Wednesday, November 30, 2016

How can you tell if a horse is dehydrated?

Horses can't tell us if they're thirsty (well, they can look longingly towards a stream, but...)

How can you tell if your horse is dehydrated? What we generally do is called a pinch test. The horse's skin loses its elasticity. You gently pinch up a skin fold on the back or neck, and see how quickly it relaxes. If it stays pinched, the horse is dehydrated and needs water as soon as possible.

(Even better, is a 50/50 mix of water and gatorade. Don't give a horse undiluted gatorade - they won't drink it - but if you dilute it they will and it's much cheaper than horse electrolytes).

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Can horses get sunburn?

Yes. Horses absolutely can get sunburn. They generally get it on their nose, and sometimes the lower legs, but only where they have white markings. The pink skin lacks melanin and thus is vulnerable in the same way redheads are vulnerable. (Grey horses have dark skin and are not particularly vulnerable.

And, just like in humans, repeated sunburn can increase the risk of skin cancer.

Sunburn can be prevented with sunblock - there are special horse sunblocks available but a lot of people just use pediatric sunblock, which is cheaper. Sunburn can also be treated with zinc and castor oil cream, and in severe cases with antibiotics to prevent infection.

Sunburn can be a sign of photosensitization, which is usually caused by eating too many buttercups or clovers.

Monday, November 28, 2016

What are nodules?

Nodules are an allergic reaction that causes hard lumps to form on the skin. Most commonly, they are caused by an allergy to insect bites, but they can sometimes form after an injection. They are generally harmless, but may be surgically removed or injected with steroids to shrink them if they are interfering with tack.

Friday, November 25, 2016

What is the state sport of Maryland?

Obviously something horse related - but you would think it would be horse racing.

Nope, it's...of all things...jousting. Ring jousting, to be precise. It became the state sport in 1962. (In fact, Maryland is the only state with an official state sport. And it's jousting. Because Maryland is weird).

The rings can be as small as 1/4 of an inch in diameter and you have to get them on your lance at full speed. With only one hand on the reins.

This is actually a Canadian ring jouster because I couldn't find one from Maryland. (The sport is similar to "tent pegging").

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Why do some horses change color in winter?

Some horses appear to be a quite different shade in winter to what they are in summer. Why? There are two different reasons:

1. Some darker haired horses bleach a fair bit in the sun. Then the winter coat comes through at their "normal" color and appears much darker. (It's the same phenomenon that gives some brunettes "highlights" towards the end of summer, self included).

2. Horses have an interesting coat cycle. All horses, although it's more pronounced on ponies and horses that are kept in cold climates, have a single-layer coat in summer and a double-layer coat in winter. On some individuals, either the outer guard hairs or the "fluffy" undercoat come through a different color. I used to know a horse who would go from brown to bright red when his winter coat came through, and the Appaloosa mare I ride has a nearly white undercoat which makes her look much lighter.

The second phenomenon is fairly rare, enough to be remarked on, but not so uncommon that people don't know about it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

What is modern pentathlon?

The modern pentathlon is so called to distinguish it from the "ancient" pentathlon (foot racing, wrestling, long jump, javelin and discus - which is now the classic pentathlon, which is long jump, javelin, 200 meters, discus and 1500 meters).

The ancient pentathlon was designed to test a soldier's skills. In the early 20th century, the modern pentathlon was invented to...test a soldier's skills. Except the soldier they had in mind was a cavalry officer trying to get back to his people after being trapped behind enemy lines.

Thus, the modern pentathlon consists of five events - shooting, fencing, swimming, running and riding.

Except that the modern pentathlon adds a twist to the riding segment. The competitors do a fairly standard show jumping course which is generally easier than other Olympic courses. The twist is: They have to ride a completely unfamiliar horse. (The idea was that it would test a cavalry officer stealing a horse to get away). Competitors generally meet their horses 20 minutes before the event and get time to warm up. This can make modern pentathlon quite, uh, entertaining to watch, especially as competitors tend to spend more time training for the other events.

