My Fantasy For A Horse

Julie with palamino horse

A small discussion on horses.

A discussion came up recently regarding my query because I included a line at the bottom, in the bio section, about my expertise with horses. Some people felt it made me stand out. Some people thought it made me sound like I was trying too hard. Some people wondered why I on earth I was including it at all.

The line is, “I also raised Quarter Horses for years and I’m from a ranching background, so the horse details are authentic.”

The reason I included it is because one of the cultures in Far Riders is very much horse-based. They are sort of a Celtic-Cossack cross. Their children grow up on horses. Their women are as fierce in battle as the men. They are nomadic guerilla fighters. I wanted to let the agent know the horse reference would be realistic. This may not be important to some people, but it is to me. It drives me insane to read things like a gazelle giving birth to a calf with horns. Really? A bit of common sense please?

I recently read a “reference” someone wrote for people who were writing about horses and it made me cringe. Please, for the love of all that is holy, if you don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t write a reference article to help writers. I don’t know everything about horses, but I do know more than the average rabbit. So, I’ll share a few basics that may help.

Horses are measured in hands. A hand is four inches. This is an ancient measurement that is approximately the width of a palm and is measure from the ground to the top of the withers. The withers is that ridge at the base of the neck between the shoulder blades. If you have a partial hand, say 15 hands and one inch, you express it as 15.1 hands.

Ponies are under 14.2 hands technically, though there are also miniature horses who are well under 14 hands. That’s a whole other can of worms.

With the exception of three breeds, if memory serves me correctly, all modern horse breeds descend from the Arabian horse breed. Arabs got around thanks to the Roman empire.

Horses usually eat between 1.5-3.5% of their body weight per day. They have very crude digestive systems. Left on their own, they spend most of the day grazing. An average size horse, say 1,000-1,200 pounds will drink 7-12 gallons of water a day. Fluoridated water is poisonous to them, by the way.

An aside, that’s why a lot of people keep chickens around horses. The horses don’t process grain very well, but the chickens will scratch the horse apples apart to get the undigested grain and help keep the mess down.

A young horse, baby, of either sex is a foal. A three and younger male horse is a colt. A three and younger female horse is a filly. A castrated male horse is a gelding. An intact mature male horse is a stud or stallion. A mature female is a mare.

Natural horse gaits are:

Walk at which a horse can travel about four miles an hour.

The trot is about eight-twelve miles an hour. When covering long distances a traveler would usually go between a trot and walk. The scenes in movies with coaches jouncing along behind horses at a full gallop are not accurate.

The canter is a three beat gait that is between a trot and a gallop and cover between 10-17 miles per hour.

The gallop is a full out run that covers 25-30 miles per hour, though Quarter Horses are clocked at speeds of up to 55 miles per hour at short distances. Horses can’t gallop for more than a few miles before becoming winded.

That being said, I once did a story about a horse that carried his owner and his owner’s friend to safety over several miles while being chased by Indians in Montana. The horse survived and lived to a very ripe old age. My great aunt and uncle raised hay on their farm and the horse’s owner always bought hay from them because he thought it was the best hay in the country. He would only feed the old horse the best. When the horse died in the middle of winter, the hired hand wanted to drag it out for the coyotes to eat, but the owner refused and put the body in the barn until spring when they could dig a grave.

Some horses also pace, but that’s a more unusual gait and not all horses do it. It’s a lateral two-beat gait that is like a slow trot and is a more comfortable riding gait. Peruvian Paso horses are known for this.

Mongol soldiers maintained 3-4 horses each and changed frequently during the invasion of Hungary. They could cover up to 100 miles a day. Mounted knights on fit horses could cover 40-50 miles a day, but 20-30 miles a day was considered a good day.

Terrain also plays a part. Uncharted forests might drop travel down to ten miles a day or less.

