Wednesday, August 31, 2016

What is "proud flesh"?

Proud flesh is when normal tissue overgrows during healing from an injury. It generally forms in wounds on the lower legs, most often at joints. It's part of a natural mechanism to prevent infection, but because horses produce so much of this "granulation tissue" compared to others, sometimes it can produce too much...which then prevents the wound from healing. Proud flesh can be prevented by properly bandaging lower leg wounds. If proud flesh develops it can have to be surgically removed.

Proud flesh can form on other animals too, including humans. Horses are just more prone to it.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Why do horses sometimes fall asleep while being ridden?

You're waiting your turn in a show or class and realize your horse is dozing off. Why would this happen?

1. The horse has narcolepsy. This is rare in horses, and there's no good treatment for it.

2. The horse didn't get enough sleep last night. Sometimes horses with stable vices will keep themselves up all night. Horses that are anxious and nervous and don't feel safe may not lie down to get their REM sleep and may be sleep deprived.

3. They're so bored they decided they might as well take a nap.

Number three is not a problem - a horse that's napping while waiting will properly lock its leg. A horse that has narcolepsy or sleep deprivation, however, may well collapse under the rider, especially if they're deprived of REM sleep. Sleep deprivation can often be treated with environmental changes or medication to help an arthritic horse lie down and get back up.

Equine narcolepsy is incurable and there is no good treatment for it (although an antidepressant called amitriptylene shows promise). It's possible to manage the condition, but a horse that regularly falls suddenly asleep during work because of narcolepsy should not be ridden.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Why do horses sometimes eat dirt?

If you see a horse eating dirt or soil - the horse is actually trying to supplement with minerals in the soil. Tests have been done that even indicate horses will go for areas of soil with higher levels of iron and copper.

In fact, eating soil is perfectly natural and normal for horses, although if they do it a lot it can make them sick.

Making sure horses get plenty of fibre and access to a salt and mineral lick keeps dirt eating down to manageable levels. Wild horses will also lick rocks to get minerals.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Should you sedate a horse for transport?

I had a non-horse person ask me today why we didn't sedate a mare we want to move but who refuses to load.

There's a good reason why. Horses travel standing up. If you've ever had to stand on public transport, you know that you have to grab on to something and use some balance. A horse standing in a trailer may have four anchor points, but they can't grab on to something. So, they need to be alert enough to balance themselves, especially when the trailer or truck turns.

Occasionally you might indeed sedate a horse for transport - but there has to be a good reason. Very rarely horses are sedated for air travel (the stalls are narrower).

Generally, you would only sedate a horse if it was a sick or injured animal that you had to get to an animal hospital quickly.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What is a horse's respiratory rate?

Just for completeness - a normal respiratory rate for adult horses is 8 to 12 breaths per minute when at rest (in contrast, the normal adult human respiratory rate is 12 to 20 breaths per minute - this reflects the difference in size).

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

How do you check a horse's pulse?

I talked about equine heart rates - but you can't exactly put your fingers on a horse's wrist.

In fact, the normal place to check a horse's pulse is under the jaw. There's a facial artery that runs below and slightly behind the front corner of the eye that happens to be quite handy for this. It's generally the easy place because it's easy to immobilize the horse's head with a halter.

Two other places that are sometimes used are the back inside of the knee and the inside of the ankle on the front leg (which is pretty close to the wrist).

However, it can be challenging to take a horse's pulse properly, especially if they aren't being particularly cooperative. For this reason, a lot of horse barns have a stethoscope, and listen to the heart directly - you put the diaphragm just behind the elbow. This is also what most vets do.

Monday, August 22, 2016

What is a horse's heart rate?

A lot lower than ours! A healthy horse has a resting heart rate of 28-44 beats per minute. Foals, though, can have a heart rate as high as 120 at birth, dropping to 60 to 80 - basically, the heart rate slows with age until maturity.

Because of the large variation, horse owners should check regularly to make sure they know what's normal for that particular horse.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Should horses eat clover?

We tend to have an image of clover being a good plant. The picture of a cow or a horse up to their ankles in clover is common.

However, clover can often be too rich for horses, and should generally not be fed to ponies, especially in the spring. Clover just has a lot of sugar in it. Because of this a lot of people in the UK (where most people ride ponies) remove clover or fence horses away from it in the spring.

