Thursday, December 31, 2015

What is a drop fence?

A drop fence is an obstacle where the landing is at a lower level than the takeoff. They are particularly difficult because the horse cannot see the landing and has to trust his rider. Also, it's easy to get too far forward over one and end up going over the horse's head.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

What is a corner fence?

A corner fence is seen on the cross country course. In show jumping, a similar idea is called a "fan." The fence makes a V shape, and you're supposed to jump as close to the apex of the corner as you can without missing it.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

What is a standard or a wing?

A standard or jump standard is an upright pole which supports a fence.

When the standard is wide and has multiple upright poles, either the same length or sloping away from the jump, it is called a wing. Many riders prefer wings when training horses because they discourage the animal from running past the jump more than standards. They are often used in shows because the broader surface means more space to put sponsor logos.

Monday, December 28, 2015

What is a combination?

In jumping, a combination is any number of fences that have to be negotiated as a single obstacle. Combinations have, generally, no more than two or three strides between jumps. In stadiums, the jumps often look identical. Double and triple combinations (two or three jumps) are the most common.

Friday, December 25, 2015

What is a brush fence?

A brush fence is a hedge with brush built on the top. The horse is supposed to jump through the brush. If the fence is high enough that the horse cannot see the other side (an exercise of trust in the rider), it is called a bullfinch.

Brush style fences are common in steeplechasing.

Japanese steeplechasers jumping a brush fence. Image source: The colonel of the lamb via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

What is a bank?

A bank, usually, is a jump that involves going up or down from one level to another, either as a single step or a "staircase." Mostly banks are seen in cross country, but some permanent stadiums also have them. The famous Hickstead bank in England is a permanent part of the All England Jumping Course, is a single bank that is 10ft 6in high.

Michael Whyte and Highpark Lad negotiate the Hickstead bank. (The person sitting down at the side of the bank is the jump steward watching to see if they knock down the fence immediately after the bank, which falls more than any other jump on the course). Image source: Owain Davies via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

What is a coffin?

No, it's not something you bury a horse in. A coffin is a specific combination of cross country fences. The horse jumps a rail, a ditch, then another rail. The ditch may or may not have water in it. The coffin is designed to make a horse and rider pair slow down and focus.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What is a bounce?

A bounce is two jumps set so closely together that the horse is unable to take a stride between them, but rather has to land from one jump and then immediately take off again. Bounces are often used when training horses to help develop their strength and flexibility over fences. They are seldom seen at higher levels in show jumping, but are more common in cross country.

Monday, December 21, 2015

What is "walking the course"?

Walking the course is inspecting, on foot, obstacles you intend to traverse on horseback. It's usually seen in show jumping, hunting and cross country. You might also walk a trail course.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Why do showjumpers "post" the canter?

If you watch a dressage rider you'll see that they sit deep when cantering. Show jumpers however, come out of the saddle each stride, almost like posting. Why?

The reason has to do with the mechanics of jumping in the modern forward seat. When a horse jumps a large fence, the rider leans forward to go "with" the motion of the horse and free it to jump - this is what the forward seat was designed for.

In order to do that more easily, jumpers ride with shorter stirrups. This in turn makes it harder to sit the canter, so a lot of jumpers do the "posting" thing because it's simply more comfortable.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

What is "Raring to go"?

Yesterday I talked about champing at the bit. Raring to go is another saying used to mean the same thing - being impatient, wanting to get on and do something.

Raring in this context is a slight corruption of rearing and it refers to the fact that some horses, when asked to wait before a run - when they know they're going to get to run - will rear up and even bounce a bit on their hind legs. They may also plunge, which is going into a half rear and then leaping forward.

(Not fun to ride, and I speak from experience).

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

What is "champing at the bit"?

You've probably heard this saying, referring to being impatient and ready to go to do something, or having too much energy. It's obvious horse-related, so where does it come from?

It comes from the fact that some horses, when they're having to wait to do something or run will chew on the bit in an exaggerated way - "champing" is also spelled "chomping." An excited horse may also paw on the ground and throw his head around. This is often seen in racehorses during flag starts or in barrel racers in the chute - horses that are bred and trained to run and just want to get on with their job.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Who invented spurs?

We don't know for sure.

The word "calcar," found in homer, may in some contexts refer to spurs. We have also found Roman spurs in northern Europe. A fourth century vase shows an Amazon warrior wearing a spur, but only on one leg.

