Friday, June 30, 2017

What eye colors can horses have?

Most horses have brown eyes. If lack of skin pigmentation includes the eye, then the eye can be wholly or partly blue (parti-colored eyes are also seen in some species of dogs). This can also lead to heterochromia (one brown eye, one blue).

Blue eyes are also seen on double dilutes. Single dilutes - buckskins and palominos - often still have brown eyes, but they are lighter in color.

The champagne gene turns the eye blue-green at birth and hazel or amber at maturity. Paso Fino horses also carry a gene that produces an amber eye.

Green eyes are extremely rare in horses. They are found in horses that carry the pearl gene (a rare dilute gene) and very, very rarely on homozygous cream or cream and champagne - but in all these instances the eye is more commonly blue, amber, or hazel.

Normal brown eye (source AnemoneProjectors via Wikimedia Commons).

Blue eye on a paint horse (Source: Kalike via Wikimedia Commons).

And a hazel eye. The mottled skin is another clue that this horse is a champagne. (Source AnemoneProjectors via Wikimedia Commons).

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Is there such a thing as a "long haired" horse?

Not the way there are long haired cats or dogs. Some breeds grow longer and shaggier winter coats than others, but pretty much all horses have fairly short fur.

However, there IS a long-haired breed of donkey, called the Poitou, which has dreadlocks similar to those seen on Puli dogs. The long-haired trait is dominant so it shows up in part breds. It does not, however, show up in mules bred from Poitou donkeys.

A Poitou donkey with a full coat. Image source Remi Jouan via Wikimedia commons.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

How do horses "know" when to grow their winter coat?

Horse people joke that horses can tell when it's going to be a bad winter and grow more fur. That's not true, although it sometimes seems to be.

The actual trigger is light levels - which is why show horses kept under lights don't grow as thick a winter coat (this is often desirable in horses that are working hard through the winter, as otherwise you have to start shaving them so they don't overheat). Horses grow their winter coat when the days get shorter and shed it when they get longer again.

Actual winter coat length is dependent on light levels (which happen to nicely equate to temperature) and genetics - some horses will grow almost no winter coat and others become very shaggy when kept in the same conditions. Thoroughbreds and Arabians (and some Quarter Horses with a lot of TB or Arabian blood) tend to grow very thin coats, whilst ponies, like this Shetland, get very fuzzy indeed.

Image source: Miles Wolstenholme via Wikimedia Commons.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Are there any hairless horses?

There are no "hairless" horse breeds (like, for example, sphinx cats). However, the Bashkir Curly breed, which has a curly coat, can sometimes be close to hairless in the summer if the animal carries two copies of the gene.

Also, some horses will lose their winter coat before their summer coat grows all the way in, resulting in bald patches.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Are any horses naturally tailless?

Rarely. There is one Austrian Thoroughbred stallion, Shellscrape, who was retired from stud duty after 20 percent of his foals were born with shortened, crooked, or missing tails.

However, there is no "bobtail" gene in horses (or draft breeders would have made use of it to produce naturally short tails). A lack of a tail or a shortened tail is symptomatic of a spinal deformity (or it means the tail was cut off either for "tradition" or because it was damaged and had to be amputated). It can be a symptom of spina bifida.

A docked Clydesdale (image source Kersti Nebelsiek via Wikimedia Commons).

Appaloosa horses often have short tails, but the actual tail (the dock) is full length - they just don't grow much in the way of hair on it.

Donkeys are more commonly born with a short or missing tail, and its possible there is a bobtail gene in donkeys, but it has never been bred for if so.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Do riders generally hang onto the reins when they fall?

It's actually a bit of a bone of contention - and the answer is "It depends."

Holding onto the reins during a fall can potentially injure a horse's mouth and poll. It can also result in you getting tangled in the reins and dragged or pulling the horse on top of you.

On the other hand, letting go can result in a loose horse running onto a road or similar.

Most of us are trained to let go unless there's a good reason to keep hold.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

What is "jackstock"?

Jackstock is a term donkey breeders use for the best stock that they reserve for making more donkeys (rather than making mules which, particularly with larger breeds, is the most common use for donkeys in the west these days).

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

What is a "Jerusalem donkey?"

Most donkeys (except for some breeds, such as the Mammoth Jack, which have had it bred out) have a cross on their backs.

It's a pretty legend that the cross was given to the donkey because he carried Christ to Jerusalem - hence the term "Jerusalem donkey."

The "arm" of the cross is clearly visible on the grey donkey in the foreground. Although the black one likely still has the marking, it is not visible against its much darker coat.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

What is a "catty" horse?

A "catty" horse is an agile horse that turns quickly - it's normally a term used by cowhands to refer to horses that are able to go after a cow easily. It also implies that the horse is surefooted and less likely to fall.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Do old horses get hard of hearing?

Yup. Age-related hearing loss can start to show up at 15, sometimes younger in horses that are exposed to loud sounds a lot (some show horses and horses used in battle reenactment are at risk - think about this for your writing. Artillery horses are likely to end up deaf!).

They generally compensate pretty well for it, though, and horses are less reliant on high frequencies than some animals, so may not even notice the first stages of hearing loss.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Do horses get ear infections?

