Monday, October 30, 2017

In Closing

Well, I've realized I'm dredging the barrel - I may come back if people send me more questions, but daily posting is over.

The blog will stick around as a resource and may be turned into an ebook eventually - eventually - but for now I've covered everything I intended to. Thanks for bearing with me!

Friday, October 27, 2017

Can horses eat kudzu?

Would be good, wouldn't it. Actually, yes, horses will eat kudzu. They aren't as keen on it as goats are, though. And, of course, kudzu is pretty invasive, so nobody in the US is going to be growing it for hay. But if it's in the pasture, they'll eat it.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Can horses eat garlic?

Garlic is something to think about carefully. It's actually good for horses in moderate amounts - too much garlic can cause anemia (they recommend half an ounce to two ounces a day). It can act as a natural fly repellent and can boost appetite. You can buy garlic supplements, but some people think you should just give the horse fresh crushed garlic. Obviously, some horses don't like the taste.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Can horses eat peanut butter?

Yes - in small quantities. Commercial peanut butter has a lot of sugar in it as well as rich proteins and fats, so it's not good for ponies who tend to get fat. Horses are generally not allergic to peanuts.

Also, unlike dogs or cats, horses have no problem with xylitol, an artificial sweetener often found in reduced sugar peanut butter. Make sure you don't give it to dogs, though!

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Can horses change color?

Sometimes, yes - and sometimes quite dramatically. Gray horses slowly become white as they age. Appaloosas are notorious for being quite different looking as youngsters than as adults. Some horses change color dramatically with the seasons - I know an appaloosa who's entire winter undercoat is white.

Horses can also get vitiligo (which causes white patches over time).

Monday, October 23, 2017

Are horses scared of cars?

Naturally, yes, but the majority of horses quickly learn that the big roaring monsters aren't actually going to eat them. Some never do learn, though - I know a pony who failed as a carriage pony because he just could not handle sharing the road with cars and trucks.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Do horses prefer apples or carrots?

Ha. Trick question.

It...depends on the horse. I've known horses who if offered an apple or a carrot will pick the carrot every time and I recently discovered a horse I know won't eat carrots at all.

Most horses probably like them about the same, but some have distinct preferences.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

When and where were horseshoes invented?

We...actually aren't sure. In fact, what people call "hoof boots" predates the nailed on horseshoe, being used by the Romans.

We know that horseshoes appeared in northern Europe just after the Roman period, so they may have been invented in wet, muddy climates where hoof boots, especially primitive ones, would tend to be pulled off of the horse's feet. But we still don't know who first nailed a crescent of iron onto a horse's hoof (or what the horse thought about it!).

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

What is a mullen mouth?

A mullen  mouth is a bit which is curved instead of straight. The idea is that it rests more comfortably on the horse's tongue.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Are horses native to North America?

Yes and no! Horses evolved in North America, spread across the land bridge into Asia and then - for reasons we don't know - became extinct on this continent until reintroduced by the Europeans.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Are horses born with hooves?

Yup - but they have a pad on them so they don't damage the mare's womb when they kick or during birth. It comes off pretty quickly.

They need their hooves to be able to run, after all.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Are horses loyal?

From my observation, yes. Horses can tell people apart and studies show they can recognize people who treated them well (or just treated them, ahem) after months of separation. And as herd animals they are loyal to their herd.

In fact horses, like dogs, are amongst the most loyal animals on the planet.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Are horses afraid of pigs?

It's a common understanding that horses are terrified of pigs.

Horses that aren't used to pigs will often shy away from them - perhaps because pigs are omnivores that wouldn't shy away from a meal of horse meat.

Pigs also smell funny even to humans and make strange noises. Oh, and they're inclined to come running up to say hi, which horses also don't appreciate.

However, I've also known an entire of herd horses to welcome a pet pig as a once they get used to them they're fine. Or perhaps once they realize that pig is being well fed by the humans...

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Can horses count?

