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%.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

How do mares act when in heat?

To a degree, it depends on the mare. With some mares, you don't even notice. With others...

Signs of being in heat include:

Lifting the tail and winking and showing the vulva. This "invitation" behavior is most often aimed at stallions, but if there is no stallion on the premises, mares will invite geldings, other mares or even people!

Sensitivity on the back and sides. Yes, mares in heat can get cramps and sometimes need a dose of a mild painkiller.

Acting distracted and being unable to focus when being ridden. Mares in heat will tend to call more to other horses, will become stressed more when on their own, and may have difficulty focusing. I've even known mares who are clearly trying so hard to concentrate, but they just can't.

Urinating frequently and producing only small amounts of urine.

So, if you want to write a mare being in heat - think about a few of these things.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Do horses like bananas?

Horses will eat bananas - and bananas are good for them too (horses need potassium as much as we do). Unlike us, though, horses don't peel their bananas - horses will, and should, eat the skin too.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Do horses like potatoes?

Actually, potatoes aren't a good thing to feed horses. Green and raw potatoes are poisonous (The toxin, solanine, is destroyed by cooking, at least in the tuber part). Potatoes are also likely to get stuck causing choke. Finally, potatoes are too starchy for horses - they can make them fat.

Solanine poisoning can cause excitability, decreased heart rate and respiration, gastric problems, convulsions, muscle weakness and coordination difficulties. So, no potatoes. Especially not uncooked.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Do horses like pumpkins?

Yes - albeit as an occasional treat and with the seeds removed. So, come Halloween... (Horses actually like most kinds of squash).

Friday, August 11, 2017

Were there black cowboys?

Because this has come up a few times in my hearing lately.

Yes, there absolutely were. In fact, the estimate is that one in four cowboys was, in fact, African-American. So, how did that happen?

There were a few ways, but the major one was that during the Civil War, a lot of whites went to fight...and left their slaves to tend the cattle. The slaves developed the skills and then once they were free took jobs as skilled hands.

And they found that the cowboys didn't care. White, black, Hispanic, Native American - as long as you could do the job. It only lasted for the era of mass cattle drives and the black cowboys have been mostly erased from history, pushed out of rodeos (although many black riders compete now, they were excluded for a while) and forgotten. But if you're writing westerns or weird west - remember, there were plenty of black faces under those hats.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Can horses eat wood?

Certainly, quite a few of them think they can. Chewing wood is a problem and I've encountered horses and mules who will eat bare twigs. It doesn't really do them a lot of harm...or a lot of good either, as even they can't really digest it.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Why are not all horses kept on straw bedding?

If you read anything about horses, they'll talk about using straw for bedding - and often say it's the best. Why doesn't everyone use it?

The answer is because while most horses find straw unpalatable, some will cheerfully chow down on it. And they're always the ones you're trying to keep from getting fat. Always.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Do horses like pasta?

Yes. Preferably uncooked. Some horses will absolutely do anything for it. Just uncooked pasta (says something about how different their senses were.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Do horses cry out in pain?

Only when the pain is very extreme. Horses tend not to show pain (sometimes to the frustration of their handlers). They're more likely to express pain by snapping at other horses or humans, snapping at their own body or lashing out. They may groan, too, but again, only when in a lot of pain.

Generally, if a horse "screams" they're trying to get attention, not to tell you they're in pain.

Friday, August 4, 2017

What is the normal equine body temperature?

Between 99 and 101 degrees fahrenheit. Donkeys have a slightly different range - 97.2 to 100 F.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Why are horse racing's top awards called the "Eclipse" awards?

After a horse, of course. In 1764, there was a solar eclipse on April Fool's Day - and that's when "Eclipse" was recorded as being born.

He raced for only 17 months and was retired - because he was so good he was ruining the betting industry.

He fetched 75 sterling as a yearling...and was bought by a farmer who, instead of gelding him, bet that he could be tamed by intensive training. He was untouchably fast - and a terror to handle. At the time, racehorses were run older than they are now - he made his debut at the age of 5 and won every race he was in...ignoring his jockeys the entire time (Not like they actually knew better).

He made $6 million from racing purses and stud fees, breeding over 300 mares. In fact, it's possible the horse box was invented for Eclipse (at that time, the stallion went to the mare). Over 90 percent of English Thoroughbreds trace to him.

In addition to the awards, Eclipse gave his name to a prestigious race, a racing magazine, the main building of the Royal Veterinary College and a slew of ships. (Not to mention the fact that "Eclipse" is still a common horse name, and not just amongst racehorses).

We don't know how Eclipse would have stacked up against, say, Secretariat or any other modern racehorse because they didn't have the best timing gear back then, but he was definitely insanely fast.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

How do horses feel about the barn cat?

It depends. For the most part, horses are perfectly fine with the barn cat. (Cats, on the other hand, seem to like horses for some reason. Or maybe they just like the way the grain attracts mice). Most horses will tolerate having a cat jump onto or sit on their back - the cat, after all, is a lot lighter than a human rider.

However, horses will sometimes get annoyed with cats. I know one who was so mad with a cat for jumping onto his back (While I was riding him so I wasn't exactly pleased with kitty either) that he glared at it and bared his teeth every time he saw it until the cat (which belonged to an employee) moved out. He never did forgive that cat.

