I’m Shannon Kennedy and I live on the family farm, a riding stable in the Cascade foothills. I organize most of the riding programs, teach horsemanship around my day-job as a substitute teacher, nurse sick horses, hold for the shoer, train whoever needs it – four-legged and two-legged. And write mainstream western romances as Josie Malone for Melange Satin Romance. I write young adult realistic fiction under what the kids at the barn call my “real name,” Shannon Kennedy for Black Opal and the Shamrock Stable horse series for Fire & Ice YA.
Writing what I know means horses show up in most of my books. So, after 50+ years with them, what can I tell you about them? First, remember that although they’re big, they’re also surprisingly fragile despite their size.
A horse has one stomach so it is not like a cow, a goat or a deer. The stomach is small, so the horse eats approximately twenty hours a day in the wild and sleeps four hours, usually in naps. Adult horses still lie down but not for long, about fifteen minutes. My old Quarterhorse mare, Lucky Lady used to empty the whole barn when she snored. She would lie down for a half hour and her weight; all eleven-hundred+ pounds would press on her lungs. And she would make an awful groaning sound as if she were dying. I’d run down to the barn and get her to roll up on her chest. Then, she would go back to normal breathing. Of course, once I interrupted nap-time, she’d stand up and give me the look that meant “Just where are the carrots, Mom?”
Horses are always hungry and will eat constantly. When they stop eating, it’s a clue that they’re sick. Normally, this means colic – a bad stomach-ache that constipates the animal. Left untreated, the horse will die. And if you want to know what makes a real hero, it’s the guy who stays with the heroine and her horse for the three days it takes to save the critter. The cure for colic is to keep the horse on its feet and moving until it passes the blockage.
Yes, this means pooping and passing gas. We actually keep Gas-X on hand for the horses and I mix it with applesauce and force-feed it during these times. The drug can be used with the muscle relaxants prescribed by the vet. Fun times are the enemas, mineral oil drenches and don’t ask what I do with plastic bread sacks and shortening – you don’t want to know, but I’ll tell you anyway! Yes, I do stick my hand up the horse’s you know what to clean out the poop ~ it’s cheaper than having the vet do it. I used this in Nothing But Horses, Book 3 in the Shamrock Stable Series, but I had my main character, a 16 year old girl do it.
Horses have hollow bones when they’re born, and this explains why young ones can lie down for longer. If you don’t know the gender, a baby pony or horse is a foal. And no, ponies do not grow into horses. Ponies are equines but will not be taller than 14.2 hands and are often measured in inches. Okay, so back to baby horses – foals can be either colts which are males, or fillies – females. Most authorities agree that a colt or filly isn’t considered mature until they turn four years of age. Then, a colt is either a gelding if he’s been neutered or a stallion.
However, between the age of eighteen months and two years old, provided he’s fully developed, a colt can sire young. In my book, Cowboy Spell, coming soon from Melange Satin Romance, the heroine and hero have a spicy scene when she discovers that a rescued horse, Paragon is making babies. And the first mare he bred was his mother – ooh, icky! And yes, it does happen. It’s why horse people will separate mares from their foals and if you visit a racing barn, you discover that weaning occurs when the baby is approximately four to six months old.
Personally, I think that’s too young. I can’t bear to listen to the mares and foals whinny and scream for each other, non-stop for days on end. Okay, maybe it’s not non-stop. It just sounds that way. So, I don’t wean my foals until they’re eleven months old. But, then again, I don’t breed my mares every year either. A mare carries for eleven months and twenty-two days. And in the wild, she’ll start driving away the older colt or filly when the new one is expected.
In Cowboy Spell, Paragon’s mother is in labor when the hero arrives, and he stays to help deliver the foal. This allowed for some great tension between him and the heroine, especially when he told her that she needed to do a hands-on inspection when she bought a new horse. In real life, we do this all the time. We look at teeth to determine the age of the horse, the hooves to see if the animal is sound, the eyes – can he see and the horse’s body. As the saying goes, “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.” You’ll quickly learn how old the horse truly is and the older they are, the more care they’ll need.
I’m running out of space and it’s hard to put over fifty years of knowledge into just a short column so if you need to know more, email me, at firstname.lastname@example.org I’ll be happy to share what I’ve learned in the equine School of Hard Knocks!
Hope to see you soon at the farm & remember the long, skinny carrots for the horses!
Shannon Kennedy writing as (w/a) Josie Malone