The jury is actually out on whether horses can count. Most "counting" horses react to the body language of their handler. However, show jumpers often seem to know exactly how many strides they need to put in.

I suspect they can't count the way we can, but they have a sense of rhythm that can make it look like they are at times.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Can horses eat granola bars?

They eat grain, after all.

Horses can eat granola bars, although some don't like them. Others will do anything for one, or at least for a bit of one. It wouldn't be a good idea to give them too many, though - lots of calories. Also, they should be broken up - horses don't do well if they eat too quickly and swallow something that size whole.

Friday, October 6, 2017

What is the closest living relative to equines?

Not cows or pigs.

The two closest living relatives to the horse are the rhinoceros and the tapir. All three animals are part of the perissodactyl group - odd number of toes rather than even numbered.

(Despite the fact that hippopotamus means "river horse," horses are not particularly closely related to hippos).

This close relationship is why some people joke that rhinos are unicorns. (More likely the species that inspired the unicorn legends was a deer or antelope).

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Do old horses get grouchy?

You know, like some old humans seem to.

I've definitely seen some horses develop grumpiness as they age or have bad days. On the other hand, I've seen grouchiness in younger animals too. One issue old horses may have is finding it harder to lie down to get REM sleep, resulting in sleep deprivation - and sleep deprivation makes all of us grumpy.

And, of course, a lot of older horses have arthritis, which isn't exactly going to improve their mood.

So, yeah, some older horses are very much inclined to do the equine equivalent of shaking a stick and telling you to go away.

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Do horses have milk teeth?

Yup, just like we do. Horses have 24 milk teeth - 12 incisors and 12 premolars. They get their first permanent teeth at about 2.5 years and may not completely stop teething until 5 years old. (I've certainly observed a 5 year old gelding in discomfort from the late-growing canine teeth).

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Can horses tell if you are pregnant?

I've actually seen anecdotal evidence of this - a horse that suddenly changed his behavior towards a woman when she got pregnant. In this case, he got highly anxious. There are other stories of horses being more considerate towards pregnant women.

The truth is, it might be possible for a horse to smell the hormonal changes involved in pregnancy, but it's more likely that they're picking up on the woman's emotions and behavior. A lot of women become more careful when pregnant - and horses, with their incredible sensitivity to body language, are likely to notice that and change their own behavior accordingly. Some horses will go "My rider is being cautious, I should be cautious." Others might respond with "My rider is nervous! What's to be nervous about, I can't tell, worryworryworry." And a third personality type might be "Oooh, she's being over-cautious, what can I get away with?"

So, the most likely answer is: Yes, your horse can tell that you are pregnant - because you're inadvertently telling them. Or rather, you're telling them something has changed and they're reaction to that.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Can horses navigate stairs?

It's actually a common belief that horses (and cows) can't go down stairs. Anyone who's done serious trail riding knows the idea that a horse won't go down a steep slope because "they can't see properly" is...well, not true. Horses do prefer not to go down stairs or very steep slopes, and have been known to get "stuck" on decks not because they can't get back down the stairs but because they don't want to. Donkeys have far fewer problems with steps.

Friday, September 29, 2017

Can horses pee while running?

Nope, they have to stop and adapt a specific stance to do so. In fact, riders have to stand up in the stirrups to free their back up while they do it. Fortunately they only do it a couple of times a day.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Can horses poop while running?

Yes, although they generally prefer not to. Horses are perfectly capable of defecating at any speed, and you'll sometimes see show jumpers poop in the middle of a round. However, given the choice (i.e., not pursued by a predator or in the middle of something) they prefer to stop.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Can horses only see sideways?

Because some people seem to think this: No.

Horses do see a much wider range than we do and have only a relatively small area of binocular vision, but they can see where they are going well enough to be able to, you know, jump.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Can horses eat honey?

Absolutely. In fact, a lot of commercial horse treats are sweetened with honey. Some upper level endurance riders think feeding a bit of honey before the race helps the horses with their endurance - this may not be true, but it's certainly safe (as long as you don't overdo it, of course).

