Friday, September 30, 2016

What are rock grinders?

Rock grinders are a kind of western spur that has rowels with relatively short but quite sharp points. They are often referred to as training spurs. These spurs are quite harsh (some people call them abusive) and are generally only used by very experienced riders who can use them with a light touch.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Does the stallion lead the herd?

I've answered this one before to kill the myth of the lead stallion, but it seems things are even more complicated than I thought. While researching, I came across a study that indicated that herds...

...actually have no one set "leader" at all. Different mares - and yes, the stallion (or even stallions, as some breeding herds have junior males) may lead movement at different times. Only stallions normally demonstrate herding behavior, and this appears to be more about protection than leadership.

Horse herds do have a hierarchy, but if somebody at the bottom knows this bit of the territory better - then it's her turn to lead.

Which means that the theory some people hold that you should always be dominant over your horse is not actually true - and the idea of a consensus partnership in which the human should always be ready to assert dominance, but should also be willing to let the horse lead is actually more natural to equines.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What are Chubari spots?

Chubari spots are something seen on some grey horses - they're also called "Tetrarch spots" after a Thoroughbred stallion who is the ancestor of most grey Thoroughbreds. Because of this, they're most often seen in that breed.

They are large white spots that show up as the horse starts to grey and then, of course, disappear once the coat fades around them.

(I was unable to find a picture I could legally use on this blog - if anyone happens to have one I could use it would be absolutely awesome).

Monday, September 26, 2016

What is bloody shoulder?

Bloody shoulder sounds awful, but it's just an unusual pattern that forms on some grey horses.

The horses affected are what are called "fleabitten" grays - they keep tufts of their base color for a while as they lighten. Sometimes these tufts join together to form larger patches - most often on the horse's shoulder, hence the name. When found elsewhere they are called blood marks. They often look red or red-brown.

These markings are more common on Arabians simply because the fleabitten grey pattern is particularly common in the breed. The Bedouin consider blood marks a sign of quality, partly because they are pretty much impossible to breed for - you can breed for the flea bites, but blood marks are pretty rare.

Bloody shoulder markings can actually get bigger with age. Also, sometimes horses will go dappled and then develop flea bites, which can result in this:

The brown color of the blood mark, which is extensive, and the dark points tell me this horse is bay "under" the grey. Image source, Kumana via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Are there brindle horses?

Maybe. Sort of.

No brindle gene has been found in horses and the coloration is vanishingly rare.

This is Dunbars Gold - and he sure looks like a brindle. Well, here's the rather interesting situation.

A breeder who owned a mare named Sharp One, also brindle, bred the mare to Dunbars Gold, with the intent (by the way, I am not typoing - the AQHA does not allow 's in registered names) of seeing if breeding a brindle to a brindle would give her a brindle foal.

Quarter Horses have to be DNA typed. When she sent in the sample, she was told that not only was Dunbars Gold not the sire of her foal but Sharp One was not the dam, and was told she had obviously sent in a sample from the wrong foal.

Snag is? She only had the one foal on the property. And Dunbars Gold's owner only had the one stallion. There was no way the sample could have been mixed.

So, they re-tested both the sire and the dam and when they did a blood type on Dunbars Gold they found he was a mare! No Y chromosome to be found. Obviously, this also could not be accurate, because he was siring healthy foals. So they went back to hair typing - and discovered that Dunbars Gold was, in fact, a chimera - twins that fused in the womb.

Aha. Lets test the mare now. And her other foals for good measure. They discovered that the foal they were testing was showing as unrelated to both the mare and his older sister. Explanation? Sharp One is also a chimera, and one of her ovaries is from one cell line and the other from the other...

So, are all brindle horses chimeras? Most are. In 2014 an inheritable form of brindle was discovered in a single family of horses, but it turned out to be a rather nasty disease that resulted in male fetuses being non-viable and the surviving females having abnormalities of the teeth, hooves and eyes, and it also causes areas of hairlessness. These brindles had Incontinentia Pigmenti (there's a similar condition in humans).

In other words? There are no true brindle horses, but if you want to put one in your story, go ahead. (And if you want a cool trait for a fantasy horse breed that doesn't really exist in the real world, how about an entire breed of brindles?)

Image source: Kersti Nebelsiek via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Can horses get epilepsy?

Yup. It's not that common but, of course, a thousand pound animal having a seizure is not something you want to be anywhere near it. Horses can also get seizures because of toxins, trauma, cancer, or inflammation in the brain.

