Thursday, July 6, 2017

HORSES AND PONIES - PART 1

OUR HORSES PRINCE AND AMAN HORSING AROUND, BOTH THOROUGHBREDS
We are among the not so many Malaysians who have been rearing horses over the last 10 years or so. Like so many boys of my generation, I grew up on a steady diet of John Wayne and later, Clint Eastwood movies, depicting hard, silent not-so gentlemanly cowboys doing things what every boy has always wanted to do and almost always getting away with it.

Central to these cowboys' life was of course his horse and his equally important his six-shooter. The latter has got a bit out of date, but the horse is still around. So when we first opened up the farm in early 2000's, we wanted to give it some life. Initial additions like chickens, goats and deer did not make much of an impact as they got swallowed and disappeared in the huge space. So we thought the horse might do the job.

Therein began my adventure with horses, relieving my childhood fantasies, albeit forty years too late. Thus began my trial and error on how to rear horses and also to ride them. Yes, the falls were painful, especially at my age, but I learned nevertheless, through personal pain, discussions with other horse lovers, visits to stables, expos, TV, videos, etc. So, for some years now we have been giving basic riding lessons to those who are interested.

Over the years we have been receiving all kinds of inquiries on horse rearing and the issues related to it, especially from a personal, private perspective, as opposed to the commercialized riding clubs. Visitors have always been curious on the amount of effort and money it takes to upkeep these beautiful animals, especially since horses have never been a part of the Malaysian culture. Strangely enough Peninsula Malaysia seemed to be a unique exclusion from the horse experience. Surrounding countries and areas have a far more greater historical connection with horses compared to Peninsula Malaysia. The old Thai Kingdom was very familiar with horses so too the old Indonesian Empires. In fact Java, Bali and Lombok seemed to have their own indigineous breeds. Even Sabah have their own peculiar bred of ponies. However, I may be wrong.

Anyway, in view of the general interest I shall share our local knowledge and experience with regards to horses in this and InsyaAllah other articles to follow.

We shall start with the basics, i.e. when do we call them ponies and when do we call them horses? A common misconception here in Malaysia (any understanding here is uniquely Malaysian) is that a pony is a young horse (or baby horses, as children would like to call them). 

Actually the pony is a different grouping altogether. It is the smallest grouping in the equine (horse) family. A pony is anything upto 13 hands tall, which is the number of times the palms need to be joined from the bottom of the front hoof to the withers (the hump at the base of the neck). At Uluhati, Mary is a pony.

THE LEAD HORSE IS OUR PONY, MARY
Between 13 to 15 hands, they are called Cobs, or rather small to medium size horses.

Above 15 hands, they are called Horses, essentially big horses.

Generally, these differences don't really matter, except when you need to purchases equipment for the horses, generally called tacking, i.e. bridle sets, head collars, saddles, etc. Unless you bring the horse to the shop itself, usually quite problematic, the store keeper would ask you whether its for a pony, cob or horse. So, it is helpful in that sense.

Another demarcation or distinction which may be useful relate to the blood types and I am not referring to types O, B, etc, Every now and then in your discussion with horse lovers you may come across terminologies like Warm Blood, Cold Blood and Hot Blood horses. Now, to be sure all horses are warm blooded, i.e they are not cold blooded reptiles, if my old biology still hold true.

Warm, Cold and Hot largely has to do with their temperament, i.e. whether they are excitable, docile, obedient, independent (rebellious). This differences in temperament has over the centuries led to different tasks these horses were put to and also consequently also to their sizes. 

Essentially the higher the "temperature", highest being hot, the more excitable and energetic they are. Warm is intermediate and of course Cold Blooded is the coolest of them. They can do a lot of work without getting flustered, patient and obliging which you would see in many farm and draft (working) horses.

HOT BLOODS
These are horses originating in the Middle-East, mainly Arabia and Egypt but also includes all of North Africa, Turkey, Caspian Area and the Persia (Iran) and India. That these are hot areas may perhaps contribute to their temperament. They are normally smaller in size to European horses, perhaps due to scarcity of good grazing, hardier, able to stand harsher environment, generally the hot weather, and perhaps because of the harsh environment, more nervous, agile, rebellious or independent, excitable and highly intelligent.

