Friday, December 30, 2016

What is the jugular groove?

If you look at a horse's neck, you will see a groove towards the bottom on both sides. This is the jugular groove, and it contains the jugular vein and carotid artery (making them rather vulnerable - this is where a predator is likely to go for).

Because of the way this horse is standing, the jugular groove is extremely visible.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What is the gaskin?

The gaskin is a big muscle found on the horse's hind leg above the hock. It's analogous to our calf (remember, horses stand on tippy toe).

This very fit Appaloosa mare has a powerful gaskin - you can see how the leg bulges a little on the outside.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What is the chin groove?

If you look at a horse's face, you'll see they have a dip on the lower jaw, about where the corner of the mouth is. We call that the "chin groove."

You can see it here on this Icelandic horse, right before where her chin gets all shaggy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What is a belly guard?

If you watch jumpers and eventers, you will see that many of them appear to have a leather "pad" on their stomachs.

This is a "belly guard" and it's either a special girth or an attachment. The point is that jumping horses often have studs on their shoes for extra grip on landing. Many horses, when jumping high, will tuck their hooves in pretty tight against their stomachs. The guard stops the studs on their shoes from digging in.

(You might also hear of a belly guard for turnout - this is a fly sheet that covers only the horse's stomach to protect them from certain kinds of flies).

The dark brown belly guard is particularly visible on this white horse. Image source Nordelch via Wikimedia commons.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Why do riders wear hairnets?

If you look at videos or pictures of an English show, you'll see a lot of the lady riders wear hairnets.

Rider's hairnets are generally a similar color to your hair and they're designed to keep long hair neatly out of the way without using a pony tail holder, which can be annoying with a helmet (I personally just use the holder, but I've never had that issue).

It's also, well, tradition.

Friday, December 23, 2016

What is a training fork?

A training fork is just what cowboys call the English running martingale - except they tend only to use them to train the horse to keep its head down, whilst a lot of hunt people use running martingales for safety reaons.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What is a carrot stick?

Answer: Something which gets old school horsemen rolling their eyes.

The term "carrot stick" was invented by the Parellis, who promote a particular style of horsemanship (some people love it, some people think it's absolutely awful and teaches people to be afraid of their horse).

What is a carrot stick actually?

It's just a whip. And if it has a lash on the end, that's a "savvy string."


Really. The only difference is that, yes the Parelli "carrot stick" is more expensive.

(In other words, the horse world is as vulnerable to fads and gurus as anything else).

(You might detect some bias against the Parellis. They promote not wearing a helmet so you pay more attention. I have little patience with that).

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Why are their traffic cones at the barn?

Because most riders "steal" some at some point to use as a training aid. Traffic cones are used as a cheap alternative to poles for weaving exercises, as halt markers in arenas that don't have dressage letters, to teach novice riders where the letter X (the center of the arena) is, etc.

So every barn will have a few around - sometimes actually acquired, uh, legitimately. (Come on, we've all done it).

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What are peacock stirrups?

Peacock stirrups are stirrups which have a rubber or leather band on the outside, designed to give under pressure. They are often used when teaching young children how to ride, as they significantly reduce the risk of catching a foot in the stirrup and getting dragged. A lot of people think they look awful, but they are a good safety device. (Older children often refuse to use them).

(Note, western people do not use peacock stirrups but do sometimes use breakaway stirrups of a different design).

Monday, December 19, 2016

Do horses like snow?

As far as we can tell, yes - horses absolutely love to play in the snow, although they can end up with cold feet or falling into a snowbank when things get slippery.

They particularly like to roll in it.

Here, have some evidence.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Do horses get ulcers?

The mare was miserable. She was grumpy, grouchy, did not want to leave her stall, definitely did not want to be ridden...and anyone who touched her in the girth area on the near side got snapped at and kicked at.


Possible diagnosis? Ulcers.

Horses do indeed get stomach ulcers, and it is my experience that the primary symptom is uncharacteristic grouchiness. Ulcers are often caused by stress, insufficient turnout or too much grain.