Roman spurs were straight or claw shaped and quite sharp - some of them even had a guard to keep them from penetrating the horse's skin too far. (Modern horsemen consider making a horse bleed with the spur to be abuse). These guards may eventually have evolved into rowels - which first appeared in 10th century Spain. Early spurs were apparently secured to a rider's boot or sandal with buttons rather than with straps around the foot as are used today.

Monday, December 14, 2015

What are bucked shins?

A bucked shin is a swelling on the front of the cannon bone between the knee and fetlock. It's an inflammation of the sheath that covers the bone and is most often seen in racehorses that are starting their career and other two-year-olds being worked hard. It's caused by concussion and can be treated by pin firing (which requires two or three months of rest and which some vets consider not helpful) or by backing off on training and giving the horse lighter intensity work until the swelling goes down. (Not complete rest).

Bucked shins are essentially caused by working young horses too hard, which is why they're often seen in the racing industry where there's a lot of pressure to get two year olds ready for their first race.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Do horses shiver when they get cold?

I was at the barn the other day when the parent of a student asked me if a horse that was shivering was "cold."

I asked her which horse and established that it was Cowboy, who is in his thirties, and he was indeed cold - his temperature regulation isn't what it used to be and old horses, just like old people, sometimes start to feel the cold more. (Don't worry - he got his nice warm blanket quickly).

So, yes, horses that are cold or wet do shiver, just the same as we do - but a healthy, young horse isn't going to get cold enough to shiver until the mercury really drops. They are more likely to feel the cold if they are also wet.

Shivering can also be a sign of pain or certain neurological conditions in horses - but it's easy to tell the difference. If they're just cold, then if you put a blanket on them, they will stop shivering fairly quickly. Cold horses may also stop shivering when they are fed.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

What is a "thoroughpin"?

Thoroughpin is swelling of the tendon sheath in or just below the hock. It's often caused by conformational weakness, and normally shows up after intense work. The swelling is retained fluid rather than inflammation per se.

Thoroughpin shows up as a swelling on either side of the leg and pressing on one side causes the other side to swell more - hence "thorough." Most horses with thoroughpin are not lame and show no sign of being in pain. (If they are lame it often means there's an actual injury to the tendon). Thoroughpin is sometimes treated by draining fluid, but often recurs. As it doesn't cause lameness it's normally treated only with show horses in which appearance matters and often left alone in pleasure and sport horses.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

What are splints?

The splint bones are small bones on either side of the cannon that run from the knee to the ankle. These bones are kind of fragile and easily become inflamed from a blow or heavy work, especially in younger horses. Boots are sometimes used to protect the splint bone.

When we say a horse has a "splint," we mean that the horse has a bump on the splint bone. This is generally caused by either inflammation of the ligament between the splint bone and the cannon bone, or by a minor fracture to the splint bone itself. These injuries often heal with extra bone growth around the damage, causing an obvious bump. The horse is generally lame when the injury first occurs, but usually recovers sound. (Unless the splint bone is fractured, in which case surgery is sometimes performed). Treatment for a splint injury is generally to administer an NSAID (usually bute) and ice the area, and may also involve stall rest and/or the use of liniments. In some cases the bump may need to be surgically removed, for example if it's interfering with the suspensory ligament. However, many older horses "have splints" that don't affect them in any way.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Why should you never ride in pure wool gloves?

I give this piece of advice to new riders all the time. Never ride in gloves that are made entirely of wool. Why?

Because wool and leather don't "grip" one another properly at all. If you ride in wool gloves, especially English, the horse can pull the reins right through your hands.

Proper riding gloves generally have rubber or some other kind of grip on the palm to prevent this from happening. Expensive gloves are generally made of leather.

If you don't normally ride and need gloves, then a pair of driving or cycling gloves will work well. But never ride in wool gloves.

Monday, December 7, 2015

What is "studdy" behavior?

Studdy behavior in horses means acting like an intact male. It's most often used when you have a horse that is not, in fact, an intact male, but is behaving like one - flirting with females (and sometimes other males), being territorial and aggressive or prancing around in a particular way stallions do.

