Hermaphroditism in Horses

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When is a mare not a mare?

South African racing authorities have just reclassified a filly called Tuesday’s Child as a colt after post-race checks showed a raised testosterone count. Nothing to do with dodgy injections or rum dealings: Tuesday’s Child is a male pseudo-hermaphrodite, and he had his breeder, owner and trainer fooled. I’ve actually “met” a horse like this – “Ladyboy” is pictured above* in a group of Konik horses kept by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust for conservation grazing. Like Tuesday’s Child’s owners, the NWT had no idea that the young horse was a hermaphrodite. “She” peed backwards from under her tail and had a small udder, like any filly. However, when she reached the age of two, she began fighting for dominance with the harem’s stallion, and trying to steal mares. She was eventually removed from the group and a veterinary examination revealed that the udder was in fact a scrotum, and that there was a rudimentary penis tucked under his tail. The newly christened Ladyboy was all male, although he was never going to father foals. He was gelded and given his own herd of youngsters to supervise, those solving his own frustrations and that of the main band’s stallion.

26/10/2014 Here’s a news item on a new study on pseudohermaphrodites.

* I admit I can’t remember which one he is…

PS. At the time I was researching If Wishes Were Horses, and looking for early instructions for sidesaddle riding. Browsing an eighteenth-century French manual called Le Nouveau Parfait Maréchal, I found a short chapter on hermaphroditic horses who “urinent fur leur queue” (“urinate through their tail”).

 

The Myth of the Wild Zebra

The Chronicle of the Horse interviewed a Texan woman called Sammi Jo Stohler who has schooled her zebra to jump:

“As I was training horses, I kept hearing, ‘You can’t train zebras, they’re untrainable.’ I said, ‘Why?’ To say something is untrainable implies that it can’t learn, and we all know that if they couldn’t learn, they’d all be extinct. They have to be able to learn and adapt. Obviously, the burden lies on the trainer to be able to train them,” Stohler said.

Watch Zack in action:

I suppose the myth of the untrainable zebra has two bits of reasoning behind it. Firstly, that none of the locals in Africa bothered to domesticate zebras before Europeans arrived. Given that there were large parts of Eurasia in which other locals didn’t bother to domesticate horses before the Central Asian Steppes culture arrived in their midst, this argument doesn’t quite wash. The second question that arises: why don’t you see more Westerners riding around on them?

Well, you did. Here’s the Victorian sidesaddle expert, Mrs Alice Hayes, riding a mountain zebra trained by her husband, Captain Horace Hayes:

And here’s Walter Rothschild driving his four in hand:

They were also used alongside mules as draft animals in the Transvaal in the nineteenth century. Here’s the hideous sight of a colonial officer, straight from central casting, leaping a fence held aloft by native servants in East Africa:

from the Library of Congress’ collection

I’d guess you don’t see more “tame” zebras because we already have plenty of specially bred, larger horses to choose from, and the striped equid represents mere novelty value. You could buy one from a specialist exotic animal dealer in London for between £100–£150 in Victorian Age (thank you to Lee Jackson for that snippet), and nowadays some zebra species are so common that you can actually expect to eat them as pizza topping in the UK. Yes, in topsy-turvy Britain it’s easier to buy zebra flesh than horse meat.

One place they’ve always found a home is, of course, the circus. One of the early fathers of the modern circus, Andrew Ducrow, trained two zebras for performance in the early 19th century despite the claims of the French naturalist Cuvier that this was impossible. According to the Magazine of Natural History in 1840, Ducrow’s zebras “entirely lost their spirit and vivacity in consequence, assuming the humbled bearing of the common donkey.” I’ve seen a contemporary drawing of this feat but alas can’t find it online. Meanwhile, these rather surly beasts of the 21st century are doing liberty work – the artificial representation of natural freedom – for Circus Knie:

Oddments

A Spindles' Farm survivor takes it easy at Redwings Horse Sanctuary

  • Sealskin will no longer be used for sporran manufacture. It’ll be ponyskin instead.
  • Anthropologie has a very pretty catalogue full of very pretty clothes and a whole heap of pretty horses.
  • A South African pony called Bertie kicked a pit bull in the head after it attacked his nads.
  • Champion racemare Sariska has been retired after deciding, once more, that she would rather not run today thank you in the Prix Vermeille in Paris.
  • I’m finding polo championship websites pretty atrocious to negotiate, but I think this means that the all-female England team came third in the European Championships in Vienna last week.
  • Competitors are arriving in Kentucky for the World Equestrian Games which kick off with reining on the 25th September. Dressage superstar and fan of “”low, round and deep“”, Anky Van Grunsven, will represent Holland in the western event.
  • Does ranty equine welfare blogger Fugly Horse of the Day practise what she preaches? Accusations in posts and comments on Fugly Horse of the Day Review suggest not. If you want to investigate, do go read through, but the “review” blog doesn’t gather up the details and put them in one place for ease of reading, so it may take you a while.
  • Horse bones are among a collection discovered at an Iron Age site in Sutton. Archaeologists think they may have been sacrifices.  Interesting, as I’m not sure from my own reading that there were many equine sacrifices in ancient Britain – horses were a scarce resource and expensive to feed – though I could be wrong.
  • The last son of Secretariat to stand at stud, Tinner’s Way, has retired.
  • AND FINALLY – I am delighted to see that the traditional practice of little girls taking ponies into houses is being upheld.