Tuesday, February 28, 2017

What is a pickaxe?

A pickaxe is generally a hitch of three horses in front and two in back. The term is also sometimes used to refer to a reverse unicorn - two horses in front and one in the back.

Pickaxes are considered an extremely tough hitch that should be left for professional drivers.

I wasn't even able to find a picture of one that I could use as they're so rare.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Cinematic Oops: The Great Wall

Just watched this movie last weekend, and overall the horse action was pretty good. They didn't mount steppe nomads on nice, shiny stabled horses, but let their mounts be a bit scruffy.

Unfortunately, they made a major mistake early on that had me and my husband groaning and facepalming.

A group of characters were being chased through canyon territory by "nomads." (We don't get to see why). They have the horses they're riding and four pack horses.

One of them decides it's a bright idea to cut the pack horses free. With no prompting, chasing, yelling or anything, the pack horses go down a different canyon, leading the pursuers astray.

This would never happen.

A horse that's loose will do one of two things:
1. Follow their buddies.
2. Try to go back to their own territory.

As these horses were at least supposed to be a good way from home, they would have followed their buddies. Period. To get them to go down a different canyon would have required yelling and probably a smack or three with a hand or even a whip. Something.

Remember: Basic horse psychology is that horses feel more secure in a group. They don't go away from the herd without a reason.

Friday, February 24, 2017

What is a unicorn (other than a horse with a horn)?

A unicorn is a driving configuration with two horses behind and one in front. It may be the most difficult configuration to drive and requires a very special lead horse (if you look at ads for driving horses, if the horse has experience leading a unicorn it will be mentioned).

It's also called "randem tandem" and was often used by farmers who needed to make tight turns - or if a coach needed to go somewhere and one member of the four-in-hand was lame. In some periods, also, driving unicorn was a way of showing off one's skill with the lines.

This unicorn rig is being inspected by a judge after completing an obstacle course (or before starting, I can't be sure). Unicorns are, these days, mostly seen in competition - as a way of showing off one's skill with the lines, of course. Image source Eponimm via Wikimedia Commons.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

What is a tandem?

In the context of driving, a tandem is two horses hitched one in front of the other. It's considered one of the hardest configurations to drive.

Image source Les Meloures via Wikimedia Commons.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Why is a team of four horses in two pairs called a four-in-hand?

Because correctly, when you drive a team, you hold all of the reins (yes, all four sets) in one hand.

So, you have four horses in one hand, which rapidly contracts to "four-in-hand." (And no, I'm imagining it's not easy, although I've only ever driven a single myself).

The driver in this shot has the reins in the left hand but is "assisting" with his right hand - this is top British driver George Bowman. Image source, Vickusin via Wikimedia commons.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Why do modern jousters use draft horses?

Because, to be honest, we've mostly lost the "great horse" or "destrier."

Draft horses are often the only animals that can handle the weight of 100 pounds of armor plus maybe 150-200 pounds of jouster plus the weight of the barding. They are also mostly (but not always) easy to desensitize to crowd noise, rattling armor, etc.

Ring jousters and some jousters who "fake" it at RenFaires often use lighter horses.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Do stallions get ED? (NSFW)

Uh, yes. Stallions can get erectile dysfunction.

However, unlike with humans, when a horse can't get it up it is as likely to be psychological as anything else. Sexual dysfunction in stallions is often caused by management issues such as breeding fatigue (expecting the stallion to cover too many mares too quickly) or overall poor handling. In some cases, young or timid stallions may be, uh, too intimidated by the mare to perform. And very young stallions can sometimes have, uh, issues finding the hole.

Lack of performance in stallions can also be caused by pain in the back or rear legs (in other words, anything that makes mounting the mare uncomfortable or painful).

And there are also instances of a stallion simply not fancying the mare presented to him. I once knew a stallion who absolutely refused to mount pinto mares. No reason or trauma behind it - as far as anyone could tell he just found them unattractive. In these cases, artificial insemination (if legal for the breed) is often used to get around the problem.

Friday, February 17, 2017

How old a mare can have a foal?

Horses do not go through menopause and mares as old as 30 have safely given birth. However, there is a tendency for fertility to start to drop at the age of 15. Most vets do not recommend breeding a mare for the first time past this age, as older maiden mares are more likely to have complications.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

What is a red bag foal?

A "red bag" foal is when the placenta separates prematurely before or during foaling. It's rare, but can lead to the death of the foal. The mare will require assistance - the red bag will cover the foal's nose and possibly cause hypoxia. Red bag foals are often weak and more vulnerable to infection.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

What is developmental orthopedic disease?

Basically - anything that causes problems in a growing horse's limbs or joints falls under this banner, including "growing pains" and some limb deformities.

Most of these problems are caused when people feed young horses too much - horses are meant to grow off of lots of low energy feed, so when people start giving foals grain it can cause all kinds of problems. The incidence is pretty high, and the cure is generally to feed the baby less.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Do horses have gigantism?

Clinical gigantism (acromegaly) is not really recorded in horses, although it occurs rarely in dogs and cats.

Extremely large heavy horses may be "giants" in a sense, especially as they sometimes have bone and metabolic issues, but I know of no case of true "giantism" in a horse. It might be that pituitary disorders in foals are so severe as to make the foal non-viable.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Are draft horses harder to breed?