Most of the time, though, they get on.

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Do horses see us as other horses?

Apparently not. Horses often show very different behavior when interacting with other horses, when interacting with humans and when interacting with other species, such as the barn cat.

Horses appear quite capable of recognizing that they are a horse, you are a human, and these are not the same thing at all. This doesn't mean they can't form social bonds with us. It just means they aren't stupid ;).

Monday, July 31, 2017

Do horses have sexual preferences?

It's common wisdom that wild mares live in a band with a single dominant stallion. However, mares have been observed leaving their herd to mate with the leader of a different band. Bands sometimes start because of a friendship between a single mare and a stallion that then attracts others. Breeding stallions may refuse to mate with specific mares (these days often, outside of the breeds that don't allow it, causing breeders to resort to AI). I once knew a stallion who would not mate with pinto mares, rather like a gentleman who prefers (or maybe does not prefer) blondes.

Although horses don't generally form the same kind of long term sexual bonds we do (their long term bonds tend to be platonic), they can form cross-sex friendships which might appear to be romances, and they can definitely decide to have nothing to do with a lover not of their choosing.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Do horses smile?

Sort of. Horses have a facial expression that resembles a smile - and is sometimes taught as a trick.

However, an equine "smile" with the teeth visible and the upper lip curled is actually the flehmen response, which a horse does to get a better sniff, particularly of another horse. It does not mean the horse is happy.

In fact, an actual horse "smile" - which any regular rider can identify - is the ears either softly pricked forward or tilted back, depending on where their attention is, and a softness around the eyes and jaws.

This horse is relaxed, happy, and interested in the camera - or, more likely, the possibility of treats.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

How many facial expressions do horses have?

A remarkably high number - 17 discrete expressions have been identified. This is three more than chimpanzees, but fewer than humans (27).

Which means they can be quite communicative with those long faces.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How do you weigh a horse?

Horses are big animals that can range from under 800 pounds to over 2,000. How do you weigh them? I mean, where do you find a scale that big?

The answer to the latter is rural weighbridges, but not many horse people have access to those. In fact, horses are generally "weighed" as a calculated estimate based on the heart girth (immediately behind the elbow and withers) and sometimes the length. Also, very experienced horse people can often eyeball a horse's weight with surprising accuracy. (And no, height is not in there).

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Why do horses like sweet things?

Horses have a sweet tooth - but why? It's because the freshest grass with the highest nutritional value is also the sweetest.

(Needless to say, horses should not get too many sweets).

Monday, July 24, 2017

Can horses tell men and women apart?

Likely, yes. In particular, horses are definitely going to notice if a woman handling them is menstruating (although it doesn't seem to bother a properly trained domestic horse much). They have a good sense of smell and are very good at reading body language.

Some horses do appear to be prefer to be handled and ridden by one sex over the other.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Can horses hold grudges?

Yup. It's common belief that horses don't understand delayed consequences and therefore won't stay "mad" with their handlers, but this is not entirely true. (Actually, it's that given the communication barrier between the species, horses tend to assume that they are in trouble for the most recent thing they did).

I've had a horse grump at me for an entire ride because they were annoyed that I made them walk out of the barn on their own, or otherwise do something they didn't want to do. And they definitely remember people who didn't treat them well (and people who did). So, yup, they can hold a grudge. How long, well...that depends.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

What is the guttural pouch?

The barn I ride at just had to get rid of a new pony because he turned out to be a chronic strangles carrier.

This happens when the bacteria gets into the guttural pouch, from which it is nearly impossible to extract using antibiotics. You and I don't have guttural pouches - they are found in equines, rhinoceri and tapirs, as well as in some bats, hyraxes and one species of mouse. They connect the middle air to the pharynx. So, they're kind of part of the inner air.

The purpose of the guttural pouch is to cool the brain during extreme exercise - a useful adaptation for a being that relies on running for defense. But when it becomes infected, it can be very hard to treat.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Why are most male racehorses not gelded?

Two reasons.

The first is to give them a chance to prove their worth through actual performance.

The second is that the natural aggression of intact males can be channeled through training to give them a stronger desire to win (geldings, on the other hand, tend to perform more reliably).

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Can two horses pull more than twice as much as one horse?

It depends. An experienced team (pair) that gets along well and is trained correctly can pull well over twice what each horse can pull separately.

A green or ill-matched team can't pull much more what one of them can as they get in each other's way.

Monday, July 17, 2017

What is a "prophet's thumbprint"?

A prophet's thumbprint is an indentation in a horse's neck, most often found in Arabians. It is associated by the Bedouin with unusual loyalty and trainability - most likely the trait was found in a genetic line that was particularly good and became associated with it. However, it's still thought to be lucky by some people.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Can you get a horse to open its mouth by pinching its nostrils?

I've seen this in books too.

No, you can't. Horses do not have a cross-connection between the windpipe and the esophagus like we do. They cannot breathe (or vocalize) through their mouths. You make them open their mouth by sliding your thumb into the bare gum between their molars and incisors and pressing gently.