Monday, 23 October 2017

Caspian Horses

At the Horse of the Year show this year there was a display of Caspian horses ... and I was amazed by their story.   

They were thought to be extinct until in the 1960's a small horse was spotted pulling a cart.  The horse seemed to have many of the characteristics of the Caspian.  A few other similar horses were found in the area and mountains around the southern shores of the Caspian Sea where they were known as 'Mouleki' or 'Pouseki' ponies.  Further investigations proved that they were descendants of the Caspian.   After establishing that these horses 'bred true' a few were selected to become the foundation stock for the future of the breed. 

They are known as horses rather than ponies because they have many traits in common with warm blooded horses.  Caspian horses are agile and intelligent and have fantastic temperaments.  They move with elegance, with long level paces and have a swinging trot and rapid gallop!


In ancient times, as early as 3000BC, small horses are pictured in stone carvings.  Later, (circa 500BC) the Caspian was used to pull chariots by King Darius the Great.  A frieze shows them in a procession for the king, and the smallest only reached to the waists of their handlers.  Sadly after the 7th century AD there is no record of these horses, the libraries and museums were all destroyed in wars between Islam and Mongolia.  


Height:  Up to 12.2hh, average is 11.2hh

Colour:  All colours, except piebald or skewbald.  

Conformation: Pronounced foreheads with deep prominent jawbones.  Eyes are large and often prominent and the muzzle fine with large nostrils.  Ears are short and wide apart but often turn inwards at the top.  The neck is long as are the shoulders and the body slim with a deep girth.  The quarters are long and sloping and the hocks angled.  Hooves are strong and there is little frog. Caspians' have thin skin and a silky coat which can be iridescent in the summer.  The winter coat is thick and they have plenty of fine and silky tail and mane.

Temperament:  Sensible, active and willing.

Used  as an all rounder.  They are great for children because of their narrow conformation.  Mounted games, dressage, racing and in harness.  They are also great jumpers.

For more information about these beautiful little horses have a look at the Caspian Horse Society Website:

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Until next time!

Friday, 20 October 2017

All About ... Nerve Cells

Nerve cells (or neurones) convey information (messages), as I explained in my blog about the nervous system a while ago.  All living things have to be able to detect changes in their environment and then respond accordingly to survive.  The change is known as a stimulus and this can be from inside the living thing (internally) as well as externally.  Horses, like all mammals, detect external stimuli in the sense organs (eyes, ears, nose, skin, mouth)but then the message has to be conveyed to cause a response.  This is where the nervous system comes in . 

Nerves are tight bundles of nerve fibres.  Nerve cells (neurones) have a body which contains a nucleus and the nerve fibres, which are the long extensions, these transmit the nerve impulses around the body.  The fibres which carry the impulses away from the nerve cell body are called axons and those carrying the impulses to the cell body are called dendrons.  The cell body may also have smaller dendrons called dendrites!

In horses, the sensory neurones transmit messages from the sensory receptors  (in the peripheral sense organs) to the Central Nervous System (CNS).  The motor neurones carry messages from the CNS to the muscles and glands.  

The motor neurones convey information incredibly quickly, a message (or impulse) can be transmitted from the spinal cord to the feet in a few milliseconds.  These neurones are protected along most of their length by a myelin sheath which provides a thick insulating layer.  The sheath is basically a series of cell membranes each of which are formed by a Schwann cell, which are then wrapped around the axon.  Along the membranes of the Schwann cells are gaps (nodes of Ranvier) and these are the key to fast transmission of impulses. 

The nerve impulses are electrical signals, these are generated when something stimulates the nerve membrane.  If this stimulation is above a certain level (threshold) it will cause a change in the membrane's permeability and therefore an exchange of ions across the membrane.  This in turn causes a small current to flow in the cytoplasm of the nerve fibre and in the fluid surrounding the cells (extracellular fluid).  This current will stimulate the nerve membrane of the next neurone which will then alter its permeability again causing an exchange of ions ... and so on along the nerve fibre.  

In nerve fibres which have a myelin sheath (motor neurones) the impulses travel more quickly because they 'jump' from one gap (node of Ranvier) in the cell membrane to the next.  This also uses less energy.   

The impulse then moves along the nerve fibres through the body.  To move from one neurone to another there is either an electrical or a chemical 'message'.  This message has to pass across the gap between cells - the junction (or synapse)!  Most cells will communicate using a chemical 'message' called a neurotransmitter.   

