Monday, August 31, 2015

What is horse dancing?

I got asked about this on Facebook.

Horse dancing is a relatively recent tradition that exists in south and central America, especially in Mexico. It's similar to the dressage movement the piaffe - the horse is trained to trot in spot. The difference is that these horses do the movement for an extended period of time, making it a test of stamina.

Horse dancing has a very bad reputation - it's often considered cruel. The reason is that many of these trainers try to use pillar training (I'll go into more detail about this tomorrow), which is a classical dressage training method that is effective if used correctly...and inhumane if done wrong. (Rather like double bridles and spade bits). And, of course, some of these horses forget how to move forward freely.

Dancing in and of itself, though, is not cruel and can be done in a way that's natural for the horse (in fact, the piaffe is based off of movements stallions use to demonstrate their prowess in the wild and many horses, especially male ones, will do it at liberty).

Friday, August 28, 2015

Are donkeys more likely to have twins?

Yes. And the twins are more likely to survive. (This is also somewhat the case with mares carrying mule foals). There's even been five recorded cases of mares producing twins where one was a mule and the other a horse (because she was thought to be "open" and bred again).

However, although they're more likely to survive, the ratio is still pretty low and twins are still considered undesirable in donkeys. (The chances of both twins surviving and being healthy is about 1 in 1000 in horses and 1 in 100 in longears).

Image source: Adrian Pingstone via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

What is a burro?

A burro is an ordinary, standard sized donkey in most of the western United States. It's the Spanish for donkey, but expanded beyond Spanish (as did some of the American terms for horse colors). There are some "wild" (feral) burros in the desert southwest. Technically a female burro is a burra, but the word burro is commonly used for both sexes.

Image source Adrian Pingstone via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

What is a muleskinner?

The term "muleskinner" is often used of somebody who drives or works mules. One possible etymology is being good enough with a whip to injure a mule (ow) - but this seems unlikely as mules don't literally have thicker skins than horses.

It's more likely that "skin" in this sense actually means "outsmart" - because mules tend to be smarter and less tractable than most domestic animals.

There's no real consensus on the etymology, but the colorful term is still sometimes used in the American west.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Why do we park a car?

Because, of course, we used to park a horse. A long time ago, horses were taught to "park out" - to stand with the hind quarters behind them. This was done when you needed the horse to stand, because it was harder for them to move rapidly from that position.

This also became something some people did to make the horse's back lower for mounting. (We now know it's very bad for the horse's back to do this but, of course, some people still do).

Only gaited horses are generally parked out these days - when standing for inspection at a show.

Or, of course, you can just park your mule...

Monday, August 24, 2015

Why do we say "straight from the horse's mouth"?

It's another racing term. When looking for information on a horse's form, you might want to get to a source close to the horse itself, such as the trainer or, sometimes even better, the groom that looks after the horse.

Thus, a tip that came straight from the horse's mouth implies that it came from even closer to the horse - the horse itself. It originally meant a very good tip to work out a bet, but then extended to become something you might say about any very reliable piece of information.

Friday, August 21, 2015

What is a hobby horse?

These days we sometimes refer to a person's fixation as a hobby horse. Or, of course, a "hobby" - now the common English term for a preferred pasttime on which a person spends an inordinate amount of time.

As I mentioned in another blog, a "hobby" was originally a kind of riding horse. Hobby horse then came to mean a horse in a mummers' play - the original pantomime horse, although the costumes were more wicker than cloth.

And then? Well, let's see. Hobby horse has come to mean what Americans call a stick horse, has been used to refer to carousel horses.

In other words, a hobby horse became a "fake" horse...and one might say that riding a fake horse is a waste of time. Thus, a hobby. (I disagree that they're a waste of time, but...)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Why are people long in the tooth?

Because old horses are. Horses have open rooted teeth that grow through their lives. (Some old horses will outlive their teeth - at which point they really need special food so they can gum it properly).

So, the saying "long in the tooth" originally referred to horses and then came to refer to people (and dogs, cats, etc).

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

What is a dark horse?

You might have heard the term "dark horse" for somebody who unexpectedly rises to prominence or suddenly comes under scrutiny.

It's a racing term, used of a horse that doesn't have a good record - and thus is very hard to bet on. When a dark horse wins, of does the house.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

What is a "spavined" horse?

A spavined horse is a lame one, especially a permanently lame one. The term has an interesting origin.

It's actually French. When a horse has a bad hock injury or bad arthritis in the hock, their gait behind starts to resemble that of a hopping sparrow. The French word for sparrow is "espavain."

Hence, a "spavined" horse is one that moves like a sparrow - and as it's most often associated with arthritis in the hock, it's sometimes used as a term for any horse that has a serious or long term injury that affects its ability to work.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Why is racing over fences called steeplechasing?

The term actually originates in Britain and Ireland. The first races were run over open countryside, with horses clearing whatever obstacles were in their path. They were intended as a test of hunters - in fact, in the United Kingdom amateur steeplechase mounts still have to qualify by attending a certain number of hunt meets each year.

