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.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Are ponies actually evil?

No, the nasty mark on my chin was not caused by a human punching me. It was caused by a pony...

There are all sorts of sayings about ponies being evil. My favorite is this one:

"The closer to the ground, the closer to..."

You can guess which word I'm redacting there.

Here's the thing about ponies.

Ponies are not as genetically altered from wild stock as horses. This has its good aspects - they live longer, tend to be healthier, can carry or pull quite a bit more weight in proportion to their size, often have better hooves, etc.

However, they also tend to be just a tiny bit less...uh...cooperative in natural personality. And many of them seem (I stress seem) to have a wicked or even actively malicious sense of humor.

What happens then is that because of their small size they are often given to children to ride and handle. No matter how talented, children will never have the perseverance, maturity, emotional control or experience of adults (Yes, I know some teenagers who are more mature than many adults, but the smallest ponies are being dealt with by pre-teens).

If the adults around aren't on the ball and working with the kids, then it can rapidly degenerate into a situation where the pony is in charge - and you've created "a monster that will not obey."

A spoiled horse is bad. A spoiled pony is terrible - and there are far more spoiled ponies. Ponies need to be fairly regularly handled, and if large enough ridden, by adults so they don't think they can get away with, oh, I don't know...

...pulling people off over their head by the reins. (I was actually surprised he was strong enough to get me that way - usually I laugh when they do that :P).

And sometimes, of course, they get away with stuff, like little dogs, because they're just this cute. (Neither of those two are evil to my knowledge).

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Do jumping horses know not to knock the fences over?

Definitely. Horses are very good at picking up when their rider is pleased and displeased. And, of course, hitting a pole is kind of annoying. A good jumping horse will do his level best to leave all the poles in place.

Of course, I swear some horses knock them over on purpose...

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

What can you do with hoof parings?

Not much. The only thing I've ever seen them actually be good for is chew toys for the barn dog, and a lot of people don't think that's a good idea either. They tend to throw them back up.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Why do some horses chew their buddy's tail?

It's a big problem - a horse comes in with its tail chewed up, and a pasturemate is responsible. Why do they do this?

It's a bad habit that's most commonly caused by boredom. It's most common in foals (who get bored easily), but definitely happens in adults. The culprit I know is old and retired. It can also mean they need a mineral supplement. It can be cured by separation (except that can cause other bad habits) or putting something foul tasting on the oh-so-tasty tail. You can identify the culprit usually - the only one without a chewed tail (although the one I know only chews the tail of one of his pasturemates...for some reason. That one *points down*. Poor CeCe...

Friday, July 7, 2017

Are horses ticklish?

They can be - and it can be quite annoying when trying to groom them. Horses are most often ticklish around their flanks and under the belly.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Where do movie horses come from?

A lot of people think that there are big ranches where movie horses hang out between films. This used to be true in the heyday of the western, but it's no longer quite true.

While some of the horses you see in movies are owned by the "livestock coordinator" - the person hired to make sure the movie or TV show gets the horses they need - these are mostly elite trick or stunt horses. Stunt horses in particular are extremely valuable. And yes, there are a few ranches. The Devils' Horsemen in Buckinghamshire provides the horses for Game of Thrones - and when not filming the horses give lessons, mostly to actors. The Dent family also has a big ranch, in Hertfordshire - the biggest. And yes, those are in England.

The majority are not. In some cases horses may be purchased for a production and then sold afterwards (resulting in those feel-good stories about the actor or stuntman who bought the horse they were working with - these horses don't generally end up in bad places if sold as they're by definition good tempered and if they weren't bombproof before...) TV shows that need horses for season upon season generally do buy their horses. Mr Ed, for example, was played by two horses - Bamboo Harvester was the actual actor (who was trained to move his mouth on cue by using his favorite treat) and Pumpkin was the horse's body double.

It's more common, though, for these horses to be leased or rented for the production. If a producer needs a horse that can carry a 70 year old actor who can't really ride for a scene or two, then the wrangler is likely to call up a lesson barn or dude ranch and borrow a horse. (I knew a lesson horse who also did quite a bit of film work). Horses for racing scenes might be rented from trainers. The 1969 western Undefeated required 2,500 horses - the most ever - and the majority of them were rented from local ranches. Some "specialty" stunt horses are also owned by private individuals.

Finally, sometimes a production will put out a call for mounted extras - in this case, the riders bring their own horses. This is more common for very simple scenes or, for example, if filming at a horse show then the other riders may be local show people.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Why do sleighs have bells?

"Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way..."

Sleigh harnesses traditionally have bells on them - why? It's actually for a very obvious reason. A horse on soft snow pulling a sleigh doesn't always make enough noise for people to hear them coming.

And, of course, tradition.

Note the bells on the saddle there. (Image source Pete Markham via Wikimedia Commons).

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Do horses like watermelon?

It's hot - and I want some watermelon. Horses, as it happens, also quite like watermelon (and aren't bothered by the seeds). In fact, given their dentition and digestion, horses will eat and enjoy the rind. So...time to share!

Monday, July 3, 2017

Can horses manage with three legs?

Not really. Dogs and cats can both survive fine in captivity with a missing leg - it's harder for cats.

Horses, because they are designed to be on their feet all the time, can't. A three legged horse requires a prosthetic to survive. Because this is extremely expensive, it's not always an option - and some horses can't recover. (Minis, because of their smaller size, often have a better chance). 3D printing has made equine prosthetics much easier to make and fit. Hind end prosthetics are easier than front end.

Horses with a prosthetic leg generally can't carry the weight of a rider or work. So, it's only generally done when the animal is a beloved pet. Mares suitable for breeding are also candidates - although they can't often carry the weight of the foal, embryo transfer is routine in horses.