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.

Monday, October 17, 2016

What are horse brasses?

Horse brasses were used to decorate the harness on driving horses, especially in nineteenth-century England. They date back, as far as we know, to the pre-Roman period, but reached their height under the Victorians. (Although called brasses, the older ones were made of bronze or even silver).

Victorian horse brasses showed all kinds of designs including crosses, animals, horse shoes, hearts, and of course family crests.

In fact, during the Victorian era, the number of heavy brasses seen on working horse harnesses were so high that animal welfare movements campaigned for a reduction, which resulted in the production of lighter brasses which were stamped rather than cast.

Horse brasses are still commonly collected today, but less seldom seen on horses simply due to the decline in working horses. This image of Shire horses plowing (It's actually a fake shot) shows horse brasses "in the wild" on the strap behind the saddle.

Image source: Malcolm Morley via Wikimedia commons.

Friday, October 14, 2016

What is a road blanket?

Something you don't hear about very much. Road blankets were loose blankets that covered the horse's body and neck and were designed to go over harness. They were used when horses had to wait an extended amount of time outside or when doing slow work in cold/wet weather. The reins would actually go under the blanket so that the leather was protected.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

What is a stallion shield? (NSFW)

This one's a wee bit NSFW, sorry.

In the 19th century, masturbation was considered, you know, bad. Immoral. And they actually applied this to their horses.

Left to himself, a typical adult stallion may masturbate as much as 14 to 15 times a day. They are harem breeders and need a high sex drive to keep up with their mares. (Geldings will also masturbate,  albeit not as much).

They believed that this lowered a stallion's sperm count and made him less inclined to cover the mares. So, a stallion shield was a device that was strapped onto the poor horse in his stall to prevent him from, you know... They even had special ones designed for yearlings and two-year-olds, which kind of gives a lie to the "lowering sperm count" idea and tells us what it was really about: That Victorians were just that hung up about sex.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

What are "horse balls"?

No, not the things stallions have that geldings do not. Not horse toys either.

In the old days, "horse balls" were basically horse pills - large pills that were forced down the sick horse's throat using a nasty looking device called a balling iron. Because horses are so big, then the doses they need are big too.

Most modern horse medicines come in smaller pills, pellets, or a powder or liquid designed to be mixed with foods, so the days of "balling" a horse are gone - but for the longest time it was the primary means of delivery.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

What were lawn boots?

In the days before tractor mowers, large properties would use an equine - often a pony or donkey - to pull the lawn mower or grass roller. Unfortunately, horse hooves tend to make nice little divots on your well kept lawn (I remember being told never to ride across the soccer field...) So, they would put leather shoes on the pony to "soften" their hooves and prevent the damage.

Of course, these eventually evolved into modern hoof boots that are sometimes used instead of shoeing a horse.

(Or, of course, you can just let them mow it this way).

Monday, October 10, 2016

Why are horses in fantasy novels so well behaved?

Came up in a discussion on transportation at a con. It really occurred to me that in the vast majority of fantasy novels, horses all behave completely perfectly unless the writer wants to show that a character can't ride well.

Last time I rode a horse that behaved perfectly for the entire ride? I can't remember...

So, tip to writers: Horses act up even if they are being ridden by somebody who knows what they are doing.

They are not machines. They are animals with minds of their own...and characters.

The reason, I suspect, is that most fantasy writers have only ever ridden dude string horses, who tend to be chosen to be lazy and act out only by occasionally refusing to move ;).

Friday, October 7, 2016

Can I ride in sneakers?

Not recommended (I've done it for short periods, but on the whole, it's dangerous). Any footwear without a heel increases your risk of having your foot stuck in the stirrup and being dragged.

Of course, if you're riding bareback, it's another matter.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Can you ride in a bike helmet?

No! A lot of people seem to think this is okay, but it is not.

Bike helmets are designed to primarily prevent the front of the head from impact with a flat surface (the road).

Horseback riding helmets are designed to prevent this, but also to take impacts from a sharp object - such as a horseshoe.

Bike helmets, on the other hand, are better able to take skidding or sliding impacts. Also, bike helmets put more protection at the front of the head and riding helmets put more at the back.

In other words, no, you should not ride in a bike helmet.

You also should not cycle in a horseback riding helmet.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

When were riding helmets invented?

Helmets were, of course, first invented as part of armor. The word "helmet" means "small helm" and meant a helmet that only covered part of the head. The modern hard hat for construction use was invented in 1919 for miners - before that, leather helmets were sometimes worn.

As hunting with hounds at speed became a more popular sport in the 19th century, the hunt cap became popular - this was a lightweight hard hat that lacked a chin strap and provided only a small amount of protection. Chin straps started to become popular in the early twentieth century.

The modern riding helmet, though, has its origins in racing. In 1941, accident insurance was introduced for jockeys - which meant head injuries started being tracked. The first payout went to the family of an 18-year-old apprentice, Joe Giangaspro, who died of a head injury after a race at Hialeah.

In the 1950s the Jockeys' Guild, which governed the insurance, put effort into developing a proper safety helmet for jockeys. (This is also when goggles became mandatory for jockeys). In 1956, the "Caliente" helmet was introduced in the US. Proper safety helmets spread from racing into other equestrian fields. In the 1990s, helmet laws began to spread through the western world - often helmets being mandatory for youth under 14 or when riding on the road. Many western and dressage riders, however, still refuse to wear helmets.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Are tractors really more efficient than horses?

Actually, no.

Tractors are just faster than horses. On farms of under 100 acres, a team of draft horses actually costs less to maintain - although the learning curve of dealing with them can be tough for people who have no experience with animals. On larger farms the speed issue becomes important. Which is why a lot of smaller farmers are going back to horsepower.

Monday, October 3, 2016

What are dummy spurs?

Dummy spurs are fake spurs that are worn just for appearance. They are often too short to actually touch the horse's side and are always blunt.

Dummy spurs are most often seen in hunter and hunter pleasure classes in the show ring, and are used where spurs are expected if you have a horse that does not respond to, or overreacts to spur use.