Friday, January 30, 2015

What is a stagecoach?

Stagecoaches are often mentioned in historical fiction and sometimes in fantasy fiction. The stagecoach system was actually invented at about the time of the Renaissance, and allowed faster land travel than previous.

The term combines "coach" with "stage" - in a stagecoach system, the horses would be switched out for fresh ones at regular intervals. A stagecoach uses four horses (sometimes you will see "stagecoach rides" where they use two draft horses - this is not authentic) of a light harness or carriage type. Because the stages are kept short, the horses can be pushed to a faster pace without injuring or laming them.

The other key thing about stagecoaches was that they were the first carriages to have proper suspension. Stagecoaches were rendered obsolete by the growth of the rail network. They would run on a regular schedule. Their golden age was 1800 to 1830, when roads were improved and spring suspension invented.

As an etymological note, the dominance of the stagecoach is why we now use the word "coach" to refer to a long distance bus.

A stagecoach at the Wells Fargo museum in San Diego. Image source: Captain-tucker via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What is a "ring sour" horse?

A ring sour horse is one that has become fed up with competition. This usually exhibits as disobedience in the ring or refusal to enter it (I did, however, once know a horse who would refuse to enter the ring and then be fine once inside...turned out he was fine if not asked to step over the rope being used as a gate, so I suppose he was afraid he'd trip on it).

Ring sourness is best cured by giving the horse some time off competing, going on a fun trail ride, or otherwise doing something other than competition. It generally means the horse is quite simply bored.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

What is a purse?

Usually heard in racing, the purse is money offered as a prize in a race or in any other equine competition.

The purse may be provided by the organizers or may be a percentage of the entry fees paid by competitors.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

What is a schoolmaster?

A schoolmaster is a well trained, older horse, generally one that has competed at a higher level and is now semi-retired, that is suitable to use to teach riders the finer aspects of an equestrian sport. So, you might talk about a jumping schoolmaster, reining schoolmaster, dressage schoolmaster, etc.

A schoolmaster may or may not also be usable by beginners.

Note that the shorter form "schoolie" refers to any horse being used regularly in lessons, and is a short form of "school horse" not "schoolmaster" - which is much more specific.

Monday, January 26, 2015

What is a packer?

The term "packer" is used in two different senses:

1. To refer to an equine, normally a donkey or a mule, that is primarily or only trained as a pack animal.

2. To refer to an equine that can be trusted to carry and look after literally any rider. "Packer" is a complimentary term, implying that the animal has the patience to deal with beginners and/or children, is generally non-spooky, will behave in (almost) all circumstances and knows its job with minimal guidance from the rider. Context: "That pony will just pack any kid around a course."

Friday, January 23, 2015

What is a plug?

A plug is a British term that might be used to refer to a horse. It implies a common horse, but one that is absolutely reliable. It might also be used in a more derogatory manner to say that a horse is lazy and hard to get going forward...which often comes in one horse.

Plugs are, obviously, considered desirable for carrying novice riders.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

What is pinhooking?

Pinhooking is a racing term, for the most part. A pinhooker buys weanling or yearling Thoroughbreds with the intent of reselling them in a year or two for a profit. In general, the pinhooker will put whatever training is needed on the animal and hope that it doesn't cost more than the difference in price.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Is Tethering A Horse Cruel?

Yesterday I talked about hobbles as a way of restraining horses in the wilderness. Some people think hobbles are cruel, but many horsemen consider them a better alternative to picketing a horse when possible, simply because the horse can still graze and move.

Tethering horses is also controversial. A horse is generally tethered using a collar around the neck and a chain secured to a stake in the ground. Some people may also tether using a halter or headcollar, but a neck collar is more traditional...and harder for a horse to get out of when left unattended.

Like hobbling, tethering a horse allows the animal to move and graze within a restricted area, but it's often considered cruel. This may be because it's a method used by traveling peoples such as the Roma. It's also common to see donkeys tethered in Mediterranean countries where fencing is somewhat scarce.

The two issues people tend to focus on are excessive limitation of the horse's movement and the perceived cruelty of using chains.

