Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Do horses know their own name?

Yes - many horses can be trained to recognize their own name. However, unlike dogs, they don't get "set" about their name. It's much easier to change it, and I know at least one horse who responds better to her nickname, "Chicken" than to her proper name - because she hears it more often. They will quite quickly get used to a new name.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Can horses open doors?

Oh, can they. Fortunately, it never occurs to most horses to open their stall door - but when one works it out precautions sometimes need to be taken such as changing the latch, adding a clip to hold the latch down, etc. Some horses will even let the entire herd out!

Friday, May 26, 2017

Do horses sleep walk?

No. When horses sleep standing up, which adult horses do most of the time, they actually lock their legs in place so they can't fall over - which also means they can't move. When they lie down they are in REM sleep - and sleepwalking does not occur in that stage of sleep.

So, no, horses can't sleep walk - although they can certainly walk around while dozing - watch pony ride ponies and you'll see some half-lidded eyes because, well, it's not the most interesting job in the world even for a horse.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Do horses get nightmares?

Had to - mostly for the pun. The answer is - probably. Just like us, horses need REM sleep - dreams - to stay healthy.

Of course, we don't know what our horses dream about, but we do know that horses sometimes seem to panic while asleep and wake up shaking - symptoms similar to night terrors in humans. So, we can assume that our horses, just like us, have at least the occasional bad dream. Probably about being chased...

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Do vets sometimes prescribe marijuana to horses?

Actually, marijuana has been used in horse medicine for a long time - it used to be used all the time to treat colic. And there's a growing body of evidence that marijuana can be a good alternative to bute (which eventually wrecks the liver) for chronic pain in horses. It can also be used to stimulate appetite and, in a slightly higher dose, induce sleep (some horses do get insomnia).

There's now a campaign to restore the use of medical marijuana in horses. I'd definitely like to see a study on how it works as a colic treatment or, again, as an alternative to bute.

Why do horses suddenly collapse?

Sometimes a horse will just collapse - and most of the time? Most of the time it's sleep deprivation. Although horses mostly sleep standing up, they need to lie down to dream. If they don't do this at least once every two weeks (normally, they do it every two days) then they can get narcoleptic.

Why do horses get sleep deprived? Anxiety is the most common reason - the horse simply never feels secure enough to lie down to sleep. This is more common in dominant animals (They don't want to leave anyone else watching the herd) and in animals kept completely alone. Other reasons for sleep deprivation in horses include noise pollution (just as with some humans), sleep terrors/nightmares (We don't know what horses dream, but we can see them freak out), muscle or other conditions that make it painful for the horse to lie down and/or get up or being kept in a stall which is too small. In some cases, the departure of the lead mare can cause the entire herd to be sleep deprived until the hierarchy sorts itself out.

Other reasons for horses collapsing include heart problems or narcolepsy.

Sleep deprivation in horses is most often treated with anti-anxiety drugs, but melatonin can help some.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Why did "Thundersnow" refuse to run in the Derby?

If you saw this year's Kentucky Derby, you might note that one of the horses wanted absolutely nothing to do with racing.


While I'm not familiar with the horse, I could tell immediately why the horse refused to compete and tried to toss his jockey. And no, he was not hurt.

The track was basically a swimming pool - it was deep mud - and some horses just won't run on mud. He slipped a bit coming out of the stall and apparently decided that no, he was not risking it. His jockey made the sensible decision not to push the matter.

The ultimate reason: All of the horse's previous dirt track experience was in the UAE. Where, ya know, it doesn't rain very often.

Here's the official video so you can see a horse saying NO with all its might for yourself.

Monday, May 22, 2017

What are windswept legs?

Windswept legs are a deformity of the legs in foals that make the foal look as if he's being blown to one side. It's a rare disorder that affects either both front legs or both hind legs. It's believed to be caused by poor positioning in the womb or inadequate nutrition. Some foals recover on their own, but some require minor surgery to straighten them out.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Can horses walk on their hind legs?

For very short periods, but it's not really a natural thing for them to do. However, an Arabian horse called Desert Kismet holds the Guinness Record for "Fastest 10m on hind legs by a horse" (9.21 seconds). Teaching a horse to do this requires teaching them unnatural coordination and muscle development. The typical horse can't even stay on their hind legs for that long at a stretch - physically can't. They aren't made to do it.

Here's a video of Desert Kismet doing his signature trick.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Does it really take "ten falls to make a good rider"?