There are drugs that can be used to control seizures. Needless to say, horses that are having seizures regularly should not be worked until the condition is under control.

A form of inherited epilepsy is found in Arabians - this condition starts at about 6 months and goes away at "about two years" - probably at puberty. Because it goes away before the horse starts being worked, it's only an issue if they injure themselves.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

What is the world's largest horse show?

That should be a simple question, right? But it really isn't. It's not the Olympics - which while they are extremely prestigious only include a limited number of disciplines. (Three day eventing, dressage, show jumping and modern pentathlon)

The FEI World Cup maybe? Depends on whether you care about the fact that the different disciplines are held in different locations. A case could be made for CHIO Aachen in Germany.

I'd call it the World Equestrian Games myself - held every four years, halfway between the Olympics, and including eight of the ten FEI recognized disciplines...but it still doesn't include everything and some people argue only annual shows count.

The world's biggest single breed show is much easier - it's the AQHA Congress.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

When was the first horse show held?

We honestly don't know. The first horse show in the United States was the Devon Horse Show on July 2, 1896.

But obviously there have been horse shows before then. Dublin Horse Show started in 1864, for example - but that's only when it became formalized.

Likely, people have been showing horses since not long after they were domesticated in the first place.

Monday, September 19, 2016

What is the biggest rodeo in the world?

Just a fun fact for you today. The biggest rodeo in the world is Cheyenne Frontier Days, which takes place in Cheyenne, Wyoming, lasts 9 days and attracts nearly 200,000 people a year. As well as rodeo events, it includes traditional wild west shows, concerts, a midway and a display by the Thunderbirds.

Friday, September 16, 2016

When was the first rodeo held?

I was just talking about rodeos in fantasy - and that led me to wonder when the first rodeo was held in America.

Santa Fe claims their rodeo was the first, in 1847, but it can't be verified. In California, "rodeos" were required every year from 1851, but these were not sporting events, but the original sense of the term - organized round ups where ranchers met up to sort out their cattle and brand the calves.

In fact, the term rodeo was not used for cowboy sports until the 1920s. The formalization of a rodeo into the five standard events (calf roping, bareback bronc riding, saddle bronc riding, bull riding and steer wrestling, with steer roping and team roping optional) did not take place until 1929. In fact, most early rodeos were so disorganized that riders often did not know what the events even were until they arrived on site - which meant their horses had to be good at everything, unlike the specialization of today. And even then, rodeos often contained other events (many still include barrel racing) such as trick roping, trick riding and sprint races.

There was one way in which early rodeos were more progressive though - women competed in all the events alongside the men. In 1929 a female bronc rider was killed and since then women have been essentially disallowed from competing in bronc riding and bull riding. At most modern rodeos, women compete only in barrel racing (and men do not compete in barrel racing, making for an oddly strict divide). The PRCA still does not allow women's events at sanctioned rodeos, other than barrel racing. Women got back into the act in 1948 when the Girls Rodeo Association was formed to allow them to compete in their own segregated events. (It's now the Women's Professional Rodeo Association).

And I got thoroughly distracted and will stop now. Here, have a barrel racer.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

How big is a horse's brain?

An adult horse's brain weighs about 22 oz - so about half the size of a human brain. Compare this to the difference in body size, though, and you realize that the brain to body size ratio (more important than actual size) is significant inferior.

Their brain structure is also affected by the fact that foals need to be able to run within hours of birth - so the parts of the brain devoted to movement develop first.

They do not, of course, have as well developed a frontal cortex as we do.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

What were "pit ponies"?

Pit ponies were animals that were used to assist miners underground. Not all were ponies - draft horses were used in larger mines in continental Europe and the Appalachian miners, perhaps unsurprisingly, preferred mules.

True pit ponies are best documented in the UK, where they were in use from 1750 until 1999 (yes, 1999 - the very last pit pony was named "Robbie") with the highest number being in 1913, when there were 70,000 - mostly Shetland and small Welsh.

Some mines even bred the ponies underground - some of these ponies literally went their entire lives without seeing the sun. The ponies were well cared for, and generally retired to the surface in their late teens - although as they had spent their entire lives stalled underground, the poor things did not know how to be horses at all, and a lot of them were slaughtered. Also, they tended to get black lung and other respiratory problems.