There are various medications for ulcers. Feeding licorice or apple cider vinegar can also help horses prone to ulcers. Which suck for the horse - and the people the horse is grumping at.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Do horses get cleft palate?

Yes, although it's very rare.

In some cases it is treated surgically, but some foals are not good candidates for surgery. In some cases, the animal is euthanized. As horses do not normally have a connection between the windpipe and the esophagus, a horse with cleft palate is much more likely to get aspiration pneumonia.

However, some animals with mild cleft palate go on to lead perfectly normal and useful lives.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What is developmental orthopedic disease?

This is a general term breeders and vets use to refer to any disorder of the limbs in a growing horse.

Horses come out of the womb with very long and rather fragile legs, and they grow rapidly. These problems are caused by genetics, nutrition (especially feeding a baby too much high energy food), and exercise.

The most prevalent is osteochondrosis, which is caused by feeding too much simple carbs (grain), mineral imbalances and trauma. It causes cysts and lesions on the cartilage, sometimes affecting growth. The animal may or may not be lame. Treatment involves restricting exercise and food intake both and sometimes supplementation. Surgery may be indicated.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Do horses get "childhood illnesses"?

Yes - strangles is most often seen in young/adolescent horses (I've joked that it is horse mumps because it causes lymph node swellings, but it's actually closer to strep throat, being caused by a bacteria in the same family). Like childhood illnesses in humans, young animals are more vulnerable simply because they have not yet been exposed. Strangles is very common in racehorses in training.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Do horses deliberately try to kill people?

I've sometimes joked that a horse "tried to kill me" - but the truth is that in many years of riding and working with horses, some of which were previously abused, untrained, or whatever, I have only once witnessed a horse intentionally try to kill a human being.

In fact, domestic horses will often go out of their way to avoid harming humans. The horse that tried to kill somebody was euthanized - there was very definitely something pretty serious wrong with that animal.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Do horses eat birds?

Very rarely. Horses cannot digest meat, but very occasionally horses killing and eating small birds or mammals has been recorded. Some people believe that this may indicate a salt deficiency. (Horses can also get some nutrition from some forms of animal protein, with eggs being traditionally fed to racehorses and, apparently, Icelanders feeding fish meal.

Horses also may playfully (or accidentally) kill small animals, but they generally do not eat them.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Are horses more "lively" on cold weather?

Oh, absolutely, says she who got taken off with by a horse that, well, doesn't normally do that to her. Oops.

When the weather is cold, especially in fall when a horse's winter coat hasn't come in yet, they do notice - although they don't feel the cold as much as we do. Horses in the wild do a number of things to stay warm - they eat a little bit more, they huddle with other horses, and they roll in mud to get a nice insulating layer.

And, of course, they move around more. Which means that if you pull them out of a stall, in which they haven't been able to move, they're likely to be just a little bit cold - and then they want to move around to get warm...and might well do things like not standing to be mounted or just plain trying to go for a run regardless of what their rider has to say about it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How quickly do a horse's eyes adjust?

This came up in a Youtube video I was watching. Horses have considerably better night vision than humans. They can see in what we would consider pitch darkness, and I've misjudged things on the trail before and had to let my horse find the way home.

The price horses pay is that their eyes do not adjust well to sudden changes of light. The modern horse is a plains animal for much more of its evolution than we are. We still have a lot of features of a diurnal forest dweller, so our eyes are designed to handle light changes very quickly. That 30 to 60 seconds it takes for your eyes to adjust to a rapid light change is pretty quick.

A horse's eyes don't adjust nearly that quickly. In fact, a horse's eyes can take anything from 15 to 30 minutes to adjust. As plains dwellers, they aren't naturally adapted to patterns of light and shade the way we are. Their much better night vision also requires more time.

For writing purposes?

Horses will tend to spook when going from light to dark and vice versa. To a horse, a dimly lit barn door is a black cavern and even if they go in and out of that barn all the time...they will at the least hesitate, especially if they don't properly trust their rider or handler. Cross country course designers often intentionally put fences in the shade as a test of trust between horse and rider. Riding home after dark tests this trust in the other direction.