The horses are generally provided by local show jumping trainers and are drawn randomly.

Some uh...moments from Rio. (Over the fence without the horse, and the horse leaving the premises, for example).

As a rider, riding an unfamiliar horse can be challenging and there's only one thing worse:

Riding a horse you already know hates you.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

When did horse riding become an Olympic sport?

In 1900 in the Paris Olympics. This was a one off, and the sport returned in 1912. Also in the 1900 games the Olympics included show jumping, high jump and long jump competitions, and polo.

In 1908, only polo was held. (Sadly, polo has not returned to the games).

Until 1952, participation was limited to military officers and "gentlemen." In 1952, the competitions were opened to all men, and dressage to women (show jumping and eventing were presumably considered too "dangerous" for ladies). Ladies were allowed in show jumping in 1956 and in eventing in 1964.

The other event involving horse riding is the modern pentathlon, which was also introduced in 1912. (I'll talk more about that in another post).

Monday, November 21, 2016

Do zebras neigh?

Nope. Zebras do not neigh, whinny, or whicker.

In fact, zebras bark. Yes, bark.

Zebras also bray like donkeys (which they are rather closer to than horses), but the video shows the "barking." They definitely sound more like dogs, or maybe hyenas. It probably has something to do with the kinds of sounds that carry well in the tropics.

Friday, November 18, 2016

What is "bitting up"?

Bitting up is a technique some trainers use where the bit is tied to the saddle or a surcingle to "put" a horse's head in the correct position. It's highly controversial - some people feel it should never be done, some people think it is okay for short periods. Most agree the horse should not be left alone.

(This is not the same thing as mouthing).

Thursday, November 17, 2016

What is raftering?

Heading for another ugh here - raftering is tying a horse's head high in the stall so that he wants to keep it down when being ridden. It's another thing western pleasure people sometimes do (not the good ones, of course).

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What are hock hobbles?

Ugh. Hock hobbles are a training device sometimes used in western pleasure that connect the horses hocks to their mouth so they get pulled with each step. It "encourages a low head."

(You know I don't go ugh about something unless I really have a problem with it).

I couldn't find a usable picture, so I'm going to link this page, which has a graphic of how they're used: They're sometimes confused with breeding hobbles, which also attach to the hocks, and are used to make absolutely sure the mare doesn't kick the stallion and injure him.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What is a shaft bow?

Shaft bows are only used in Russia, Finland, the eastern Baltic countries and, perhaps oddly, Sicily. It is used in single horse or troika (three horses in a row) harness - in the latter case it's put over the middle horse.

It acts as a spring and allows for a smoother start with faster horses. They're often painted. If you want a culture to do unusual harness - this is one possibility.

Shaft bows are generally wooden - metal ones have been tried, but tend to crack in the cold climates this harness is popular in.

Painted shaft bow on the middle horse of a troika. Image source: Wikimedia commons.

Monday, November 14, 2016

What is a whippletree?

A whippletree is the bar you see at the back of a farm horse to which the plow or other piece of farm equipment is attached. It's also used for logging and hauling boats.

You can see the whippletree behind the horse's feet.

Image source: Malcolm Morley via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, November 11, 2016

What are terrets?

Terrets are the little metal hoops on the collar and saddle of driving harness that the reins/lines run through. They're designed to prevent the lines from dropping too low and possibly tripping the horse. There are also sometimes terrets on the rear bridles of a large team.

Here the reins have been tucked through the saddle terrets to keep them out of the way.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

What are traces?

The traces are the straps that secure a harness horse to its load. In some cases, especially for heavy loads or farm machinery, chain traces are used.

They are secured to the collar.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What are hames?

Hames are the metal or wooden strips that are part of a horse collar, and take a lot of the force of the pull. They stabilize the collar and make it easier for horses to pull very heavy weight.

You can see the top of the hames in this shot - they sort of curve outwards. It looks like they're using the left one as a bridle hook.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

How much does a saddle weigh?

Another of those things that's so natural to horse people we often forget to tell others.