The prime example of the hot blood is the legendary Arabian horses. The Arabs, horses I mean, are said to be the purest breed of horses in existence today, and because of their fiercely independent qualities they have for centuries attracted horse lovers from all over the world and, have been cross-bred with many other varieties for centuries. Among the most common of such cross-breed is the Thoroughbred. These are the ones you would see in every race course all over the world.

It is said that the Appaloosa (the Red Indian Painted Horse) have a fair dosage of Arabian blood in them. This is because horses were introduced in the Americas by the Spaniards after they kicked out their Arab masters, here I mean the Arab rulers. Bear in mind that Spain was ruled by the Arabs for 800 years. So naturally the Arabs would not settle for anything less than their owned trusty steed which they brought across the Straits of Gibraltar by the thousands. Over time they cross bred with local horses and when the Spanish Conquistadors paid a visit to the Americas they brought these horses with them.

ARABIAN PURE BREED
The unique feature of the Arab is that he has one less rib bone, two less lumbar bone and two less tail vertebrae which give rise to its unique stature.

ARAB - NOTICE THE RAISED TAIL WHICH IS TYPICAL TO THIS BREED
Perhaps one of the main reasons for the spread of the Arab horses was the spread of Muslim Empire itself which spanned from the borders of China to the shores of the Atlantic and the gates of Hungary. In fact if not for their horses it could not be imagined how they would have got to these areas.

ARAB WITH THE UNIQUE RAISED TAIL

ARABS IN FULL CEREMONIALS

ARAB WITH THAT DISTINCTIVELY LONG AND NARROW FACE

ARABS IN THEIR DESERT GLORY

ARABS HAVING FUN
The Arab love affair with their horses is legendary. Favorites are treated like favorite wives, leaving in the same tent as their masters, and in times of raids by hostile tribes, one of the top priorities is to make sure the horses are secured. Geneaology are maintained verbally over the centuries to ensure purity of lineage. It is said that one of the horses belonging to Tun Mahathir Mohammed could be traced back to one of the war horses of Khalid Al-Walid, one of the most illustrious Muslim generals 1500 years ago. One could almost imagine the Arab warriors thundering across the deserts in their flowing robes and their trusty steeds. Poems were dedicated to their horses as one would dedicate them to fair maidens.
THAT'S ME (MIDDLE) IN SHOWERA, MOROCCO ON A BARB HORSE. THEY ARE QUITE SPIRITED

BARB HORSES, FOUND IN NORTH AFRICA IN MOROCCO, ALGERIA AND TUNISIA

It is said the Arabs, chose their own masters, i.e. only those whom they see fit to be their masters. Having seen a few myself, I tend to think this is true. They emanate such bearing and intelligence in their eyes, that they seemed uncanningly human. It is horse you would have to deal with intelligence and confidence, rather than brute force to get its respect, obedience and ultimately friendship. It is a partnership of equals.

Over the Americas, the Nez Perce Indians of the Washington area were famed breeders of the Appaloosa horse. These horses are well known for their various spots and patterns on their coats. After the Nez Perce lost their war against the American Cavalry, they surrendered their horses and this breed fell into neglect. Only in the 1930's were efforts made to revive this breed by injection of Arab and Thoroughbred bloodlines. So what began as a Warm Blood variety in its final form became Hot Blood or Semi Hot Blood.
APPALOOSA

APPALOOSA

APPALOOSA

APPALOOSA
The other famous Hot Blood is the Thoroughbred. All Thoroughbreds can trace back their lineage to three Arab Stallions which were brought to England in the 1700's and 1800's for cross-breeding with English Dames.

THOROUGHBREDS
As we can see they inherited the speed and vitality and the handsome Semitic nose of the Arabs, but have adopted the slightly bigger size of the Mat Salleh's.

In Malaysia, the most numerous breed is the Thoroughbred, used mainly as race horses. Once retired they are nowadays are sold to private owners like myself for a fraction of their original price ranging from RM5,000-00 to RM10,000-00 depending on their age and conditions.

So that's it for now. InsyaAllah I shall write further on this subject.

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