There have been incidents of horses running into objects, or each other, because lights in their pasture compromised their night vision.

Horses are going to be more vulnerable than human riders to light-based attacks - flares, light spells, etc. If you are fighting a mounted person on foot, tossing a simple globe of light spell at the head of their horse could be incredibly effective.

(And what if elven eyes work like this too...)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Are horses ticklish?

Some horses are absolutely ticklish, especially on the belly - it's one of the things that can cause reluctance or aggression when being saddled or groomed. Ticklish horses have to be handled a little bit more carefully so as not to upset them.

Ticklishness is actually part of the natural reaction to shake off flies, but some horses do seem to take it to an extreme. It can be worse in the summer when the coat is thinner.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Do horses go grey with age?

Grey horses do - but often at a young age. Age-related greying similar to human greying does occur in horses, but not every horse. It's much the same as dogs going grey - they get grizzled around the muzzle and temples.

You can see some grizzling on the side of this guy's face. I also knew a horse that made it to 35 and never greyed at all, so it's highly variable.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Why do some horses have hollows above the eyes?

Actually, all horses have a bit of a dip above the eyes. If they don't, then they are seriously obese.

However, it is more obvious in some horses than others. The hollows often become deeper as a horse ages. Other reasons for deep hollows above the eyes are emaciation (and in some cases the hollows never return to normal when a horse recovers from being starved) or genetics - as in some horses have deeper hollows than others.

The actual purpose of the hollow is to accommodate part of the top of the jaw.

On this older horse you can quite clearly see the deep indentation above his left eye. This horse was in his late twenties (and yes, still serviceably sound) when this picture was taken.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Can horses eat apple cores?

Yup. In fact, they like them. It's perfectly fine to eat an apple and give the horse the core. Although apple seeds are toxic, the amount that would be needed to hurt an animal the size of a horse is huge. Also, the seeds tend to be passed intact.

Some people do say that apple cores can get stuck and cause choke, but I've never seen it. Horses will also eat and enjoy crabapples (which are generally too bitter for humans to handle without adding sugar).

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How can you tell if a horse is dehydrated?

Horses can't tell us if they're thirsty (well, they can look longingly towards a stream, but...)

How can you tell if your horse is dehydrated? What we generally do is called a pinch test. The horse's skin loses its elasticity. You gently pinch up a skin fold on the back or neck, and see how quickly it relaxes. If it stays pinched, the horse is dehydrated and needs water as soon as possible.

(Even better, is a 50/50 mix of water and gatorade. Don't give a horse undiluted gatorade - they won't drink it - but if you dilute it they will and it's much cheaper than horse electrolytes).

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Can horses get sunburn?

Yes. Horses absolutely can get sunburn. They generally get it on their nose, and sometimes the lower legs, but only where they have white markings. The pink skin lacks melanin and thus is vulnerable in the same way redheads are vulnerable. (Grey horses have dark skin and are not particularly vulnerable.

And, just like in humans, repeated sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancer.

Sunburn can be prevented with sunblock - there are special horse sunblocks available but a lot of people just use pediatric sunblock, which is cheaper. Sunburn can also be treated with zinc and castor oil cream, and in severe cases with antibiotics to prevent infection.

Sunburn can be a sign of photosensitization, which is usually caused by eating too many buttercups or clovers.

Monday, November 28, 2016

What are nodules?

Nodules are an allergic reaction that causes hard lumps to form on the skin. Most commonly, they are caused by an allergy to insect bites, but they can sometimes form after an injection. They are generally harmless, but may be surgically removed or injected with steroids to shrink them if they are interfering with tack.

Friday, November 25, 2016

What is the state sport of Maryland?

Obviously something horse related - but you would think it would be horse racing.

Nope, it's...of all things...jousting. Ring jousting, to be precise. It became the state sport in 1962. (In fact, Maryland is the only state with an official state sport. And it's jousting. Because Maryland is weird).