Geldings that were cut after puberty may have episodes of "studdy" behavior. If a mare acts "studdy" then it often means she has a hormonal imbalance (It's normal for a mare to show flirtatious behavior when in heat, but studdy behavior includes "snaking" the neck, trying to round up the other horse, tec). Some mares may also act studdy when around 90 days pregnant, regardless of the sex of the foal - sometimes to the point of having to be separated from other horses.

Friday, December 4, 2015

What is "jigging"?

Jigging is a bouncy pace halfway between a walk and a trot. A horse generally jigs because they are anxious or nervous or because they are over excited and want to get going with whatever the job of the day is. It can sometimes be hard to tell which, but the correction is generally the same - to release the rein slightly and use your voice to try and get the horse to relax. A horse may also jig through a downward transition - this is not correct and judges will mark it down in the show ring. A horse that has the habit of jigging a lot is a "jiggy" horse.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

What is a "cresty" horse?

A "cresty" horse is one that has a thick, arched neck. Crestiness is normal in stallions - heavy muscle on the top of the neck is a secondary sexual characteristic in horses - and in some geldings that are cut late (after puberty). Some breeds - draft and cob breeds - also have a certain amount of heavy neck muscling.

However, in normal riding mares and geldings, the "crest" is usually not muscle - it's fat. When a horse starts depositing fat above the spine on the neck and loins, it's a sign that the animal is crossing the line from overweight into obese.

A cresty horse, thus, is most often a very fat one that needs a diet and exercise plan, but can also be a breeding stallion.

This is a Hanoverian stallion with a solid, muscular crest. He is in very good condition (note the brand on his hindquarters that identifies him as an approved breeding stallion). Image source: Kersti Nebelsiek via Wikimedia commons.

This pony, on the other hand, is obese. Note that the "crease" of the crest is further down than on the healthy stallion - and he also has obvious body fat on his midsection and hind quarters. Diet and exercise stat! Image source: Dezidor via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

What is hardware?

In an equine context, that is.

Hardware refers to the metal parts of tack and harness such as buckles and rings. It may also be used to refer to the bit.

So you might see "solid brass hardware" in a tack catalogue - brass buckles are often put on show harness and tack.

You might also hear a rider saying they think they need a bit more "hardware" to control a horse - meaning a stronger bit.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

What is a jockey skull?

A jockey skull is the lightweight, tight fitting helmet worn by jockeys under their silks. This style of helmet is also often worn by eventers for the cross country phase - and sometimes for other phases with a velvet cover. (Helmets with fixed covers are preferred by specialist show jumpers).

Jockey skulls are sometimes worn by pleasure riders in Europe and other places with a cool climate, but are less often seen in the US - they can get very hot.

Monday, November 30, 2015

What is a hacking jacket?

You might have come across "hacking jacket" as another term for sport coat.

A hacking jacket is a traditional English riding jacket, often "ratcatcher" (tweed). It's cut with a single vent to look good when sitting in the saddle, and has a tailored waist. Hacking jackets are sometimes now worn purely as fashion statements. In fact, Matt Smith's jacket as Doctor Who is close to a hacking jacket in style, especially the Shetland tweed one he wore last.

Friday, November 27, 2015

What is ratcatcher?

Ratcatcher in the equine context is the least formal dress worn by a foxhunter. It consists of fawn or brown breeches and a tweed jacket. Colored hunting ties have become common.

Traditionally ratcatcher is worn during the first autumn hunts or "cub" hunts, when new hounds, horses, and riders are being trained. Ratcatcher is also worn on informal days. Some hunts expect new riders to wear ratcatcher - that way they can be spotted in the field and helped...or the case may be. Juniors, especially boys, normally wear it. Juniors also wear ratcatcher when showing hunters, especially ponies, at least in the UK.

In the US, a "ratcatcher" can also be a white shirt with a stand up collar, commonly worn in the show ring.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Why is a foxhunter's red coat pink?

Some foxhunters, depending on the hunt, are permitted to wear "hunting pink." It's usually limited to hunt staff, and sometimes only to male hunt staff.

Hunting pink involves absolutely nothing of the color pink. It includes a red coat, white breeches, tall boots and a white shirt.

Not everyone uses the term - but why did a red coat come to be called pink in the first place? The traditional etymology says that at one point the very best hunt coats were made by a tailor by the name of Pink.

A hunt leaving a castle - yes a castle - in England. The man in "pink" (red coat) is the Master of Hounds; the other riders are wearing black. Source Owain.davies via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

What is a shipping halter?

