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Horses - Questions And Answers For The New Rider (Part 2)

( Originally Published 1940 )

Q. What is a reasonable distance for a saddle horse to carry its rider in a day?

A. In the Regular Army cavalry service, twenty-five to thirty miles is considered a day's ride, unless it be a forced march, when troops have covered a hundred miles between sunrise and evening. Such a ride could not be maintained for more than one day, however. To make thirty miles a day, the cavalry alternate with the walk and trot, making about five to six miles an hour. They take a five minutes' rest at the end of each hour, for horses and men to relieve themselves. At each such halt, saddles, saddle blankets, bridles and packs are inspected, to be sure no horse is being chafed; and generally the horse's feet are also inspected to see that no animal has picked up a nail or other cutting object. It must be remembered that, in the cavalry, one trooper has but one horse and that horse must carry him all the way through. The horse carries around two hundred and fifty pounds, including rider and pack.

The cowboys in the western country frequently cover far more than thirty miles a day. They ride more rapidly, and in much smaller groups than cavalry, and the less number of riders, the easier it is to make longer rides. Many a cowboy rides fifty miles a day, often on the one horse, but the horse is usually changed the next day for a fresh one. On a good ranch, each cowboy has several horses assigned to him, called his "string" and these are ridden by him alone. The idea should be to make the day's ride and still have the horse in such good condition that he could go farther; and so he will always be fit for the next day's ride.

A hardened rider can make a long distance in a day, so far as he is concerned, as was proven by the old Pony Express riders of the sixties. They usually rode around seventy-five miles or more a day, but at each fifteen miles they changed to fresh horses at the relay stations. Buffalo Bill's famous, continuous ride as Pony Express rider carried him three hundred and seventy miles, without stop-ping to sleep or eat. He ate while riding, drank from his canteen while on the go, and had changes of horses about every fifteen miles as he passed the relay stations.

But the new rider will find thirty miles a day quite far enough until he becomes thoroughly toughened up. He should NOT overdo until he. can stand it. Chafed thighs and strained adductor muscles (those high up on the inside of the thighs) force a new rider to stop for the time being; maybe for months.

Q. When I dismount, how should I tie up my saddled and bridled horse?

A. If he is not trained to stand "ground hitched" (reins dragging on the ground, the ends of the reins open so as not to form a loop into which he may catch his front legs), the horse should be tied by having a halter on underneath the bridle and a seven-foot halter rope, which is tied to the hitching rail. It is always wrong to tie by the reins, as the horse may jerk back from some fright and break the reins and the bridle into pieces and go running away, leaving the rider afoot.

The cowboy uses his lariat, by tying one end around the horse's neck by a knot that is NEVER a slip-knot, which might choke the horse to death. The other end of the rope is then fastened to the hitching rail. The length of the tie rope should never be over seven feet, allowing for the tying up. It should never be so long that the horse can turn around and get his hind foot over it, and thus throw himself and, by his struggling while down, burn his fetlocks (ankles) badly, thus laying the horse up for weeks until the rope burns heal.

It may be stated, however, that we see saddle horses tied by their reins, everywhere we may go, especially out in the western country. The rider takes the risk of being left afoot.

Q. How is the age of a horse told? And how long do horses live? A. The average length of life among horses is about twenty-five years. Some have lived much longer. A good saddle horse ought to be between five and ten years of age or not much older. We tell a horse's age by studying his teeth. This takes careful and long practice, but up to the age of about ten years, the teeth have special marks with which horsemen are familiar. A new rider should consult an illustrated book on horses and thus see just what is meant by the "mark" and by the "dental star." The "mark" is a lateral, blackened "slit" in the horse's lower (and upper) incisors (the front teeth). We usually look at only the lower teeth, as they are more easily studied. This "mark" is in the teeth as soon as they come up, and is SURROUNDED BY HIGH, WHITE, DENTAL ENAMEL. It wears out at about seven, in the two front center teeth (upper and lower) and a little later in the incisor teeth farther around in the horse's mouth. A horse has a full set of teeth when he is six years old and rarely before that. The "dental star" comes up from the bottom of the tooth and is at first laterally long, and becomes more round with age. This "dental star" is NEVER surrounded by hard, white enamel as is the "mark." The "dental star" appears about the eighth year (in the front incisors) and grows blacker the older the horse is.

The "mark" goes down into the tooth only a short way and, at about eight years of age, is rapidly wearing out. The "dental star" is from the bottom of the tooth upward, the actual pulp cavity (like the nerve in a human tooth). For a year or two, there will be seen both the diminishing "mark" and the beginning of the "dental star," around the age of eight or nine years; after that, only the "dental star" appears on the surface of the incisors. Both the "mark" and the "dental star" appear as black marks on the tooth's surface, but the white enamel surrounding the "mark" distinguish the two.

The young colt, of course, first has its milk teeth, which are very white and perfect. These are all gone by the time the horse reaches the age of six years. There is a very excellent way of telling milk teeth from the permanent ones. The milk teeth, on their front surfaces (incisors) are smooth, while permanent teeth have a slight crease down the front of each incisor, running up and down the front surface.

