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Equestrian Basics

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Introduction:

Horses play a huge and usually unsung role in Role Play here at the Grey Tower. They're transport and farm labor, friends and necessities. This is in the Role Play world, however. Not all of us, as players, have experience with horse in Real Life. This page was designed to help with that.

The following information is to give you the most basic information about horses and horse-back riding. It is ultra simplistic, but should give you enough information to enrich your writing here at the Tower. No one is expected to actually be able to ride off of this, of course, but you should be able to bring more information and details into your Role-playing with horses.

So, without further ado... Step One: the most basic thing that you need to know about when learning Equestrian Basics is this: the horse.


Anatomy & Terminology:

Like any complex creature, there are many parts to the horse. Most of them you will never need to know about to realistically write about your character riding, but in starting at step one, it's good to at least be aware of them and to have access to it.

Anatomy.jpg

Horses are measured from ground to withers, which you can see in the picture. The measurement used for horses is called the hand, which is four inches. A horse under fourteen and a half hands is called a pony. The average riding horse is fifteen to sixteen, but some breeds grow over eighteen.

A female horse is called a mare and a male horse is called a stallion, unless the stallion has been neutered and then it's called a gelding. (Female horses cannot be spayed.) A baby horse is called a foal until it's a year old and then it's a yearling. Male horses under three to four years of age are called colts, while female horses in the same age range are called fillies.

An inexperienced/untrained horse is called 'green'.

There are four gaits primary to all horses. Some breeds have gaits in addition to these, but this is the across the board gait run down.

1. The walk - this is a four beat gait, slow and easy to ride.
2. The trot - this is faster than the walk and is very bumpy. It has two beats with the horse alternating between diagonal feet falling with a moment of suspension in between. (This means that the front left and back right hits the ground, then all four are off the ground for an instant before the front right and back left touch the ground.
3. The canter - this is faster than the trot and is smoother, rolling gait. One back foot touches the ground, and then the other back foot with the diagonal front, and then the final front, giving this gait three beats.
4. The gallop - this is the fastest gait and is four beats, much like a hyper-accelerated walk, with one moment where all four feet are off the ground.


Temperament:

Horses are a lot like people and they have moods. The basic rule is to treat the horse well and the horse will treat you well, but there are some extra rules to keep in mind.

Each horse is different. Geldings are typically the calmest, followed by mares, although they can be the most moody at times. (Particularly when with a foal, they will be very protective.)

Stallions are the most excitable and often aggressive. They should only be ridden by experienced riders who know how to handle them, and they should be kept away from other horses - especially other stallions - when out to pasture.

Many horses can startle very easily, so be quiet and calm when working around a horse. Speak soothingly when approaching and don't be afraid. A horse can pick up on your fear and then they will be afraid, and it goes down hill from there.

Equally, don't be brash or too quick, as this can startle the horse. Move slowly when approaching the horse's head or reaching for it, and if you need to touch the horse's rump, start at the front and work back.

Keep in mind that horses have two blind spots: directly in front of their face and directly behind them, so do not approach a horse from these areas or stand in them; if you do and your horse startles, chances of you getting kicked are very high.

Try to only approach from the front left, if you can. If you have to come up behind a horse, be sure to speak as you do, so that he knows you're there.

Watch your horse's ears - this can be a good sign for your horse's mood. Each ear can move independently, front and back. If the horse's ears are up and forward, your horse is happy and alert. If they are tilted back slightly, then he's listening or paying attention to something. If they are flat back against his head, then this is not a happy horse. Chances of their biting or kicking are very high.


The Off Stage Stuff:

A lot of what takes place with the care, feeding and grooming of the horse takes place by random NPCs 'off stage', but when looking at the basics of horses and what that entails, it's good that you at least know what these things are.

Like all animals, horses need to be kept with fresh water and they need to be fed at least once a day. In the Wheel of Time world, this would be hay and grain (and none of the extras that might come in the modern/real world).