That's a saying that circulates in Britain, and I've heard variants in the US too (usually the number of falls).

I'm well past my ten falls, as it were (I'll be honest and say I'm thinking of this topic because I took a stupid tumble yesterday, off of the tallest horse in the barn, because I do nothing by half measures) - but what the saying really means is this:

If you worry too much about falling off, you will never progress as a rider. An occasional failure to keep the horse between you and the ground is a normal hazard of riding - and something you have to learn to deal with.

It might not take ten falls to be a good rider, but you can't become a good rider without falling off.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Why don't horses generally jump out of a field?

Horses are quite capable of jumping their own height, so why do they stay in fenced paddocks?

There are several reasons. The biggest is that, for the most part, horses simply can't be bothered to jump the fence to get out. (The exception is horses that seriously love to jump, and they often have to be kept in by putting electric wires in a strategic location to teach them a lesson when they try to jump out). They will, though, run out of an open gate.

Most horses, though, are more inclined to stay put as long as they have water, company, and enough food. Why bother going looking for better? (They will, though, often lean over the fence because for some reason the grass outside HAS to be tastier, right?)

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Which side do carriage people put the taller horse?

Ideally, a properly matched pair of horses should be exactly the same height, but that was not always possible. A one or two inch height difference is not uncommon.

So, which side is the taller horse put?

Typically, if driving on the road, you want the taller horse to be towards the edge of the road - that way the camber will help the horses make up the difference. In other words, if you drive on the left side of the road, you put the taller horse on the left, and if on the right on the right.

If in doubt, the taller horse is put to the right - which apparently makes the pair easier to drive.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Can horses see behind them?

Horses can see almost directly behind them - but do have a blind spot in their immediate rear (when told not to approach a horse from behind, we're really saying to stay out of that blind spot - if you approach a horse from behind at an angle they can see you fine).

Friday, May 12, 2017

Do horses hate the rain?

Generally not. In fact, horses that are provided with a free use shelter will often still stand out in the rain. They don't seem to mind it at all.

However, some horses do seem to hate the rain. And most horses will seek shelter if they hear thunder - they're tall and don't want to be hit by lightning. Horses will also try to turn their back to the rain or wind and may get mad with a rider who won't let them do that.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Why are "parallel" fences difficult for horses?

Okay, so I was jumping an older schoolmaster mare yesterday, having some fun with her, but when presented with a fence with the front and back rails the same height, she stopped. Why?

Horses, compared to us, have kind of lousy depth perception and a little bit of a difficulty with object permanence. When they are faced with a fence like this:

(Image source: Craig Macubbin via Wikimedia commons)

...that back rail "jumps out" at them at the last moment, they may not even properly see it until they start to take off. Even international show jumpers will have a moment of fear at a fence like this and may stop, especially if being ridden by an unfamiliar rider.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Can draft horses jump?

You might hear that they can't. Actually, draft horses are perfectly capable of jumping and some draft crosses can be really good at it. Pure draft horses tend not to be very good at jumping, but many will give it a try anyway. They tend to jump a bit awkwardly (draft horses, cobs and some ponies will kind of go up, across, down rather than forming a proper arc) but they certainly can.

Of course, you don't want them hitting your jumps - they're rather more likely to break the equipment than a light horse.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Why do horses spook at orange and yellow?

Horses have dichromatic color vision. Light orange and yellow stand out more to them than other colors, and that can result in the horse being startled, especially if the item colored that is flapping or moving. (The barn I rode at as a kid had a single orange jump pole and that thing elicited more stops and runouts than any other obstacle used!)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Do mares steal foals?

Sometimes, although other animals are worse.

The textbook case is a mare who is about to foal who doesn't seem to realize her foal isn't there yet and tries to take somebody else's. More rarely, a maiden mare will try to steal a foal. The only solution is to separate the animals - it can result in fights between the mares, the foal getting hurt, or the "victim" mare losing her milk.

A mare who has lost her foal will also sometimes try to steal another mare's foals - a behavior pattern that can be made use of if you have an orphaned foal.

I've also heard stories about donkeys trying to steal both foals and calves!

Friday, May 5, 2017

Do stallions recognize their own offspring?

Absolutely - probably by scent - and this despite the fact that the mares generally move a distance from the herd to foal.

Stallions will not cover their own daughters, so they remember which foals are theirs even 2-3 years later (colts will, though, cover their own dams...probably because that situation would not happen in the wild, where colts are driven out of their birth herd before puberty). In captivity, stallions have been known to kill foals that they did not sire, and love on and play with ones they did.