Monday, September 25, 2017

Can Horses Faint?

Yes. Horses can faint - primary because they get insufficient blood flow to the brain. Horses do not faint from emotional shock the way humans can, though. (Horses that receive emotional shock are more likely to run or freeze up/go catatonic). Fainting in a horse is often a sign of some kind of heart problem.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Do horses kiss?

No, they don't. They don't "kiss" the way dogs do by face licking, either. Horses simply don't use their lips to show affection, although they can use their lips to manipulate objects in ways we can't.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Can horses detect natural disasters?

There are lots of stories about horses predicting natural disasters. In fact, horses do have a good weather sense - I've had horses warn me about an incoming storm before. They are also aware of earthquakes well before we are.

They aren't psychic - they just have better hearing and can hear distant thunder, rain, or the rumble of a quake before we can. Horses may get very antsy during a storm - wild horses would try to move out of its path as much as possible and domestic ones don't always seem to quite grasp that the barn has a roof on it!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Why do horses flap their lips?

Some horses will deliberately flap their lips while being ridden, or constantly. Why do they do this?

There are several reasons. I knew one pony who flapped his lips when asked to do tedious or repetitive work - so I suspect he was doing it out of boredom. He didn't do it if the job was more interesting.

Some horses flap their lips out of anxiety - it's not uncommon for horses to flap their lips when learning a complex new maneuver.

Horses may also flap their lips after being given oral medication - perhaps a signal of disgust at the lousy taste.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Why do horses like to roll over?

Usually for one of two reasons:

1. They want a nice layer of dirt on themselves to protect them from biting insects , sun or cold.
2. They have an itch on their back.

Horses tend to roll repeatedly in the same spot, and a rolling spot in a pasture can often be spotted by the lack of grass.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Why are horses so afraid of plastic bags?

For some reason, a lot of horses spook at plastic bags (unless the bag is in your pocket and might contain a treat). Why are horses afraid of something so harmless?

The answer is that plastic bags don't smell like animals, but they have a habit of moving on their own. Horses aren't smart enough to understand that the wind is doing it. All they know is that this silly thing that smells funny is chasing them around. And anything a horse doesn't understand becomes a monster to run from - that's just how they're wired.

Friday, September 15, 2017

What is a twitch?

A twitch is a rope placed around a horse's lower lip or, in extreme cases, the ear. Traditionally, it was used to ensure horses stood still for veterinary treatment. Many people now think twitching a horse should be done only as a last resort if nothing else will get the animal to stand safely.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Do horses like cows?

Horses will generally learn to handle being turned out with cows. Horses from cow lines, though, may attempt to herd them (which might not be appreciated by the cows).

A few horses seem to be inexplicably afraid of cows. Also, turning horses out with cows increases the risk of attracting a fly that likes to lay its eggs under the skin on the animal's back - a problem when it's where the saddle goes...

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Why do some horses only have shoes on their front feet?

If you look around at horses, you might notice that some horses only have shoes on their front hooves. There are two reasons for this:

1. The front feet take more of the horse's and rider's weight, so some horses may have strong enough hooves to not need shoes on the hind end, but still need them on the front.

2. Not putting shoes on the rear hooves reduces the risk of injury if horses get into a fight out in pasture.

Monday, September 11, 2017

What are "road studs"?

Road studs are small studs attached to a horse's shoes. They're designed to increase traction on tarmac/asphalt, and thus are most often seen on carriage horses or trekking/trail riding horses that have to work on the road.

Friday, September 8, 2017

Where do horses like being petted?

Not, as many people, think, their nose. A horse's nose is very sensitive. Most horses would rather be petted on the cheek or the neck. Some horses like to wrap their neck around you or hang their head over your shoulder.

And almost all horses like to be scratched at the base of the mane about halfway down the neck.

Never pet close to a horse's eye - they have very big eyes and its easy to accidentally poke them.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Do horses get jealous?

