Horses For Dummies
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If you hang around a stable for any length of time, you’ll notice that horse people have a language all their own. This language — which sounds like a foreign tongue to the uninitiated — is what horse people use to describe the intricate details of the horse’s body.

If you want to fit in with the horsy set, you need to know the lingo and the basic knowledge of horses that goes along with it. The horse’s anatomy, and the horse’s height measurements, colorations, markings, and movements all are essential details that real horse lovers know.

Names for the parts of a horse

Horses are really put together. Nature made them to be virtual running machines that can reach speeds of nearly 40 miles per hour. The equine body is an impeccably designed combination of muscle and bone in an elegant and graceful package.

People who spend time around horses not only begin to appreciate equine anatomy but also come to understand it. Horse people talk about their horses’ bodies the way mechanics talk about cars. In the equine world, if you want to keep up with such conversations, you must know the lingo and the blueprint. Here are some parts of the horse you need to know:

  • Withers: The area on the horse’s back just after the neck but above the shoulders
  • Fetlock: The horse’s ankle
  • Forelock: The hair between the horse’s ears that falls onto the forehead
  • Hocks: The elbow-like joint of the horse’s back legs.
  • Muzzle: The area of the horse’s head includes the mouth and nostrils
Parts of a horse The parts of the horse work together to build a virtual running machine.

Heard the expression, No hoof, no horse? Well, it’s true. Without healthy hooves, horses can’t function well. Becoming familiar with the parts of the horse’s hoof gives you intimate knowledge of this most important part of the equine body. This knowledge helps you take better care of your horse’s tootsies, too.

horses hooves Knowing the parts of the hoof is essential in caring for horses.

How to measure a horse correctly

The average horse weighs anywhere from 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. But horse people rarely refer to a horse’s weight when describing the animal’s size. Instead, the horse’s height, measured in something called hands, is the appraisal of choice.

One hand equals four inches, and horses are measured from the ground to the top of the withers, or the area of the back behind the neck and above the shoulder. So, if a horse stands 60 inches from the ground to its withers, the horse is 15 hands high (or 60 divided by 4). If the horse stands 63 inches from the ground, the horse is 15.3 hands (which is 60 divided by 4, and then 3 inches). Because a hand is an increment of 4 inches, a horse that is 64 inches from the ground to the withers would not be 15.4 hands high but instead is considered 16 hands. Height in hands is sometimes written as h.h., which stands for hands high.

Measuring a horse Measure the horse from the ground to the top of the withers to determine its height in hands.

A horse’s height is important mostly if you plan to ride it — which, of course, is what most people do. Generally speaking, an average-sized woman can comfortably ride a horse that is anywhere from 14.2 hands to 16.1 hands in height. If you’re a rather tall woman, or are a man of average male height, you’ll probably want to lean toward a horse on the taller side of the range.

All this is mostly aesthetics, of course. If you’re a tall person, you look better on a taller horse. Of course, if you’re above average in weight, a larger horse can carry you more comfortably. If you plan to show your horse or perform particular events with it, height may also be a consideration.

You can use a regular measuring tape to determine a horse’s height, as long as you’re good at division, because you need to divide the number of inches you come up with by four. If you’d rather not bring your calculator to the stable, you can buy a special horse measuring tape or a measuring stick (even more accurate) at your local tack store. These devices are labeled in hands, so you don’t have to do any calculating of your own.

Horse measuring tapes also are useful in determining your horse’s weight, because the tapes usually have pound increments on one side and hand measurements on the other. To determine your horse’s weight, wrap the tape around the horse’s girth, just behind the elbow, and up behind the withers.

Horses of many colors

Nature made horses to blend in with their surroundings, so the colors you typically see in horses are meant to camouflage. Based on this definition, you may think that horse colors should be dull, but the exact opposite is true. The many different shades and variations of coat color that you find in the equine world is amazing, and knowing the different horse colors helps you describe and identify individual horses you may come across in your equine travels. Having this knowledge also permits you to converse intelligently with other horse lovers. You may even end up finding a favorite coloration that you’d like to see on your own future horse!