It's good to let them graze on fresh grass when possible, but be careful not to over-do it with horses that are primarily stabled, because it can upset their stomach and this can be very bad for the horse. (We will cover health later.)

They need to have their stalls cleaned at least once a day to keep them healthy.

Weather will determine your horse's coat, or fur. In the winter, he will grow an undercoat that will make the coat thicker and shaggier, so it's warmer. In the summer, he'll shed this to a smoother, finer coat. If your horse is primarily kept in a stable, however, the undercoat will not be as thick and your horse may need a blanket during the cold weather.

Carrying a rider is a lot of work, so be kind to your pony! When possible (like, not running for your life, as happens too often in the tower) start slow and work up to heavier work. When you're done and have dismounted, either you (or in the tower, a stable hand) should walk the horse out to allow him to calm down and cool off. Grooming before and after riding will help this.

Also in the summer, it's nice to help the horse keep flies from his face when outside. There are many modern fly masks, but here's a picture of one likely to exist in the Wheel of Time.

Fly masks.jpg

Next is the grooming of the horse himself. There are many tools for this in the modern/real world, but we're going to simplify it for ease and the Wheel of Time setting. We'll be looking at the three basic tools for grooming: the brush, the stiff brush and the hoof pick.

Both brushes are used for grooming the horse's coat. The stiff brush is used to get deeper in to the coat, clean out and even shed loose parts of the undercoat, while the regular brush focuses on the top coat and keeping that clean.

The hoof pick is for cleaning out the horse's feet. When you do, you'll only clean the sole, as the other portions can be very sensitive. See the pictures for the anatomy of the hoof, as well as the proper procedure for picking up a horse's feet, as they can be very sensitive about that, too.

Hoof.jpg
Foot care.jpg

The other aspect of hoof care is horse shoes. It's not required that a horse have shoes, particularly not if they're out to pasture most often, but horses that are frequently ridden on roads or hard surfaces should have shoes, as it will protect the hoof from wearing down or splitting.

A horse shoe is a U-shaped piece of metal that is nailed to the horse's foot around the wall, as shown in the photo. This doesn't hurt the horse, because this part of the hoof has no more feeling in it than a human's finger nail does.

Giving treats: Here's a quick note about giving a horse a treat, like a piece of a carrot. Hold it in the palm of your hand with your hand flat, then raise it slowly to the horse's mouth and let him take it from you. This will keep the horse from startling from an abrupt move, and holding your hand flat will keep the horse from thinking your fingers are more carrots.


Types of Horses:

There are many, many breeds of horses in the world. We don't really have time or space to go in to them all here, so we'll just look at the 'categories' of horses, as well as the specific breeds that have been mentioned in the Wheel of Time.

First off, there are ponies. As stated before, any horse that falls under fourteen and a half hands is considered a pony.

Next there are the 'regular' riding horses, which are like the Arabian or the Quarterhorse.

There are draft horses, like the Clydesdale or the Shire. These are usually tall horses, but even if they aren't, they are heavy set and bred for work on the farm or pulling wagons.

Then there are some that are like crosses between the 'regular' and the draft horses. This is a very broad category, but we'll be calling it 'fine draft' horses, which are like the Andalusion or the Friesian.

There are three breeds listed by name in the Wheel of Time:

1. The Saldean cavalry horse - a small and fast horse.
2. The Dhurron draft
3. Tairen Bloodstock - these are horses of the noble and wealthy and bear great resemblance to the 'real world' Thoroughbred, which is a tall and leggy breed used in horse racing.


Colors:

There are all sorts of colors and combinations for horses, and there also may be other names for them, but the following are the primary/classic colors, as taken directly from the Pony Club of America manual.