Well, we can only judge by their behavior - but I'd say yes. I've witnessed horses give dirty looks to people who were petting the barn cat (instead of them). I knew one horse who would look quite depressed and pouty if one of the nearby horses was being taken for a ride. So, I'd say they definitely get jealous when people pay more attention to others. Especially if they happen to like you.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Do horses have identical twins?

Surviving identical twins have never been reported in horses.

Horses have a difficult enough time carrying fraternal twins to term. Identical twins share a placenta, and thus do not get enough nutrition. (In fact, routine production of identical twins only occurs in humans and one species of armadillo). All horse twins are fraternal (if they survive).

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Do horses get AIDS or similar?

There is no specific virus in horses that causes acquired immunodeficiency like HIV. There is EIA (which affects red blood cells instead) - this is a lentivirus, like HIV.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Do horses get STDs?

Yes - there are a few things that can be sexually transmitted in horses, including sometimes via AI (AI can both reduce the risk and increase it).

The most common is Contagious Equine Metritis - inflammation of the uterine lining that can cause miscarriage and lower fertility. Other bacteria can cause inflammation of the uterus or the placenta. Stallions carry the disease but show no symptoms.

Other STDS include EVA (which still gives me personal nightmares), dourine (which thankfully is rare) and, yes, herpes.

Horses do not, however, get anything like AIDS.

Friday, September 1, 2017

How many equine genetic disorders are there?

We aren't sure, but we've identified more than 30 different genetic disorders, some of which are no big deal and some of which are fatal. Genetic testing, fortunately, is reducing the incidence of foals affected by HYPP in stock horses or FID in Dales and Fell ponies, amongst others. In many cases, merely avoiding pairing two carriers can be enough.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Do horses get Down syndrome?

Sort of. Horses can suffer from autusomal trisomy - in horses it causes abnormal genitalia, limb deformities, overbite, a domed skull, scoliosis, metabolic issues and, yes, neurologic deficits. (Meaning the poor horse may have social issues and be considerably less intelligent than a normal animal).

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

What makes stallions infertile?

So, how about the guys?

Cigar was a famous racehorse who commanded a huge stud fee - and then failed to get a single mare in foal. All kinds of infertility treatments were tried, including putting him out to pasture and just leaving there in the hope it was just stress. After nothing worked, he spent the rest of his life at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Cigar's problem was low sperm quality, but stallions can also be rendered sterile by low sperm count. Cryptorchid stallions tend to have low sperm quality in the descended testicle and as we now know that the condition itself is genetic, cryporchids are routinely gelded.

Two other conditions common in stallions are contamination of the semen with blood or urine. The former tends to be temporary, caused by an infection. The latter is a bladder deformity and cannot always be treated.

Other issues that can cause infertility in stallions are breeding fatigue (breeding too many mares, resulting in a loss of libido), back or hind limb injuries that can make it hard for them to mount the mare, fever.

Another cause is that some stallions can produce enough sperm in the off season to actually block their tubes. They keep producing sperm and not ejaculating it. Collecting sperm in the off season or oxytocin treatments often resolve it.

And, of course, genetic conditions can also affect male fertility - sex reversal syndrome, for example.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

What makes mares infertile?

There are a lot of causes of breeding problems in mares.

The most common is an infection, either bacterial or fungal, in the uterus. Usually, once the infection is treated, fertility is restored. Some mares are "windsuckers" - they tend to pull air into their uterus, resulting in a higher risk of infection.

In maiden mares, sometimes the cervix is so tight that sperm is retained in the uterus - which can also cause infection.

Chronic infertility can be caused by, well, all the things which cause infertility in human women. Uterine cysts are common in older mares. Blocked or deformed oviducts, tumors, and missing uterine horns have all been observed in horses.

I once knew a mare who never went into heat in her entire life. She likely had a disorder of sexual development - i.e., she was intersex. Turner syndrome (Missing chromosome causing stunted growth and deformities), sex-reversal syndrome (SRY gene missing from the Y chromosome), AIS (in which a male fetus doesn't respond to male hormones and develops apparently female) and XY/XX chimerism (which may or may not affect fertility) have all been observed in horses. With the mare I'm thinking of, I suspect sex-reversal syndrome.

