Friday, December 30, 2016

What is the jugular groove?

If you look at a horse's neck, you will see a groove towards the bottom on both sides. This is the jugular groove, and it contains the jugular vein and carotid artery (making them rather vulnerable - this is where a predator is likely to go for).

Because of the way this horse is standing, the jugular groove is extremely visible.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

What is the gaskin?

The gaskin is a big muscle found on the horse's hind leg above the hock. It's analogous to our calf (remember, horses stand on tippy toe).

This very fit Appaloosa mare has a powerful gaskin - you can see how the leg bulges a little on the outside.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

What is the chin groove?

If you look at a horse's face, you'll see they have a dip on the lower jaw, about where the corner of the mouth is. We call that the "chin groove."

You can see it here on this Icelandic horse, right before where her chin gets all shaggy.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

What is a belly guard?

If you watch jumpers and eventers, you will see that many of them appear to have a leather "pad" on their stomachs.

This is a "belly guard" and it's either a special girth or an attachment. The point is that jumping horses often have studs on their shoes for extra grip on landing. Many horses, when jumping high, will tuck their hooves in pretty tight against their stomachs. The guard stops the studs on their shoes from digging in.

(You might also hear of a belly guard for turnout - this is a fly sheet that covers only the horse's stomach to protect them from certain kinds of flies).

The dark brown belly guard is particularly visible on this white horse. Image source Nordelch via Wikimedia commons.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Why do riders wear hairnets?

If you look at videos or pictures of an English show, you'll see a lot of the lady riders wear hairnets.

Rider's hairnets are generally a similar color to your hair and they're designed to keep long hair neatly out of the way without using a pony tail holder, which can be annoying with a helmet (I personally just use the holder, but I've never had that issue).

It's also, well, tradition.

Friday, December 23, 2016

What is a training fork?

A training fork is just what cowboys call the English running martingale - except they tend only to use them to train the horse to keep its head down, whilst a lot of hunt people use running martingales for safety reaons.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

What is a carrot stick?

Answer: Something which gets old school horsemen rolling their eyes.

The term "carrot stick" was invented by the Parellis, who promote a particular style of horsemanship (some people love it, some people think it's absolutely awful and teaches people to be afraid of their horse).

What is a carrot stick actually?

It's just a whip. And if it has a lash on the end, that's a "savvy string."


Really. The only difference is that, yes the Parelli "carrot stick" is more expensive.

(In other words, the horse world is as vulnerable to fads and gurus as anything else).

(You might detect some bias against the Parellis. They promote not wearing a helmet so you pay more attention. I have little patience with that).

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Why are their traffic cones at the barn?

Because most riders "steal" some at some point to use as a training aid. Traffic cones are used as a cheap alternative to poles for weaving exercises, as halt markers in arenas that don't have dressage letters, to teach novice riders where the letter X (the center of the arena) is, etc.

So every barn will have a few around - sometimes actually acquired, uh, legitimately. (Come on, we've all done it).

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What are peacock stirrups?

Peacock stirrups are stirrups which have a rubber or leather band on the outside, designed to give under pressure. They are often used when teaching young children how to ride, as they significantly reduce the risk of catching a foot in the stirrup and getting dragged. A lot of people think they look awful, but they are a good safety device. (Older children often refuse to use them).

(Note, western people do not use peacock stirrups but do sometimes use breakaway stirrups of a different design).

Monday, December 19, 2016

Do horses like snow?

As far as we can tell, yes - horses absolutely love to play in the snow, although they can end up with cold feet or falling into a snowbank when things get slippery.

They particularly like to roll in it.

Here, have some evidence.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Do horses get ulcers?

The mare was miserable. She was grumpy, grouchy, did not want to leave her stall, definitely did not want to be ridden...and anyone who touched her in the girth area on the near side got snapped at and kicked at.


Possible diagnosis? Ulcers.

Horses do indeed get stomach ulcers, and it is my experience that the primary symptom is uncharacteristic grouchiness. Ulcers are often caused by stress, insufficient turnout or too much grain.

There are various medications for ulcers. Feeding licorice or apple cider vinegar can also help horses prone to ulcers. Which suck for the horse - and the people the horse is grumping at.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Do horses get cleft palate?

Yes, although it's very rare.

In some cases it is treated surgically, but some foals are not good candidates for surgery. In some cases, the animal is euthanized. As horses do not normally have a connection between the windpipe and the esophagus, a horse with cleft palate is much more likely to get aspiration pneumonia.

However, some animals with mild cleft palate go on to lead perfectly normal and useful lives.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

What is developmental orthopedic disease?

This is a general term breeders and vets use to refer to any disorder of the limbs in a growing horse.

Horses come out of the womb with very long and rather fragile legs, and they grow rapidly. These problems are caused by genetics, nutrition (especially feeding a baby too much high energy food), and exercise.

The most prevalent is osteochondrosis, which is caused by feeding too much simple carbs (grain), mineral imbalances and trauma. It causes cysts and lesions on the cartilage, sometimes affecting growth. The animal may or may not be lame. Treatment involves restricting exercise and food intake both and sometimes supplementation. Surgery may be indicated.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Do horses get "childhood illnesses"?

