Saturday, June 28, 2014

How To Make A Big-Ass Horse


We went to the Rose Festival parade this year, which is weird. Parade-watching doesn't work out that well for Dave and me. We start out curbside, but Dave suffers from being as considerate as he is tall, and as people worm their way in front of him to see, he keeps stepping back and stepping back until eventually we discover we're all the way back home again. But this time we found a spare spot right downtown and parked our butts in the front row.

Turns out it really matters to be up close. That's how you find out how truly large those Budweiser Clydesdales are. I mean, we've all seen them on TV, but it's an entirely different thing to have one clop by and put the other side of the street in total eclipse. Holy shit. You could put the whole family on one of those: the kids on their bellies in the middle with a Monopoly board between them, and Mom and Dad reclined on a blanket with a bottle of wine and the Sunday paper.  They could get up and stroll over to the withers and back for exercise. A couple of those skinny houses could go up alongside the hocks and no one would even notice right away.

They are big-ass horses. Regular horses are big enough, but they're little green houses on Baltic Avenue compared to the Clydesdale's hotel on Park Place. They have feet like kettledrums with a big fur bustle. Plus, they prance. No one laughs at you if you prance while large.

They're named after Clydesdale, a place in Scotland, which is named after the River Clyde, which is probably named after some guy named Clyde, which just goes to show you never know where your name is going to end up, even without the internet.

It took almost no time at all to make a horse this
Note Clydesdale Snot on butt.
big. Three hundred years ago someone drug in some stout Flemish stallions from Flemland and got the ball rolling. They started out strong, but they weren't all that tall, as those things go. They were exported all over the place to do work such as hauling coal and building Australia, and it wasn't until the 1940s that someone decided they could be taller. That way they would look cooler in advertisements in case the Super Bowl ever got invented. So essentially we're talking just a few generations to polish up a modern Clydesdale.

It's something to think about if you're dubious about evolution. Take eyes: we find the first fossil eyes in 540-million-year-old strata and it's estimated it might take only 400,000 years to go from a dab of light-sensitive cells to a complex eyeball. The dab of light-sensitive cells couldn't do much but let you know when it's bedtime. Once the cells had organized themselves into a cup shape, they were able to tell how strong light was and where it was coming from. After that it was just a matter of refinement, and all kinds of critters did it. Octupi made eyeballs by sinking pits into their heads and, independently, vertebrates made them out of a part of their brains they weren't using for anything else, but both operate much the same way.

We're all basically organized dust, which is pretty terrific, if you ask me; but if you ask some people, they're rather offended by the idea. They're not buying the eyeball thing. They might not even believe the modern horse emerged out of a skittering critter the size of a fox in only fifty million years, even though entire Clydesdales were assembled right in front of our complex eyeballs in no time at all. And that's nothing:

We went from Grey Wolves to Barking Purse Hamsters in a few thousand years.

27 comments:

  1. What we've done to wolves with a few thousand years of selective breeding does illustrate the possibilities. Who would believe that St Bernards, those Clydesdales of the pooch world, are the same species as those yapping chihuahuas, the product of just a few thousand years of breeding?

    People have been breeding horses for size on and off for thousands of years, because until recently they were humanity's main war machine. Being first to domesticate the horse was the main reason for the Aryan conquests, which are the reason why all the languages from Bengal to Britain have a common origin. The only reason you type your posts in English instead of something else (now, in fact, long extinct) is that one group rather than another got control of horses first.

    Now that horses have been put out of work by tanks and exist mostly for display, we're free to breed them more whimsically. Eventually St Bernard horses the size of dinosaurs will be roaming (and fouling) the streets of Texas, where they like things big, and no doubt a nervously-neighing purse model will be available as well.

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    1. I have come to count on you to come in here and class up the joint. I believe one doesn't even need to know anything if one can manage to accumulate friends who know stuff.

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    2. Never be the smartest person in the room... thankfully that is not usually a problem for most of us. ;-)

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    3. I'm always happy to not be the smartest person in the room. Sometimes I don't necessarily like to be in the same room as the smartest person in the room.