A shipping halter is a halter with padding placed around the cheekpieces and the headpiece, in order to prevent the horse from bumping its face, poll, or eyes against something in the trailer.

It is most often made by simply wrapping detachable padding onto a standard halter, but some barns (that ship horses a lot) may give each horse a separate shipping halter.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What is a tail guard?

A tail guard is a flap that's placed over a horse's tail when shipping. It stops the horse from rubbing hair out of the top of its tail when in the trailer. They are sometimes called tail wraps.

A bandage wrapped around the tail is also sometimes used, but is hard to apply without doing more damage to the tail.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Are "tail lights" uncomfortable for horses?

Somebody showed me these things the other day.

They're strings of LED lights secured to a horse's tail for visibility at night. Some police forces have started to use them. Are they uncomfortable for the horse?

The answer is...maybe slightly. The lights are secured to a specially designed wrap that goes around the horse's tail, which the horse is probably aware of. It should not be actively uncomfortable for the horse unless it is fitted incorrectly (which, by the way, can be dangerous and cause permanent tail damage).

It's unlikely the tail light causes any real issues for the horse (it may spook other horses until they get used to them), but I wouldn't use one for more than an hour or two, just in case. However, I can't imagine a better place to put a safety light than the tail, which tends to move, making it obvious to motorists that you're there and that you're riding a potentially unpredictable animal.

Friday, November 20, 2015

What is a stampede string?

It's a leather string that's used to tie a cowboy hat on, usually running under the chin. It's pretty much to keep the hat from being blown off. It often has decorative tassels on the end. Occasionally, stampede strings are made of horsehair.

(Cowboys have colorful names for things)

Thursday, November 19, 2015

What are jingle bobs?

What a weird term. Jingle bobs are small bells that are sometimes attached to a cowboy's spurs. They're decorative, but it's also believed that the jingling sound can make a horse calmer. It might also remind the horse that the cowboy is wearing spurs, which can make a lazy horse move out better.

In California, jingle bobs were awarded only to the better horsemen.

Jingle bobs are also used in bronc busting so that judges can tell how the cowboy is using his spurs - bronc riders are required to spur in a stylized fashion.

On this spur rowel, the jingle bob is just a curved piece of metal that clinks against the rowel - you can see it hanging from the center. Image source: Montanabw via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What are Chinks?

Hint, they're not an ethnic slur for people from China. Chinks are a form of chap that end just below the knee and are not fastened to the lower leg. They have a very extravagant fringe. Chinks are generally worn in climates where chaps would cause overheating - they don't offer as much leg protection, but are cooler.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

What are chaps?

Chaps are leather "overtrousers" commonly worn by riders. Half chaps cover only the lower leg. Full chaps cover the full leg.

Western chaps tend to be looser and flanged. English chaps are almost always half chaps and are snug to the leg. They serve a slightly different purpose.

Western chaps protect the legs and pants from brush and the like when riding in rough country. English chaps are generally worn as a cheaper alternative to tall boots and help protect the lower leg from rubbing but also are often designed to increase grip.

This 1800s cowboy is wearing "shotgun" style chaps. Image from the John C. H. Grabill Collection, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Why do racehorses have brightly colored bridles?

If you watch a horse race, you might see that some of the horses have brightly colored bridles rather than the more normal brown and black.

Most racing bridles are nylon because it's lighter than leather and every little bit of weight matters in a race. Because nylon bridles can come in all kinds of colors, there's now a growing tradition of using a bridle colored to match or complement the owner's silks.

The tradition is now spreading beyond racing and sometimes you might see a saddle horse with brightly colored tack, especially if it's a child's pony.

Some people, however, are averse to nylon tack because it's less likely than leather to break in an emergency.

Friday, November 13, 2015

What is "legging up"?

Legging up exercise program for horses. Legging up is a term used for the process of specifically working a horse to increase or restore fitness to do a job. It's most often heard in parts of the world where trail riding is seasonal or in the hunting community.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

What is a bib?

It has nothing to do with horses spilling their food everywhere. A bib, often seen in racing, is a running martingale that has leather or fabric between the two straps. This makes it stronger and less likely to break under pressure, but limits the motion of the reins some.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

What is a yoke?

A yoke is a very simple type of breastplate that consists only of a neckstrap and a strap between the horse's front legs. By definition, a yoke has no connection to the saddle or bridle and does not affect the horse.