Britain's last surviving pit pony, Pip, died in 2009 at a museum where he worked as a four hooved docent, demonstrating the harness he used to wear. (He has been replaced by a younger animal purchased for the job).

As far as I can tell there are no pit ponies left. But one could imagine in a fantasy world dwarves using them - and perhaps those ponies would be as adapted to underground life as their handlers.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Do horses wear leg armor?

No, fighting horses would generally not wear leg armor. The protective value of it was minimal, given the usual threats to massed cavalry, and it would interfere with their freedom of movement and ability to run.

Monday, September 12, 2016

What is meant by "fully caparisoned"?

You'll see a horse described at this in Medieval literature and sometimes in fantasy.

Caparisons are cloth covers that were put over the armor, usually during tournaments.

This illustration from a book currently in the French National Library, attributed to an artist named Bathelemey d'Eyck, shows sword-wielding knights fighting in a tourney. The caparisons on the horses match the tunics worn by the knights. I suspect that the covers on the reins were a little more than just decorative - they would have made it harder to either grab or cut the reins during a fight.

Friday, September 9, 2016

What is a croupiere?

The croupiere here is the armor over the horse's back and rump (Image source: David Monniaux via Wikimedia commons). From it we get the modern word "crupper" for a harness strap that loops around the horse's tail.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

What is a criniere?

A criniere is armor that was designed to protect a horse's neck. It consists of a set of segmented plates made of relatively light metal and often augmented with chain mail.

Note the chain mail between the plates on this example, in a Vienna museum. Image source: David Monniaux via Wikimedia commons.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

What is a chanfron?

A chanfron is a piece of horse armor. It's placed over the horse's face, leaving only the eyes and nostrils visible. Flanges often covered the eyes. It was fashionable at times to place a forehead spike on the chanfron - this appears to be decorative. One chanfron from about 200 BC has horns that rather resemble Loki's headdress in Marvel comics.

An Italian chamfron from the 16th century. Image source Walters Art Museum (where it is on display).

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Why is foot armor tapered?

Sabatons are foot armor worn by knights, and they look rather like this:

Image source: Project Gutenberg via Wikimedia commons.

As you can see they have quite the point - and bizarrely, historians are not sure why other than "fashion."

It's actually quite obvious to a horse person. Cowboy boots and many tall English boots also have points, although not as much as that. While wearing armor, the knight's ankle is supported but motion is restricted - the point helps get the foot into the stirrup and regain a lost stirrup. Paddock boots do not have the point - but you can move your foot much more in them (trust me).

So, no, the point is not fashion. It's sharpness is probably to provide an extra weapon in close combat.

Monday, September 5, 2016

What is shipping fever?

Shipping fever is actually a form of pneumonia that is observed in horses that are shipped long distances - and which can even be fatal.

What causes it is a combination of dehydration (horses not being watered often enough), inadequate ventilation and being tied up for extended periods of time. Oh, and stress. All of this lowers a horse's resistance to infection. The risk really starts with journeys of three hours or more.

It is prevented in part by avoiding shipping sick animals (except to a hospital if necessary). If you see a trailer has all the windows open in the middle of winter, that's actually correct - horses feel the cold less than we do and need their ventilation. Hay should be soaked (which cuts dust and reduces dehydration) and low dust bedding should be used. Regular rest breaks also help. In some cases, it's possible to trailer horses loose (always a better option as they're also less likely to fall that way).

Friday, September 2, 2016

Do horses get warts?

What we mean by "warts" on a horse is small growths caused by the papilloma virus. They're a "childhood" complaint in horses, and generally go away on their own in six to nine months. However, the same virus can cause aural plaques in adult horses.

Warts are generally not treated unless they cause the horse irritation or interfere with tack.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Do horses get hives?

Yup, and they can be just as annoying as when we get them. Hives on horses are caused by the same things - a skin irritant or allergy. They can be extremely visible on horses, and appear as raised welts with the hair standing up vertically.

They're most often found on the neck and shoulder. Hives is easy to diagnose, but tracing the cause can be very hard. Hives can be caused by medication, fly spray, food allergies, heat and stress. I've even known it to be caused by an allergy to the laundry detergent used to wash a rug.

The symptoms are relieved with a fast-acting corticosteroid injection or in extreme cases (such as if the horse is having difficulty breathing) with epinephrine. Fortunately, many cases of hives are mild enough to be treated with NSAIDS. Antihistamines do not work well for horses with hives.