The races were generally run from one village to another - and riders would navigate by pointing their horse at the church steeple.

Friday, August 14, 2015

What is mounted orienteering?

Orienteering is a sport in which you have to cross unknown territory with only a map and a compass. So, of course, some people do it on horseback. (The rules are slightly different, but basically you have to get from point A to point B whilst passing through several intermediary points).

It's somewhat popular in America but unusual in Europe these days (probably because of lack of space). Like many equestrian sports, it grew out of skills useful to a cavalry officer.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What is tent pegging?

Tent pegging is any contest that involves a horse and some kind of bladed weapon. Although horses aren't used in cavalry any more, some of the skills are still preserved.

Most specifically, tent pegging means riding at a gallop with a sword or lance and picking up a small ground target. Without slowing down. More advanced riders might use multiple targets. It originated in India.

(Needless to say, you don't want your horse to be too tall for this).

Image source: Mike Bostock via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Do horses wear snowshoes?

Equine snowshoes do exist. They're generally either hoof shaped or square and used to be made of wood. They were invented for logging in winter in Canada and the Midwest. (And are often attributed to Paul Bunyan).

Early snowshoes strapped to the hoof with leather. Later ones were actually attached to the hoof.

The snowshoes would not just increase the horse's ability to pull in deep snow but also prevent snow from balling in the hoof, which can make a horse slip (and annoy them).

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

What is a lariat?

The same thing as a lasso, essentially, but lariat is considered the more technical term. It's a rope, often but not always made of rawhide, that is used to capture stock. (Usually cattle, but it's also possible - if tricky - to rope horses. Horses are more likely to see the rope coming and dodge). When not in use, a lariat is generally hung from the saddle horn or otherwise secured to the saddle.

Monday, August 10, 2015

What are tapaderos?

Tapaderos are a leather hood that goes in front of a (western) stirrup. Their primary purpose might seem to be to act as safety stirrups - preventing the foot from slipping through.

That's actually a secondary purpose. The primary purpose of the tapadero is to prevent brush, branches, etc from catching in the stirrup. Tapaderos are seldom seen today, but are still sometimes used in parades (for decorative purposes), for children (for the safety purpose) and when riding in wilderness or on the range.

Me and Greg on mules at the Grand Canyon. With tapaderos - in this case, over ninety percent of the riders have never been in the saddle before. And there's quite a bit of brush further down...

Friday, August 7, 2015

Why do some people ride with fringes on the bridle or breastplate?

It's a traditional means of fly prevention. (Zebra stripes are also supposed to deter flies). The fringes deter flies from landing on the horse by the way they move around and are sometimes also coated with a chemical repellent.

Fringes, particularly on breastplates, are also used for pure aesthetics. That is to say, some people think they look good. You'll often see fringed breastplates at rodeos, in a variety of colors and sometimes with beading.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Why do western saddles have a horn?

The western saddle has an upright piece at the front which is called the "horn" or "saddle horn." Horns are seen on western saddles, Australian stock saddles, gaucho saddles and other variants. They are not seen on English type saddles.

In other words, saddle horns are put on saddles used by horsemen who are working cattle. The correct purpose is to wrap the end of a lasso or lariat around so that the horse is holding the captured cow or steer, not the cowboy.

Saddle horns have developed other purposes over the years, and are sometimes called the "Oh shit" handle by serious trail riders. (I.e., yes, people do grab the horn to keep from falling off. English people tend to use the horse's mane or a strap around the neck as a "security handle" and some pony saddles actually have a handle on the front).

Trail riders might also hang things such as a quirt or a water canteen or even a camera from the horn...and thus it sticks around even when not being used for its original purpose.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Are horses really called just by their color?

I had somebody question this. Yes.

It's pretty normal to refer to an animal as "the bay" or "the black" if you don't know the animal's name. Sometimes the sex or breed might be tagged on.

This can throw non horse people who start looking for a noun. Nope, the color is used as the noun - it's perfectly acceptable in the equestrian world. Maybe not entirely correct grammar, but tradition wins out in language.

The grey ;).

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What is a Fjord horse?

I feel like introducing some breeds, and I'm going to start with the very distinctive Fjord horse.

The Fjord horse is a draft pony that originates in Europe. It's known for its color - all Fjord horses are dun and have a mane that is black in the center and white on the outside. The bicolored mane is normally hogged or roached to show off the coloring.

Fjord horses are great driving horses and very, as you can see, cute. They're an old breed (like most of the draft/heavy ponies in Europe).

Look at that spiky mane-hawk.

Monday, August 3, 2015

What is a war bridle?

A war bridle is basically a rope or cord that runs through a horse's mouth, around the chin and over the poll.

They are one of the harshest devices that can be used on a horse. (They're made in a similar way to English rope halters, but those don't go through the mouth). In fact, many people think a war bridle is inherently abusive.

However, they are sometimes used by experienced horsemen, especially western, to control a "rogue" horse or one that is doing things which are dangerous, when no other tool is working.