Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Why do horses chew their stalls?

( I apologize for missing a few days. I didn't have time to queue posts before leaving for a convention).

Sometimes if you look at a stable, you'll see clear evidence that a horse has been chewing the wood of their door, wall, manger, etc. Why do horses do this?

One reason is boredom. The other reason is not getting enough fiber in their diet - horses need a lot of fiber. Sometimes a horse will get in the habit of chewing wood and never break it. This is often seen with horses that have been malnourished in the past. A change of diet can solve the problem, but sometimes the only solution is to cover all the exposed wood surfaces the horse can chew on with rubber or metal.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

What is "wisping" a horse?

Natural horsemanship professionals swear by various kinds of massage - but old school horsemen have been doing it for years.

It's called 'Wisping' - and you make a massage pad out of a rope of hay, and bring it down with some force on the horse's major muscles. Traditionally, it was supposed to help tone a horse's muscles, but it's now known that it actually helps the horse relax and when done after work reduces muscle stress. Unfortunately, not many people know how to make a wisp any more.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Why do horses paw the ground?

You often see this in the movies (where the horse has been trained to do it on cue). Why does a horse paw the ground?

There are several reasons:

1. The horse wants to roll. Horses that are going to roll will often test the ground they intend to roll on by pawing at it first.

2. Begging or food seeking behavior. Begging in domestic horses often consists of holding a foreleg up partly folded, but some horses may paw to beg.

3. The horse is overly excited or frustrated - you might see racehorses paw at the start line, some show horses paw when it's close to their turn to go in. A horse that wants to run and is prevented from doing so by his rider may paw. Alternatively, nervous horses may paw or stomp the ground.

4. The horse is bored - this is why horses in lessons might paw when waiting a long time for their turn, or a stalled horse may paw for want of anything better to do.

Pawing at water is a slightly different thing. Some horses just love to play in water and I've witnessed horses paw at water more on a hot day, so they may be trying to cool off. However, some horses will also roll in water, so be careful.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Do horses naturally jump?

Yes and no. Horses are born with the ability to jump - in the wild, if they're running, they need to be able to get past/over obstacles. While they'd prefer to go around, and will generally step rather than jump if they can, they certainly can and will jump in the wild.

However, they do have to be taught how to jump carrying a rider. And not all horses "naturally" enjoy jumping - in fact, a horse that really enjoys jumping is probably the end result of selectively breeding horses that enjoy it. (Some horses seem to think it's a great game, and others would rather do something else).

Thursday, May 19, 2016

What is a half halt?

...and how can you only half stop. That's what halt means, right?

A half halt is when you slow a horse until he almost stops then send him forward again. It's done to either rebalance a horse who's struggling to properly compensate for the rider, or to get a horse's attention if it's wandering (they do start to daydream sometimes).

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Can horses get dandruff?

Yup. Dandruff is most often seen in the mane and/or tail, but can spread over the entire body. It's caused by all kinds of things - allergies, dehydration, hormonal changes, stress, mites, or just, you know, a genetic propensity to a dry skin. It's sometimes seen in show horses that are bathed too often.

It's treated by adding fat to the diet - usually in the form of corn oil or flax seeds. Extra grooming can also help. And, of course, you can use an anti-dandruff shampoo (not a human shampoo, the PH is different, and using human shampoo on horses can in fact cause dandruff). Some people also use vaseline or mineral oil to moisturize the horse's skin, and there are various lotions made for this annoying little problem.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

What is "tucked up"?

A tucked up horse is one who's flanks have collapsed inward. This results in an appearance somewhat like a greyhound (except it's normal for the greyhound). It's more obvious in Thoroughbreds, which tend to have a bit of a narrow stomach at the best of times.

Being tucked up can be a reaction to pain, especially in the digestive system. It can also be caused by malnutrition, especially insufficient fibre. A tucked up appearance after work is often a sign of dehydration - meaning the horse needs fluids and possibly electrolytes quickly.

This racehorse being cooled down is showing a bit of a tucked up appearance - it was an extremely hot day and us humans in the stands needed extra water, let alone the horses!

Monday, May 16, 2016

How many vertebrae does a horse have?

Horses have pretty long backs - so, you would think they have a lot of vertebrae. Actually, a normal horse has 18 thoracic vertebrae (the ones with ribs attached), five of which form the withers, and six lumbar vertebrae. Arabians often have only 17 thoracic and five lumbar vertebrae.

Humans, in contrast, have 12 thoracic and five lumbar. This is not counting the neck, of course. Of course, this means that horse vertebrae are quite a bit larger than ours.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Can horses have caffeine?