When the young horse, at six, has his full teeth, they are wide in the direction of the jaw. As he grows older, they grow more and more round and finally, in old age, are long from front to rear.

The "angle" at which his upper and lower incisors meet, looking into the horse's mouth from the side, is very obtuse in the young horse. This angle becomes more and more acute with age, and finally, in the old horse, this angle is decidedly acute, the teeth seeming to poke out to the front very plainly.

Q. When I look at a horse, how can I tell whether or not he is well built?

A. Anyone can tell, generally, whether or not the appearance of a horse is pleasing to the eye. But there are certain things to look for and at, when buying a saddler. First, his face should be straight from forehead to muzzle and not arched out into what we call a "Roman" nose. Such a horse is apt to be dull or stubborn. The eyes should stand out full and well and the hand waved a few inches before each, to see if he promptly blinks (a blind horse won't wink at these movements). The forehead should be flat and wide, never narrow. The neck should be flexible and never too heavy (draft type and apt to be stiff in neck turns when reining—and also apt to be stiff on the bit, taking too much pull to stop him from a fast gait). The breast (between the forelegs) should be wide when viewed from the front. A narrow-breasted horse is faulty. Viewed from the side, the horse's fore-legs should stand straight—never with the knee bent forward (broken knees and a sign of having been overridden or of old age).

The front knees should not bend backward, either (buck kneed). They are apt to be weak knees. The shoulders come to a meeting place on top of the horse's back at the base of the neck. This point is called the "withers." They should not stick up narrowly like a hump. They should be nicely rounded with flesh. If they have hollows behind them, the horse is either old or worn or underfed. He may come back by proper feeding, and again he may not. The front end of the saddle sits just back of the withers and, if there are two hollows there (one on each side) the saddle will cause sores on those hollows and the horse must be gotten well before being saddled again. "Saddle sores" as we call them, take time to heal and should never be present on a horse a rider is thinking of buying. The chest of the horse is that part of his body behind the front legs (extending from withers to bottom of body) and should be deep and well rounded, which shows stamina in breathing and endurance.

The horse's back should be short and straight. If rounded upward, we call it "roach backed" and is a back on which a saddle will "rock," making sores. Never buy a sway-backed horse, where the middle of the back curves downward. It is a weak back and easily made sore. A long back is defective in a saddle horse.

The "croup'' of a horse (part on top of the buttocks and forming the rear part of the back, should be well rounded and as high as the withers. If the croup slopes to the rear, it is called a "goose rump" and is unsightly and apt to be weak.

The tail should be set high—not down low. The hind knees (called the hocks) should be wide from side to side and from front to rear. They must not turn in, touching each other (called "cow hocked"), or turn too far outward (called "bowlegged"). They should be straight up and down when viewing the horse from the rear.

The pasterns (ankles) should all slope forward at about forty-five degrees. Straighter ankles make the horse's trot hard and stiff, while more sloping ankles (pasterns, learn to call them) are apt to be somewhat weak, though making a pleasant riding animal at a trot.

The horse with a long, heavy head carried low, is always unsightly and means, as a rule, a dull animal which will rest the weight of its head on the bit and be a lugger. The head should be small, held well up, lightly, and the ears should be small and show quick movement—not lopping over like a rabbit's.

Q. From which side does a rider mount his horse?

A. Habitually from the left side, called the horse's "near" side. But a rider should teach both himself and his horse to do the mounting from either side. The right side of the horse is always referred to as the "off" side. Being able to mount from either side has many advantages and is excellent practice.

Q. What is the difference between "reins" and "lines"?

A. The reins on a saddle-horse bridle are always called such. The long lines used on driving horses and teams are called the lines. To speak of the lines of a saddle horse would reveal the rider's ignorance.

Q. When out riding and the horse is hot and sweating, should the animal be freely watered?

A. Letting the hot, sweating horse take a few mouthfuls is all right, whenever chance offers, but NEVER allow the animal to drink deeply. It may founder the horse or give him colic. Wait until he has cooled off.

Q. What are "saddle galls" and how should they be treated?

A. These are chafes of small or large extent, on the back of the horse, caused usually by badly fitting saddle or by the new rider resting himself or herself, at the expense of the horse, by slopping in the saddle, putting most of the weight in one stirrup, slouching sideways in the saddle; also by dirty saddle blankets caked with sweat, dust and even, maybe, burrs. They are easy to cure if treated immediately, but if neglected are apt to turn into what we call "sitfasts"—deeper sores that will take a long while to cure. The wound should be washed with warm, clean water, then a light coating of zinc oxide (5% solution) applied, once a day, and the horse kept in the shade or the wound covered with a bandage. Ordinary vaseline is excellent. So is boric acid, powdered. Tannic acid is often used, but as it dries quickly in the sun and tightens the skin, the result is apt to be a badly ripped-open wound unless the horse is kept blanketed or in the shade. In any drugstore can be purchased a can of Bismuth-Formic-Iodide Compound, and this is excellent. Use twice a day.

