Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Can you get on a horse harnessed to a carriage, cut the traces and ride off?

The reverse of yesterday's question.

It depends - on whether the carriage horse is trained to ride. One thing worth noting is that people who owned carriages often did train the horses for riding as well. This was particularly common in the 19th century - Black Beauty, Ginger and Merrylegs were all trained to both ride and drive. It was a lot cheaper to dual train a horse than have separate horses.

If the horse has not been trained to ride and somebody tries that, they're likely to get bucked off. If the horse has been - then yes, you could do that stunt. If you knew what you were doing and had rehearsed it with that horse - otherwise they might spook and run away without you.

Monday, January 30, 2017

Can you harness a horse trained to ride to a wagon and expect it to pull it?

Question from +Nobilis Reed.

Answer is: No.

The two are completely different skill sets and it's actually easier to train a horse broken to harness to ride (most dual purpose horses are trained to harness before they are trained to saddle).

Although many (but not all) riding horses are taught to ground drive or long line, that only covers part of their training - and the ground driving used on riding horses is much more basic.

The fact is that a cart is actually a rather large, scary object to a horse. This is why driving horses wear blinkers or blinders, so they don't see the cart (some people argue that this is fine until the tack is damaged...a horse trained to drive with blinders will not drive without them and thus they train young horses without them, although they may use or add them later).

Driving training is an entirely separate thing from riding training. The horse has to learn voice commands not generally used on riding horses, and to respond to only the voice and rein - quite a bit harder for an animal as tactile as a horse.

So don't have your character get off their saddle horse and hook it to a cart unless you mention that the animal is trained for both (which is common today in Morgans, many European pony breeds and cobs/vanners as well as some draft horses).

Ground driving in partial harness (the horse's weird body language is because she's being asked to back up).

Friday, January 27, 2017

What is a flagged tail?

A flagged tail is one that is being held high, above the level of the back. It's more obvious in Arabians and Saddlebreds, because they have naturally higher tails.

A horse that is flagging his tail is excited and keyed up, and often about to run - it's a playful gesture, but can indicate they're not paying attention.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Why do horses sometimes eat their own poop?

Horses sometimes will, yes, eat their own poop. Unlike rabbits, they don't do this as a routine thing.

They generally engage in coprophagy if they are not getting enough fiber or if their hindgut balance is off - after all, horses can't eat yogurt to fix things.

Poop eating can also be caused by a mineral or protein deficiency. Or just plain boredom.

Coprophagy is, however, normal in unweaned foals - it's believed that this is how they get their gut populated with good bacteria in the first place, by eating their mother's poop.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

What are the muscles on horses' lower legs called?

Trick question! Believe it or not, horses have no muscles below the knee or hock - they only have tendons and ligaments. This is why problems with the tendons or ligaments of the lower leg are so bad - you can't train surrounding muscles to support a weak point.

This is also why the measurement around the leg just below the knee is a key measure of "bone" - the tendons there are sheathed so the only thing you're measuring is the circumference of the bone, which can indicate carrying capacity.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Why do horses have one hoof and cows two?

We actually don't really know. We do know that two hooves (like sheep and goats) are better for gripping on really rough terrain.

Single hooves aren't better for speed either - cloven-hooved antelopes run very fast too. It might be that a single hoof is better if you want to be both fast and big (although wild horses are very small compared to domestic horses, they're still bigger than most deer).

Truth is? We don't actually know.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Do horses swim?

Yes, and they can even quite enjoy swimming with their riders (although you should be careful doing it - if it's deep enough for a horse to swim in, it's pretty deep).

Horses swim instinctively and naturally, although it can take some convincing to get them to try it the first time.

Friday, January 20, 2017

So, why do humans sometimes win "Man Vs. Horse" races?

Horses can run at 30mph - so a human racing a horse might seem like a no brainer. The horse is going to win.

Except, that's not how it works out once you extend the distance. In the 25 mile Man Against Horse Race in Prescott, Arizona in 2016 the times for the winning runner and winning rider were...identical.

The horse did win the 50 mile race, by quite a bit (90 minutes), but there's more evidence. The average speed of the winner of the 2016 FEI World Endurance Riding Championships over 100 miles was only slightly faster than the average speed of the winner of the men's marathon in Rio.

What gives?

Humans are pursuit predators. We are amazing endurance runners. A horse can keep up that 30mph (or even faster in the case of specialist racehorses) for about four miles and then that horse is, well, done. Zzzzz. Rest now. Endurance racers alternate walk and trot, and only canter or gallop for short periods. In many races, they're mostly walking. The human, on the other hand, can keep up a nice steady pace for the entire distance.

Overall, it tends to even out - and humans and horses cover about the same amount of ground over long distances.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

What is a flexion test?

A flexion test is something we do to check for joint injuries. It's normally done with the hocks, and it is done by lifting the leg and holding it with the joint in a bent position, then seeing how the horse moves afterwards.

Flexion tests increase discomfort in the joints if there is an injury or problem, and thus can reveal extremely subtle lameness. There's been more study of them lately - trying to come up with a better protocol (false positives do happen). But they're still a standard part of assessing a horse's condition during pre-purchase exams or competition.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Is a horse really scared if the whites of their eyes are visible?

Depends on the horse. With most horses, if the white of the eye is visible, the animal is extremely upset. However, with some horse coloration the white sclera is always visible - Appaloosas are known for this.

The signal is if there is more white visible in the eye than is normal for that particular horse.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Does it hurt a horse to grab its mane?