A final cause of breeding failure is the mare rejecting the stallion chosen for her. These days, artificial insemination is often used, but in Thoroughbreds, where it is not allowed, it may even be necessary to change breeding plans.

Monday, August 28, 2017

When do mares come back into heat after foaling?

Mares usually come back into heat about a week after giving birth.

However, they are usually less fertile than in their normal heat cycle. Some breeders do not attempt to breed mares back on their foal heat, especially as it has a higher rate of failure and there's some indication that pregnancy loss is more likely. In general, mares are bred back on the second heat after giving birth.

Some Thoroughbred breeders, though, like to breed on the foal heat to get an earlier foal.

Friday, August 25, 2017

What is the most common foaling complication horses?

The most common complication is a retained placenta - which unfortunately can be particularly dangerous in horses as, unlike cattle, the placenta attaches to the entire uterus, which can result in scar tissue that prevents the mare from being bred again.

Mares should expel the placenta within three hours and the expelled placenta should be examined to make sure it is all there.

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Do horses get stressed when alone?

Horses can absolutely get stressed when ridden or kept alone - they want to be with a group. The amount depends on the personality of the horse and may be affected by other circumstances. In-heat mares, for example, may be less happy about being alone than they are when not cycling. Horses that are more used to being alone will be more relaxed about.

The best way to reduce stress for a horse that's working alone is to be confident and firm as a rider - that way you can eventually get the horse to be happy in a "herd of two."

Rarely, you get a horse that seems to be happier kept alone.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

When can a mare go back to work after giving birth?

Generally, it can take a few weeks - it does depend on the mare and, to an extent, on the foal. If the mare has to be separated from the foal to work, then you may have to wait longer than if you can, say, leave baby in a paddock right next to the arena or have him accompany you and the mare. (In fact, for training purposes, it can be highly beneficial to the foal to make him watch mom work - foals who observe their mother being ridden or driven remember it as a safe thing and are less stressed when it comes to their turn). A fit mare may be physically ready to work again as soon as two weeks after birth. Farmers would traditionally just let the foal tag along while the mare worked and many ranchers breeding foals as trail horses take a similar approach.

Obviously, if there were birth complications, you need to wait longer.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Should you ride a pregnant mare?

The answer is: Yes to a point. Mares (just like women) benefit from regular exercise (and in fact, in foal mares have raced and competed) up until the 6th to 8th month of pregnancy. Extreme exercise is not recommended for the first two months, but during the middle part of the pregnancy it's fine to ride a mare as normal. After that, exercise should be reduced and the mare should not be worked within three months of foaling because the foal can affect the mare's balance - and because really, why make her carry a foal and a rider. Saddle fit can also be affected.

And, of course, some mares show no sign of being pregnant until you wake up to find you have one more horse, and they often survive being worked as normal ;).

Monday, August 21, 2017

What is a Caslick's?

A Caslick's operation is sometimes done on breeding mares. They literally close the upper part of the vulva once the mare is pregnant and then open it up again in time for foaling. The purpose is to mitigate poor vulvar conformation which can allow feces and other contaminants to get into the uterus and cause foal loss. It's most often done in Thoroughbreds (because in other breeds, people are more inclined to just not breed a mare who's badly put together).

Friday, August 18, 2017

How do horses get enough protein?

We tend to think of protein as coming from animal products - or, say, soy or legumes. Horses eat grass and vegetables - so how do they get enough protein?

The answer is: From the grass. Because horses are designed to digest grass, they get all the nutrients out of it, and grass contains a surprising amount of protein. Domestic horses get the extra protein they need to be athletes from alfalfa hay (which is a legume) and grain. Grass hay can be as much as 17% protein and alfalfa hay, fed to high performers, can go up to 22%.