Tuesday, March 31, 2015

What is a whipper-in?

Actually, a whipper-in is a who. When hounds are hunted in a pack, the whipper-in is the huntsman's assistant, so called because he (or she) has the job of riding around the hounds to keep them from wandering off. He or she also has to track down any hounds that do escape, and help stop the hounds if the pack needs to be called off. With live quarry, he also has to keep an eye out for the prey.

A hunt may have one or two whippers-in working on any given day.

Image source: Henrik Jessen via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, March 30, 2015

What is quidding?

Quidding is dropping partially chewed food. A horse that quids has some kind of dental problem which needs to be fixed. Some old horses may quid because of tooth loss - which requires a change in diet to compensate for their issues.

Friday, March 27, 2015

How do you tell when a mare's in heat?

Mares are only receptive to the stallion when in heat - they are not only uninterested in sex the rest of the time but actively averse and likely to attack their potential mate.

Because of this, it's important to be able to tell when they're in season. (Being in season can also affect a mare's willingness to work - either because she's distracted by being horny or, in some cases, experiencing physical symptoms such as cramps).

Some mares are more obvious about being in heat than others.

A mare who is in season will hold her tail in an elevated position and do what we call "showing" - the tail is lifted to one side and the lips of the vulva will open and close in a rhythmic pattern. In heat mares will show not just to stallions but to geldings. Some mares will even show to a human handler. (Yes, horses will flirt with you). They may also appear to be distracted when working, and some mares find it almost impossible to concentrate when in heat (They're horny. Really horny).

The other obvious symptom is urinating more frequently. Horses normally only urinate once or twice a day - an in-heat mare may urinate several times a day, but not produce much urine. Moving into a urination stance but not urinating can also be a sign of being in season.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

What is a teaser?

Breeding thousand pound animals can be challenging. One of the risks is that if the mare isn't ready, she might kick the stallion - causing injury to both of them and potentially delaying other breedings.

Traditionally, thus, stud farms would use a teaser. A teaser was a cheap, less valuable stallion who would be used to see if the mare was receptive - then the real stallion would be switched in. (Poor guy - I once heard it compared to having a bunch of women in lingerie paraded past you and not getting laid). In some cases, the teaser is vasectomized so if he manages to get to the mare she won't become pregnant.

Some studs use the real stallion for teasing, but keep the two animals at a distance or separated by a barrier. One popular method involves simply leading the stallion past the paddock full of mares - only mares that are in heat will approach the fence.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

What is a goose rump?

A goose rump is when the back of the horse slopes dramatically downwards behind the hip. Horses have a joint between the lumbar spine and the sacral spine, the angle of which varies.

A goose rump is mostly considered a fault, but some angulation of the lumbosacral joint is desirable in jumping horses as it allows them to bring their hind quarters further under them.

For this reason, goose rumps are more commonly seen in Thoroughbreds and sport horses.

This grey has a bit of a goose rump (exaggerated slightly by the "rested" hind leg).

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

What is a roman nose?

In horse terms, a roman nose is a head with a convex profile. It's most commonly seen in draft horses and is often considered a fault, or at least "common" in light horses (and a definite fault in Arabians and many pony breeds).

An extreme Roman nose - this would be considered a fault in any animal (Image source Amazona01 via Wikimedia Commons).

A more moderate Roman nose is perfectly acceptable on this Shire horse. (Image source Una Smith via Wikimedia Commons).

Monday, March 23, 2015

What is a ridgling?

A ridgling or a rig is a horse with a retained testicle if the dropped testicle has been removed. This used to be common when abdominal surgery was all but unsurvivable by horses. (Nowadays, most ridglings have the retained testicle removed).

Ridglings were notorious for acting "studdy" and showing aggressive behavior, and one of the things people would do when buying a gelding was look to make sure there were two castration scars. (Bizarrely, I once knew a ridgling who was one of the quietest animals ever and spent years teaching children to ride - his owners just never told the parents).

Friday, March 20, 2015

Why do some English riders "post" the trot?

The act of standing up and sitting down in the stirrups when trotting is sometimes called "rising" to the trot and sometimes "posting."

The first term makes perfect sense. The second? Uh, what, does the rider resemble a fence post when standing?

The answer is that rising up and down with the trot was invented by postillon riders. A postillon rider controls the horses pulling a carriage from the back of the lead horse - this was done so that the people in the carriage could have more privacy and not have their conversations overheard by the coachman. However, carriage horses were bred to have an elevated trot rather than the flat trot (or, better yet, extra gait) preferred for riding horses - and thus it was uncomfortable to sit. So, the postillon riders started rising to the trot to make their life easier. Because it was what a postillon did, it became "posting" the trot. (It has nothing to do with postmen - the other etymology sometimes given).

Thursday, March 19, 2015

When is a donkey an ass?