Tethering is a method that should not be used to hold a horse in one place - a tethered horse needs to be moved daily or it will eat all the grass in its limited area. And, of course, the horse should be provided water regularly. (In some countries, there are problems with horses being tethered for extended periods on somebody else's land, which is not healthy for the horses or the land).

As for the chain - believe it or not, a chain is a safer and more humane way to tether a horse than a rope. When the horse moves to graze, the chain will immediately drop back to the ground. A rope will stay at about fetlock height - risking the horse tripping or becoming tangled in it, which can cause serious injury.

This horse (image source: J Thomas) has been tethered incorrectly with a headcollar and a rope, but otherwise looks in good condition...I think he might be hoping the photographer has peppermints.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

What are hobbles?

Hobbles are devices used to restrain horses. They are most commonly used in wilderness areas.

Hobbles consist of two leather (or sometimes synthetic) "bracelets" joined with a chain or a leather strap - kind of manacles for horses. They secure the horse's two front legs together. The horse has enough freedom to move and graze, but can't actually run away. Horses have to be specially trained to tolerate hobbles (or they will panic and hurt themselves).

Hobbles are sometimes called hopples.

Picture shows horses grazing "loose" in the back country in Alberta, Canada. Several of them are hobbled.

Monday, January 19, 2015

What is haute ecole?

Haute ecole or "high school" is another term for classical dressage, generally referring to the highest levels. Haute ecole is strongly associated with the Spanish Riding School and the French Cadre Noir.

Friday, January 16, 2015

What is an outlaw?

An outlaw is a vicious horse, one that is literally impossible to handle. In the US, the term "mankiller" is also sometimes used. I've only seen one once in many years of handling horses (it was euthanized after trying to kill a groom).

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What is a hand gallop?

Normal, non-gaited horses have four gaits - walk, trot, canter, and gallop. A gallop is normally when the horse is going flat out as fast as possible.

A hand gallop is when the horse is galloping "in the rider's hand." That is to say, the horse is doing the four beats of the gallop and covering ground at a considerable speed, but the rider has not given the animal his head and still has control.

The hand gallop is the speed at which hunters and eventers doing cross country travel. It's thus often asked to be demonstrated in the hunter ring, showing how well the horse can cover ground while remaining under control.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

What Is A Derby?

Here's another term you might hear around equestrian sport.

There are two things that are generally called Derbys:

1. A major and significant horse race, usually for colts or colts and geldings. The Kentucky Derby, Epsom Derby, Irish Derby, etc, are amongst the most prestigious races in the world.

2. A major show jumping contest, almost always held outside. The Hickstead Derby is the most famous example. It is known for being contested over the exact same course every single year, including several permanent obstacles.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

What Is A Grand Prix?

Grand Prix means "big" or "large" prize in French. In the modern horse world it's used in three senses:

1. To refer to the very highest level of dressage competition. Olympic riders, for example, compete at the Grand Prix level.

2. To refer to an international jumping contest that is run under standard jumping rules, has a large prize and is generally the most prestigious and lucrative competition at a show. (Note that outdoor shows in England use Derby instead of Grand Prix).

3. To refer to a horse that competes reliably at these levels, especially when advertising a horse for sale or a stallion for breeding purposes.

Monday, January 12, 2015

What is flat work?

Flat work is just riding a horse without jumping. Jumping people use the term to specify that they aren't jumping that particular day, but just riding "on the flat."

(Needless to say, you won't hear this term outside the hunter or jumper community - only people who jump a lot bother with it).

Friday, January 9, 2015

What is Ground Work or Groundwork?

Whether two words or one, groundwork is working with a horse without riding or driving it. Anything we do to handle a horse is considered to be groundwork - grooming, leading in hand, etc. A rider might also talk about "on the ground." For example, "One of the worst accidents I had was on the ground." (Which is true of somebody I know - horses can still be kind of dangerous at times).

A mare being ground driven, also a subset of groundwork.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

What is a curb?

A curb is a chain or strap that runs from one side of the bit to the other under the horse's chin.

Curbs are used on leverage bits, which are used by most western riders and at higher levels in dressage and hunting. Some driving bits also have curb chains.

