Wednesday, December 31, 2014

What other pedigree terms do we use?

So, I talked about sires and dams, but the generations back from them use some different terms:

1. Grandsire. Grandsire is always the sire of the horse's sire.
2. Grandam. Always the dam of the horse's sire.
3. Damsire. The sire of the horse's dam.
4. Second dam. The dam of the horse's dam.

As you can see, we distinguish the sire's side of the pedigree from the dam's or "distaff" side. Many horse breeders believe that the mare gives more to the foal than the stallion. This may be true at two levels - first in that the dam provides the vital mitochondrial DNA and second in that horses are higher mammals and the foal learns from the dam's behavior. A good horseman never breeds from a mare with a bad temperament...

But if you use grandsire to refer to the father of a horse's mother, you'll be exposed as a noob.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What is a horse's dam?

The sire is the father. The dam is, obviously, the mother. (Again, an example of the way horse people will use terms that would be archaic if used of people - worth considering when worldbuilding).

And yes, we do use grandsire and grandam, but in specific ways I'll talk about tomorrow - horse pedigrees are full of interesting terms.

Monday, December 29, 2014

What is a horse's sire?

A horse's sire is simply his or her father. The term is archaic when used of humans (you may have seen it show up in fantasy novels, although the more common usage there is as a term of address for a king).

The word might also be used to refer to the stallion himself. A stallion might be advertised as "Sire of multiple Futurity winners," for example, or as the sire of a particularly well-reputed horse. And it's used as a verb "Sires more fillies than colts" (Often a selling point used by stallion owners).

Friday, December 26, 2014

What is a flying change?

When cantering, horses can canter on a specific "lead." If on the left lead, the left foreleg appears to be in front of the right. The right lead is the reverse.

A flying change is when a horse changes its canter lead without breaking stride, normally seen when changing direction. It is very difficult for a horse to perform a flying change under a rider, and it is normally only seen in well trained and fit horses. They can easily lose their balance and have to break stride or, worse, end up on both leads at once, a situation called "cross firing" or "cantering disunited" - not very comfortable for either the horse or the rider.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

What is a nosebag?

A nosebag is a bag, usually made of canvas. You put some feed, usually grain, in the nosebag and then attach it to the bridle or halter.

Nosebags are most often seen in situations where horses are asked to work long days without access to grazing, such as carriage horses.

They may also be used when feeding horses at pasture as a way of making sure a subordinate horse still gets the correct amount of grain, or if giving medication.

This Turkish horse is enjoying a lunch break with his driver during the harvest in Cappadocia, Turkey. Source: Yelkrokoyade via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

What are a horse's chestnuts?

A horse's chestnuts are the obvious hard "callouses" on the inside of the leg, often quite high up.

The chestnut is the equine equivalent of the dew claw in dogs - a vestigial toe that has migrated up the leg. They sometimes grow quite long and may have to be gently trimmed back (it's dead material like hair, so this doesn't hurt the horse, although grabbing and twisting the chestnut hard does - people sometimes use this to force a particularly recalcitrant horse to lift its head).

Interestingly, asses and zebras have chestnuts only on the front legs. The hind chestnuts are also absent on some Caspian ponies and most Banker horses and Icelandic horses, but are present in the Przewalski's horse, suggesting they have been lost by these breeds. Mules rarely have hind chestnuts.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

What are a horse's ergots?

If you look carefully at the back of a horse's fetlock, you'll find a small hard area. This is what's left of one of the horse's toe pads and is quite normal. It's called an ergot. (No, I'm not sure of the etymology of this one at all, but it doesn't seem to have any relationship to the fungus).

Monday, December 22, 2014

What is a hard keeper?

A hard keeper or poor doer is, of course, the opposite of an easy keeper - a horse that has a fast metabolism and loses weight easily.

Such horses may need extra or even special feed to keep weight on. Sugar beet pulp is a popular feed in Europe for "poor doers" - this is what's left of sugar beet after the sugar has been extracted and refined.

Older horses often become hard keepers, especially as their teeth become bad.

Thoroughbreds, like this racehorse being walked out on the track, tend to be hard keepers.

Friday, December 19, 2014

What is an easy keeper?

In the UK the term "good doer" is used.

An easy keeper is a horse that doesn't seem to need much food to maintain good weight. It's often mentioned in sales ads as a good thing - the horse is cheap to keep.