It often gets a giggle when a donkey's called an "ass" in the United States. (Not so much in Britain, where a slightly different word is used to refer to the human behind).

I was just asked which word was correct, "donkey" or "ass." (I actually know somebody who has a shirt with mules on it that reads "I'm surrounded by half-asses").

Here's the situation.

The word donkey only refers to the domestic donkey, Equus africanus asinus.

All other "Asinus" are asses. The Asiatic wild ass is sometimes called the Onager. The Tibetan wild ass is more correctly called the Kiang. But they are all asses.

In other words, "donkey" is a specific species term. Ass refers to an entire group of species. Unlike in horses, where only one wild species remains, there are a whole bunch of wild asses.

And don't laugh too hard, or they might kick you.

A Turkmenian kulan, a kind of wild ass, at the Tierpark Pforzheim. Source: Hans-Peter Scholz via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

What is a Mountain and Moorland horse?

This is another British term, but you might see it on the internet.

The term "Mountain and Moorland" is used as a collective term for all of the various pony and cob breeds native to the British Isles. The reason it's used is because these native small horse breeds generally come from hilly areas such as Snowdonia (home of the Welsh Mountain Pony).

All of these breeds are tough, small in size and distinctly, shall we say, shaggy?

A Mountain and Moorland class at a show is one open to purebred horses and ponies from all of these breeds, allowing breed specific competition even if not enough animals are available from one of the less popular breeds. (It's common to see specific classes for Welsh Ponies, which are more common, and then two generic Mountain and Moorland classes, one for smaller animals and the other for larger).

Shaggy Exmoor ponies in their natural environment. Image source: me'nthedogs via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What is a manege?

A manege is a British term used to refer to any enclosed area set aside for riding horses, except for covered arenas. In the US, it is called an arena or, sometimes, a school.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Why do some horses hold their head vertically when being ridden?

In some styles of riding, it's considered desirable for the horse to hold his head in a vertical position. In others - not so much.

So, why is this? What is with the different head positions? It's often said that it's "to look pretty" or "to balance better."

Neither is the likely original truth of this. Okay, here are some quick visual aids:

This is a show jumper making a turn. His head is actually fairly low for a jumper, but it's still up, the nose pointed slightly forward (image source Paul Keleher via Wikimedia Commons).

And this is a dressage horse, with the head held vertically.

Both horses are pretty well balanced. So, why the head thing? The actual likely reason has to do with the horse's visual range. Horses have a cone of binocular vision that extends outward from their forehead. They also have a rectangular pupil, giving them a horizontal area of visual acuity (the "reverse" of cats, with their vertical slit pupils).

The jumping horse's cone of best vision is directed forward towards the next jump. The dressage horse's is actually directed at the ground in front of his feet. Which might not seem to be where you want your horse looking - except that dressage originated on the battle field. If you're on a messy battle field with downed men, downed horses, dropped weapons and all sorts of other nasties on the ground around you - then "where he's putting his hooves" is probably exactly where you want your horse to be looking!

Western horses also often keep their head vertical - because when crossing rough terrain or difficult trails then again, you probably want your horse looking at the ground.

So - it all has to do with vision. (Note: This is not a popular thing but a personal theory, but I'm fairly solid on it.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Can horses be mentally ill?

Usually when we call a horse "crazy" or "loco" we mean it's hard to train.

Can horses be mentally ill?

There's no simple answer to this question. Obviously, we can't ask them how they're feeling and we don't really know what's going on in their heads.

However, I've personally observed horses demonstrate behaviors that pretty closely resemble symptoms of depression, anxiety and even PTSD.

Horses certainly experience the effects of trauma. For example, take the case of Anglo Starsky, a Stakes winning Standardbred gelding who ran for several seasons in the UK. His career ended in an on track wreck which resulted in him flipping over and the sulky landing on top of him.

Starsky never went between the shafts of a wheeled vehicle again. He outright refused to ever allow himself to be driven. (He was retrained as a saddle horse and turned into a quite decent low level hunter). His behavior clearly indicated that he was now afraid of being driven, in much the same way that I'm afraid of wasps after being stung multiple times as a child.

My opinion on the matter is that as best as we can tell, horses can and do suffer from emotional disorders. In some cases these are even treated with psychiatric medication. However, they probably don't experience more complicated issues such as disassociative personality disorder (what used to be called MPD), etc.

We can't really tell, though. We can only tell what they're doing.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Can you get a horse to take the bit by pinching its nose?

I've seen this in more than one book. A horse refuses to open its mouth for the bit, so the handler holds its nostrils shut.

This is both cruel and ineffective.

Unlike humans, horses are not able to breathe through their mouth. So, they won't open their mouth if they can't breathe through their nose, they'll just...well...likely hurt you pulling away.