Yes - strangles is most often seen in young/adolescent horses (I've joked that it is horse mumps because it causes lymph node swellings, but it's actually closer to strep throat, being caused by a bacteria in the same family). Like childhood illnesses in humans, young animals are more vulnerable simply because they have not yet been exposed. Strangles is very common in racehorses in training.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Do horses deliberately try to kill people?

I've sometimes joked that a horse "tried to kill me" - but the truth is that in many years of riding and working with horses, some of which were previously abused, untrained, or whatever, I have only once witnessed a horse intentionally try to kill a human being.

In fact, domestic horses will often go out of their way to avoid harming humans. The horse that tried to kill somebody was euthanized - there was very definitely something pretty serious wrong with that animal.

Friday, December 9, 2016

Do horses eat birds?

Very rarely. Horses cannot digest meat, but very occasionally horses killing and eating small birds or mammals has been recorded. Some people believe that this may indicate a salt deficiency. (Horses can also get some nutrition from some forms of animal protein, with eggs being traditionally fed to racehorses and, apparently, Icelanders feeding fish meal.

Horses also may playfully (or accidentally) kill small animals, but they generally do not eat them.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Are horses more "lively" on cold weather?

Oh, absolutely, says she who got taken off with by a horse that, well, doesn't normally do that to her. Oops.

When the weather is cold, especially in fall when a horse's winter coat hasn't come in yet, they do notice - although they don't feel the cold as much as we do. Horses in the wild do a number of things to stay warm - they eat a little bit more, they huddle with other horses, and they roll in mud to get a nice insulating layer.

And, of course, they move around more. Which means that if you pull them out of a stall, in which they haven't been able to move, they're likely to be just a little bit cold - and then they want to move around to get warm...and might well do things like not standing to be mounted or just plain trying to go for a run regardless of what their rider has to say about it.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

How quickly do a horse's eyes adjust?

This came up in a Youtube video I was watching. Horses have considerably better night vision than humans. They can see in what we would consider pitch darkness, and I've misjudged things on the trail before and had to let my horse find the way home.

The price horses pay is that their eyes do not adjust well to sudden changes of light. The modern horse is a plains animal for much more of its evolution than we are. We still have a lot of features of a diurnal forest dweller, so our eyes are designed to handle light changes very quickly. That 30 to 60 seconds it takes for your eyes to adjust to a rapid light change is pretty quick.

A horse's eyes don't adjust nearly that quickly. In fact, a horse's eyes can take anything from 15 to 30 minutes to adjust. As plains dwellers, they aren't naturally adapted to patterns of light and shade the way we are. Their much better night vision also requires more time.

For writing purposes?

Horses will tend to spook when going from light to dark and vice versa. To a horse, a dimly lit barn door is a black cavern and even if they go in and out of that barn all the time...they will at the least hesitate, especially if they don't properly trust their rider or handler. Cross country course designers often intentionally put fences in the shade as a test of trust between horse and rider. Riding home after dark tests this trust in the other direction.

There have been incidents of horses running into objects, or each other, because lights in their pasture compromised their night vision.

Horses are going to be more vulnerable than human riders to light-based attacks - flares, light spells, etc. If you are fighting a mounted person on foot, tossing a simple globe of light spell at the head of their horse could be incredibly effective.

(And what if elven eyes work like this too...)

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Are horses ticklish?

Some horses are absolutely ticklish, especially on the belly - it's one of the things that can cause reluctance or aggression when being saddled or groomed. Ticklish horses have to be handled a little bit more carefully so as not to upset them.

Ticklishness is actually part of the natural reaction to shake off flies, but some horses do seem to take it to an extreme. It can be worse in the summer when the coat is thinner.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Do horses go grey with age?

Grey horses do - but often at a young age. Age-related greying similar to human greying does occur in horses, but not every horse. It's much the same as dogs going grey - they get grizzled around the muzzle and temples.

You can see some grizzling on the side of this guy's face. I also knew a horse that made it to 35 and never greyed at all, so it's highly variable.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Why do some horses have hollows above the eyes?

Actually, all horses have a bit of a dip above the eyes. If they don't, then they are seriously obese.

However, it is more obvious in some horses than others. The hollows often become deeper as a horse ages. Other reasons for deep hollows above the eyes are emaciation (and in some cases the hollows never return to normal when a horse recovers from being starved) or genetics - as in some horses have deeper hollows than others.

The actual purpose of the hollow is to accommodate part of the top of the jaw.

On this older horse you can quite clearly see the deep indentation above his left eye. This horse was in his late twenties (and yes, still serviceably sound) when this picture was taken.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Can horses eat apple cores?

Yup. In fact, they like them. It's perfectly fine to eat an apple and give the horse the core. Although apple seeds are toxic, the amount that would be needed to hurt an animal the size of a horse is huge. Also, the seeds tend to be passed intact.

Some people do say that apple cores can get stuck and cause choke, but I've never seen it. Horses will also eat and enjoy crabapples (which are generally too bitter for humans to handle without adding sugar).