is sometimes used to refer to a grass crack that occurs close to the heel, but it is also sometimes used to refer to sand cracks, which I'll talk about tomorrow).

Friday, September 19, 2014

Can A Cowboy Really Mount By Jumping Out Of A Window?

You see it in the old westerns. The horse is tied up outside and the cowboy makes an exit (usually from the brothel) through an upper floor window, lands on the horse and rides off.

So, can this actually be done?

Technically, yes, if the horse is close enough to the window. If the horse is tied up, you would have to somehow reach to untie it before riding off. However, it would take an extremely well trained horse!

Most riding horses, if you tried that trick, would put you in the dirt in short order. It also wouldn't be very good for either your horse or your saddle to land from any height. And, of course, you'd need to be quite the acrobat.

So, if you want to have a character pull this particular stunt, you probably want to lay the groundwork for them having the kind of skill needed, have it be a real emergency (because no horseman wants to injure their horse), and think about whether there are good alternatives. Possible, yes? A good idea, no.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Can You Dismount While A Horse Is Moving?

Absolutely - if you know what you're doing.

Mounted games riders mount and dismount at speeds up to the canter all the time. It's often called vaulting (not to be confused with the discipline of "vaulting"). Many horsemen learn the emergency dismount.

An emergency dismount means you generally let go of the horse (it is never safe to try and keep hold of a horse when falling off). A speed dismount should have you land facing the same direction of the horse and running - which is how I ended up in the ER. I forgot the horse I was riding was four inches shorter than the one I normally rode...couldn't walk for two days.

But this is definitely something you can have a character do if they know how to ride. (If they don't, then they are likely to get hurt and even if they do, it can be risky, but sometimes staying on is far more dangerous). And yes, it's also possible to get back on at speed.

Which leads me to the next thing I plan on talking about...the cowboy "jump into the saddle from an upper window" trick and how feasible it is.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

How Did Knights In Full Armor Get On Their Chargers?

Hint, no cranes were involved - the crane thing is a joke.

In fact, the idea that a knight in full plate had difficulty getting up, walking, or mounting is...you guessed it. A myth.

A "harness" of plate was heavy, yes, but it was also, if correctly fitted, perfectly easy to move around in. Pictures show that knights in armor could easily mount, from the ground (their horses were shorter, too), perhaps with somebody holding the stirrup. Replica suits have been made and in a properly fitted suit, yup, you can mount, dismount, run, or whatever you need to do. Riding armor, incidentally, leaves the insides of the legs unprotected so that the knight could still properly cue the horse.

Where the myth comes from is tournament armor, which was designed to take being hit by a lance and was also built to make it harder to fall off the horse. This armor did reduce a knight's mobility and unhorsed knights at tournaments often needed their squire to come help them get up. Tournament knights would mount from a block or get a leg up, just the same as with modern people who can't quite manage to mount from the ground.

So, no cranes. Indeed, no excessive difficulty at all.

Modern knights demonstrate the art of jousting at Hever Castle in Kent. Image source: Peter Trimming via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Is A Leg Up?

The easiest way to answer that is to watch some horse racing. A leg up is receiving assistance from a groom or other trained person to get into the saddle.

It's called a leg up, because the assistant places his or her hands under your leg and lifts upwards as you hold the withers and pull. Both elements take a certain amount of practice. (The way jockeys are thrown into the saddle is amazing, but works primarily because jockeys tend to be very small and light).

Leg ups are commonly used if riding bareback. Side saddle riders also often get a leg up because this method of mounting puts no weight on the left stirrup (side saddles are more prone to slipping when mounting from the stirrup).

Monday, September 15, 2014

How Do You Get Off A Horse?

Believe it or not, getting off a horse incorrectly can get you hurt (We won't count the time I tried to vault off at a canter and ended up in the ER, because that was a kid showing off ;)).

In a western saddle, you remove your foot from the right stirrup and slide partly out of the left stirrup, hold on to the horn with the right hand, and then swing your right foot over and step down out of the stirrup.

In an English saddle, you remove both feet from the stirrups, lean forward with your left hand on the saddle, swing your right leg over and slide down.

You never use the step down dismount from an English saddle - it's almost guaranteed to break the saddle sooner or later by twisting the fragile tree. Dismounting at speed is a little different - I'll talk about that (and how I ended up in the ER) soon.

Friday, September 12, 2014

How Do You Get On A Horse?

I fairly often ride horses who's back is not far below the top of my head...my trainer's horse, when tacked up, has a saddle seat level with the top of my helmet (which is about an inch thick!).