So, yes, they seem to know when they are "daddy."

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Do wild stallions "steal" mares?

The idea that wild stallions "steal" mares is a basic one - but the truth is far more nuanced.

Many years ago I was riding on either Dartmoor where they run ponies out. I was on a larger pony mare who happened to be in heat. We rounded the corner and there was a breeding band complete with stallion.

The interaction which followed was a little scary, but interesting to watch. The stallion immediately began display behavior - which in stallions is the head and tail coming up and trotting with exaggerated action, intended to make him look big, impressive and show off how he can move. (We channel these same motions into advanced dressage, most particularly piaffe and passage).

The mare I was riding, who was probably horny as anything, started to sidle towards the stallion.

One of the mares in his band took up a station between him and the band know what they say about mare face?

I have never seen such mare face. It was very obvious to me or any competent horse person that she was saying "You come back here right now or you are in real trouble."

One of the wranglers rode at the stallion riding a whip and between that and the looks he was getting from his "queen" he decided not to try anything further and trotted/bounced back to his harem.

I did not see "snaking" behavior, which is how a stallion herds mares (and how a trained horse herds cows, quite interesting to be on the horse when they do that) but I don't think he got close enough. However, the interest of the mare in the stallion was equal.

"Stealing" of mares often occurs when a young stallion approaches a dominant herd. However, in wild interactions, most of the "stolen" mares are actually the fillies born in the herd - because the dominant stallion, if he hasn't already simply chased them off (or their mothers haven't) is able to identify them as his own offspring and won't breed them. If another male shows up, then the dynamic is often that the male will be allowed to leave with a daughter or two. (This is how horses avoid inbreeding).

Stallions will though approach domestic mares, and the issue is often that the mares are without a male presence or the only males present are geldings, whom the stallion sees as subservient. From his perspective, he's assuming (as with the mare I was riding) that these mares are either young fillies who left their own herd, or part of a herd who's stallion has been killed, so of course he's seeing an opportunity to impress (hence the display behavior) these unattached females. What we see as "stealing" is, of course, simply courtship - a mare who doesn't want to be "stolen" will give the stallion a solid kick for his troubles!

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Why would you blindfold a horse?

Just found a video where some idiots thought it was a good idea to blindfold a horse and then jump on it. An unbroken horse.

That's ridiculous, but using blindfolds is perfectly legitimate under certain circumstances.

The most common time when a good handler blindfolds a horse (in an emergency you can use a sweater) is to get the horse out of a fire. Horses are really dumb when scared and will run back into a burning barn because they see their stall as the safe place. Occasionally, in an emergency, you might blindfold a horse that won't load to get it on the trailer.

Horses may also be blindfolded for some medical procedures. Dentists might blindfold the horse so the lights they are using to look at his teeth don't catch him in the eye. It is also traditional to "cup" the eye (put a hand behind the eye on one side so the horse can't see what's going on behind him) when giving injections. Blindfolding a horse can help diagnose certain neurological conditions by determining how much the horse is relying on its vision for balance. If you see a vet blindfold a horse that's just fallen at a race or event, they're checking for concussion.

Because of this, good horsemen blindfold train their horses so that they don't panic when their eyes are covered. This training is sometimes tested in competition - if you watch trail classes or "cowboy races" you might see an obstacle where the cowboy has to get off, blindfold his horse, then lead it through an obstacle.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Are horses afraid of snakes?

Generally, yes, and some horses are even afraid of anything that remotely resembles a snake (the hose moving apparently on its own because they can't see the person pulling it can be a major horse eating monster).

They are instinctively afraid of snakes, although snakes are one of the few things a horse is more likely to fight or kill than flee from. Like anything else, though, horses can be trained not to be particularly bothered by snakes.

Monday, May 1, 2017

What is balking?

I may already have posted this, but if I did it's long enough ago that a reminder won't hurt.

A horse that "balks" is refusing to go in the direction his rider or handler wants. A balking horse might stop and plant his hooves, or might go in other directions - spin to go the other way, backwards, sideways, even up (rearing).

Balking is an expression of a strong desire not to go in the intended direction and is most often caused by not wanting to move away from the herd. It can also be caused by the horse being uncomfortable with the ground - often, horses will balk if asked to go into water if they cannot see the bottom, some horses won't walk through mud puddles, etc.

Basically, a horse that balks is saying "I don't want to."