The rings can be as small as 1/4 of an inch in diameter and you have to get them on your lance at full speed. With only one hand on the reins.

This is actually a Canadian ring jouster because I couldn't find one from Maryland. (The sport is similar to "tent pegging").

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Why do some horses change color in winter?

Some horses appear to be a quite different shade in winter to what they are in summer. Why? There are two different reasons:

1. Some darker haired horses bleach a fair bit in the sun. Then the winter coat comes through at their "normal" color and appears much darker. (It's the same phenomenon that gives some brunettes "highlights" towards the end of summer, self included).

2. Horses have an interesting coat cycle. All horses, although it's more pronounced on ponies and horses that are kept in cold climates, have a single-layer coat in summer and a double-layer coat in winter. On some individuals, either the outer guard hairs or the "fluffy" undercoat come through a different color. I used to know a horse who would go from brown to bright red when his winter coat came through, and the Appaloosa mare I ride has a nearly white undercoat which makes her look much lighter.

The second phenomenon is fairly rare, enough to be remarked on, but not so uncommon that people don't know about it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What is modern pentathlon?

The modern pentathlon is so called to distinguish it from the "ancient" pentathlon (foot racing, wrestling, long jump, javelin and discus - which is now the classic pentathlon, which is long jump, javelin, 200 meters, discus and 1500 meters).

The ancient pentathlon was designed to test a soldier's skills. In the early 20th century, the modern pentathlon was invented to...test a soldier's skills. Except the soldier they had in mind was a cavalry officer trying to get back to his people after being trapped behind enemy lines.

Thus, the modern pentathlon consists of five events - shooting, fencing, swimming, running and riding.

Except that the modern pentathlon adds a twist to the riding segment. The competitors do a fairly standard show jumping course which is generally easier than other Olympic courses. The twist is: They have to ride a completely unfamiliar horse. (The idea was that it would test a cavalry officer stealing a horse to get away). Competitors generally meet their horses 20 minutes before the event and get time to warm up. This can make modern pentathlon quite, uh, entertaining to watch, especially as competitors tend to spend more time training for the other events.

The horses are generally provided by local show jumping trainers and are drawn randomly.

Some uh...moments from Rio. (Over the fence without the horse, and the horse leaving the premises, for example).

As a rider, riding an unfamiliar horse can be challenging and there's only one thing worse:

Riding a horse you already know hates you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

When did horse riding become an Olympic sport?

In 1900 in the Paris Olympics. This was a one off, and the sport returned in 1912. Also in the 1900 games the Olympics included show jumping, high jump and long jump competitions, and polo.

In 1908, only polo was held. (Sadly, polo has not returned to the games).

Until 1952, participation was limited to military officers and "gentlemen." In 1952, the competitions were opened to all men, and dressage to women (show jumping and eventing were presumably considered too "dangerous" for ladies). Ladies were allowed in show jumping in 1956 and in eventing in 1964.

The other event involving horse riding is the modern pentathlon, which was also introduced in 1912. (I'll talk more about that in another post).

Monday, November 21, 2016

Do zebras neigh?

Nope. Zebras do not neigh, whinny, or whicker.

In fact, zebras bark. Yes, bark.

Zebras also bray like donkeys (which they are rather closer to than horses), but the video shows the "barking." They definitely sound more like dogs, or maybe hyenas. It probably has something to do with the kinds of sounds that carry well in the tropics.

Friday, November 18, 2016

What is "bitting up"?

Bitting up is a technique some trainers use where the bit is tied to the saddle or a surcingle to "put" a horse's head in the correct position. It's highly controversial - some people feel it should never be done, some people think it is okay for short periods. Most agree the horse should not be left alone.

(This is not the same thing as mouthing).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What is raftering?

Heading for another ugh here - raftering is tying a horse's head high in the stall so that he wants to keep it down when being ridden. It's another thing western pleasure people sometimes do (not the good ones, of course).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What are hock hobbles?

Ugh. Hock hobbles are a training device sometimes used in western pleasure that connect the horses hocks to their mouth so they get pulled with each step. It "encourages a low head."