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  2. I have parrots, and they frequently manage to work it into the conversation that they descended from dinosaurs, and my husband and I from apes. Even though I know they are right, they do not have to be so supercilious about it. I try to gain some leverage by demonstrating the power of the opposable thumb, but they scoff and say that they manage just fine with their "tongue-fingers". Alas, we are at an impasse.

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    1. My experience with parrots has led me to refrain from showing them my thumbs at all. Or any other of your smaller parts.

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  3. "barking purse hamsters." I love it. It's less cruel than what I usually hear those annoying yippers called: "drop kick dogs."

    Clydesdales may be doing okay, but a couple other draft horse breeds are now considered endangered and are in danger of disappearing. Both the Shire and the Suffolk are becoming quite rare -- it's expensive to keep horses that big. The trend in horse breeding isn't to keep scaling up until we have horses as large as a brachiosaurus; it's to go the other way and miniaturize until people can keep a beagle-sized horse in the living room. Although why that's a desirable goal beats me -- it doesn't matter how small the horse, it's still not going to be a pet that can be housebroken. Then again, if some people don't seem to mind that their barking purse hamsters crap wherever and whenever they feel like it, maybe miniature piles of horse apples won't bother them either.

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    1. Oy! Drop-kick dogs? This is the reason women keep stashes of Kleenex in their purses too, by the way. Just so you know, I own only a small shoulderbag my niece sewed for me, and I only take it out on fancy occasions when I'm not wearing anything sensible enough to have pockets. My favorite solution is to keep my wallet in Dave's back jeans pocket. Well, it's his wallet, but it works just as well. Better!

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  4. Speaking of evolution, which I guess I'm not, I am really curious about my origins. So I've sent off a spit kit to Ancestry.com to see if I have any Neanderthal in me. People with European ancestors are most likely to, and I'm mostly Northern European. The thing is, I'm hoping for some Neanderthal, and I don't even know why.

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    1. I'm mostly northern European too, but I doubt I have much Neanderthal in me. Because if I did, surely I would have eyebrows.

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  5. Flemland. I thought that was that place in my chest when I have a cold. I have a much easier time with my Fjord horses. Plenty strong, but compact enough to be really handy. They have been the same for about 4000 years. They are northern European like knittergran.

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    1. Knittergran? You want to jump in here and defend yourself?

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    2. Well, all I can say is I'm definitely not compact.

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    3. Hmmm, the last few years my eyebrows have had a tendency to want to look like Andy Rooney's. Maybe my inner Neanderthal is oozing out.

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  6. I think the Clydesdale "snot" is just foamy saliva, and it means the horse is comfortable with the bit in its mouth. Gee, I did learn something from watching my daughter ride for years and years. In heat. And cold. And rain. And wind. (Plus it gave me something to complain about!)

    Clydsdales are awesome. Your posts - on evolution or anything else - likewise.

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    1. Echoing jenny_o on both counts. And grateful that we don't have to wait while the evolution wheel turns (so very slowly) to read them.

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    2. Thanks! I'm wondering what happens if the horse is NOT comfortable with the bit. What does he spray onto the next horse's ass then?

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    3. His hooves, I would guess - those kettledrum-sized ones ;)

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  7. Yep, those Clydesdale are huge horses. Wouldn't want one to stomp on my little toes!!
    Barking purse hamsters...love that!!!!

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    1. I can't imagine being able to get close enough for a stomping. They're impressive.

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  8. I love Clydesdales. We have a couple here in little old Adelaide, probably more, but I only ever see two at a time. Every now and again they trundle about pulling a beer wagon advertising the local brewery. I think I have a photo somewhere, but not scanned into the computer.

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    1. Supposedly, Clydesdales "built Australia." I wasn't making that up.

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  9. "Barking purse hamsters." I knew they were something, just not exactly what. Thanks.

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  10. There are used to be contests around these parts where old guys will get together with their huge horses and show off their skills with horse-drawn farm implements. Plowing, harvesting, haying and so on. I saw it only once and was absolutely ghasted up with flabber. Not only does it take themechanical skills of a yankee inventor to keep those old rigs running, but it requires a complex dance of respect and obedience between horses and driver to get even two horsepower work accomplished.

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    1. Gosh, I could watch that for hours. Then again, I could watch anyone work for hours.

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  11. I am stealing Barking Purse Hamsters. That is genius!

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