Yokes are most often seen in racing but occasionally in eventing. They prevent the girth from slipping back, but their primary purpose is to give the rider an extra "handle" to grab in an emergency. In some areas they are called "chicken straps."

They should not be confused with the yoke used on oxen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

What is a shadow roll?

A shadow roll is also called a sheepskin noseband, although many are now synthetic.

Shadow rolls are most often used in racing, and their purpose is to prevent the horse from seeing shadows on the ground, especially on dirt track. A horse will sometimes jump a shadow, causing it to lose ground in the race (I've seen horses lose major races this way).

They are also sometimes seen in eventing and show jumping, where they are used to encourage a horse to lower its head in order to see the jump, or for the same reason as in racing - to stop them jumping things on the ground that don't actually exist.

This racehorse is wearing a (probably synthetic) shadow roll. Image source Maryland GovPics via WIkimedia Commons.

Monday, November 9, 2015

What is an anti choke plate?

An anti choke plate or no choke plate is a device commonly fitted to the underside of a racing standardbred's bridle. The theory is to prevent the horse from dropping or ducking his head, which can interfere with the airway and also reduce the driver's control over the horse. (It has nothing to do with choking on one's food).

Friday, November 6, 2015

What is a nasal strip?

If you read yesterday's post you'll notice that the racehorse with blinkers also had what looked like tape on his muzzle.

Image Source: MarylandGovPics.

Or maybe it's a band aid?

It's a nasal strip. Human athletes use nasal strips to hold the nasal valve open and prevent it from collapsing under pressure. You see them mostly on football players because they're wearing mouthguards and can't breathe through their mouth - which means they need that extra bit of airflow.

Horses also cannot breathe through their mouths. However, the nasal strip is not used primarily to enhance performance (although some racing jurisdictions ban it as a performance enhancer) but to help prevent bleeding in the lungs. Equine nasal strips were first seen in the 1999 Breeders' Cup. They are also sometimes used in the cross country phase of a three day event.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Why do horses wear blinkers?

Harness horses often have blinkers or blinders - leather flaps positioned outside the eyes. Why is this?

The traditional reason for blinkers is to prevent a horse from spooking at the vehicle it is pulling. Some people do not believe they are necessary, and you might occasionally see a horse pulling without them - often an experienced, finished horse. Blinkers also discourage a horse from running backwards, which can cause it to hit the carriage and cause a wreck.

Blinkers are also sometimes seen on racehorses - this prevents the horse from being distracted by the other horses in the race, which can make some horses slow down. In some cases, blinkers can also fool a horse into thinking he's at the back of the pack when he's at the front - some racehorses slow down when they hit the front, either because they don't want to go first (a common aspect of horse psychology) or because they think they've already won and don't need to put in more of an effort. Racing blinkers are attacked to a hood rather than to the bridle and are generally decorated in the owners' colors.

Blinkers are seldom seen on normal riding horses and are illegal in most saddle competition. You do occasionally see them on a particularly spooky horse on the trail.

Harness horse with blinkers. Note also the brass "fittings" on the bridle. Image source: Alex Proimos via Wikimedia Commons.

Racehorse with American style racing blinkers. Note that these restrict vision much less than the harness blinkers above. Image source: Maryland GovPics via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

What are cross ties?

Cross ties are two straps that are secured to either side of a barn aisle. The horse is then tied to both ties. This effectively immobilizes the animal - although many horses are comfortable just standing there once they are trained to cross ties. (Some horses, however, never learn to tolerate them).

Cross ties are popular in the United States but seldom used in the UK. They're commonly used in riding schools to hold a horse steady while novice students learn to groom and care for a horse. Show people also use them when doing extensive preparation for a conformation or model class, and I've used them to put a costume on a horse. Racehorses are also often put in cross ties. Finally, cross ties are sometimes used to hold a horse that can be difficult when being groomed and tacked up - they will prevent a horse from being able to reach to bite. (Some people prefer to use a muzzle instead).

Chain cross ties are sometimes used, but are considered dangerous by others because if something goes wrong, the chain may whip around and hit the horse or a handler.

This draft horse is in chain cross ties. The heavy boots are for protection while shipping, so he just got off a trailer. Image source: Pitke via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Why do horses have manes?

Horses have long, flowing manes. The colder the climate a breed is from, the thicker the mane tends to be. Donkeys and zebras have short, upright manes.

