Friday, February 27, 2015

What is a cow hocked horse?

A cow hocked horse is one which has hocks that turn inwards slightly - like a cow's do, hence the term.

Cow hocks are considered a fault in light horses, but not in draft horses. It is a mild deformity, however, and can cause stifle issues and make the horse more prone to arthritis in the hocks later in life. It's considered a particular fault in stock horses, which need to make sudden stops and turns.

In draft horses, cow hocks are acceptable - even desirable in some breeds. (Clydesdales are almost always cow hocked). The reason its desirable is because it allows the horse to walk within a plough furrow. As draft horses don't make tight turns or sudden stops and aren't often asked to carry a lot of weight (People do ride drafts, but their greater size makes the rider a lighter relative weight), they don't have the same problems with this conformation as riding horses. It's something to watch for in draft crosses, though, including draft mules.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Do horses get fleas?


Horses (and other large grazers) do not get fleas. The reason is that flea eggs hatch on the ground. Horses, in the wild, avoid sleeping in the same place too often, unlike say, dogs, who tend to have a nest or den somewhere. They also sleep mostly standing up. And while we keep domestic horses to a confined sleeping spot, the fleas haven't evolved to take advantage of this fact (at least not yet).

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

What is "Anhydrosis?"

Anhydrosis or anhidrosis is an inability to, or reduced ability to, sweat. It can be experienced by all animals that naturally sweat. (Note that dogs and cats sweat only through their paws and thus could be considered to have natural anhydrosis. There are even some human groups that do not sweat).

Anydrosis occurs in horses rarely, but often enough to be known. It is most common in Thoroughbreds and horses with a lot of Thoroughbred blood (I know a half-bred hunter with the condition).

The cause is not known and the condition can be transient or chronic. Transient anhidrosis is associated with asking a horse to perform in hot and humid conditions it's not accustomed to (and thus it's a common problem in show horses, especially eventers_. Chronic anhydrosis may be seasonal or all year round, and can sometimes be treated with amino acid supplementation. In some cases, though, only moving the horse to a cooler climate (not always feasible) helps.

In addition to not sweating, symptoms include an unwillingness to move quickly, loss of appetite and dulling of the coat. The horse may also pant excessively (horses do NOT normally pant the way dogs do).

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Can A Horse Catch A Cold?

Sort of.

Horses cannot catch colds from people and there is no equine "common cold" equivalent.

Horses can, of course, catch the flu (equine influenza). They can also catch something called the equine herpes virus, which is the closest to a "common cold" - but it's much more serious. In fact, a horse diagnosed with "flu" might have either equine influenza or equine herpes - the clinical signs can be hard to determine and the treatment is the same.

The equine herpes virus comes in two strains. EHV-4 is the less serious of the two and tends to occur annually in foals (which have little immunity). EHV-1 causes miscarriages in pregnant mares and can affect the horse's central nervous system - which is commonly fatal. There are vaccines available and most adult horses are latently infected with (and thus immune to) both strains.

But there's no horse equivalent to the extremely mild...and extremely quick mutating.. "common cold."

Monday, February 23, 2015

Does a horse always die if it breaks a leg?

The answer: It depends.

Until very recently, a broken leg was almost always a death sentence for an equine. Horses cannot stay down for extended periods of time - they will literally die of organ failure. A horse that can't stand can't live. In modern times we can sometimes support a horse in a special sling - this is often done for horses with serious leg injuries or when trying to save an animal that's become too weak to stand because of illness or malnutrition.

It's also possible, these days, to pin a horse's broken leg back together. If you're working in a lower tech level, though, it's likely to be the norm for a horse with even a simple break to be euthanized. Even with modern technology, only horses of considerable value - and suitable for breeding - are usually saved. It's likely the horse will be permanently lame even if it survives. However, some horses with simple breaks or fractures can make a full recovery with modern veterinary technology.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What is a cold backed horse?

A cold backed horse is a horse that bucks, flinches, or attempts to drop its back away when first mounted.

Traditionally, this was often assumed to be a habit. It's now known that it's often a symptom of soreness and/or of ill fitting tack (although it can become habitual in a horse that is not treated immediately, and it's not uncommon for the symptoms to persist for a few rides after treatment as the horse anticipates pain that no longer exists).

In some cases, especially in order horses, the symptom may reflect a tendency for muscular stiffness when first starting out. In this case, it's helpful to walk the horse out for a few minutes before mounting.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

What is a bosal?

A bosal is a kind of bitless bridle used entirely in western riding. It consists of a simple braided noseband, with the reins secured to the back of the noseband. A bosal can only be used with a horse that is trained to neck rein, as the rider cannot use the reins to steer directly, only to slow the horse.

It is used primarily in the vaquero tradition, but is sometimes used by other cowboys, especially on horses that are not happy about taking a bit.

A show-style bosal on an Arabian mare. Image source: BLW via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Will horses play in water?

Thanks to +Nobilis Reed for the question.

The answer is: It depends.

Generally, horses like water as long as it's safe. Horse owners might, on a hot day, put a small wading pool in their horse's pasture, and the horse will play in it and enjoy it. Riding into the sea on a sloping beach is an equine vacation staple (and working horses in salt water is sometimes practiced by racehorse trainers as it can help keep a fragile animal sound).

However, horses will not go into water if they can't see the bottom of it. This is sometimes done deliberately on higher level cross country courses - the point is that the horse should be willing to believe and trust the rider when they say the water is safe. It can be very hard to convince a horse to go through even a familiar stream if it's swollen and full of mud. In this case, the horse is worried about getting stuck in the water (horses also have a very high instinct for whether quicksand or similar is present).