(You know I don't go ugh about something unless I really have a problem with it).

I couldn't find a usable picture, so I'm going to link this page, which has a graphic of how they're used: They're sometimes confused with breeding hobbles, which also attach to the hocks, and are used to make absolutely sure the mare doesn't kick the stallion and injure him.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What is a shaft bow?

Shaft bows are only used in Russia, Finland, the eastern Baltic countries and, perhaps oddly, Sicily. It is used in single horse or troika (three horses in a row) harness - in the latter case it's put over the middle horse.

It acts as a spring and allows for a smoother start with faster horses. They're often painted. If you want a culture to do unusual harness - this is one possibility.

Shaft bows are generally wooden - metal ones have been tried, but tend to crack in the cold climates this harness is popular in.

Painted shaft bow on the middle horse of a troika. Image source: Wikimedia commons.

Monday, November 14, 2016

What is a whippletree?

A whippletree is the bar you see at the back of a farm horse to which the plow or other piece of farm equipment is attached. It's also used for logging and hauling boats.

You can see the whippletree behind the horse's feet.

Image source: Malcolm Morley via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, November 11, 2016

What are terrets?

Terrets are the little metal hoops on the collar and saddle of driving harness that the reins/lines run through. They're designed to prevent the lines from dropping too low and possibly tripping the horse. There are also sometimes terrets on the rear bridles of a large team.

Here the reins have been tucked through the saddle terrets to keep them out of the way.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What are traces?

The traces are the straps that secure a harness horse to its load. In some cases, especially for heavy loads or farm machinery, chain traces are used.

They are secured to the collar.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What are hames?

Hames are the metal or wooden strips that are part of a horse collar, and take a lot of the force of the pull. They stabilize the collar and make it easier for horses to pull very heavy weight.

You can see the top of the hames in this shot - they sort of curve outwards. It looks like they're using the left one as a bridle hook.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How much does a saddle weigh?

Another of those things that's so natural to horse people we often forget to tell others.

The weight of a saddle is highly variable. English saddles weigh less than western saddles.

A typical English saddle weighs about ten pounds.

A typical western saddle weighs 30-40 pounds.

Roping saddles, which are designed to have extra structural integrity when the steer is pulling on the saddle average 50 pounds.

The heaviest modern saddles are western parade saddles, which are covered in silver and weigh 75 to 100 pounds. (The horses are conditioned to carry the extra weight and not asked to do it for long - but I don't envy the cowboys. I don't think I could get one of those on a horse!)

The lightest modern saddle is obviously a racing saddle. There are racing saddles on the market that weigh 10 ounces.

If you're looking at historical saddles, then I'm unable to find great information, but Medieval saddles were light, similar to English saddles, albeit in a quite different design. The McClellan saddle is known for being very light.

Monday, November 7, 2016

How much did a knight's armor weigh?

A full suit of plate armor weighed about 60 pounds - which meant that the horse had to carry that weight, plus the knight, plus the horse's own armor. No wonder a knight's horse was on the big side. Tournament armor was even heavier, often reaching 100 pounds - but jousting horses were specially conditioned to carry it and seldom did so for long.

Friday, November 4, 2016

What about "running shoes" for horses?

Thanks to +Nobilis Reed  for pointing this out to me on Facebook.

A company called Megasus Horsetech, which is based in Germany, has started making something they call "Megasus Horserunners" which are basically rubber, clip on horse shoes that resemble sneakers. They believe these are better than traditional horse shoes. (And like many people who say that claim nailing on shoes hurts the horse - it doesn't unless somebody screws up).

So, are running shoes for horses a good idea? My personal jury is out. Temporary horseshoes are far from a new thing, but most horses that need shoes...need shoes. And this system seems finicky, with tape and such - traditional hoof boots are probably better.

But it opens up the question of what might happen with horse shoes and technology in the future - and I'm not sure. We haven't changed, significantly, how we shoe horses in centuries.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Can mares get "breast" cancer?