Wild horses have an average lifespan of 19 years or less. Probably less, truth be told, because the herd has a survival instinct. A dry mare, one who no longer produces foals, or a sick or injured individual, will be driven away from the herd in the fall to preserve the herd. The herd will only try to protect individuals that contribute to the survival of the species.

Domestic horses can live to around 40 years or a little longer. There have been several rodeo horses, including bucking horses in their 30’s still going strong.

Horses aren’t really finished growing until they’re around five years old.

Horses come in a variety of colors.

True white is a rare color.

They can be dominant white meaning they have brown eyes and pink skin with all white hair. Some have a small amount of pigment along the topline. Some white horses can have blue eyes. Most horses that look white are actually grays that have faded with time. True white horses will always have pink skin. They are prone to sunburn and cancer, as are grays.

Other horses that may appear white are cremellos, perlinos and smoky champagnes. These are actually dilutes.

Gray horses could appear black at birth, but may have white hairs in the coat. Others will be born varying shades of gray. Nearly all lighten with age. Grays with darker spots are called dapple grays. Grays with tiny flecks are called flea bit grays.

The world famous Lipizzaners are usually grays.

Bays are brown or reddish brown with black points like a Siamese cat.

bay horse

Browns are dark brown with no black points.

Chestnuts are dark reddish brown and may have flaxen manes and tails.

Sorrels are also a reddish or copper color, sometimes with a flaxen mane and tail, but lighter than chestnuts. Note, I believe Thoroughbred people call all “red” horses chestnuts.

sorrel horse

Buckskins are similar to bays except they are lighter color tan with black points.

Duns are tan or red. A zebra dun may have dorsal markings and markings like a zebra on the legs and across the withers.

A true black horse, aside from breeds like Friesians, is also a rare color. True black horses also have black eyes. Most horses that are thought to be black are actually dark brown.

Blue roans are black hairs mixed with white evenly giving the horse a blue color. Roans often have dark legs, manes and tails. Their coats don’t change with age, unlike grays aside from dark hairs growing in where they have been cut.

Red or strawberry roans are a mix of red hairs mixed evenly with white giving them a reddish gray color. Like blue roans, they don’t lighten with age and the hair will come in darker where they’ve been scratched.

Bay roans are reddish or bay roans with black points, manes, and tails. Like other roans, they don’t lighten with age.

Palominos are a yellow color ranging from light yellow, almost cream to deep gold almost chocolate and usually with silver manes and tails. Think Roy Rogers and Trigger or Julie Weathers and Cowboy.

Julie with palamino horse
palamino horse

Grullas are a smoke or mouse color, often with dark dorsal stripes and points.

Pintos are a mix of white and a solid or semi solid color. Paint is actually a breed of horse whereas a pinto can be any horse with a mixed coat pattern. However,  a lot of people use the term pinto and paint interchangeably, especially in western novels. I wouldn’t complain if I read a book and they called a pinto a paint horse. That’s just nitpicking.

Appaloosa is a breed of horse. Not all horses with spots are Appaloosas. The breed was developed by the Nez Perce Indians who practiced selective breeding, including castration. This was rare among Native Americans. There are Eurasian prehistoric cave paintings and Han dynasty Chinese paintings of warhorses with similar markings to the Appaloosa, also.

Foals, if born correctly, come out front feet first. Their hooves are soft, rounded and often have a protective covering called golden slippers because of the pale gold color. The hooves harden within 4-5 of days of birth. The foal will usually stand within 30-60 minutes. They nurse within minutes of standing normally. Their legs are usually about 90% of what they will be at maturity.

Well, that should give a few basics and I’m always available if anyone has any questions.


  1. Wonderfully instructive, Julie.
    I didn’t know fluoridated water was poisonous to a horse.

    My dad and I had owned, at one time or another, a pale dappled gray Arabian with darker mane and tail, a sorrel (really copper!) Morgan with matching mane and tail, a dark chestnut Standardbreed, and a sweet brown Quarter Horse with darker mane and tail. Their names were Sahib, Champ (aka Rusty), Bonnino, and Little Jim, also called Smiling Jim for his habit of turning up his lip and whinnying when I approached.