Black: All black without brown highlights (This color is very rare.)
Brown: Dark brown or nearly black with brown highlights
Bay: Brown or reddish-brown body with black 'points' (mane, tail and legs) Chestnut (also called sorrel): Reddish-brown with the same color or lighter tail, mane and legs. May be dark chestnut, red chestnut or light chestnut. Mane and tail may be blond
Grey: Grey or white with dark skin, eyes and muzzle. Greys are born dark colored and grow lighter as they age, until they are nearly white. May be dark grey (iron grey), dappled grey, speckled grey, or white grey. True white ponies are born white with pink skin (True white horses are also rare.)
Roan: Black, bay, brown or chestnut with white hairs mixed through the coat. May be 'blue roan' (black or brown roan), 'red roan' (bay or chestnut roan) or 'strawberry roan' (light chestnut roan)
Dun: Tan or mouse colored, with dark legs, mane and tail and a dark stripe down the back. A golden dun with dark legs, mane, tail and stripe is called a 'buckskin'
Palomino: Golden coat with white mane and tail
Pinto: Large, colored patches of any color and white. A 'piebald' is black and white. A 'skewbald' is any other color and white
Appaloosa: Has small round spots or speckles. May be dark with light spots, white with dark spots, roan with patches of spots, or dark with white 'blanket' and spots over the hindquarters

There are also a variety of markings, or white spots, on the horse's face or legs. You can see these in the following pictures:

Facial markings.jpg
Leg markings.jpg


Age:

The average domestic horse lives between twenty-five to thirty-five years, although sometimes they can live in to their forties. Like most animals, the smaller breeds tend to live longer than larger breeds. (Ponies tend to live longer over all.)


Riding Gear - The Human:

Many situations in the Wheel of Time, and history, describe people in various states of clothing out riding horses. You can, in theory, ride in anything, but there are certain things to keep in mind to make logistics a bit easier.

First off, it's always better to be wearing riding boots - these are just boots with decent ankle support and a heel. This is important for when riding in a saddle with a stirrup because it helps keep your foot from slipping through the stirrup and getting your foot caught, causing a potentially dangerous situation. You *can* ride stirrups with other shoes, but be very careful.

Baggy clothes can be a bit tricky, but are also very common in the Wheel of Time, so mainly this is just a cautionary note - try not to get caught on anything.

As a special note for those playing female characters and the issue of skirts... further down, I'll note the Side Saddle which is designed for riding with classic skirts, but the Wheel of Time also frequently references riding dresses with 'divided skirts' - basically just very wide pant legs that look like a skirt but allow the rider to use a 'regular' saddle.

Also be watchful of the amount of gear on you or with you. Horses are very strong, but they are not invincible, so if you mean to move fast, keep it light. What qualifies on 'light' depends on the size and strength of the horse.

Some are bred to be able carry more weight more quickly, like certain sorts of horses bred for jousting. The above refers to the 'average' riding horse and not those bred and trained for specific purposes, like wearing armor.


Riding Gear - The Horse:

This is also called riding tack. There are many choices for each piece of equipment, but to keep it simple (like for the rest of this bit) we'll be looking at the basic categories of equipment.

First off, there's the halter and the lead rope. The halter is just a rope contraption that goes around the horse's head to let you lead them by... yes, by the lead rope, which attaches to the halter.

A note on leading - lead your horse by the lead rope, standing to one side and up near his head, so that he can see you. Keep your hand near the hook/tie between the lead rope and the halter, and don't loop the end of the lead around your hand - if your pony spooks or bolts, you could get caught and get dragged along.

Then there is the bridle and the saddle. These are the ultimate basics for riding, though there are many more little parts that go to them.

Bridle.jpg

Every bridle consists of at least these parts: (1) the headpiece that goes over the top of the horse's head, behind the ears; (2) the brow band that goes over the forehead, (3) the cheek straps, which connects to (5) the nose band; (4) the throat lash the connects from the headpiece and goes under the jaw; then (6) the bit, which connects off the cheek strap; and then (7) the reins, which connect to the bit.

The bit sits inside the horse's mouth in a gap that exists between the front teeth and the molars. The bit and the reins are what allow you to steer, and the rest of it really just keeps those parts from falling off.

Bridles are made from leather and the bits are made from varying kinds of metal. There are multiple kinds of bits, but we're not going to get into that here.

