Monday, February 29, 2016

Do you use a different bridle on a mule?

Sometimes. Getting a regular bridle over their ears can be a challenge, so some muleskinners prefer to use a headstall with a clip at the side of the head. Mules also benefit from a longer browband than a horse of similar size, to allow more space for those ears.

Friday, February 26, 2016

What are skid boots?

Skid boots are used on reining and cutting horses. They protect the back of the hind fetlock if it touches the ground when the horse does a sliding stop.

Image source: Becky Hanson via Wikimedia commons.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Is a horse scared when you see the whites of his eyes?

Often. The way a horse's eye is structured, you don't normally see the whites at all - unlike human eyes. The only time the whites are visible is when the horse is scared or over-excited and their gaze is moving all over. If you look very closely you can see a little bit of white.

There are exceptions. If the horse has less pigmentation around the eye, then the white of the eye also becomes more visible. This is most common in Appaloosas and horses with similar coloring.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Why are some western stirrups slanted?

They're called roper stirrups and they slope or slant to the outside. The idea is that this provides a more natural and comfortable position for the foot. The stirrup is flatter beneath the foot - flat western stirrups often don't support the entire foot. They're preferred by ropers and some long distance trail riders.

You don't see slanted English stirrups because the lighter stirrup supported by a thinner strap will shift to fit better under the rider's foot.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

What are mecate reins?

Mecate reins are traditionally used when training western horses with a bosal or snaffle. The mecate forms a loop and then a long free end which can be used to lead or even longe the horse. When used with a bit, mecate reins need slobber straps.

Monday, February 22, 2016

What are slobber straps?

Slobber straps are bits of leather that are used as an extra connection between the bit and the rein. They are used only in the western style of riding. (Rein chains, which I already talked about, are a similar idea).

Slobber straps are used for three reasons:

1. They reduce the wear and tear on the reins, especially on the trail - for example, when the horse drinks, the straps go into the water, not the more expensive reins.

2. They increase the weight of the reins, which when using the rein very lightly in the western style can add to the subtlety of cues.

3. Some reins don't attach to a bit easily.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Why are saddles measured in inches?

In a tack store you might see a 15" saddle, 16", 17", 14"...

The measurement listed is the length of the seat from pommel or horn to cantle. Western saddles are shorter because of the slightly different way the rider sits. (An English saddle is about two inches larger for the same size rider).

Seat length is also affected by discipline, especially with western saddles - barrel racers and ropers choose shorter seats for extra security.

English saddle seat is generally assessed by the upper leg length of the rider, whilst western saddles start with the rider's height and weight, but saddle fit has a lot of other factors too, for both the horse and the rider.

Thursday, February 18, 2016

What are full bars or quarter bars?

Western saddles are often described as having full, semi or quarter bars. This refers to the angle of the saddle tree, which affects the width of the saddle, and thus the fit. A "Full Quarter Horse" saddle fits a horse with a wide, flat back, which is typical of "bulldog" Quarter Horses. Like this guy.

Regular bars are even narrower. So it goes Regular, Quarter Horse, Semi Quarter Horse and Full Quarter Horse. (Which often fit draft horses too). English saddlers don't use the terminology.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

What are knee rolls?

Knee rolls are rolls of leather on the front of the saddle which help keep the rider's knee in position. Some saddles have larger ones, some smaller. Many riders like to have knee rolls, but some feel they make the position forced and stiff (or even that they're cheating slightly).

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

What is a riser pad?

A riser pad is a pad put between the saddle and the horse's back. It's often used if the saddle isn't quite a perfect fit as an interim solution. It's also used on horses that are downhill to level up the saddle seat and make things more comfortable for the rider. Some horses also seem to prefer having an extra bit of padding between their back and the leather saddle.

Monday, February 15, 2016

What is an Atherstone girth?

An Atherstone girth is an English girth that's shaped to be a bit narrower behind the horse's elbows. Some people believe this is more comfortable for the horse than a straight girth, and some horses do seem to prefer them.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Where does the phrase "got my goat" come from?

This phrase may or may not have anything to do with horses. To "get one's goat" is to make one
angry or mad, and it more likely came from a naval tradition of keeping ship's goats.

However, there's another popular etymology which, while it has no evidence, makes some sense.

