Thursday, March 31, 2016

What is borium and what does it have to do with horses?

Borium is an artificially created substance - it's tungsten carbide granules embedded in a steel or brass rod.

Borium is added to horseshoes, either in the form of small studs or as a line around the front edge. It's used on horses that work on the road a lot to improve traction and reduce shoe wear.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Do "horse latitudes" have anything to do with horses?

Possibly - and possibly not. One folk etymology for the term is that when ships became becalmed at these latitudes, which happened a lot, some of the horses being transported would die.

However, a much more likely explanation is that seamen did something called the "dead horse" ritual when they had received enough money to pay off their debt to the paymaster for the last shore leave - they would make a straw-stuffed horse effigy, parade it around the deck and then throw it overboard. West bound shipping from Europe would hit this point in the subtropics.

The ritual came from the saying "to beat a dead horse."

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Why do we say "curb one's enthusiasm"?

A curb is a kind of bit - one used by western people on any well trained horse, but by English riders only on horses that are inclined to run away or in situations, such as hunting, when a horse can get particularly enthusiastic.

So to curb enthusiasm is to put a curb bit on to control a horse's excitement.

Monday, March 28, 2016

What is to "bake" a horse?

Bake is old cowboy slang for giving your poor horse heat exhaustion by riding them for too long or too hard in hot weather.

Friday, March 25, 2016

What is "Indian broke"?

In the old west, an "Indian broke" was one trained to be mounted from the right hand side. Cowboys followed the European/mainstream tradition of mounting from the left (a good idea when you have a sword). For some reason, Native Americans preferred to mount from the right. (No, I don't know why - I've done research and can't find it - I'd love an explanation if there is one).

Thursday, March 24, 2016

What is "hard mouthed"?

A hard mouthed horse is one that doesn't respond well to the rein or bit. The mouth doesn't become literally harder - the horse just learns to tune out the cues (often seen in lesson horses) or has been allowed to get away with ignoring them.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

What is an air fern?

An air fern is a horse or pony (more commonly the latter) that seems able to survive on pretty much no food. Which might sound desirable, but air ferns also get fat very, very easily.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Do horses pant?

Not normally.

Dogs pant because they don't sweat. Horses do not naturally pant. Panting in a horse is a sign of severe heat exhaustion or heat stroke. Also, horses do not loll their tongues out - if they do, it's a sign of either mouth discomfort or in rare cases nerve damage can cause the tongue to "fall out" when the animal is relaxed.

Monday, March 21, 2016

What is presence?

You might hear somebody say a horse has "presence."

Presence is basically charisma. A horse with presence is one that wants to show off, one that carries itself with a certain poise. A horse with presence is a bit of a ham. Needless to say, this is a desired quality in show horses and parade horses. In olden times, a king or queen might seek a horse with presence to ride on public occasions.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Why do we threaten to send horses to the glue factory?

Not that we (usually) mean it. The reason we say it is because equine corpses used to be disposed of by using them in glue manufacture, especially in cultures where horse is generally not eaten. These days, most glues are synthetic and animal-based glues are seldom made, but the saying has lingered.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Do horses shed out in patterns?

Yup! When a horse sheds its winter coat (or summer coat, although primitive horses only shed in the spring) it sheds in some kind of pattern. One thing horsemen often notice is that patterned horses often shed the white hair first, then the colored hair, or vice versa. This can be very noticeable in some cases - but is completely normal.

So are bald patches - sometimes a horse will shed out an area a little bit prematurely, before the new coat has started to grow properly.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Why are white hairs scars?

A white mark on a horse's back or leg in an odd place, or of an odd shape, often means an injury - sometimes horse people might call them scars, but we more normally call them "marks."

Pressure injuries to a horse's hide, and more rarely cuts, can damage the hair follicles and cause them not to produce pigment. The hair will then grow back white, usually permanently (in a few cases it can be temporary and "grow out" the next time the horse sheds). In modern times there's quite the market for "touch up" sprays which temporarily dye the hair back to the horse's coat color for shows.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Are dapples a sign of horse health?

You sometimes hear it said that a dappled coat means a healthy horse. Is this true?

Sort of.

A dappled coat on a grey horse is caused by the particular pattern in which the grey fades with age.

A dappled coat on a non-grey horse indicates that the horse has a genetic predisposition to produce dapples. However, these dapples are brought out more by regular grooming and good health. Also, dapples are not visible (although the genetics may be present) on black horses.

So, yes, a horse with dapples is healthy and has a good coat. However, not all horses that are healthy and have good coats have dapples.

This bay horse illustrates the point quite nicely - the top half of his body has visible dappling, whilst the lower half is plain. His genetics are allowing dapples to express only on part of him. Image source
Лена via Wikimedia Commons.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Why are winning ribbons blue?

