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Happy Horsemanshipby Dorothy Hende Pinch
From Chapter One: To Introduce Myself
For you to enjoy me (and for me to enjoy you, too) there are some important facts about me which you should know before you try to handle or ride me.
I am a HORSE.
My name in Latin is Equus. From this name comes the word "equine," which means something to do with a horse, and the word "equestrian," which means one who rides a horse.
My name in Greek is Hippos. From this name come the words "hippocampus," the sea horse, and "hippopotamus," the river horse, and also "hippophile," the lover of horses. (I hope you are a hippophile!)
I am a mammal, which means I feed my young with milk. My baby is called a foal. It is said to be foaled when it is born. A foal becomes a weanling from the time it leaves its mother until it is a year old, at which time it is known as a yearling. (A Thoroughbred horse's birthday is considered to be the first of January, no matter on what date it was foaled.)
A male horse is called a colt until three years of age. Then he becomes a stallion, unless altered to make him more tractable, in which case he is called a gelding.
The female horse is called a mare and she is known as a filly until three years of age.
The mother of a foal is its dam, its father is called its sire. A foal is said to be "out of" its dam and "by" its sire.
Now let me tell you some things you should know about my body.
When you talk about it, you can divide it into three parts: the forehand, the barrel, and the hindquarters. The forehand includes the head, neck, shoulders, withers, forelegs. The barrel is composed of the back, ribs and belly. The hindquarters include the loins, flank, croup, tail, buttocks and hindlegs.
My left side is called the near side and my right side the off side. I am a vertebrate — I have a backbone. My height is measured from the ground to the highest point of my backbone at the withers. All horses are measured in hands; one hand equals four inches. Any horse measuring 14 hands, 2 inches, or less is known as a pony. (Some of the larger breeds of horses grow to be as much as 18 hands in height!)
I am a quadruped — which means that I have four feet.
My front legs are called forelegs. They bend at the elbow, knee, fetlock, and pastern joints. They carry most of my weight but do not need to be rested as often as my back legs do. Above the knee, on the inside of my foreleg, is a small, horny growth, called a chestnut or castor. The hair on the fetlock grows long, to carry moisture of sweat and rain away from my heel. Watch out for your toes when I am stamping my forelegs to free them from flies in the summer!
My back legs are called my hindlegs. I push or propel my body with my hindlegs. When sleeping or relaxing, I rest one hindleg at a time.
My hindlegs bend at the stifle, hock, fetlock, and pastern joints. There is a chestnut on the inside of each hindleg. When startled, I use my hind legs to protect myself, by kicking. Do not stand or walk near my hindlegs — you might be kicked!
My eyes look forward. I have to turn my head in order to see behind me. My eyes should be large, bright and set far apart.
My ears can move separately, forward and backward. Sometimes my ears, like your eyebrows, can reveal my state of mind. If you watch my ears, you can often know my humor. When both ears are forward — I am cheerful, interested, and alert. When they move backward and forward — I am alert and listening for your voice. When I am relaxing or dozing, my ears usually hang toward the side. (Some horses' ears are naturally set in this manner. They are said to be lop-eared.)
When both ears go back, watch out! I am displeased! This is like your frown. The more my ears turn back the more I am scowling! When you see my ears go back, try to find the reason for my anger or irritation. Always be very careful around my teeth and heels when my ears are pinned back!
My forehead should be broad and flat. This usually means that I am sensible and agreeable. (A narrow forehead and a bulging skull between the eyes often denotes a mean and excitable nature.)
The upper lip of my muzzle is strong and elastic. It stretches out to pull grass and hay into my mouth. (Be sure it does not accidentally pull your fingers between my teeth when you are feeding me a tidbit.) (When I am sleepy or tired, or getting old, sometimes my lower lip relaxes and hangs down.)
During my lifetime I have two sets of teeth. My age until six can be determined by the growth or loss of my first or "milk" teeth. After six the appearance, shape, and degree of wear on my front teeth give information about my age. Until I am nine years old my age is given like yours, but after that I am said to be aged. Mares have thirty-six permanent teeth but stallions or geldings have four extra teeth called tushes. It is important for you to understand the way my jaw is made if you want to have control over me. I respond to the bit in my mouth because when you pull on the reins it puts pressure on a very sensitive part of my jaw, called the bars.
The bars are the toothless area in the lower jaw, between the front, or incisor, teeth and the back, or molar, teeth. Different pressures on these bars by the bit will cause me to turn, raise or lower my head, relax my jaw and flex at the poll. Much of your control of my direction, gaits, speed and balance comes from properly applied pressures to the bars of my jaw. The pressure of your finger or thumb against these bars will cause me to open my mouth for the bit, with no danger to your hand. Be careful not to put your fingers accidentally between my teeth instead of my bars!
