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.