Not as much as dogs or cats. Middle ear infections are more common than external ear infections. Horses with an ear infection seldom experience ear drum rupture - unfortunately, this is because the infection tends to go down the long head and into the skull, sometimes causing joint fusion in the jaw (ow) and partial facial paralysis (extra ow).

Fortunately, this is pretty uncommon. Horse ears are generally pretty healthy.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Do horses get ear mites?

Ugh, do they. Horses can and do get ear mites, although they are rare. The most common culprit is Psoroptes cuniculi, a mite more commonly found in rabbits (and presumably transmitted by wild rabbits that wander into the pasture).

If a horse does get them, though, it can be a real pain. Because their ears hurt, they don't want to let you near their ears to kill the mites - they often have to be sedated. I know at least one horse who had a major infestation and still doesn't want to let anyone near her ears. And I heard of another that got so ear shy as a result they have to be bridled like a mule!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

What is "buttress foot"?

Buttress foot is inflammation of the front of the coronary band, causing pain and eventually effecting the shape of the foot. It can also cause bone chips to develop. Buttress foot is generally caused by excessive strain (such as galloping on hard surfaces) and can also be caused by damage to the tendon in front of the cannon bone. It is more common in the hind feet and is treated by complete rest and sometimes removal of bone chips. Some horses never recover.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

What is Potomac Horse Fever?

Something very nasty - it's a bacterial disease that horses sometimes get when pastured next to a body of water.

It's relatively easy to treat, but can be fatal in extreme cases. It causes diarrhea, stomach ache, fever and loss of appetite - so, it's basically stomach flu. It can also cause miscarriage in pregnant mares. There are vaccines, but they are not completely effective (as is common with bacterial diseases). PHF is a new world disease and can also affect dogs and cats, but not humans. It is not directly contagious - it's caused by the horse eating the bacteria along with their grass.

Monday, June 12, 2017

How did they safely have those horses fall on the beach in Wonder Woman?

Stunt horses are well trained - and often they and their riders risk injury. If you watched Wonder Woman, you'll see a couple of horses "die" on the beach.

Traditionally, they used to ride horses into pits and intentionally trip them. Needless to say, this often resulted in injured horses (and sometimes riders). Or they would use something called the "Running W" - again to trip the horse.

In the 1940s, things started to change. Modern stunt horses - "falling horses" are literally trained to go down on command. They normally soften the ground - which might not have been done on the sandy beach, as it was already soft). It's done using a special rein cue.

A trained falling horse is very valuable - not every horse has the combination of athleticism and willingness to do it.

Here's a video of a trick rider practicing the stunt so you can have a better idea how it's done.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Do horses get strokes?

Yes, they can - just the same as humans. Symptoms include an awkward gate, lethargy, difficulty eating, staring into space and difficulty or inability lifting the head.

Just like in humans, some animals recover completely, some have lingering symptoms and some die or have to be euthanized.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What is "contracted foal syndrome"?

Contracted foal syndrome (CFS) is a common birth defect in horses. The affected foals are unable to straighten one or more limbs and may be unable to stand. Some may also have a twisted neck, wry nose or scoliosis. CFS can also cause birth complications. Foals with severe CFS are often euthanized. Those with mild CFS or only one limb affected can recover with surgery or splinting of the affected limb(s).

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Why do horses sleep standing up?

Horses are known for being able to literally sleep on their feet.

It's a trait they share with other large herbivores including elephants, giraffes, moose, rhinos and bisons. Cows can also sleep on their feet, but tend to lie down more than horses do.


Most of the animals (some birds also do it for other reasons) that sleep on their feet are large prey animals. If they were cornered by a predator while lying down, then they might not be able to get up before it was on them (smaller herbivores such as deer have a higher power to weight ratio and can spring to their feet faster).

So, horses mostly sleep standing up, and only lie down to sleep when somebody else is watching - if you watch a herd of horses (or cattle) you might notice that you will almost never see all of them lying down at once.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Can horses sit like a dog?

Yes, but it's not the most natural thing and they don't generally do it unless some human has taught it as a trick. Sometimes old horses might rest in that position for a while while getting up because it's tricky for them to get up in one motion. It can also indicate a neurological problem.

Monday, June 5, 2017

What blood types do horses have?

Humans have A, B, AB and O - what about horses?

Horses have 7 blood types - A, C, D, K, P, Q, and U. That sounds bad enough, but humans only have one factor - Rh - want to guess how many horses have? More than 30! You'd think the omnivores would be more complex ones.

Oh, and they develop antibodies to donkey blood too. Can't be simple, right?

Friday, June 2, 2017

Why do dressage arenas have letters?

Because dressage is very precise - the letters are used to help the riders know exactly where to make transitions or aim for.

Correctly, the change of gait should happen as the rider's shoulders reach the letter.

Thursday, June 1, 2017

What is a daisy cutter?

A daisy cutter is a horse that moves without lifting its feet much off the ground - it's considered a desirable trait in stock horses because it allows for a much more efficient stride at speed. Some Thoroughbreds also "daisy cut."

It can be a problem when the horse is asked to move through deep going, however.