Thursday, June 30, 2016

What is HERDA?

HERDA is a rather unpleasant congenital skin disorder that primary occurs in Quarter Horses. The skin is hyperelastic, which results in frequent injuries that take longer to heal and are more likely to scar. Another sign is fluid filled pockets under the skin.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

What is a "shark fin?"

A horse with a "shark fin" has unusually high withers. They are most often seen on Thoroughbreds, and there may be some connection between high withers and speed - it may help the horse reach further forward with each stride. Shark fins can cause major problems with saddle fit (and trust me, never get on a horse with one bareback). Just as an obese horse may appear mutton withered, an underweight or very out of shape horse can appear to have higher withers (horses build muscle above their spine as a result of carrying the rider's weight).

The gelding in the foreground is slightly underweight (he's a rescue and very old) and at least appears to have shark fin withers.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

What are "mutton withers"?

Mutton withers are flat and wide. This can cause problems with saddle fit - the saddle tends to slip sideways or forward. It's most commonly seen in ponies. Also, an obese horse may appear to be mutton withered.

Note the almost complete lack of a bump in front of the saddle area on this Icelandic mare.

Monday, June 27, 2016

What is a "pigeon-breasted" horse?

A pigeon-breasted horse appears to have a "wishbone." It's actually caused by the front legs being set a little too far back. It can affect a horse's gait, but can actually help the horse make quick turns.

(You have to look carefully to see it because it's behind this Paint horse's head, but he is definitely pigeon-breasted).

Friday, June 24, 2016

What is "slab sided"?

A slab sided horse is one that has straight sides, with the ribs flat and aligned vertically. It's considered a flaw because it limits the space available for the lungs to expand.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

What is a bull neck?

A bull neck is an excessively short and thick neck - one that resembles the neck of a cow. It's actually considered desirable in pulling horses (the collar sits better), but undesirable in riding horses as the horse finds it harder to balance.

This rather scruffy Mongolian horse has a bull neck - and a very pretty saddle. Image source: Latebird via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

What is a dished face?

A dished face is a concave profile of the horse's head, sometimes with a bulged forehead. Extreme dishing is most often seen in Arabians, but many pony breeds also have slightly dished faces. In Arabians, the dish is desirable and associated with stamina - it's assumed that it has something to do with having the right airway for endurance work in warmer climates. (Pony dishes are much less extreme).

This Arabian only has a slight dish, but the forehead bulge is visible. Image source Ealdgyth via Wikimedia commons.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

What is "pig eyed"?

A pig eyed horse is one that has disproportionately small eyes. It is generally considered a fault, both because it's viewed as unattractive and because it's associated with stubbornness or anxiety. This latter may have some truth to it - the smaller eye may result in less peripheral vision. For the most part, though, it's an aesthetic problem.

This chestnut horse has a pig eye, and the eyelid does not appear to open all of the way. Image source: Rachael C via Flickr.

Monday, June 20, 2016

What is a chuck wagon?

"Chuck wagon racing" is something seen at rodeos - but what exactly is a chuck wagon? The answer is - it's the wagon that carried the cooks, their equipment and supplies when out on a roundup or a drive. It was apparently named after an early cattle baron named "Charles Goodnight" - but I can't verify that as anything other than folk etymology.

Friday, June 17, 2016

Why do we call a muscle cramp a "charley horse"?

...and does it have anything to do with actual horses.

Possibly. We do know that the term showed up for the first time in the Boston Globe in 1886 to refer to baseball players, for whom muscle cramps in the leg are an occupational hazard.

But why Charley horse? There are a few versions of the story, although associating it with pitcher Charlie Esper (who tended to limp) is incorrect as he didn't start playing until almost a decade after the term showed up.

Another version says that the horses used to drag the field were nicknamed "Charlies" and tended to be old horses unfit for heavier work.

The most common folk etymology, however, is that the term was coined by a player named Joe Quest, and when he was an apprentice machinist, he knew an old white horse that was pretty lame and named Charley...and apparently people trying to walk with leg cramps reminded him of said horse. This seems the most likely (and possibly shows the power of the press in getting a slang term started and popular).

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Why do we say "one horse town"?

Actually, the etymology of this is a little bit muddy. It does imply a town so small only one horse would suffice to its needs - but honestly, in small towns in the mid-19th century, when the term originated, the horses would probably outnumber the humans.

Another version, anecdotal as far as I could tell, is that it's the name of an actual town in California, settled during the gold rush. (If anyone can confirm/deny this I'd be amused).

But more likely, it just comes from the fact that a machine or cart that only needed one horse to pull it was obviously smaller, and "one horse" came to mean anything small that didn't need much power.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Why is a "high horse" seen as uppity?

Because, back in the day, only rich people could afford chargers and other big horses. So somebody on a "high horse" was rich - and as times changed, it became a term for somebody who was full of himself.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Do horses sneeze?

Yes, but not in the same way we do. Because horses don't breathe through their mouth, they don't produce the kind of explosive sneeze a human can. A sneeze is often mistaken for a snort or a "blow" (which I explained yesterday).