Answer: First of all, they aren't always. A blue ribbon only means first place in certain countries, including the United States and Australia. In the United Kingdom, first place ribbons are red and second place is blue.

In Holland, first place ribbons are often - but not always - orange.

Championship ribbons can be multiple colors, and are often larger in size than those given out for class victories.

As to why? It's tradition, pure and simple. I have no idea why those particular colors were chosen, why they're different in different places... (which sometimes causes confusion when people talk internationally). So, it's just tradition and it helps people know how well a horse and rider did when seen across the ring.

This Highland pony mare had a particularly good day at the Royal Highland Show in Scotland. Four red (winning in the UK) ribbons and a Championship sash. She looks like she knows it, too. Image source: Confuslefu via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Why do horses shed so much in the spring?

I was grooming my trainer's Appaloosa mare this week and I had to get a bucket for all the hair that came off her.

Horses shed, and they shed a lot more in the spring than the fall. They also shed more if they're kept outside rather than being stalled at night.

The reason is that in the summer, horses grow a single layer hair coat. In the winter, they grow a double coat - long outer hairs and a downy undercoat. It's that downy undercoat that creates buckets full of shed hair when you groom a horse in the spring. (We often use a rubber curry coat or a shedder to get the shed hair off the animal faster, otherwise it can cause itching under the tack).

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why do horses have hair not fur?

Although we do sometimes talk about horses having fur, the correct term is hair. The reason? If it's thick and dense enough to make a good fur coat, it's fur. Otherwise, it's hair. (Cows also have hair not fur for the same reason).

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Where does horse hair for crafts and instrument bows come from?

Horsehair is used for felting, for craft work, for tail extensions on show horses, applique - all kinds of things.

There are two primary sources - the first is from horses that have been slaughtered for other reasons. or which have died of natural causes. Bow makers generally use horse hair that has been taken from the slaughterhouse because of the quantity they need.

The second, of course, is hair harvested from live horses, most often from the tail (Mane hair is finer, though, and some craft people prefer it). When I was a kid, the lesson barn sold one pony's spectacular mane to somebody who was restoring a carousel horse with a natural tail. He looked silly while it grew back, but it certainly didn't hurt him.

Hair from horses that grew up in cold climates is considered superior.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Do horse flies bite people?

Horse flies and deer flies (which also like horses) will sometimes bite people - in fact my most embarrassing equestrian injury was a horse fly bite which got infected. Horse fly bites are actually quite prone to infection and unlike mosquitoes they can get you through clothing. The best prevention is fly repellent. Generally, horse flies won't bite people when there are horses available, though.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Why are riding trousers sometimes called jodphurs?

The term "jodphurs" or "jods" is more common in the UK, but still heard in the US. But what's the etymology?

It's all the fault of the British and their love of polo. In 1897, Queen Victoria invited a number of people to her Diamond Jubilee. One of them was the younger son of the Maharaja of Jodphur, a man named Pratap Singh.

He brought his entire polo team with him and proceeded to kick some serious butt and defeat most of the British teams. He also brought the style of riding trousers popular in Jodphur.

The English combined the style with their traditional riding breeches to create modern jodphurs. In the US, "jodphurs" and "breeches" are used interchangeably, but technically they're breeches if they end just below the knee and are worn with tall boots and jodphurs if they go all the way down to the ankle and are worn with short riding boots (called paddock boots in the US and, you guessed it, jodphur boots in the UK).

Jodphurs can be worn with tall boots or chaps as well.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Why are riding breeches beige or tan?

If you look at English riders, you'll see that most of the time we wear beige or tan breeches. Sometimes you'll see white ones at a show, and sometimes a rainbow of colors, but beige or tan appear to be traditional. Why is this?

The answer is, as far as I know just that, tradition. White breeches, however, are generally only worn when working in show arenas. Beige and earthy colors are for following hounds or the trail.

So I honestly suspect - although I don't know - that the origin of wearing those colors was simple: They don't show the dirt and dust inevitably picked up on a long ride and still look smart at the end of the day.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

What is the croup?

The croup is the highest point of a horse's rump - you'll notice most horses have a little bit of a "bump" in front of the back legs, and then it slopes down.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

What is a horse's barrel?

I realize I've mentioned this, but not defined it. The horse's barrel is the horse's mid section, and when we talk about a horse having a "large barrel" we mean they're stocky, with a wider rib cage, and able to handle a taller rider.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Why are there traffic cones in the arena?

Traffic cones are often used by riding schools to help beginner riders learn to steer, or by contesting riders who don't have easy access to barrels, poles, etc. In other words, they're normally used to set up obstacles to steer through or around. Actually stealing traffic cones is frowned upon (but sometimes happens). Cones might also be used as flag holders for flag races and similar.