In terms of health, yes. Caffeine doesn't do anything nasty to horses. However, it's a restricted substance in racing and while the FEI no longer bans it (Some studies indicate it may enhance performance but others show a negligible effect), some showing authorities also consider it a banned substance. Because of this, chocolate and caffeine should be kept away from the feed of show and race horses.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

What is hoof testing?

The horse I was supposed to ride yesterday is lame. Poor CeCe. Which led me to think about hoof testing.

Horses can't tell us where it hurts. Hoof testing is examining a horse's foot to see if they're experiencing pain anywhere. It's not a pleasant thing to do because you're basically prodding at them until they go "Ow."

Professional hoof testing is done with a device called, yes, a hoof tester. A limited version can be done with a hoof pick. Hoof testing can find things like abscesses, the early stages of founder and fractures in the foot.

Or in poor CeCe's case, a painful little bruise. She'll probably be fine in a few days.

That's her hiding behind her pasturemate and not cooperating at all with being photographed ;).

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

What is a "handy" horse?

A handy horse is one that is quick on his feet and turns easily - it's a desirable trait in hunters, jumpers and horses working cattle. Western people often use "catty" to refer to the same trait.

"Handy" is also sometimes used to refer to obstacles added to a hunter course to test the handiness of a horse. In England "Handy Hunter" or "Handy Pony" classes are classes that use obstacles you might come across in the hunting field such as opening and closing gates, crossing narrow bridges, etc.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Do horses really fake being scared?

"He didn't really spook at that."

Horses are naturally spooky animals. They startle very easily - and have to be trained out of it.

But horses will sometimes fake a spook - pretend to be afraid of a harmless object. Working horses with heart rate monitors show that this form of equine "lying" does exist - they spook, but their heart rate doesn't alter. If you really know a horse, you can sometimes tell a fake spook from a real one - some horses do different things with their ears.

Why would a horse do that? The most common reason is that it's an evasion - they want to get out of work. By pretending to be scared, maybe they can convince their rider they have a good reason not to go down the longer trail rather than the shorter one. I've also known horses I suspect of doing it just to annoy their rider because they're in a bad mood or being asked to do something they'd prefer not to.

Monday, May 9, 2016

What are broken knees?

In horses, "broken knees" have nothing to do with damage to the bones in the knee.

The term actually refers to damage to the skin and tissue over the front of the knee which, because it's so thin, often results in permanent scarring and some cases restriction of motion of the joint. It's a blemish that can reduce the value of a horse, because it's often assumed that the horse fell because it was clumsy (not always the case, although I've known some major equine klutzes). The injury is most often caused by a fall onto gravel or hardtop.

It often takes weeks for the injury to heal at all, and it requires hosing and bandaging. Antibiotics are often used these days, and in some cases the horse may have tendon damage that requires surgery.

The most common context for broken knees, though, is in reference to a horse with scars from this kind of injury - a "broken-kneed" horse.

Friday, May 6, 2016

What is kissing spines?

Kissing spines is a back condition in horses that may be congenital or caused by trauma such as a serious fall. It's most often seen in shorter backed horses that are used for jumping - indicating that while it's most often conformational in course, jumping probably makes it worse. A horse has long, thin bones that protrude upward from each vertebrae - they're longest just above the shoulder, forming the withers. Sometimes these bones come into contact, causing pain or stiffness in the spine and eventually resulting in arthritis in the back.

Fortunately, it can be treated - most often by a combination of rest, medication (steroid injections are common) and physical treatment. A good chiropractor can go a long way to correct the condition by unsticking the back, and horses that have had kissing spines in the past should get regular chiropractic treatment, as it does tend to recur.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

What is a capped hock?

A capped hock is a swelling of the capsule around the hock, often caused by the horse kicking the stall wall. In some cases, the swelling can become permanent, but it generally doesn't cause lameness. Surgery is sometimes performed in show horses (judges care about these things). Cold hosing is the general treatment for a new injury, and if that doesn't work they might drain it to reduce the swelling. Elbows (the joint at the top and the back of the foreleg) can also end up capped.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

What is camped under?

A camped under horse stands with his front leg behind the vertical. It's considered a fault mostly because such horses tend to be more likely to trip in front (which can be dangerous for the rider).

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What is camped out?

Camped out is when the horse stands with its forelegs set too far forward, the hoof in front of the shoulder. In some horses this is a conformation fault. However, a horse that is in pain or footsore in the front legs may also stand camped out - it's common with horses suffering from laminitis.

Monday, May 2, 2016

What are sickle hocks?

Sickle hocks are hocks with too "tight" an angle, with the cannon bone being too far underneath the horse. This puts extra strain on the ligaments at the back of the leg, although some reiners like it as it allows the horse to "sit" better when doing spins and sliding stops.