Even a small horse can be a long way up, leading to the (mythical) idea of knights in armor having to be winched into the saddle.

So, how do you get up there?

The correct way of mounting in English tack is to stand on the horse's left (we do everything from a horse's left because of where a sword hangs when you're wearing one) facing towards its rear. You then put your left foot in the stirrup and your left hand on their withers (not the saddle), and hop forcefully around to bounce into the saddle.

Western riders stand facing the horse or slightly towards the tail, put their left foot in the stirrup, their left hand on  the withers and the right on the saddle horn, hop a couple of times and half hop, half pull into the saddle.

However, many people use some kind of mounting assist. A mounting block is the most common when departing from home - this is a wooden or, these days, heavy plastic stepped platform that allows you to just step into the stirrup (Unless you're riding a huge horse, in which case you might still have to pull yourself up). On the trail, a good horseman will always look for a mounting assist...standing on a rock or log, or putting the horse in a ditch or downhill. Mounting straight from the ground can make your horse's back sore and, especially in English, shorten the working life of your saddle.

I'll talk about assisted mounting in the form of a leg up, how knights really got into the saddle and the correct way to get off next week.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why Do Saddles Have Trees?

The "tree" of a saddle is just the frame the saddle is built off of.

This is the tree of a western saddle. It's upside down, but it gives you a good idea as to why we call them "trees" - yes, it's made of wood. This is a modern saddle tree and has been covered with fiberglass to protect the wood underneath. Older western trees are covered with rawhide or bullhide - and some saddle makers still use this method. (Source: Montanabw via Wikimedia Commons).

English saddles are also constructed on a tree - but many modern English saddles have steel or composite trees rather than wood, to make them lighter. An English tree is much lighter and thinner than a western tree and thus a bit more fragile - hence the use of metal.

A saddle with a "broken tree" should never be used on a horse.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

What Is Stocking Up?

Stocking up is swelling in a horse's lower legs. It's caused by fluid retention and is most often seen if you have to put a horse on stall rest. Some horses are more prone to it than others, and it's also a problem that increases with age.

The treatment is just to get the horse moving - the problem usually fixes itself after about half an hour of light exercise and some people swear by hosing the legs with cold water. The swelling is usually in all four legs or one pair (unilateral swelling often means something more serious).

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What Do We Mean When We Say A Horse Is Tying-Up?

This doesn't refer to tying a horse to a tree. Tying-up, otherwise known as azoturia and "Monday morning disease" is a condition found in working and athletic horses.

Tying-up is a symptom rather than a disease. It refers to extreme muscle cramps and soreness that horses sometimes demonstrate after a rest day.

Any horse can "tie up" if exercised beyond its current fitness level. This is often seen in hunters at the start of the season or endurance/serious trail horses in the spring.

Some horses, however, do it regularly. It's associated with two diseases:

1. Recurrent exertional rhabdomyolysis is a defect in muscle contraction that's more common in anxious horses and in females. It's an inherited condition (so horses with RER should not be bred).

2. Polysaccharide storage myopathy is most common in Quarter horses, and is caused by glucose being cleared from the blood too quickly, which puts too much glycogen in the muscles.

An episode is treated by giving fluids and possibly sedatives, then putting the horse in a large stall or small pen where it can move freely, followed by a gradual return to exercise.

Chronic cases are managed by lots of turnout, avoiding rest days as much as possible (and making sure the horse stays out if it has to be rested.

Acute "Monday morning disease" is a good way to incapacitate a horse (without doing long-term damage, as long as it's given plenty of water).

Monday, September 8, 2014

What is a running martingale?

A running martingale is similar to a standing martingale or tie-down, except that instead of a single strap to the noseband, it has two, which end in loops through which the reins are threaded (It's possible to jury rig and fit a running martingale as a standing).

The running martingale serves a similar purpose, but is designed not to interfere with the horse throwing his head down and forward and to release if the reins are dropped. Specifically, the running martingale is designed for use on jumping horses.

In traditional fox hunting, most or all horses are put in a running martingale. The neck strap acts as a good "emergency grip" and the rings around the reins serve an important purpose - they prevent the reins from being pulled over the horse's head in a fall. This can end up with the horse putting a hoof through the reins as he tries to get up and can cause a bad wreck. (Which is why hunters in a standing martingale in the show ring is very, very incorrect - but sadly fashionable).

This jumping pony is wearing a running martingale. Note the little leather "tag" next to the pony's cheek - that's a rein stop and is used to prevent the rings from falling forward and getting tangled with the bit or bridle. (Source Malene via Wikimedia Commons).