In order to reduce stress, racehorses that travel a lot often have companions that go with them. A variety of animals are used - miniature horses, donkeys, chickens, etc. Goats, however, are one of the most common. Goats and horses get on well together - in some parts of Europe co-grazing goats with horses is done for pasture management.

Stealing a racehorse's companion would make the horse antsy, stressed, and even angry - and thus unlikely to perform well on race day.

There's no actual proof this has anything to do with the saying, but it's a cute idea.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Is it true that "You can tell a gelding, you can ask a mare, but you must discuss it with a stallion"?

I grew up riding at a barn who's owner believed people should ride mares only enough to decide which ones to use for breeding, and only expert riders should ride them. She wouldn't even allow mares boarded.

On the other hand, some of my favorite horses since then have been mares. The saying implies that geldings are easy to handle, mares a little harder, and stallions the hardest of all.

To an extent it's true. Stallions are aggressive and have a high libido. And a mare's hormonal cycles can, sometimes, make her less predictable than a gelding.

But it's not always true. I've ridden some highly dominant geldings and some really laid back mares. This saying is often used to justify gender-based "prejudice" when breed and bloodlines are often more important. (Stallions are more difficult, though, which is why we have so many geldings).

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

If you "take a horse to water" will it really not drink?

You've probably heard the saying "You can take a horse to water" to mean you can't get somebody to do what they don't want to do.

Needless to say, it's pretty hard to force a horse to drink, although you can encourage them (before a long ride, for example). So, this one's pretty on point.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Why should you "Never look a gift horse in the mouth"?

A horse's teeth change over its lifespan. The implication of this saying is that a free or cheap horse may turn out to be considerably older than the person giving it away is claiming, and you might not want to know.

Monday, February 8, 2016

What is a chute?

Two definitions:

1. In racing, an extension of the stretch to allow sprint races to be run in a straight line.

2. In rodeos and cutting competitions, the chute is any device or area in which an animal is held prior to competition. So, it can refer to the narrow pen a bucking horse or bull is held in before being released, a similar pen used to hold cattle for roping, the narrow gate into the arena used when barrel racing, etc.

Friday, February 5, 2016

What are the points?

I realized I've used this term but I'm not sure I defined it properly.

The points of the horse are the mane, tail, lower legs and tips of the ears. They are sometimes a different color from the horse's body.

You can see here that both the red-brown (bay) horse and the mottled (bay roan) have black points.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Can horses go senile?

As of right now, we aren't really sure. Cats and dogs can certainly experience dementia and severe cognitive decline, but not much research has been done on it in horses.

It used to be that most horses didn't make it past 25, but it's now fairly easy to keep a horse alive into his or her thirties, even forties (ponies live longer).

Older horses can show symptoms that are similar to those displayed by, say, dogs with dementia - confusion, unusual dependency on companions, aimless wandering, depression, grumpiness, and even aggression. (You really don't want that in a 1000 pound plus animal, trust me). Horses may also fail to recognize familiar handlers or respond in a familiar way, refuse to be lead or change their eating habits.

(Failing to recognize a familiar handler, however, is equally likely to be a symptom of vision or hearing loss, both of which are common in older horses).

So, the answer is "Probably yes, but we haven't done a lot of research yet."

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Why do horses get ice on their backs in winter?

In a wetter environment, it's not uncommon to see horses standing out in the field with ice  on their back. Or even snow, if it's been snowing.

Horses are adapted to fairly cold weather. They produce a nice, thick coat in winter, unless humans interfere with the process. A horse that's grown sufficient coat is so well insulated that any snow or ice that ends up on them, either from falling or from them rolling, will stay there until it melts. It doesn't bother them at all. (In Iceland, horses are the only livestock that don't spend the harsh winters inside!)

In fact, the rule of thumb some horsemen use is that if the horse does not have ice or snow on their back in these conditions, the horse probably needs a blanket.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What is "All King Edward's Horses Carry Many Brave Fighters"?

It's a mnemonic to remember the order of letters around a dressage arena. Another less common version is "All King Edward's Horses Can Manage Big Fences." The origin of the letters is not known, except that the tradition of using those particular letters started in Germany.

Monday, February 1, 2016

What is a broom tail?

A broom tail is western slang for a horse that is ugly and doesn't behave well either. (This should not be confused with "rat tail" which is generally used to refer to a horse that has a naturally very short tail, most common in Appaloosas).