So, however, do true wild horses.

There are several theories as to why horses have such long, flowing manes, and the truth is probably a combination:

1. For fly protection. And it's true that a long forelock can discourage flies from landing on a horse's ears.

2. For extra warmth around the vulnerable neck and head. Northern European ponies often have manes so thick you can't see their ears at all - and the ears do have a lot of blood vessels close to the skin through which the animal can lose heat. Manes definitely do add warmth - in hot climates, some people roach pony manes so they don't sweat up under them.

3. Because humans like them. It's entirely possible that long, flowing manes were created out of pure human vanity. Or even because a long mane is a handy "grab handle" when something goes wrong while riding.

This Icelandic mare's shaggy mane probably does help her be the only species of livestock that can live outside in an Icelandic winter.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Will horses really run back into a burning barn?

Yes. Unfortunately, horses absolutely will try and get back into a stable that's on fire.

Horses become somewhat attached to their stalls - some horses will complain vociferously when moved and I've had a horse get away from me and run across the barn to their old stall and then threaten the animal now occupying it. When they panic, they often run "home" to their stall. (Horses at shows will sometimes run to their trailer, even ones that don't like being hauled, which may mean they're smart enough to know it's how they're going to get home).

This means that in a fire or a flood horses will often try to run back towards the danger. When evacuating horses from a fire, we make sure they are not let loose in an area where they can get back inside.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Do horses grieve?

It's common wisdom that animals don't understand death and don't experience grief.

With horses, at least, that's absolutely...incorrect. Obviously, we don't know if horses "understand" death - we can't ask them. However, after the death of a stablemate, horses often demonstrate behaviors that are not dissimilar to human grief reactions. Depression and loss of appetite are common. (In fact, it's not unknown for a horse that loses a very close friend to pine to the point where they become sick or even die). Depression and loss of interest in activity can last for an extended period of time.

I've even witnessed a horse perk up, then glance in the empty stall next to her and wilt again, just as if she was turning around to say something to the occupant of that stall and then remembering.

However, they don't show similar reactions if a horse is simply removed. They may show signs of missing them, but not of grief. I have definitely seen more extreme misery expressed by horses when the deceased animal died on the property. So, maybe they understand something.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Can you ride a blind horse?

Horses can and do suffer from vision loss. This can be bilateral or unilateral.

A blind horse is not completely useless. You can certainly ride a blind horse in an arena or on all but particularly challenging trails, once they've adapted to their condition. They may, of course, be more spooky.

Blind horses should not be expected to jump or do other tricky obstacles. (Some blind horses can jump, but it's rare). They can be taught to go over most trail obstacles by a specific verbal or tactile cue. Some blind horses, but not all, prefer to follow a sighted companion on the trail.

Many well adapted blind horses do very well at dressage, where they are worked in a level arena and expected to follow the rider's cues exactly. One horse, Valiant, competed successfully at fourth level despite being totally blind. I've also found stories about blind horses running barrels.

Unilaterally blind horses - those blind in one eye - can do anything a fully sighted horse can do, although they may need more help judging when to take off for a jump.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

What is an Irish martingale?

I talked a while back about running martingales. An Irish martingale is...literally just a strap with two rings on it that connects the two reins.

The Irish martingale is also sometimes called the semi-martingale. It is most commonly seen on racehorses and its primary purpose is to prevent the reins from going over the horse's head (which can be dangerous) in the event of a fall. Unlike the running martingale, it does not affect the horse's head movement. Thus, it is generally used on horses that won't tolerate the action of the running martingale and, sometimes, by riders that feel martingales interfere with the horse too much.

Irish martingales are also considered a bad idea for dressage as they hold the reins together and prevent some aids from being used.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What is a cooling sheet?

There was a horse show recently and it was quite, quite warm for the time of year and the fact that the horses were starting to grow their winter coats.

So, why were some of them wearing blankets?

A cooling sheet or "cooler", which may be solid or mesh, is designed to wick sweat and moisture away from a horse's skin and help them dry off after exercise or if they're in a situation where they might break out into a sweat (some horses do so when nervous or when on the trailer). They are often called "anti-sweat" sheets in the UK - they don't stop the horse from sweating, but they make sweat more effective by pulling the water away from the skin.

Some show people also use them to keep the horse clean in the time between grooming and getting into the ring.