Not really - if you have long hair grab a HUGE chunk of your hair and pull and you'll note it might be a bit uncomfortable, but not painful. Pulling small amounts of mane will hurt them a little, but as long as you get a good chunk it's fine.

It is not however true that horses "have no sensory nerves in their hair follicles" - that's a myth (and one which makes zero sense as horses have whiskers).

Plenty of mane here!

Monday, January 16, 2017

Do horses get travel/motion sick?

Horses do not vomit, but do they experience motion sickness? Travel sickness in horses actually means something different - a respiratory condition also called shipping fever.

Some vets argue that we have no way of telling if a horse is motion sick. However, there's some evidence that some horses may colic during rough voyages at sea - which could be stress, a change of feed, or seasickness. We aren't entirely sure - and we can't ask them. (Dogs and cats often get "car sick").

Friday, January 13, 2017

Are horses afraid of water?

Actually, yes.

Horses will be highly reluctant to enter water which has overhanging branches or if they can't see the bottom. I've had more than one argument with a horse that was terrified to cross a stream because the water was "up" a little and muddy.

The reasons are pretty simple.

Overhanging branches can conceal ambush predators.

If you can't see the bottom it might be muddy, sticky, slippery or otherwise unsafe.

This is why water obstacles are included on cross country courses. They are a test of how much the horse trusts their rider and how willing they are to go into strange water on the human's assurance that it's safe.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

How much weight can a horse pull?

The general rule of thumb is that most horses can pull about their own weight, with Shetlands (because of their small size and great power to weight ration) able to pull double their own weight.

The world record for weight pulled is not easy to find, but the "track" record for the most prestigious horse pull in the world is 13,300 pounds pulled by two horses. This is a huge amount for 4,000 to 4,500 pounds of horse - but in pulling contests they pull the weight a very short distance and it can't be compared to normal work conditions.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Why do horses have face and leg markings?

Horses often have white on their faces and lower legs - but why?

One thing we do know is that they are genetically extremely complex and the extent of them is influenced by uterine environment - we know this because clones have markings in the same location as their genetic parent but not to the same extent. The genetics are complex, involving multiple genes and often affected by base coat color (which is why you see larger white markings on "red" or chestnut horses).

Why do they even exist, though?

White markings definitely confer no advantage in the wild and may be a disadvantage. Przewalski's horses have no white markings.

So, the obvious explanation is, well, humans. We like white markings...or not. They come in and out of fashion and are considered highly desirable in some breeds and utterly undesirable in others. For example, in Friesian horses and Dales cobs anything more than a tiny white mark on the forehead is considered grounds for not registering the animal. Meanwhile, Arabian breeders often like a lot of "chrome." Four whites are liked by some, but there's an old British saying of "One buy him, two try him, three suspect him, four reject him" that talks about white leg markings.

One reason why humans might have started to breed for white markings in the first place is that they do make animals easier to tell apart.

This chestnut Quarter Horse has a stripe on his face and a white sock on his off hind - quite smart!

But the wide variety of face and leg markings in horses reflects a pattern of human preferences that varies from place to place and across time.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Do horses get bored?

As far as I can tell - yes. Especially the smarter ones. Horses get bored if they drill too much on the same thing, and then they will act out. I know a horse who will simply canter off if he's not being asked to do interesting enough work.

Horses like routine in their lives, but they need a bit of mental stimulation and variety in their work, especially if they're in an urban barn and stalled a lot.

Obviously, we can't get in their heads to tell what they are really thinking, but I've definitely seen horses act out to make their lives more interesting, check out, or even fall asleep while waiting their turn to do an exercise or go into the show ring.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Do some horses hate arenas?

This is the kind of thing that "experts" and "scientists" tell us can't happen. But I personally know a horse who is tense and miserable in the indoor arena and relaxed and happy outside - and we have no idea why. It's the same work...

Horses can have distinct preferences as to what kind of work they enjoy, but where is rarer. It does happen, though. Of course, if your horse won't go down that trail it might not be a preference. It might be they've spotted something you haven't...

Some horses, too, simply hate working in arenas because they've spent far too long doing the same boring things. I'll talk a bit more about that tomorrow.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Do horses lick?

Yes and no.

Horses do not lick socially anywhere near as much as dogs do, but some horses will lick an offered hand - possibly for affection and possibly just for the taste. Mares also lick their foals. Most horses nibble for mutual grooming, rather than licking. (Unlike dogs they do not have sharp canines that might damage their grooming partner).

Horses that lick are a small minority, though. Most will not. If they do lick you, it's very slobbery - but then, horse slobber is an occupational hazard.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Do horses have a third eyelid?

Yes. Horses have a third eyelid, otherwise known as a nictating membrane. It is pink in color and slides from the inside to the outside corner.

It's visible as a pink rim at the inside corner of the eye. If it's more visible, it's often a sign of dehydration, infection (often of the eye - the third eyelid will try to protect the eye), cancer, a neurological problem or tetanus. Otherwise, the third eyelid extends up only when needed, normally when the horse is in a position where its eyes are in danger. Rarely, a horse might have a congenital problem fully retracting the third eyelid - in the one case I know, the animal ended up having recurring eye infections in that eye, probably because the third eyelid was not doing its job, and is now blind in that eye as a result.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Do horses pant?

No, horses do not pant. Because horses cannot breathe through their mouth, they also cannot pant to cool down. They sweat, like we do.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Call To Arms - Horses And Mules

Skipping the question today to pimp a not unrelated project.

This is a Pathfinder supplement which goes over the basics of horses and mules - and also has a ton of mechanics stuff. It's really for Pathfinder people, but writers might find the color charts and horse personality generator useful.

Back to your regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.