The best way to learn horse colors is to see them. In the color section of this book, you can find color photographs of 16 of the most common horse colorations, along with names and descriptions of each. Some of the colors you’ll see in the horse world include bay (reddish brown with black mane, tail, and legs), black, chestnut (reddish body with red or blonde mane and tail), gray (anything from nearly white to dappled gray), and palomino (gold with lighter mane and tail).

Different horse markings

Leg and facial markings are great for helping to identify individual horses. Each marking has a name, and each name is universal among equine aficionados. The following figure shows the most common horse facial markings. Keep in mind that the following patterns often have subtle variations.
  • Bald: White that starts above the forehead, goes to the muzzle, and extends beyond the bridge of the nose to the side of the face
  • Blaze: Wide white area that runs along the bridge of the nose
  • Snip: White spot located on the muzzle, between or just below the nostrils
  • Star: White spot on the forehead
  • Stripe: Narrow white stripe down the center of the face, on the bridge of the nose
horse facial markings Facial markings can help you identify individual horses.

The following figure shows typical white leg markings on horses. They include

  • Coronet: A small white band just above the hoof
  • Half cannon: A white marking that extends from the edge of the hoof halfway up the middle of the leg
  • Half pastern: A white marking that extends from the edge of the hoof halfway up the pastern
  • Sock: A white marking that extends from edge of the hoof two-thirds of the way up the leg
  • Stocking: A white marking that extends from edge of the hoof to the knee or hock
white leg markings of horses You can find a variety of white leg markings on horses.

Horse movements

If you’ve ever seen a Hollywood western, you know that horses gallop. In fact, in the movies, all horses seem to do is gallop. In real life, however, most horses have several other gaits besides the gallop.

The gaits are considerably different from one another. One difference is speed: The walk is the slowest of the three. The trot is faster than the walk, and the canter is faster than the trot. The gallop is the fastest gait of them all.

A big difference in the gaits is in the way the horse positions his legs while he’s moving.

  • In the walk, the horse puts each foot down one at a time, creating a four-beat rhythm.
  • In the trot, one front foot and its opposite hind foot come down at the same time, making a two-beat rhythm.
  • In the canter, one hind leg strikes the ground first, and then the other hind leg and one foreleg come down together, then the other foreleg. This movement creates a three-beat rhythm.
  • In the gallop, the basic canter movement is sped up so that all four feet are off the ground for a suspended moment. Then, each hind foot hits the ground individually, followed by each front foot individually. To the rider, the gallop feels very much like the canter, only faster.
When you’re riding a horse, you can feel each of these different rhythms. (See the following figure for a visual sense of how this all works.)

Illustrated horse movements The leg positions of the walk, trot, and canter (which is slower than a gallop).

Depending on the discipline or type of riding you’re doing, you may hear other terms to describe these gaits. For example, western riders use the term jog to describe a slow trot and lope for a slow gallop.

Just to confuse matters, the horse world has something called gaited horses, which are horses that naturally possess one or more gaits in addition to or instead of one or more of the basic gaits. Only horses of particular gaited breeds have these peculiarities.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Connie Isbell is a former editor and writer atAudobon magazine, as well as the editor of numerous pet books. Audrey Pavia is the author of many books on pets and animals, including the bestselling Horses For Dummies and The Rabbit: An Owner's Guide to a Happy Healthy Pet. She has been a frequent contributor to numerous pet publications, editor-in -chief of Horse Illustrated, and senior editor of The AKC Gazette.

Audrey Pavia is the former editor of Horse Illustrated magazine and an award-winning writer of numerous articles on equine subjects. The author of seven books about horses, she has also contributed to Thoroughbred Times, Horse & Rider, and many other animal magazines.

Janice Posnikoff, DVM, is a highly respected equine veterinarian with over 20 years experience. She is a graduate of the Western College of Veterinarian Medicine, University of Saskatchewan, Canada.

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