    Gee I wish I still had them.

  2. Donna,

    I miss the horses. I said I wouldn’t own another one after one of the studs twisted a gut and I had to put him down. We had raised Buddy and he was just remarkable. At that time we had three studs and kept them all in the same pen together. People say you can’t do that, but you can. Everyone thought it was a pen of geldings the way they acted.

    He was such a funny horse and full of personality.

    After I went out and saw him thrashing on the ground I kept praying he would get better. Then I just started praying for the vet to hurry up and get there to put him down.

    If things ever got right I might buy another one, but I don’t know.

    Horses get in your blood.


    1. Yeah, they do.
      Sahib loved peppermint life savers. You could open a roll anywhere within 100 feet of him and he’d trample anyone in his way to get to you.
      Bonnino knew how to open the slide lock on his box stall and took himself for walks. Not a good thing in the Bronx, even if the stable was in a secluded area. Of course, one of the goats would go with him, bleating like a tattle tale.
      Champ loved to be sung to. Davy Crockett was his favorite. He’d literally lean that long nose into my chest and close his eyes while I sang to him. Funny, endearing guy.
      And Jim? He loved barrel racing. He’d sometimes chase off the dogs on trail rides for a bite of hamburger. Hamburger! And he LOVED bourbon in his mash. LOL
      Gee I miss them. What personalities.

      Twisted gut. Never had a horse with that. One of the owners had a bad time with one of his, a stud. Kinda high blooded. He ran into the tail end of an old Cadillac. Tore a huge gash in his chest. The vet had to destroy him. It was a bad day. Even the other horses knew it.

      Anyone who’s lost a pet–horse, dog, cat–knows how bad it is to put them down, especially when it’s unexpected.


  3. Heh, Skidboot loved peppermint also. She’d go around smelling people’s mouths in case they had just brushed their teeth or were chewing gum. It freaked people out who thought she was going to bite them. She just wanted to smell their breath.

    Cowgirl, the horse in this picture could untie anything. They left her in an arena with rope horses and went to lunch. Came back to find her untying the last of the horses.

    They’re very intelligent and emotional creatures. Some aren’t, but many are.

    1. ROFLing over their shenanigans! I can just picture Skidboot’s nostrils flaring in someone’s face and I can see Cowgirl very studiously untying ropes.
      We only ever had males–all geldings. They’re oddly rational and not so emotional except for affection. But then I think that’s a personality thing. A lot of horses don’t get to express their affections or come into affection because they’re sold around too often. Sad really.
      Another caution, huh? If I got a horse, he’d probably be a mature fella because I’d want to keep him until he died, even if I never rode him again. At this stage, I just couldn’t see selling another horse. Too much like a pet. Too much heartbreak for both of us.

  4. Interesting! Is the horse just above your description of grulla a grulla? The skin on her(?) lower abdomen looks bumpy. Can you tell if that’s the case (and if so, what would cause it) or if it’s an illusion caused by hair growing different directions or something?

  5. Janet,

    He’s a palomino and his natural color is that deep gold on his lower legs. I took that picture in late spring and he was just starting to shed off his winter fluffy coat. That’s why his body coat looks lighter and rough. Grulla’s are more of a smoky gray type color.

  6. I don’t know anything about horses but I love your point. You have to know what your talking about.
    I actually did lots of bareback riding as a kid in L.A. because zoning laws let people keep livestalk in their back yards. That was 40+ years ago. I know someone who has a blind horse that lives in the ‘pasture’ (not sure if that is the right word) with the other horses. He had some disease and they had to remove both of his eyes and sew them up. I can send you a photo. He is well take care of.

  7. Hello, Angie and welcome to the Tale Traveler!

    What wonderful news to know the owners are taking care of the blind horse. Too many would have put him down. My son had a rope horse who was blind on one side when he was in high school. Jack was a really great horse. Yes, pasture is the right word.


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