However, an "easy keeper" is more likely to get fat and develop obesity-related diseases. They may need to have their grazing restricted and extra work to keep their weight where it belongs.

Fjord horses, like this mare, are often "easy keepers."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

What does the word "distaff" refer to?

Distaff is another word for spindle and is traditionally associated with women. (Much as an unmarried woman is still sometimes called a "spinster," especially in the UK).

In the horse word, the "distaff" is the female side of a horse's pedigree. (Many breeders consider the mare to give more to the foal than the stallion). It's most often heard when talking about racehorses.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Example: Merlin War of Dragons

Okay, this is overall a really terrible movie. (I am one of those people who watches bad movies for entertainment), but it includes some really good tips for producers who include horses in their picture.

1. Make sure that all of your stunt doubles and any actors expected to ride in the production actually can ride. It is really quite obvious when the horse is actually being controlled by a wrangler off screen with a bag of peppermints.

2. Historical accuracy pays off, it really does. If your story is set in fifth century Britain, then the largest horses available at the time were about 14-15 hands and would have been left there by the Romans. (These horses are the ancestors of the Welsh Cob and other large "native" breeds). If you're a Pict, then the horses you have available are 12 hand ponies. Friesians and Warmbloods look great on screen, but...

3. Same note on tack. Try to use bits that had actually been invented when your movie was set. And having your actors and stunt doubles wear heavy clothing is not actually going to hide anachronistic saddles well enough.

4. If you want a horse to perform an air above the ground, find one that actually can. Or don't bother. Don't try to create one by splicing together a rear and a buck.

5. Don't have your supposedly brilliantly skilled horsewoman do stuff that's obviously unsafe, like galloping along a 45 degree slope, galloping on a tar...what, it's the fifth century?...mac road, going flat out downhill. No skilled rider, no matter how much of a hurry she's in, is going to do that because if your horse falls you ain't getting there any time soon.

So, sorry, bad example today. (The movie got everything else wrong too, mind, including an inability to distinguish gods from fairies. And Vortigern wearing his crown outside his helmet was amusing too. Maybe Richard III should have done that...)

THAT is what your picts should be riding, by the way ;).

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

What is a daisy cutter?

A daisy cutter is a horse that moves in a long, low action, without lifting his hooves off the ground more than is absolutely necessary.

Daisy cutting is a very efficient way of moving, so is commonly seen in horses bred for speed (Thoroughbred, Quarter Horses, etc). It's also desirable in show hunters and in pleasure horses. It's considered undesirable in dressage, where horses are expected to show elevation.

The daisy cutter moves his leg primarily from the shoulder, not the knee as might be seen in gaited horses and dressage horses.

Monday, December 15, 2014

What Is A Grade Horse?

Grade is a U.S. specific term to refer to a horse of unknown breeding, of no specific breeding, or otherwise not able to be registered as a purebred (or part bred) animal.

If a horse's breed is given with "grade" before it, then either the breeding is known but the proof of it has been lost or the horse is reasonably believed by educated people to be of that breed in whole or in part by virtue of its type and build. So, a "grade Quarter Horse" is a horse that looks and goes like a Quarter Horse, but its history is unknown. (In contrast, an "unregistered Quarter Horse" would be a horse bred from two Quarter Horse parents but never, for some reason, registered).

Grade is sometimes used in casual conversation the way "mutt" is with dogs, however, some horsemen make the case that you can't ride a set of papers and a well put together grade is worth no less than a purebred.

Friday, December 12, 2014

What is conformation?

I've used this term a fair bit and just realized I never properly defined it.

A horse's conformation (conFORmation - it's very common to see it typoed to confirmation, making me wonder if people's horses are Catholic) is how the animal is shaped and put together.

Horse people spend a lot of time talking and thinking about conformation. Poor conformation can cause unsoundness, health problems and make an animal less useful, so a big part of horsemanship is choosing horses for work and breeding (especially breeding) that have good conformation. A good horse person can tell if a horse is well put together right away at one glance.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What is chrome?

When people say a horse has "chrome," they obviously don't literally mean it has, say, metal hooves.

Chrome is white markings - most especially stockings or socks - that are considered particularly attractive or flashy. A horse with "a lot of chrome" probably has high white stockings and often a blaze as well. You might also hear people say that certain lines "don't tend to give much chrome."

The term is US specific and relatively recent in coinage.