I have a long flexible neck. I can bend it around so I can see behind me. Its length is useful in reaching far back on my sides to chase flies or scratch itches. Very handy! I can also bend it around so I can nip the unwary while I am being groomed or saddled! (Fastening me with a short rope or on cross-tie ropes may help prevent an unpleasant surprise!)
Because my neck is long and flexible it is easy for me to reach the ground to eat grass. This is called grazing. (Sometimes I try to graze while you are riding me, which I should not do! Do not try to outpull me to raise my head — you may lose and be pulled over my head by the reins! Use your legs against my sides, and send me forward, then I have to raise my head whether I want to or not.)
I use my neck in different ways to help keep my whole body in balance. The position of my neck affects my body balance, the height I raise my legs and the length of my stride — I stretch out my neck for speed, and raise and bend it for high-stepping paces. And sometimes I use the position of my neck to avoid the controlling action of the bit! For best control, my neck should be kept straight in front of my body.
On the top of my neck grows long, coarse hair, called my mane. The hair which grows between my ears and hangs over my forehead is called my forelock.
My mane usually is trained to hang on the right hand side of my neck.
A cow pony's mane is trained to fall on the left side of his neck, so that it will not interfere with the cowboy's use of his rope on the right side. A polo pony's mane is clipped off close to the neck, so it will not be in the way of the polo player's mallet. This is called a clipped, roached or hogged mane.
For special occasions and horse shows, manes are often plaited in braids, sometimes with colored ribbon or yarn added, to make a more attractive appearance. When the mane is thinned by pulling out some of the hairs, or is made even or shortened by breaking off uneven strands, it is said to be pulled.
My foot is called a hoof.
The outside covering of my hoof is hard and horny. The top of the hoof, where the flesh of the leg changes to the horn of the hoof, is called the coronet. The wedge-shaped pad of elastic tissue in the sole of my hoof is called the frog. The frog serves as a shock absorber. To protect my hoof from wearing down or splitting, a steel horseshoe is nailed to its edges. (This is not painful, since the outside of my hoof has no more feeling than your fingernail.)
To make it fit my hoof, the shoe is heated with fire in a forge and then hammered into shape on an anvil. These shoes must be removed and the new growth trimmed from my hooves every five or six weeks. Then my shoes are said to be pulled and reset.
I am shod by a man called a farrier or blacksmith. His workshop is known as a smithy.
The angle of my shoulder makes a difference in the length of my stride. A sloping shoulder is best if I am to be used for riding. Good depth through the front of my body gives plenty of space for my lungs. My lungs need room to expand when I am going at speed. I am said to have good wind when nothing interferes with my breathing. A good spring of ribs provides plenty of room for my digestive organs. If my ribs are short and flat I will not be able to digest and use my food as well. I will not be as easy to keep in good condition nor will I have the stamina of a horse with a large spring of rib.
A short, strong back helps me carry your weight easily, and muscular hindquarters propel me with the least effort.
The hair of my tail is usually the same color as my mane. This hair grows from the top of my dock. The thickness and length varies from the scant and often too short tail of the Appaloosa to the long, luxurious tail of the Shetland pony.
My tail is very useful in the summertime to keep my body brushed free of flies.
My tail is sometimes braided down the dock when I am being shown in horse shows. If my tail has been shortened, as was formerly done with driving horses, it is said to be docked.
When I am feeling lively I carry my tail high.
My body is covered with hair of varying length and thickness, called my coat. My coat grows from my head toward my tail. The length and thickness of this coat changes twice a year, in the spring and autumn. For winter I grow a dense undercoat, which insulates me against the cold, with coarse longer or guard hairs, which shed rain and give added protection against wind and snow.
In the spring this heavy coat falls out (which is called shedding) and I grow a short, fine summer coat. The thickness of my winter coat depends a great deal on the climate of the country in which my ancestors lived. For example, ponies from the northern countries of Shetland Isles and Wales grow much heavier and longer winter coats than do horses like the Thoroughbred with their Arab, Turk and Barb southern ancestry.
If I am to be ridden fast after my winter coat is grown, the hair is usually clipped from my body so I will not become overheated. For foxhunting the long hair is left on my legs to protect against bushes and briars, and sometimes it is also left under the saddle to prevent chafing.
When I am healthy my coat is soft and shiny. A dull, rough coat is a sign of poor condition. Regular grooming makes me look sleek and feel well.
Copyright © 1996 by Dorothy Henderson Pinch
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