In the US and Canada, red and alsike clover are associated with poisonings, but it's not the clover itself that's toxic - it's mold that grows on it. Mowing can remove the mold. Red clover poisoning is mild - it just makes the horse slobber. Alsike clover poisoning can cause all kinds of problems, including liver problems. Oh, and both can, uh, give them diarrhea.

So, clover is not great for horses, but if it's mold free it's fine (and they like it) in moderation.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Do horses get "spoiled"?

Oh, definitely. I've seen, far too many times, the end result of too many hugs and treats and too little discipline - and had to fix it.

It's often ponies - which tend to be a little more dominant anyway and when you combine that with kids who "love" them...

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Do horses get vitiligo?

Vitiligo is a condition in which splotches of skin become bleached. It's seen in humans - obviously, it's more obvious in individuals of African descent. (Michael Jackson's "skin bleaching" was an extreme form of vitiligo).

Horses (and dogs) can also get this. It may or may not affect the hair (resulting in white patterns). Reticulated leukotrichia is a form that is found in Thoroughbreds and Quarter Horses and Standardbreds with Thoroughbred ancestry, which forms a broken or wavy line of white hair down the spine. It's also common in Arabians.

The fading may come and go with areas losing pigmentation and then regaining it. It's purely cosmetic and doesn't affect the horse's health.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

How do horses really react to predators?

Most of us assume that our domestic horses will spook and try to run if they see a predator.

This is not always the case. I was riding in Wyoming when my horse tensed. Down in the valley was a wolf. Wolves, working in a pack, can certainly bring down a horse, especially one that is injured. Needless to say, my horse was not happy.

She did not, however, spook.


It's actually simple. Spooking is a reaction to the possibility that there is a predator about to ambush a horse. This is why some horses don't like going into water that has trees above it - classic ambush situation.

My horse tensed. She looked at the wolf. She assessed the wolf's body language, and she realized - much faster than I did - two things about this wolf:

1. The wolf was currently alone, away from her pack. A single wolf is no threat to a herd of horses.

2. The wolf had something in her mouth. That something was wolf colored and squirming! It wasn't a prey animal - it was one of her cubs. Female wolves often move their young cubs from one den to another for safety.

My horse's mental process went "Predator. Alert." But because she could clearly see the wolf, her mind then went "Wolf alone, not threat. Wolf mom with baby, definitely not threat." That wolf wasn't hunting - and she knew it. So, while she was very aware of the wolf and watching it, she did not have any need to run.

This, of course, is the origin of the horse's almost uncanny ability to read our body language.

Monday, August 15, 2016

What is a "stud pile"?

I saw this behavior while in Wyoming (although I never saw the Mustangs responsible).

A stud pile is when a stallion leaves droppings to mark his presence. The next stallion to come by will deposit his manure in the same place. Then the first stallion comes back and...eventually, you end up with quite the pile of horse dung. They're leaving a signpost of their presence and keeping track of each other - as well as marking territory.

Domestic stallions will do the same thing (and both mares and geldings will inspect a pile of poop to see who left it and make sure it's a member of their herd rather than a stranger). In fact, stallions are easier to muck out after than mares or geldings, because they will actually always poop in the same corner of their stall. To make things even easier, they tend to pee on the pile too. Some geldings, especially if castrated after puberty, will exhibit the same behavior.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Can horses track people by scent?

I didn't watch it, but apparently this happened in Tangled.

So, here's the best answer I can give.

Horses have a fantastic sense of smell. If a horse comes across a pile of manure, they will try to sniff it, and I suspect they can identify who "dropped" the poop that way. They can certainly identify predators. As for following a trail - I've never seen it, but I've heard anecdotes that some horses will. As horses are grazing animals, they have no "need" for the skill of tracking, but they do need to be able to identify what they're smelling. And horses do like to get the scent of a new person much like dogs do.

So the answer is: They can, but seldom actually do.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Do horses have a sense of rhythm?

To varying degrees, yes. If you watch dressage or reining to music you can see that at least some of the horses will time themselves quite nicely. It's hard to tell, though, how much is the horse having a sense of rhythm themselves and how much is their incredible ability to pick up on cues - is it their sense of rhythm they're using or yours?

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Do horses have a sense of direction?