Yes, as it happens.

Draft stallions tend to produce more semen...but the same amount of sperm, meaning their sperm count is lower. Then that sperm has to get through a bigger uterus. Draft mares are also more prone to endometritis (uterine infection) and retained placenta. (This is also why draft mules are more expensive - it can take quite a few coverings to get one).

Most draft people think it's worth it, though.

Friday, February 10, 2017

How may badgers help with fly problems?

Came across this today. Badgers apparently produce a semiochemical (a pheremone) that repels wasps and mosquitos. Now scientists are looking into synthesizing this and using it to repel blackflies from horses. Apparently, it's doing well in trials. It might also make a good mosquito repellent for humans...

Thanks, badgers.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

What is wobbler syndrome?

A "wobbler" is a horse with a deformed cervical (neck) vertebrae that presses on the spinal cord. It's seen in young horses as they grow and is most common in Thoroughbreds, because of their long spine and rapid growth pattern. It is twice as common in males as females.

They're called "wobblers" because they are clumsy and uncoordinated. The actual root cause is difficulty knowing where their feet are (some normal horses may appear this way, coordination does vary).

Wobbler syndrome can also be caused by arthritis of the spine in older horses.

Some foals with wobbler syndrome recover if they are put on a diet to slow their growth, although many growing horses have their clumsy phases anyway, so it can be hard to tell.

Wobbler syndrome often needs to be treated surgically, by fusing the affected joint with a metal insert. This has about a 75% success rate, but even with surgery some wobblers are never anything but pets. - and some vets recommend that horses with the syndrome never be ridden.

Fortunately, not all clumsy horses have wobbler syndrome. Many just can't be bothered to pick their feet up.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Can a horse have multiple personality disorder?

If so...how would we know? Some horses appear to have split personalities - but these are often easily explained. For example, a horse that gets anxious at a show may be upset by the difference in routine or picking up on their rider's stage fright.

I admit I have known horses that definitely had different "modes" - I know one right now who loves jumping most of the time and then has days when she Just Doesn't Want To Do It, and we're still trying to work out what's going on in her cute little grey head. When she's in one of her moods she won't even willingly step over a pole on the ground.

But in every case of equine "split personality" there has turned out to be a reason - a difference in the rider, a new horse being introduced, even in some cases the weather (I have known many horses that get very "up" and want to run if it's windy).

There's no indication that horses have true multiple personality disorder. Just dramatic changes in mood that can usually be put down to something.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Why do Akhal-Tekes have shiny coats?

Going to talk about a specific breed - because what's going on with them is really cool.

This is an Akhal-Teke stallion named Ikon (image source Ulruppelt via Wikimeida Commons) and as you can see he is really shiny.

But how does he look like he was spun out of metal like that? Palominos are normally shiny, but this guy takes shiny one step further. The reason is that this breed has weird hair.

The opaque core of the hair is narrower or even absent, allowing the light to shine through the hair - except it refracts it a little to give that shimmery golden look. Black Akhal-Tekes can look blue or even purple.

It is very rarely seen in other breeds, and appears to be caused by a recessive gene. It occasionally shows up in Thoroughbreds, Warmbloods, Arabians and Quarter Horses - and probably indicates some distant steppe ancestry. (And of course in the occasional horse of mixed/uncertain breeding).

Monday, February 6, 2017

Can blind people ride?

This was triggered by finding a video on Youtube of somebody who was blind in one eye and could barely see out of the other jumping.

Blind people absolutely can and do ride horses. They even compete. Blind people routinely compete against sighted people in dressage - some have "living letters" but some do it by literally counting their horse's strides (even more of a challenge when you realize that if they change horses they have to learn to count all over again).

Blind show jumpers either have a sighted rider to follow or their trainer shouting instructions. Bells are sometimes used.

There are blind cowboys who ride broncs, both saddle and bareback. At least one barrel racer can literally see no further than two inches from her face.

So, by all means have your blind characters ride - and ride well. They just need a horse that can be trusted to be their eyes.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Why is driving more dangerous than riding?

I've mentioned this before - but driving, and even riding in a carriage, is actually more dangerous than riding a horse.


If a saddle horse panics, you may well fall off, or the horse may run you into something (I'm apparently not alone in having been clotheslined by a horse on an obstacle...ow). The horse may keep running and run into something or, worse, somebody.

But when a harness horse panics, they run off with a huge great vehicle attached to them. Youtube is full of videos of nasty carriage collisions, carriages being pulled into crowds, etc. If the carriage is what spooked the horse, they will keep running because oh my it's following me I need to get away. And if one tips, it's a lot worse than a horse falling on you (which I've also experienced).

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Do horses get food allergies?

Horses do sometimes react to feed - it can be hard to tell if it's an allergy or some other kind of sensitivity (just like in humans). We have no clue how many actually have food allergies, as skin tests don't work well on horses. The only thing you can do is an elimination diet - and what if the food is something in the pasture? Oh, and antihistamines don't work well in horses either.

So, yes they can, and it's a nightmare when they do.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Can you put a horse saddle on a mule?

No. Mule and donkey saddles have to be designed a little bit differently because of the shape of their shoulders and withers.

Your characters should not take a saddle off a horse and put it on a mule or vice versa. (Note that the rider won't notice a difference - I've ridden a mule and the saddle felt the same to the rider).