Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Basics: Horse & Pony FAQ for Newbies

I decided I might as well post everything I wrote for the library seminar. I know all of you can already recite this stuff in your sleep, but maybe you can share this with others who aren't as savvy. My hope is that this can act as a ready-to-go reference guide, printable, linkable and copy-pastable for anyone who might encounter a newbie horse person. So yeah, feel free to post this everywhere you think someone who needs it might find it. The first page is the same thing I had on my "Jinxed" post, the other stuff is new.

Seven Things a Horse Owner Should Know

1. Horses are more like deer than dogs. They frighten easily, run away at the drop of a hat, and have less loyalty to humans. Don’t assume your horse will instinctively cooperate or look out for your safety.
2. The quickest path to injury is through a disrespectful horse. You MUST be seen by your horse as THE BOSS first, and a friend second. Horses are constantly testing each other (and you) to see if they can claim a higher place in the herd hierarchy by pushing around weaker herd members. DO teach him obedience every time you handle him, or risk being bitten, trampled, squished, etc. Training is a requirement, not an option.

3. Trust your instincts. Although most horse people are good people, just as in all areas of life, there are bad apples. There are poor trainers, crooked sellers, abusive breeders, neglectful stable owners and “experienced cowboys” with lots of bad advice. If something seems wrong, it very well may be. If you spot thin animals, broken fences, questionable training techniques or just get a “bad vibe,” trust yourself and walk away.

4. Horses and horsepeople have “cliques.” Some like to jump or show in western pleasure; some like to relax on a trail ride. Some really prefer one training method; others hate it. Find a horse, a trainer and a group that suits your interests, and don’t get discouraged if you don’t find the right one immediately. 

5. Never stop having fun. At some point, someone will pressure you. A clique in your barn will scorn your chosen sport, a partner will demand you try showing to justify the expense of a horse, a rival trainer will sneer at your riding skills. Don’t let ‘em pressure you. Do with your horse whatever makes you both happy, even if it’s just petting and carrots. Not everyone is an Olympic dressage rider in the making. Relax!

6. Check your tack. Ask yourself if that bit really needs to be that harsh. The simpler the tack, the better.  A horse that “needs a harsh bit” actually needs to be trained not to pull! Except for highly trained horses in serious sports, putting extra stuff on a horse just covers up problems instead of fixing them, and often causes the horse pain. Tack is not a substitute for training. In addition, make sure your tack fits you and your horse.

7. Wear a helmet. Just like wearing a seatbelt, it’s the easiest thing you can do to save your own life. Make sure it’s a helmet made specifically for horseback riding; while a bike helmet is better than nothing, it does not offer the same protection. Yes, you do have the freedom to ride without a helmet… but remember that if you’re injured, your friends, family, co-workers and horse also pay the price of your absence or death.

Decoding a
Horse-for-Sale Ad

FREE TO GOOD HOME: 21yr old grade QH gelding, HYPP tested N/N, 14.3Hh, bombproof trail horse, loads good, easy keeper, but has arthritis, needs to be used for light riding only. Good ground manners but headshy. Up to date on shots. Buyer pays Coggins. Call XXX-XXX-XXX.

21 years old: About 60-70 in human years. Older horses often have more health problems, but are also generally (though not always) more quiet, slower, well-behaved and better for beginner riders. A horse matures at 3-5 years old, is roughly middle-aged by 13, and lives until about 25-30. Horses should not be ridden before age 3.

Grade: Either not purebred, or not officially registered as purebred. Many horses are grade/have no “papers.” A grade horse may be excluded from breed association shows, but “grade” says nothing about a horse’s actual quality.

QH: “Quarter Horse,” a breed. Others: Arab (Arabian), TWH (Tennessee Walking Horse), TB (Thoroughbred), etc.

Gelding: A neutered male. An un-neutered male is a stallion, an adult female is a mare. Young males are colts, young females are fillies, and all very young horses are foals. Most male horses are gelded to prevent aggression and unplanned breeding. Mares are almost never “spayed” due to the expense and risk involved in the operation.

HYPP: A genetic disease known to affect “stock” type horses, especially Quarter Horses, which trace their heritage back to a stallion named Impressive. This disease causes mild to severe seizures, and has been known to result in the deaths of horses and their riders. N/N = double negative, not affected. N/H = a carrier, probably actively affected. H/H = double positive, a carrier and absolutely actively affected by the disease, even if seizures have not yet occurred.

Hh: “Hands high.” Horses are measured in “hands,” an old English system of measurement now standardized to four inches. Horses are measured from the ground up to their withers (where the shoulder meets the neck). Most horses are between  14.2 and 15.1 hands high (the scale goes 14.1, 14.2, 14.3, 15, 15.1, etc). A horse’s height affects how much weight a horse can carry, and how far you have to stretch to get into the saddle. It also affects how far you fall when you fall off… 

Loads: Whether or not a horse is good about getting into or out of a horse trailer.

Easy Keeper: Doesn’t need extra food to maintain weight well (sometimes also means “fat!”).

Ground manners: Leading nicely, standing quietly for medical care, mounting up, grooming, etc.

Headshy: Doesn’t like his head/ears touched-not a serious fault. Other behavioral faults include being cinchy, blowing up, cribbing, wind-sucking, nipping/biting, pawing, weaving, pacing/stall walking, rearing, being hard to catch, etc.

Coggins: A certificate verifying a horse is negative for Equine Infectious Anemia, required by law before a sale or show. Must be current as of the year the horse is sold/moved. It’s a fairly cheap lab test—call a vet.


  1. Where did you get the N/N, N/P and P/P status for HYPP? I've always known it to be N/H combinations. It would be interesting to know if people are using another status.

    Excellent list otherwise!

    1. D'oh!! Just fixed that-- thank you for the correction!!