Next is the saddle - there are two kinds, 'regular' and then the side saddle. The side saddle is to allow for ladies wearing dresses to ride with propriety, since the dress will ride up the legs if they're on a stride saddle. (See above references to divided dresses.)

Saddle.jpgSide saddle.jpg

The saddle is a large piece of leather that sits on the horses back. It offers a seat to the rider. Sometimes there is a horn on the pommel (the top) and sometimes not. A side saddle has a special curved horn that lets one leg curve over so that both legs hang down the same side. Only one foot is in a stirrup.

The girth attaches to one side of the saddle, comes under the horse's belly to attach to the other. This is what holds the saddle on. On either side of the saddle are the stirrups, 'D' shaped pieces of metal that the rider's foot sits in. They are attached to the saddle by stirrup leathers - long pieces of leather that do just that: attach one to the other.

Proper length for riding is for your fingers to touch where the leather latches to the saddle and the stirrup reaches your armpit when your arm is extended.

There is a saddle pad that sits under the saddle. This is mainly a comfort factor for the horse so it doesn't have hard leather on its back. It helps to absorb sweat as well so that the saddle doesn't slip off.

Now comes the fun part: putting this stuff *on* the horse. The halter and lead rope are self-explanatory, so I'll just cover the bridle and the saddle.

Taken from "Happy Horsemanship":
(And yes, it's from the point of view of the horse. Bear with it.)

"When carrying my bridle from the tack room, hang its headpiece over your left forearm with the browband toward your elbow. Be sure to have the reins hung evenly on your arm - don't drag them in the dust! Unfasten my halter, keeping a firm grip on the strap; slip it over my muzzle and refasten it around my next. (This will free my head for the bridle, but I will still be securely tied.)

Stand by my head, facing the same direction I do, and put the reins over my head. Next, put your right hand under my jaw and up around the other side to the center of my face, just above my nostrils. Take the center of both cheekpieces in this hand, which then can be used to keep my head down if I try to raise it away from the bit. (I often do try it - wouldn't you?)

If you spread the bit between thumb and forefinger of your left hand and gently press it against my teeth where they join - never shove it up under my lip, like some people do! - I will usually open my mouth and cheerfully accept the bit. If I don't, the pressure of one of your bent fingers on the toothless bars of my lower jaw will cause me to open my mouth and receive the bit. There is no danger of being nipped there, but don't accidentally put your fingers between my front teeth!

Guide the bit into my mouth with your left hand, drawing it into position by raising the cheekpieces with your right hand. The left hand can now assist the right to put the headpiece over each ear in turn. (It doesn't hurt my ears to be bent forward gently.) Then be sure to smooth my mane and forelock under the headpiece. Next, fasten the throat lash loosely - otherwise it will interfere with my breathing. The width of your hand should fit between it and my jaw bone.

Check my bridle's fit by standing in front of me, making sure that my browband is straight (not pushed up pinching my ears) and that the noseband is even, halfway between the points of my cheekbones and the corners of my lips. In this position it will neither rub my cheekbones nor pinch the corners of my lips. The ends of all straps should be through the loops sewn close to the buckles, called keepers."

Next, the saddle - this is easier.

Sit the saddle pad and then the saddle lightly on the horse's withers and then slide it back to the hollow behind the shoulder blades, making sure that it's not interfering with the horse's freedom of movement. This will also make sure that the girth isn't rubbing at the skin behind the elbows, as that's not good for the horse. Sliding it back makes sure that the fur is smooth and not uncomfortable.

Tighten the girth for a snug fit, one hole at a time and not all at once. This is better for the horse. Make sure that you can slide your fingers under it so it's not too tight - you don't want to interfere with the horse's breathing! Also do this to smooth out the fur.

It's also good to know that a horse will often inhale and hold the air when you tighten the girth, so always be sure to check it right before mounting because it could be very loose and it'll roll right around when you try to get on!

One thing to keep in mind is that my above picture of the 'regular' saddle references the modern day English riding saddle, which is not the saddle generally used in fantasy settings like the Wheel of Time. To save from over-burdening this page more than I already have, you can view more information on such saddles here: Classical Fencing - The Rider: Technique & Tack.


