Random things I remember from 4H

Brad, Romona and myself (age 11 or 12) after a trail ride. Also pictured: Ramona’s horse Cody in the rear, and mine, Chief (too busy grazing on the lawn to lift his head for a photo).

I was in the Monroe County 4H Equine program when I was growing up, until I was around 15 or so (when Punk, New Wave, and boys ate my brain). My oldest brother and a number of friends and I were all in a local 4H group (the Rush Riders, named for our township) that was a part of the Cornell University Cooperative Extension. In addition to trail rides, horse shows and Wyomoco Horse Camp, we participated in a program of testing known as the Star Tests, of which there were five levels. I made it to level four before quitting the program, and we used to practice by staging horse bowls– kind of trivial pursuit games, but only regarding horses. We had study guides and books. Someone out there (probably Cornell) even published papers which we received piecemeal, to put in a binder, gradually making up a textbook of horse knowledge, from tack terminology to basics of veterinary care. Somewhere at the farm I have my four little star pins still, I think. It’s pretty amazing to think about now; I took it all for granted at the time, since I started when I was around eight.

Some of us also took part in the Public Presentations program, for which my presentation on Anglo-Arabian horses (that’s a Thoroughbred crossed with an Arabian) made it to State level. I titled it “The Best of Both Breeds.” (Such a geek! I was mainly interested in that program because the talks required visuals, so I had the chance to design and draw loads of posters for them. Probably cemented my future career as a designer.)

So, here are some random bits of horse geekery that were floating through my head this morning for some reason:

  • Lipids are the building blocks of protein. (!)
  • In a horse, the caecum is a vestigial organ similar to the appendix in a human. (In looking up the proper spelling, I’ve since learned it exists in carnivores as well but evolution has decreased its size)
  • A horse has 206 bones, save for pureblood Arabian horses, which have one fewer vertebra.
  • When a horse’s hooves are properly trimmed, the resulting angles (in relation to the ground) should be 45º for the front feet, and 50º for the back.
  • In the US, any horse standing fewer than 14 1/2 hands tall at the withers is considered a pony. (One hand = 4″, so that’s 58″. The withers are the bones at the base of the neck –essentially the topmost points of the shoulder blades– just behind which rests the foremost portion of a saddle.)
  • A horse cannot breathe through its mouth.
  • A horse’s age can be determined by looking at it’s teeth. (The phrase “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth” refers to this. It would be tantamount to receiving a car as a gift and immediately checking the  odometer to see how new it was– considered rude, ungrateful.)
  • A horse’s small intestine is about 75 feet in length.
  • Eohippus, or “dawn horse”, was around the size of a small fox, and had paws not hooves; horses retain a vestigial toe of sorts in the form of a callosity at the rear of the fetlock known as an ergot, similar to those found on cats and dogs.

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