Another thing that will put a horse off entering water is thick overhanging branches or vegetation, which might conceal a lurking predator.

Incidentally, sometimes when a horse plays in water it might not be that much fun for the rider. Their idea of "too cold" is not our idea of too cold and they will cheerfully splash you thinking you'll like it. I've also had horses attempt to lie down and roll in water, which can ruin their saddle.

This feral horse is rolling in the ocean in North Carolina, apparently for the sheer fun of it (or to cool off). Image source: Kersti Nebelsiek via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

What is dead broke?

A dead broke horse is one that is safe for anyone to ride, and suitable for use by beginners. (Often, this means a horse that's too lazy to give any trouble, mind, and some "dead broke" horses can be very hard to get a good performance out of).

Monday, February 16, 2015

What is "cow sense?"

Cow sense in a horse means herding ability. A horse with "cow" is one that can read a cow, anticipate its motions, and has the will to face one down. (In some cases this can mean a little bit too much of that, in others, cowy horses initially show fear of cattle).

Although horses don't have a natural prey drive to turn into herding ability the way dogs do, the actions of dominant horses in the herd can be transformed in this way.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Why Do Sleighs Have Bells?

Sleigh bells or jingle bells are attached to a carriage horse's harness to make a sound. They are traditionally worn by horses pulling sleighs for a simple reason - sleighs are very quiet. Without the bell, it might be hard to hear the sleigh coming. Then somebody might be run over.

Dog mushers also sometimes attach jingle bells to the collar of the lead dog for the same reason - so people can hear them coming.

You can clearly see the jingle bells, in this case secured to a strap around the horse's body. (Image source: Pete Markham via Wikimedia Commons).

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Do horses wear bells?


If horses are being turned out in a wilderness area, it is normal to put a bell around the neck of an older, dominant mare. This is normally the horse the rest of the herd will follow. If the herd wanders out of sight, the sound of the bell will help their handlers find them again.

Note the bell worn by the chestnut mare in this shot. (The mule is also wearing one, but it's much harder to see).

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

What is a "head shy" horse?

A head shy horse is one that does not like having its head or ears touched. (Ear shy is a term used if the animal objects only to the ears being touched). Needless to say, this makes bridling a difficult endeavor.

Head shyness can be caused by a variety of factors. Hasty bridling is one of them (a lot of school horses end up head shy from poor bridling techniques applied by beginners). Another very head shy horse I know had a bout of ear mites from which she still hasn't recovered psychologically - the sudden development of head shyness in a previously happy horse can be a sign of the presence of these unpleasant and hard-to-treat parasites.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

What is Finished?

A finished horse is one that's well trained and ready to do the job it's trained for. Some finished horses may be ready for an inexperienced rider - but not all (temperament plays a role too) - so a finished horse and a schoolmaster are not quite the same thing.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Can a horse really get the bit between his teeth?

You hear this saying all the time. Sometimes talking about things not related to horses. If a person or animal "has the bit between their teeth" then they're the one in control of the situation.

Okay. The bit sits in a gap between the teeth (caused by the fact that horses don't have premolars). If the horse stops responding to the bit, we may say it 'has the bit between its teeth' - but is this literal?

Actually? Very few horses can get the bit between the molars. It involves opening the mouth very wide and then lifting the bit up with the tongue. It's not impossible, but it's highly unusual. Instead, the horse may lift its head into a position (above the bit, as discussed before) such that when the rider pulls the reins the bit pulls against the teeth rather than the gums. Or, the horse may lift the bit with its tongue, tense its lips against the bit, and perform other maneuvers to reduce the bit action.

But "between the teeth" does not mean the horse literally has the bit between its molars in most cases. It simply means it is not responding to the action of the bit.

Friday, February 6, 2015

What is "Green Broke"?

In the US, a green broke horse is one that has been ridden but is a long way from being solid and well trained. The other term you might hear to refer to this is "started under saddle." (Or "started in harness.")

A green broke horse should only be ridden by an experienced rider. (You want horses ridden by novices to know more than their riders).

Thursday, February 5, 2015

What is the rail?

The term "rail" has three meanings in the horse world.

1. In racing, the rail is the fence that marks the inside edge of the race track.

2. In showing, and sometimes general riding, the rail is the outer fence or wall of the arena. An instructor may, for example, insist a student keep their horse "on the rail" which means riding around the outside edge of the arena.

3. In jumping, a "rail" is horizontal element of a jump.

Riding "on the rail."

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What is behind the bit?

Behind the bit is when the horse ducks his head back behind the vertical, sometimes all the way to the chest, in order to avoid the action of the bit. Like being above the bit, it's fixed with training and sometimes a change of bit.

Unfortunately, behind the bit is sometimes mistaken for correct in modern dressage.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

What is above the bit?

"Above the bit" is a term used for a horse that is avoiding the bit by lifting its head. This habit tends to also lead to a hollowing of the back (and can make horses more prone to soreness in the back and neck).

It's generally fixed by training or, possibly, changing the bit.

Monday, February 2, 2015

What is a horse's topline?

The topline of a horse is basically its back - from the poll to the dock. Horsemen will critique a horse's topline or top line as part of discussing overall conformation.

However, a "poor topline" is more often an indication that a horse is unfit and out of shape, especially in riding horses. Being ridden tends to build muscle around and above the spine. Therefore, any horseman will look at a horse's topline to see how fit that animal is and how much it has worked lately - which can also indicate how it might behave when you put a saddle on it. (Trust me, riding a horse that hasn't worked in a while is not always fun).

This is a fit horse with a very good topline. Note the slight elevation of the hindquarters above the spine - in this case a sign of draft breeding.