Riding:

This is the ultra-super simplified version of horse back riding and looks at the most basic aspects. There are, of course, many details and nuances to riding, but this page only aims to help you understand the basic mechanics to enrich your writing.

Getting on the horse - do it carefully but quickly. Horses sometimes like to move off while you're trying this, so as smoothly and quickly as possible is best, but don't forget safety.

Hold the reins with one hand and use the withers for balance, but don't pull or put all your weight down on the withers. Put the foot of the side you're mounting on (your left foot if you're mounting on the left) in the stirrup and push up from your foot, swinging the other leg over to the other side. Don't kick the horse's rump while you're at it. Settle on to the saddle and put your foot in the other stirrup.

For those who choose to write using the side saddle, obviously one does not mount the horse as such. Instead, you place your foot in the stirrup, as above, and lift yourself up, but instead of swinging the other leg over, you instead rotate and put your leg over the horn. Be careful to watch the skirts as you go. The use of a mounting block (just a block to stand on as you mount) can help in both cases, but particularly for the side saddle so there's less pressure on the left leg as you position yourself.

(Adjust all of the following information for the use of one leg when riding Side Saddle. Horses trained to the side saddle should also be more sensitive to command by rein.)

Position - Sit with your legs firmly around the horse's belly, but not squeezing; keep your heels down and don't hold your feet out, keep them around the horse, as mentioned above. Hold the reins firmly, elbows in, but don't tug on the horse's mouth - simply keep contact. Keep your back straight and your weight balanced, like a straight line from shoulder to elbow to hip to heel.

The mechanics of riding - your legs control the horse's speed. You gently squeeze the horse's side to tell them to move forward. Remember to keep contact with the mouth, but don't pull when you're going forward.

Be kind to the horse's sides and only squeeze as much as you need to and just one short squeeze at a time. Once the horse is moving, another squeeze will move the horse in to the next gait, or one hard squeeze will move them quickly in to a faster gait, but this isn't recommended.

You'll start with the walk, then the horse moves to the trot, then the canter and then the gallop.

The walk is the easiest to sit. The trot is bumpy and painful on the back, though this can depend on the horse in question, some have an easier movement. You can sit a trot, or post - which means rising and sitting on alternating beats.

Sit and roll with the canter, and just hold on through the gallop.

The next important thing is steering - this is what the reins are for. A gentle tug on the left rein will turn the horse left and a gentle tug right will turn the horse right. A firm tug back on both reins and then release will tell the horse to stop, while a continuous pull back on both reins will tell the horse to back up.

With both the reins and the horse's sides, the rule of thumb is only ever use as much force/pressure as you need to accomplish the goal.


Health & Safety:

The following is taken directly from the Pony Club of America manual. It references the signs of sickness when you should call your veterinarian.

Obviously, we don't quite have vets in the Wheel of Time, or some of the modern techniques (the thermometer comes to mind), but I imagine there are 'horse healers' who know the various ways to figure these things out and to treat horses. Still, I felt it important to include all of this for general knowledge.


Signs of sickness:

Colic (belly pain): The pony may stop eating, break out in a sweat, look at or nip his belly, paw the ground, and stretch out as if to urinate. He may lie down and get up again, or roll from side to side, or even sit on his hindquarters, like a dog. All of these are signs of colic, which can be quite serious and even fatal. Call your veterinarian immediately, and while you are waiting for him, walk your pony slowly and don't let him roll.
Coughing (especially a 'wet' cough with mucus in his throat), runny eyes and nose (especially if mucus is white, yellow or green)
Diarrhea (loose, runny manure) or dry, hard manure balls
Pony is depressed: He does not want to move, eat, or take an interest in what is going on. He may stand stiffly or hunched up. If lying down, he does not want to get up. He may act cranky and irritable, especially if you ride him.
Fever: A fever of more than one degree above normal (102 degrees or higher). Fever in the feet (the feet will feel hot to your touch) can be serious, especially if the pony stands with his front legs out ahead of him, moves stiffly or lies down and does not want to get up. (This could mean laminitis, or founder, which is an emergency. Call your veterinarian immediately.)
Not wanting to eat or not eating normally: Pony refuses to eat, drools or drops food out of his mouth.
Losing weight, dull coat, change in usual eating habits or behavior
Injury: Cut, swelling, heat or tenderness in a leg or elsewhere; a closed or swollen eye; lameness.