The correct technique for forcing a horse's mouth open is to insert your thumb into the side of the mouth, where the bit rests, and press down firmly on the horse's gum.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Can horses get sunburned?

Answer: Yes.

Horses can indeed get sunburn. It's more likely on areas that have thinner fur, lighter skin and both - the areas most at risk are the nose between the nostrils on horses with white faces and the area around the eyes.

It shows up the same as sunburn in humans - a reddening and flaking of the skin. And its prevented the same way.

Equine sunblock is available - but human sunblock is cheaper and just as effective. A fly mask or fly veil can help keep the sun away from the horse's eyes (and also protect them from insect irritation).

Treating sunburn is also easy. Aloe sunburn treatments are effective. A traditional remedy is zinc and castor oil cream, which can usually be found in the pediatric aisle of the drug store. Zinc and castor oil cream both treats existing burns and helps protect the skin from further damage.

This mare's white face puts her at particular risk for sunburn.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

What is Galvayne's Groove?

Horses have teeth that grow through their entire lives.

At the age of about 10 a dark line appears on the upper corner incisor. It extends down the tooth and extends the full length by the time the horse is 20. Then it slowly fades away and vanishes by 30 (if the horse lives that long).

Galvayne's Groove is one of the tools we use to estimate the age of an unknown horse.

Monday, March 9, 2015

What is the "going?"

When a horseman uses the term going, he means the ground underneath his horse's hooves. Going refers to how wet the ground is, how smooth, everything that might help (or hinder) a horse in crossing it.

You might hear somebody say that a horse doesn't like the "going" - I once knew a horse that absolutely hated being ridden if it was particularly damp or muddy and he would let you know in no uncertain terms that he wasn't happy about it! In contrast, "hard" or "firm" going might make a horse more likely to be lame or be bothered by an old injury (and is definitely less fun if you fall off!).

Friday, March 6, 2015

Do "Oats" Make A Horse Hyperactive?

"Feeling his oats" is a saying we use when talking about a horse that has far too much energy, is struggling to focus and is more inclined to bounce about fidget, or run off, than walk.

Is there any truth in oats (or other grains) being responsible for making horses "hyper"?

To a point, yes.

We feed grain to give horses extra concentrated energy so they can do more work. (Many pleasure horses are perfectly fine with little or no grain).

If your horse has a lot more energy than he needs for the work he's doing - then he'll become hot and hyper. (Horses may also become hot or hyper in cold weather just because they want to move around and get warm). It doesn't matter what the food is - in fact, corn and barley have more concentrated energy than oats.

So, hyperactivity is not a symptom of a particular kind of food - it's a symptom of too much grain period.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What are cavaletti?

Cavaletti are very low jumps, often (but not always) made all of one piece, with a wooden rail nailed to cross pieces. They generally are no more than a foot high.

Cavaletti are used to encourage elevation of gait in dressage horses, to teach young horses to pick their feet up better, and in early jump training (of both horse and rider).

The pole is off set so that the caveletto (cavaletto is the correct singular but seldom used in English) can be adjusted between different heights, although this one is broken. (Image source: 4028mdk09 via Wikimedia Commons).

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What is a "broken winded" horse?

A broken winded horse is, essentially, an animal that has a permanent respiratory condition that affects its usability. This is most commonly COPD or heaves, but the term is older - dating back to at least the 19th century. (Thus, you could probably use this term in a Medieval fantasy or historical without it looking like an anachronism).

In the past, horses with broken wind were often culled, especially if the condition was severe. They are now treated - but the condition is not curable. In many cases, horses with broken wind cannot be stabled for long periods, have to have their hay soaked and may need medication.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What is a blemish?

You might hear a horse person refer to a horse as "unblemished." Or they say "Well, it's only a blemish."

A blemish is any permanent mark or scar that affects the appearance of a horse. Blemishes can matter in the show ring, but they don't (by definition) affect the animal's soundness or performance. A blemish can, of course, lower a horse's price.

Blemishes include bony growths that don't affect action or performance, such as splints. They also include white marks caused by scarring, which are often the result of ill fitting tack having been used on the animal in the past.

Although it looks awful, the skin damage on this horse's leg was caused by a past disease and would still be considered a blemish, albeit a very severe one!

Monday, March 2, 2015

What is a bascule?

"He has a lovely bascule"

Outside of the horse world, a bascule is a bridge in which one end is counterbalanced on the other.

In the horse world, it's the shape formed by a horse's back as he goes over a jump. A good bascule means that the horse's back is rounded or arched, not hollowed (if a horse jumps with a hollow back it's uncomfortable for the horse, uncomfortable for the rider, and the jump's likely to fall).

This horse has a reasonably good bascule, but could still use to drop his head a little more. Image source: Ronald C. Yochum Jr. via Wikimedia Commons, taken at the Rolex 3 Day Event.