The weight of a saddle is highly variable. English saddles weigh less than western saddles.

A typical English saddle weighs about ten pounds.

A typical western saddle weighs 30-40 pounds.

Roping saddles, which are designed to have extra structural integrity when the steer is pulling on the saddle average 50 pounds.

The heaviest modern saddles are western parade saddles, which are covered in silver and weigh 75 to 100 pounds. (The horses are conditioned to carry the extra weight and not asked to do it for long - but I don't envy the cowboys. I don't think I could get one of those on a horse!)

The lightest modern saddle is obviously a racing saddle. There are racing saddles on the market that weigh 10 ounces.

If you're looking at historical saddles, then I'm unable to find great information, but Medieval saddles were light, similar to English saddles, albeit in a quite different design. The McClellan saddle is known for being very light.

Monday, November 7, 2016

How much did a knight's armor weigh?

A full suit of plate armor weighed about 60 pounds - which meant that the horse had to carry that weight, plus the knight, plus the horse's own armor. No wonder a knight's horse was on the big side. Tournament armor was even heavier, often reaching 100 pounds - but jousting horses were specially conditioned to carry it and seldom did so for long.

Friday, November 4, 2016

What about "running shoes" for horses?

Thanks to +Nobilis Reed  for pointing this out to me on Facebook.

A company called Megasus Horsetech, which is based in Germany, has started making something they call "Megasus Horserunners" which are basically rubber, clip on horse shoes that resemble sneakers. They believe these are better than traditional horse shoes. (And like many people who say that claim nailing on shoes hurts the horse - it doesn't unless somebody screws up).

So, are running shoes for horses a good idea? My personal jury is out. Temporary horseshoes are far from a new thing, but most horses that need shoes...need shoes. And this system seems finicky, with tape and such - traditional hoof boots are probably better.

But it opens up the question of what might happen with horse shoes and technology in the future - and I'm not sure. We haven't changed, significantly, how we shoe horses in centuries.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Can mares get "breast" cancer?

Yes, mares can get cancer of the teats/udder, but it's much rarer than in horses (our large breasts that stay large throughout our lives increase our risk). The rate is less than 2%.

However, mammary cancer in mares is very likely to be malignant and has a poor prognosis.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Is giving a young rider a young horse a good idea?

The most common excuse is "So they can grow up together." (Honestly, I'm still thinking about Dancer, as they got brought up).

People do buy foals for their kids - and it almost always ends up in a disaster. No matter how good a young horse's temperament is, if the rider does not know what they are doing, they will ruin the horse. We have a saying: Green plus green equals black and blue. Meaning that a green rider on a green horse is likely to end up on the ground.

Horses that are used to teach beginners to ride are carefully selected, older animals who really know what they are doing and have a patient temperament so they can handle riders who do not know what they are doing.

The excuse Martin used was so the horse would be trained to carry a disabled rider from the start.

Sorry, George, but it does not work that way.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Is it safe to strap somebody to a horse?

Somebody brought up Bran being strapped to Dancer as an example that George R.R. Martin doesn't know that much about horses.

I actually think he does reasonably well. He knows what kind of horse people would use in different situations and climates, for one thing. But there are a couple of things about the entire Dancer thing that are wrong. The first is that you should not ride yearlings in the first place and should not put a disabled rider on a green horse (unless, of course, the disabled rider is an expert).

The second thing is strapping somebody into the saddle. Barrel racers sometimes do this with little kids for "safety." I've also seen "seatbelts" used in pony rides.

This is generally considered unsafe and wrong by many, but not all, horse people. In some cases the straps are designed to break in an emergency, but a lot of people feel it is still too dangerous.

Some therapeutic riding barns use these, others think they're terrible. (No doubt the ones that do are where Martin got the idea).

The worry is, of course, that if the horse were to trip and fall the child would be much more likely to end up under the horse. I will note I'm personally not a fan of this. But your characters might be - and seatbelts on pony rides used to be very common in the theory that then you don't need a sidewalker to catch the child if something goes wrong.