With his three white legs, belly spots and broad stripe/narrow blaze, you might accuse this Clydesdale of having "plenty of chrome." (Source: USDA by Bill Tarpenning).

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Is Black Type?

If you listen to racing people talk, they might call a horse "black type" or talk about the "black type" in a horse's pedigree.

No, this doesn't mean the horse is black or that there's a type of horse called black.

Traditionally, in sales catalogues and advertisements, horses that won or placed in stakes races are bolded (upper case for winners, lower case for horses that have placed). This, of course, makes the type stand out as black.

So, a "black type" horse is a stakes winner or placer.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

What Is A Cinch Hobble?

Some western saddles are rigged with two cinches. The back cinch is used for vigorous use such as roping, trail riding in tough terrain, etc. It stops the saddle from slipping forward.

A cinch hobble is a strap that ties the back cinch to the main cinch to prevent it from slipping back towards the horse's sensitive parts, which can make the horse buck.

Monday, December 8, 2014

What Is Bone?

Well, we all know that, but in the horse world it can mean something slightly different.

A horse that has "good bone" has a solid skeletal structure particularly in the lower legs. Sometimes horses are advertised as having X" bone - in this case, the inches are the circumference of the foreleg just below the knee, as measured with a string or a tailor's tape.

The more "bone" a horse has, in general, the more weight it can carry and stay sound. Light or poor bone means thinner legs that aren't going to be up to as much. Thoroughbreds and other horses bred for speed tend to have lighter bone.

So, bone is one of the things a horseman might take into consideration when assessing how much weight a horse should carry.

Friday, December 5, 2014

What Is Balking?

"He balked" is something you might hear an equestrian say quite often. Or "When she's in a bad mood, sometimes she balks about going into the canter."

Balking is refusing to move forward, which may or may not be accompanied by moving sideways or backwards instead. A horse may balk because of a scary object ahead, because of pain, or just because he doesn't want to do what he's being asked. Balking is a common way in which a horse will test an unfamiliar or experienced rider.

The UK spelling is "baulking," and Brits may also use "napping" to describe this behavior.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

What Is A Latigo?

A latigo is very similar to a billet - it's the strap used to secure the cinch to a western saddle.

Traditionally, cinches are tied to the latigo with a cinch knot. However, modern latigos are almost always equipped for buckles (i.e., with holes) - mostly because a cinch knot is hard to tie and with many more casual riders around who don't have the time to learn it buckles are safer. It's probable that the earliest saddles, however, were indeed tied on.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

What Is A Billet?

In non-equestrian terms, a soldier's living quarters.

In equestrian terms, the billet or billets are the straps on an English or saddle seat saddle to which the girth is secured. A saddle has three billets on each side, although only two are used (the third one is a spare - because the last thing you need, trust me, is your girth coming off mid ride).

Billets often become worn and routinely have to be replaced. Because of this, it's not uncommon on older saddles for the billets (which are hidden) not to quite match the color of the saddle itself.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What are brushing boots?

Brushing boots are protective boots normally worn on the front legs.

Some horses are so narrow they will actually catch the inside of a front leg (generally only in front, brushing in the hind end is much, much rarer) with the opposite hoof. This is called brushing or "speedy cutting." The boots protect the horse from damage.

Brushing boots are also sometimes used on jumpers to prevent damage caused by hitting a rail, but there are also specialist boots for this. (And some stadium jumpers don't believe in putting boots on the front leg because they want the horse to feel the rail when he hits it as an encouragement to jump better next time).

The boots on the right side of the horse (viewer's left) are standard brushing boots, front and rear. Image courtesy of Maloq.

Monday, December 1, 2014

What is a bell boot?

A bell boot or overreach boot is a plastic, leather or rubber boot that is placed around a horse's front hoof. (Almost always both feet).

The purpose is to prevent a common injury. Some horses, when ridden, are unable to get their front feet out of the way before their hind feet land in the same spot - this is caused by a fault in conformation or action. Additionally, when a horse lands from a jump, it's common for the hind feet to land very close to the front feet.

This can cause the horse to catch the back of a front foot with the toe of a hind foot, resulting in a "pocket" cut that's very likely to become infected and/or scar. Overreach scars are fairly distinctive and any horse that has one should be ridden in bell boots. Most horses, however, need them only for jumping.

Image modified by Nordlicht8 from photos from Maloq, via Wikimedia Commons.