Q. What are cinch sores and how should they be treated?

A. These come under the cinch, usually at the lower part of the girth-place just behind the horse's elbows (top of front leg). A dirty cinch will cause them; also a rider's lounging sideways in his saddle; also by using too tight a cinch for hours at a time; also from doing too much riding up and down steep places at rapid gaits. They are painful, like deep chafes, and should be treated the same as are saddle galls. If the horse MUST still be ridden, wrap a vaselined cloth around the cinch so that the cloth covers the wound.

Q. When should the saddle horse be blanketed?

A. When brought in hot and sweaty and has to be exposed either to a hot sun or to cold winds. Use the blanket until the horse is dry.

This means that it should be blanketed if the animal must be tied up. If turned loose in a pasture, the horse will keep himself warm from the cold by moving about. A hot sun, however, is apt to leave blisters on the horse's back. He should be kept in the shade or blanketed until dry. And if the weather is very cold, the blanket should be surcingled on and left there all night. Avoid standing the horse in drafts.

Q. How often should I clean out my horse's feet?

A. After every ride. The horse may have picked up a stone or a nail, either of which may cause lameness and pain. Also, at every halt you make while out riding, if you dismount for a rest. Use a dull nail or other dull instrument, never a cutting one.

Q. What is one fault a new rider, out with others, should avoid?

A. Riding ahead and behind the others at varying gaits, to the general disturbance of the pleasure of the other riders. Stay with them. Q. How should I train my horse and myself to take jumps over fences and ditches?

A. First, lay on the ground five twenty-foot poles of about four inches in diameter. These are placed in a column, about twenty feet apart, forming a lane down which you ride your horse. If you can make fences on both sides of this runway, so much the better, as your horse will not shy out to right or left.

Ride over this course at a walk first, until the horse steps over the five poles without fear and you, yourself, get accustomed to the jumping seat—firm grip, good balance, flexible body, heels away from the horse's sides, lower legs hanging vertically, upper calves touching horse's flanks slightly as he goes over each pole.

Next, repeat at a slow trot, then at a lope (slow canter).

Next, raise the poles one foot high, on supports at each end of each pole, and repeat as above.

Next, raise the poles to two feet high and repeat as above. And now take your feet out of the stirrups as soon as you feel you can safely do so, and ride over these five jumps without them.

When you can take these five jumps without stirrups, repeat and, at each jump, fold your arms, letting the knotted reins lie on the horse's neck and picking them up only when you reach the end of the runway. It is well to have that end of the runway barred by a fence, so your horse won't bolt after taking the jumps.

When able to do all the above safely and with real pleasure, raise all the five jumps to two-and-a-half feet and repeat, doing a lot of it without using your stirrups, and making various gymnastic gestures with your arms and hands all the way, so you gain self-confidence and security.

When the horse and yourself are mastering all this training, you will wish to raise the five jumps even higher. Three feet then, and repeat, with and without reins or stirrups.

After that, you raise the jumps as high as you please, but three feet are high enough for riding down this sort of runway.

If you want higher jumps, do it with only one of the pole jumps (moving the others outside). I-have each pole sit on supports that will allow a pole to fall if struck by the horse. Solidly held poles are very apt to catapult the horse headlong and should not be used until much later, when both horse and rider are prepared for such.

As to jumping ditches, make one as wide as the runway and only about two feet deep. and two feet wide at first and practice jumping this ditch until horse and rider are both confirmed in doing it excellently well. After that, gradually widen the ditch, making it about three feet or so deep and about six feet wide. It is well to make the far side of the ditch a sloping bank instead of a vertical one—less danger of a bad fall. Later, you may try widening the ditch, but a depth of three feet is all that is ever needed. And later, if. water supply be available, fill the ditch with water and repeat the practice jumping it.

Q. Why should the rider's legs never be so turned as to bring the backs of the thighs against the horse?

A. This is the new rider's main fault. The backs of the legs possess no gripping power. The adductor muscles high up on the inside of the rider's thighs are the gripping ones, so it is those insides that must be placed against the horse. This also turns out the rider's heels and spurs, so they are practically parallel with the horse's sides, as they should normally be. Otherwise, they will keep jabbing into the horse's sides and make him restless or even frantic..

Q. What is meant by a "light" or "heavy" hand?

A. A good rider never depends on the reins to keep him in the saddle. The horse's mouth, normally, is tender. A light feel of the horse's mouth, felt through the reins, is the way to ride a good horse. A heavy hand is where the rider lugs on his reins, ruins the horse's mouth and temper, and it all results in the horse becoming "iron-jawed" or "leather-mouthed" as we call it, and then only powerful tugging will stop the animal from bolting away headlong. And maybe not even then.

The cowboy keeps his horse's mouth like velvet. The slightest light tug on the reins will stop the trained horse from any gait. This is an invaluable asset in riding. Nobody wants to have to drag at his reins as he would at the end of a rope tied to a wagon. And the danger of a hard-mouthed horse smashing into anything, is decidedly present, especially from the faster gaits. Besides, all the while that the rider is tugging hard on the reins, with one or both hands, he is of not the least value to anybody else or to the work being done. His whole attention is taken up in trying to stop the brute.

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