They do sneeze, though, and for the same reason - dust or some foreign body in their nostrils, or clogged sinuses. It's not uncommon for a horse to sneeze a couple of times when pulled out of a stall and put to work - they're just clearing their airways. Needless to say if a horse is sneezing a lot, or sneezing when they don't normally, then they may have something going on such as a respiratory virus or allergies.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Why is a horse "all snort and blow"?

You might have heard this saying - and it comes from a particular thing horses do. When a horse is over excited and eager, they often do something we call "blowing" - a rapid exhalation that creates a particular sound similar to a snort. "Blowing" is contagious behavior - once one horse in a group starts, the others will often join in, and then they get each other worked up.

In certain breeds, such as Saddlebreds, it's actually desirable - they want the horses excited and forward.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Why do horses "cock" a hind leg?

When a horse stands on three legs with one hind leg touching the ground only at the toe and that hip dropped we call it "cocking" or "resting" a hind leg. The latter describes the root cause better - horses generally do this when they're relaxed. They'll usually switch legs at intervals. Yes, they'll do this when you're riding if you're just chilling out waiting for something (it can be a bit disconcerting). However, if the horse has the hoof off the ground or is looking backwards, they're not relaxed at all - they're seriously considering kicking at something.

You can clearly see how the center horse has a leg cocked, exaggerated by the white sock. He probably just woke up when he realized the camera was pointed at him.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Do horses snore?

Yes. Many horses snore on the occasions (usually every other day for about 40 minutes) that they lie down to sleep, probably because lying down puts some pressure on the respiratory system. (Horses do need to lie down to dream).

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

How many wild horses are there in America?

Trick question: The answer is none.

The American Mustang is not a wild animal. All of the "wild" horses in America are, in fact, feral horses. (The Chincoteague and Assateague ponies are even less wild, they're a managed herd).

Although horses evolved in north America, they became extinct here after crossing the land bridge into Asia, where they were domesticated. Every horse in North and South America is descended from animals brought over by European settlers. Some of them got free, and because the "Mustangs" were useful as remounts, they were allowed to live.

They are now semi-managed herds, with numbers controlled and select animals brought in and trained as working animals. They are not, however, "wild."

Part of a Mustang breeding herd in Arizona. Image source John Harwood via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Can horses receive blood transfusions?

Yup. Equine blood and plasma are sometimes transfused. Horses have 7 different blood types - more types than humans - and each type also has factors, and blood typing is often used in breeding. There are more than 400,000 different blood type and factor combinations in horses, which means blood can never really be completely matched, so blood transfusions in horses are risky. However, horses are also more tolerant of mis-matches, and a horse that has never received a blood transfusion generally does not react to even the most incompatible blood. This means that in an emergency it's often safe to give a horse whatever blood you have on hand - it's not as good as better matched blood, but it can save the horse's life. And there are equine universal donors too.

There are, however, no blood banks for horses. Horse blood can only be stored for about a month, and of course, a horse needs rather a lot of blood. So, donor blood is stored on the hoof - either in specific blood donor herds (generally permanently lame animals donated by their owners for the purpose) or through a blood donor registry much like with humans. The vet might also test other horses owned by the owner of the sick or injured horse.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Why do trainers sometimes lower the pitch of their voice?

When working with horses, you might sometimes hear the trainer intentionally lower the pitch of hers or her voice. Why do we do this?

It's the "mommy" voice. A mare lowers the pitch of her vocalizations when communicating with her foal. So, a vocalization at a lower pitch, especially one obviously lower than the person's "normal" voice can have a greater impact on a horse and elicit a better response.

Friday, June 3, 2016

What kind of trees should you plant in a paddock?

I mentioned in a previous post that acorns are quite poisonous to horses. There are quite a few other trees which are - plums, peaches, cherries, etc, as well as scarlet maple and sycamore maple.

What kind of trees do we plant around horses? Obviously, it depends on the location, but willows make good shade trees. Weeping willows are particularly good because the trailing branches are kind of fun for animals to play with and around. Ash trees are another good choice, as are magnolias. Birch and lime are popular in England.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Why do horses yawn?

Not for the same reasons we do! Humans yawn to get a sudden intake of fresh air, but horses do not breathe through their mouths.

So, why do they do it? There are several reasons.

One is just to stretch their jaw muscles, which is why some horses yawn when unbridled. Horses may also yawn when their "arousal state changes" - which is a fancy way of saying when they first wake up. This might also be more a stretch than anything else.

Yawning can also be a sign of abdominal pain, and a horse that suddenly starts yawning a lot should be checked for colic.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

How many eyelids do horses have?

Three. Like a number of other animals, horses have nictitating membranes, a third eyelid which is transparent and can protect the eye while still allowing some visibility. This means horses can blink without actually visibly blinking. It helps protect a horse's very large eyes from trauma. Unfortunately, horses are very prone to cancer of the third eyelid, which can result in needing to remove it.