Horses actually have an excellent sense of direction. In Medieval Iceland it was not uncommon to borrow a horse, ride home, and then simply turn the animal loose - and it would go home on its own.

They memorize trails that you ride regularly - including the places where you canter if you always canter in the same place. Trust me, they know. But they have also been known to work out where short cuts back home that they have never taken are, and they always know which direction the barn is in. If you get lost on a horse, sometimes you can drop the reins and let them find their way home with you (although not always).

Wild horses roam over fairly large territories, so it's not surprising that they would know the way to get to certain places, such as a good source of water.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Revisiting: Can horses recognize with one eye an object seen only with the other?

Horses will startle at an object they see with their left eye that they have only seen with the right. It used to be thought that horses could literally not transfer information from one eye to the other.

This is actually incorrect. Studies have proved this - the issue is actually more one of object persistence. The horse does not realize it is the same object when they view it from different directions.

Monday, August 8, 2016

What is a dumb jockey?

A dumb jockey is a harness for training horses that supposedly has a similar effect to a rider on the horse's back, including weight and resistance to the mouth. Dumb jockeys were traditionally used for the first stages of breaking, particularly in Europe, so that a real person would not be hurt if they freak out. Some variants hold the reins very tightly - and these variants are now seldom used as they resist without any give and many think they hurt the horse's mouth. Some argue that they should not be used at all.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Can horses swim?

I can't believe I didn't think of something this simple earlier. Horses absolutely can swim - and some of them even seem to enjoy it. They can even swim while carrying a rider, although this is a lot of effort for them and not something you want to do for a long distance. (Also, if you can't swim yourself, don't take a horse swimming. You can't use a saddle as it would get ruined and it's very easy to slide off). Of course, in an emergency, your characters may want to swim horses across a river with tack still on. But it will really mess up leather tack.

Some horses can and will swim for the sheer fun of if there's a pond deep enough in their pasture. And the Chincoteague pony roundup is called the "pony swim" because the ponies are herded across a seawater channel between two islands that is deep enough for them to have to swim.

Image source: U.S. Coastguard via Wikimedia Commons.

Before a bridge strong enough to carry mules was built across the Grand Canyon they used to dismount and swim the mules across the river from the south side to Phantom Ranch.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Can horses tell if they have an audience?

I had a very embarrassing ride with two friends last night. We were jumping in the front arena and a bunch of kids gathered at the rail to watch. Immediately, Gracie decided to refuse to jump altogether, so did Scottie. The third horse, Funk, just forgot how.

Did they do this to "embarrass" us? Likely not, but there is definite anecdotal evidence that horses do know when they're being watched. Trained show horses know that they will get social approval from their handler when they do well, and in classes where appearance is important they will learn to turn on a bit of extra sparkle. And some horses do seem to get stage fright and perform distinctly worse when being watched. (Mares, of course, are notorious for waiting to foal until nobody is looking).

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

What is an endurance saddle?

There are two things that are called "endurance saddles."

The first is the English style endurance saddle, most often seen in the UK and western Europe. This saddle looks like an English saddle, but has a slightly higher cantle, a lot of extra rings to attach things to it and very obvious knee rolls to help keep the leg in position on long rides.

In the rest of the world, an endurance saddle is a lightweight, closer contact western saddle that often lacks a horn. (I speak from experience - these saddles are amazing and my first choice for extended trail rides).

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Why Do English riders wear hairnets?

If you watch English riders in the show ring, you'll see that many of the women have their hair in a hair net. It usually matches the color of their hair. Why?

It's partly tradition and partly the fact that hair clips, scrunchies, etc, tend not to fit too well under a helmet or hunt cap. Young girls may wear bows that are set further down in their hair or braid their hair instead. Sometimes the hairnet has a bow on it or is set with some kind of "bling" - but this is more often seen in the US. In the UK, plain hairnets are all but required.

Monday, August 1, 2016

What is a clincher browband?

It sounds like some kind of horrible torture tack, but it isn't. It's a browband that has metal studs or beads on the front - they're either brass or silver colored. The backing is thick leather, so the studs aren't noticed at all by the horse. It's entirely for looks and is commonly seen in dressage, including the dressage phase of eventing, or on in-hand bridles used when showing stallions. The color of the leather (black or brown) and metal is chosen to complement the horse.

So, it's just horse bling.