Yes, mares can get cancer of the teats/udder, but it's much rarer than in horses (our large breasts that stay large throughout our lives increase our risk). The rate is less than 2%.

However, mammary cancer in mares is very likely to be malignant and has a poor prognosis.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Is giving a young rider a young horse a good idea?

The most common excuse is "So they can grow up together." (Honestly, I'm still thinking about Dancer, as they got brought up).

People do buy foals for their kids - and it almost always ends up in a disaster. No matter how good a young horse's temperament is, if the rider does not know what they are doing, they will ruin the horse. We have a saying: Green plus green equals black and blue. Meaning that a green rider on a green horse is likely to end up on the ground.

Horses that are used to teach beginners to ride are carefully selected, older animals who really know what they are doing and have a patient temperament so they can handle riders who do not know what they are doing.

The excuse Martin used was so the horse would be trained to carry a disabled rider from the start.

Sorry, George, but it does not work that way.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Is it safe to strap somebody to a horse?

Somebody brought up Bran being strapped to Dancer as an example that George R.R. Martin doesn't know that much about horses.

I actually think he does reasonably well. He knows what kind of horse people would use in different situations and climates, for one thing. But there are a couple of things about the entire Dancer thing that are wrong. The first is that you should not ride yearlings in the first place and should not put a disabled rider on a green horse (unless, of course, the disabled rider is an expert).

The second thing is strapping somebody into the saddle. Barrel racers sometimes do this with little kids for "safety." I've also seen "seatbelts" used in pony rides.

This is generally considered unsafe and wrong by many, but not all, horse people. In some cases the straps are designed to break in an emergency, but a lot of people feel it is still too dangerous.

Some therapeutic riding barns use these, others think they're terrible. (No doubt the ones that do are where Martin got the idea).

The worry is, of course, that if the horse were to trip and fall the child would be much more likely to end up under the horse. I will note I'm personally not a fan of this. But your characters might be - and seatbelts on pony rides used to be very common in the theory that then you don't need a sidewalker to catch the child if something goes wrong.

Monday, October 31, 2016

What is the best Halloween treat for a horse?

Because it's Halloween...and you might just have difficulty resisting sharing with a horse.

You can feed some candy to horses. Hard candy is good, soft chewy candy that sticks to their teeth is not good (horses can get cavities). Their favorite flavor is generally (but not always) peppermint.

They should not be fed chocolate - they cannot metabolize theobromine - a tiny bit probably wouldn't hurt (theobromine also causes false positives on drug tests for show horses) - but a lot could certainly be poisonous for them.

However, the very best Halloween treat for a horse is...fresh pumpkin. Horses like pumpkins (I mean the standard orange ones here) and will eat the rind and seeds. (However, they should not be fed used jack o'lanterns because candle wax won't do them any good). Hanging a dessert or pie pumpkin from the stall roof is a great fall toy for a horse.

And, here's a Halloween costume - me as Ellen Ripley and Uptown Funk as the USS Sulaco.

Friday, October 28, 2016

How do they decide which bronc a cowboy rides?

Because this is the kind of thing that would come up in a conversation - bucking horses are owned or leased by contractors, so how do they decide which cowboy rides which horse?

The answer is a random draw (which is also done to assign calfs and steers to ropers and wrestlers). Draws are often done using computers these days and posted to the internet before the rodeo. Obviously, lower tech methods are sometimes still used, but the idea is that the "draw" should be random.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

What is dallying?

When roping from the saddle, obviously the cowboy does not try to hold the steer - he would be pulled right out of the saddle.

Instead, the rope is "dallied" around the saddle horn so the horse, much more in the steer's weight class, can do the holding.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

What is a pickup man?

It has nothing to do with getting the girl.

In rodeos, the pickup men are the riders - normally two - who are positioned in the arena during a cowboy's ride. Their task is to help the rider dismount, release the flank strap and then get the bronc or bull out of the arena quickly and safely. The job requires athleticism and very good horsemanship. (Some larger rodeos may have more than two pickup men because of the size of the arena.