A true leverage bit cannot function correctly without a curb. The curb chain is often seen as making the bit "stronger" but it also serves the purpose of stabilizing the bit in the mouth and preventing the bit from rotating excessively, which can injure the roof of the horse's mouth. The shanks should never rotate more than 45 degrees. Mechanical hackamores also have a curb chain.

The thinner the chain, the more intense the action on the horse's chin. For this reason, a lot of people use a much milder curb strap, normally leather. English riders often use a curb liner - the chain is threaded through a leather or rubber strip.

This is a western curb bit with a leather strap. Source Montanabw via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Would An Opponent Really Cut The Saddle Girth?

You see this a lot in fantasy battles. A fighter on foot manages to cut a mounted warrior's girth, usually without injuring the horse.

Okay, how about a realism check here.

Here's a saddle attached to a horse. It's an English saddle because it's easier to see. The black strap at the bottom, not many shades darker than the horse, is the girth. As you can see, the girth fits snug to a horse. When riding, an English girth should be snug enough that you can insert your fingers between girth and horse but not your hand. It's literally right against the animal's body. Now, try to imagine cutting that with a knife or, worse, a sword, without injuring the horse. While the horse is moving.

Now, add this. Here the horse has a rider. You can just see the girth's that dark stripe just behind the horse's shoulder. What is between any assailant and the girth? Yup. The rider's leg. Which in a battle situation would probably be armored. In order to get to the girth, the assailant would have to go under the horse - and a trained war horse would promptly kick them in the head.

Cutting the saddle girth in the heat of combat is simply not feasible unless your assailant is practically superpowered or just that insanely lucky.

Reins are more vulnerable, but losing a rein on a very well trained warhorse would not be an issue - they would almost certainly be trained to ride mostly off of the legs and seat to free up the rider's hands to fight.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

What is a girth or cinch?

Sometimes I use terms so basic to me that I forget to define them. Oops.

A girth (English) or cinch (western) is the broad strap that goes under the horse's belly and holds the saddle in place. It's one of the most important pieces of tack - if your girth breaks you're in a lot of trouble.

The English girth buckles under the saddle strap. The saddle is supplied with three girth straps or billets, of which two are used (the other is a spare, in case one of them breaks).

Western cinches are secured with a single latigo - I guess cowboys are less worried about the girth separating from the saddle (and thus the saddle and rider from the horse).

Front and back cinches can be seen on these western trail horses.

Monday, January 5, 2015

What is a furlong?

A furlong is 1/8th of a mile. Traditionally flat races for Thoroughbreds and Arabians are measured in furlongs. (Those for stock horses are generally measured in yards).

The overall distance, for example, might be given as 1 1/8 mile OR 9 furlongs, and the track is generally marked for timing purposes with furlong poles.

Friday, January 2, 2015

What Is Feather?

Yes, horses have feathers. No, they can't fly with them.

Feather or feathering is long hair that grows from a horse's fetlocks. Light horses generally produce very little feather, which is normally trimmed off for neatness. Most draft horses (some, like the Suffolk, are clean-legged) and some pony breeds grow extensive feather that may cover the feet and extend up the rear of the legs.

This Appaloosa mare is "clean-legged" and in her summer coat. She has almost no feather.

This Clydesdale, on the other hand, has fairly full feather. (Source: Kersti Nebelsiek via Wikimedia Commons).

It is not acceptable to trim the feather when showing on draft and pony breeds known for having full feather. In the pony world this is part of showing "au naturel" - that is to say, the pony should be shown looking like the only thing you have done is brush it.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

What is equitation?

"Her equitation sucked."

"Gaming always makes my equitation go downhill."

Equitation is a somewhat fancy term for the actual skill of a rider in handling the horse, keeping correct form, etc. At a show, equitation classes are judged entirely on the ability of the rider with the horse, in theory, not being taken into account. (Equitation horses are chosen to be quiet, not particularly flashy, and easy to ride).

In most cases, if a horseman is criticizing somebody else's equitation they refer to such things as the posture in the saddle, position of the hands, etc - you can still ride effectively but not have the best equitation.