Recognizing lameness: To tell if a pony is lame, lead him at a jog. Keep the lead line loose so he can move his head up or down freely. Jog him in a straight line on hard level ground, like a driveway. Sometimes you can hear that his hoofbeats are uneven; one may sounder louder and one much quieter, like "CLIP, clop."

When a pony is lame, he favors his sore leg. He may stand with his weight on the good leg and rest the sore one. When he moves, he tries not to step hard on his sore leg. If it is a front leg, he throws his head up when he steps on the sore leg and down when he steps on the good leg. The sore leg usually takes a shorter step. If it is a hind leg, he carries his hip higher on the sore side and throws his head down as the sore hind foot touches the ground.

If your pony goes lame, clean out his feet and check for stones, a twisted or loose shoe, or something like a nail stuck in his foot. Feel his lends to see if you find a place that is tender (he flinches, or shows he's uncomfortable, when you touch or squeeze it), or that feels hot or puffy. (It helps to compare the lame leg with the other leg.)

Call your veterinarian or ask your instructor for advice, and don't ride him until you find out what the problem is and treat it. Some lameness can be made worse if you work the pony. (If you are out on a ride and your pony goes lame, it is okay to walk him back home slowly.)


Tying the horse:

There are many times when it's necessary to tie your horse. Here is some information about how to do so safely.

In the stable aisle, there will be ropes coming from the walls that will hook to the horse's halter. These are the cross-ties and are how the horse is held in place while working in the aisle. Most often, these will be used when it comes time to put on the tack.

It's dangerous to tie the horse by the bridle, so always tie with a halter and lead rope. When doing so, make sure to tie it to a strong anchor - like a good fence. Use a 'quick release' knot, which is shown in the picture.

Quick release.jpg

These all refer to tying your horse in the stable or a pasture. When on the road, as is common for Role-play in the Wheel of Time, there are different ideas. Common sense and safety are always the foremost of concerns.

You can hobble your horse, which means tying a piece of rope around their front feet so that they cannot walk. This is an option, which is why I'm listing it, but for the safety of you and your horse when out on the road, I *do not* recommend it. It will mean that you can't get away quickly and your horse cannot escape a threat.

Another option is that of a tie line, which is a rope tied between two trees and then the horse is tied to this. It can be tricky with multiple horses, because if one spooks then all do, most likely. A well traveled horse is less likely to startle in the first place, however.

You can also simply apply the same quick-release tie principles and anchor your horse to a tree or branch. A horse taken on a trail is more than likely to be a well traveled and stable animal, so startling and running is unlikely unless there is a great threat and the person is not there to calm them.

(Writing this as a Green, attacking hordes of Trollocs come to mind...)


Conclusion:

I will repeat that these are the utmost of basics when it comes to all of these. I used two books to do this and had to take nearly five hundred pages of basic horsemanship, as well as my own knowledge and experience, and condense it to these few, so understand that a lot was left out. I also had to alter things to fit the Wheel of Time universe we write in.

This should give you a good start on the general over-view of horsemanship so that you can use it to enrich your Role-play, since horses play a big part, which is often over-looked. My best goal in writing this page was to help bring my love of horses and their use in Role-play to you.

Treat even your RP horse well and he'll treat you well. ;-)


References:

1. "The United States Pony Club Manual of Horsemanship, D Level (Beginner's)" by Susan E. Harris
2. "Happy Horsemanship" by Dorothy Henderson Pinch

All drawings, except for the side saddle one, were taken from these books.