Friday, September 5, 2014

What Is A Tie Down?

A tie down (western) or standing martingale (English) is a device designed to prevent a horse from raising its head excessively high.

It consists of a strap around the horse's neck, from which one strap runs to the noseband of the bridle and the other between the front legs to the girth.

Fitted too tightly, a tie-down can restrict a horse's movement - it should be fitted to only come into play if a horse raises his or her head too high. And although a lot of people do it, traditional wisdom says it should never be used when jumping. (You see them a lot in hunter classes in America, but real hunt people use a running martingale, which I'll talk about on Monday).

Barrel racers use tie downs because they feel they help the horse brace better during extreme turns. (Some barrel racers, however, believe in not using them because they think the horse becomes dependent on them). In this case, the tie down strap is connected to the breastplate. (Using a tie down without the neck strap is incorrect and potentially dangerous).

Another use of a tie down is as a temporary training aid if you have a horse that is throwing his head all the way up - for the rider's safety (I knew somebody who got her nose broken that way). Unfortunately, some people use them as a substitute for teaching the horse not to do that...which as its often caused by over bitting, anxiety or lack of fitness, is not a good idea.

A show hunter wearing a standing martingale. Source Paul Keleher via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

What is a bearing rein?

Remember Black Beauty and the issue surrounding bearing reins. A bearing rein is sometimes called an overcheck or checkrein.

The purpose of the bearing rein or overcheck rein on harness horses was to elevate a carriage horse's head - and at the time they were often used in a manner that was uncomfortable for the horse and made it hard for them to lower their head enough to pull properly. Bearing reins in that form disappeared...because of the novel (These days, we think of Black Beauty as a cool kids' book, but it was written to highlight the abusive practices and fashions of the time).

Overcheck reins are still used on some harness horses, but are fitted much more loosely. They're most often seen on Hackneys and other horses with naturally high head carriages. Some believe they help prevent the reins from being caught in the shafts (but if they're holding the horse's head that high, they're probably too tight.

The other context in which you might hear "overcheck" is with animals that are used to carry small children or disabled riders. A loose overcheck rein is often fitted to these horses with the primary purpose being to stop the animal from putting its head down to eat - which with a light or insecure rider can result in the rider being pulled over the head by the reins (don't laugh. I've seen it happen). In this case, the overcheck or bearing rein is fitted very loosely and not intended to interfere in any way with how the horse holds its head.

In this picture of a show Hackney, the bearing rein is the strip of leather that appears to be running along the top of the neck. Source: John Goetzinger via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

What Is A Creep Feeder?

Something you use to feed creepy horses?

Nope. Some breeders like to introduce their foals to solid food before they're weaned. A creep feeder is a manger with bars across it. The bars allow a foal's head to fit, but not that of a grown horse. It's used to give special food to the foal.

Without the bars, the mare would eat the lot (horses are greedy animals, trust me).

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

What Are Shark's Teeth?

...okay, so what do shark's teeth have to do with horses?

Yesterday, I talked about quarter marks, which are placed on a horse's rump or croup to complete turnout in some classes (or just for the fun of it).

Shark's teeth go on the upper part of the hind leg. The fur is brushed forward into a series of points. Like quarter marks, it's seen when hunters and riding horses/ponies are turned out for the show ring and it serves the same purpose - enhances the conformation and shows off the coat quality.

(If anyone has a good picture I can legally use for this blog, please let me know. I can't find one).

Monday, September 1, 2014

What Are Quarter Marks?

Sometimes you might see a picture of a horse with an apparent checkerboard pattern (or a more complicated one) on its butt.

These are called quarter marks. They're created by placing a stencil on the horse's hind quarters and brushing over it against the grain, causing the hair to stand on end in a pattern. (A really skilled groom can sometimes apply them without using a stencil).

Quarter marks are traditionally seen on show hunters and riding horses/ponies in the UK. They're intended to help highlight the quality of the horse's coat and if done right can just make the horse look better.

Canadian Mounties often put maple leaf shaped marks on their horses for parades and other formal occasions. Sometimes you'll see national emblems on horses at the Olympics, college mascots on horses ridden by college equestrian teams, etc. Kids (or parents) often put cute designs such as stars or flowers on their ponies.

Quarter marks don't hurt (or even annoy) the horse, and they look pretty - at least until the next time it rolls.

This picture shows traditional checkerboard marks on a French cavalry horse taking part in a parade. (Source: Marie-Lan Nguyen).