They're vital for the safety of not just the cowboys but the broncs, but pride themselves on being almost invisible.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Are horses "handed"?

Do horses, like humans, have a dominant side?

Absolutely. Horses have the same "handedness" as humans - which we observe in training as them taking longer to learn to turn properly to one side over the other and preferring to canter on a certain lead.

And, just like in humans, the right side is more often dominant - which means the horse is stronger when moving to the left.

So, yes, horses are handed - and most often right handed, just like us. (Sorry to the southpaws reading this).

Monday, October 24, 2016

Why do rodeo cowboys win buckles?

There are two kinds of prizes often given out at rodeos. One is prize saddles - which is obvious. Saddles are expensive, and western saddles fit a decent variety of horses.

But why buckles? I've wondered this myself - modern cowboys and cowgirls often like bling on their belts, and traditional buckles are supposed to reflect history and personality. Native Americans also made spectacular belt buckles. So, why?

In fact, cowboys to start with avoided fancy belt buckles and preferred suspenders, which were less likely to be caught on the saddle horn, a steer's horn or whatever.

Some research shows two possible origins for the rodeo buckle.

The first is that a lot of the early rodeo cowboys were also involved in boxing, so the rodeo buckle may be associated with prize belts. This appears to be anecdotal,'s an interesting thought.

More likely, though, is that it can all be blamed on...Hollywood.

In the 1920s, the movies started to show large, blingy belt buckles on cowboys. Remember that movies were silent at this point. Belt buckles with a cowboy's ranch affiliation on it were a good visual cue to help tell characters apart (hat colors were also used, and this is the origin of "White Hat" for good guy).

Real cowboys then started wearing the Hollywood belt buckles and they became part of rodeo tradition - and some of the ones given out as prizes at the highest end rodeos are solid gold.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Does the flank strap force a bronc to buck?

No, although a tight strap around the flank can make a horse buck and kick to try and get rid of it. The flank strap on a bronc (or bull) is actually fitted pretty loosely, with just enough pressure to let the animal know it is there.

It is a training signal to tell the horse it is time to start bucking now - broncs are horses with a job the same as ordinary saddle horses, and is released by the wranglers once the horse is no longer needed to buck.

A ranch (saddle) bronc at Dubois Rodeo.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

What is a bucking dummy?

Was looking through videos today and found this one:

This is a stock contractor testing young horses as bucking stock and that weird thing on their back is a modern bucking dummy.

These are also used to test and train bulls. The dummy is designed to be bucked off, just like a rider, and in this case the contractor is deciding which of these young horses has a good enough bucking reflex to make a rodeo bronc - and which will be sold to be trained as riding horses. The dummy can also be released remotely, so the trainer can control when the "buck off" happens.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Did Native Americans really ride with just a strap around the horse's jaw?

The answer is: Sometimes.

The "war bridle" as it is called was certainly used by some Native Americans.The strap was made of rope, horsehair or leather, and it was used only on well trained horses who needed very little rein action - you cannot steer a horse by direct reining in an Indian bridle.

(This is not the same thing as a modern war bridle, which is run over the poll).

The Indian war bridle was actually not the mild device people romanticize it into.

However, the Native Americans used a variety of riding styles and equipment. On the Plains they copied Spanish style saddles (and, like the Spanish, mounted from the right).

Indian war bridles are still sometimes seen occasionally, but you're more likely to see traditional western style bridles made in styles and with decorations that fit the fashions of that particular group.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

How does a side saddle rider cue her horse?

So, if you see somebody riding side saddle, you'll realize something. If legs are used to control the horse, what do you do when you only have one on one side?

The answer is a ladies' whip. It is longer than a normal riding crop and more like a dressage whip, and is used to replace the leg cues on the right side. Ladies' whips normally have a flapper like crops, rather than a short lash like dressage whips. It is never used to hit or discipline the horse. Victorian ladies' whips were often fashion accessories as well.

A lady jumping side saddle, you can clearly see the whip in her right hand. Image source: Wikimedia commons.