When the impulse reaches the end of the fibre it will cause a change in permeability again, allowing the release of a neurotransmitter across the gap.  This neurotransmitter will then cross and attach itself to the other cell, which will then be stimulated and the ion exchange will continue down that nerve fibre.  When the final nerve fibre interacts with the muscle, gland or organ the neurotransmitter will cause a reaction .. dilate pupils, move a muscle etcetera.  Usually, more than one impulse along a nerve fibre will be needed to cause a reaction.

Stimulation of the nerve membrane can be caused by: light, sound, pressure or other neurones.  The stimulation is also an 'all or nothing' response, there is either an impulse or there is not an impulse, it does not vary in strength.  The stronger the stimulus the more impulses are produced in a given time.  

In sense organs, however, there are many neurones and these have different threshold levels which gives the brain more information about the stimulus.

This is a simplified explanation of how nerves work - it is a complex and amazingly clever system!

Have you seen this week's video 'Rolling, rolling, rolling!' on my You Tube channel?   
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Until next time!

Monday, 16 October 2017

Jappeloup - Greatest Horses

Jappeloup was a 15.2hh black showjumper ridden by Pierre Durand in the 1980's.  Born in 1975 His sire was a French Trotter, Tyrol II and his dam a Thorougbred called Vénérable.  

Relatively small for show-jumping he had the most amazing jump. He was a fiery little horse and great to watch - make sure you find some clips on YouTube because he is fantastic!

In 1984, at the Olympics,  Jappeloup stopped at a jump, Pierre flew into the jump and the bridle came off, leaving Jappeloup to gallop back to his stable.  

In 1985 they were 3rd at the World Cup Final.

In 1986 they were 4th individually and part of the Bronze winning team at the World Championships.

In 1987 they won individual Gold and team Silver at the European Championships.

In 1988 they were 2nd at the World Cup Final and won individual Gold and team Bronze at the Olympics in Seoul.

In 1989 they were part of the Silver winning team at the European Championships.

In 1990 they were 2nd at the World Cup Final but part of the Gold winning team at the World Championships.
Jappeloup was retired but 3 months later he sadly died at 16 of a heart attack :(

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Friday, 13 October 2017

All About ... Cells

In quite a few of my blogs recently I have mentioned cells; epithelial cells, muscle cells, bone cells nerve cells etc.  Although, I vaguely remember learning about cells in Biology at school I don't remember much about them - so I thought I would find out!

Just about all living things are made of cells 

·         cells are the building blocks of living organisms
·         new cells only appear when existing cells divide
·         cells contain inherited information - which controls their activities
·         the chemical reactions of life take place inside cells

Animal cells are different from plant cells!

Animal cells have:

·         a surface membrane which encloses the contents
·         inside the membrane there is a nucleus (like a ball) and cytoplasm
·         inside the nucleus there is chromatin (fibrous material), it is this material which condenses to form chromosomes during cell division
·         the chromatin contains DNA - which is the inherited material controlling cell activity
·         scattered within the cytoplasm are mitochondria - these supply energy to the cell
·         within the cytoplasm are also particles of stored food (often glycogen)

Plant cells also have:

·         a vacuole - a large sap filled cavity, sap is a fluid which contains salts and sugars
·         the vacuole is surrounded by a membrane called the tonoplast
·         the cytoplasm also contains starch grains (food storage for plants)
·         plant cells (only in the green parts of a plant) also have chloroplasts in the cytoplasm.  These contain pigments used in photosynthesis.

Knowing about the ultra-structure of animal cells helps to understand how they work ....  the surface membrane (cell membrane) is selectively permeable, which means it lets some substances through but not all, it controls the exchange of these substances between the cell and its surrounding environment.   The cytoplasm is made up of cytosol, which is a fluid containing molecules, and different organelles: -

·         nucleus - is enclosed by 2 membranes (nuclear envelope) which have pores controlling the exchange of substances between the nucleus and the outside environment ie: the cytoplasm.  As well as the chromatin in the cytoplasm there are nucleoli which make ribosomes

·         endoplasmic reticulum and ribosomes - endoplasmic reticulum (ER) comes in 2 types, smooth and rough.  Smooth ER does not have any ribosomes.  ER is a system of sacs, each sac is full of fluid.  In the Rough ER the sacs transport proteins - proteins made by the ribosomes.  In the Smooth ER carbohydrates and lipids and other products (but not proteins) are made, stored and secreted.  NB - in liver cells the Smooth ER contains enzymes which break down chemicals. 

·         mitochondria - are also enclosed by 2 membranes.  They enclose a watery substance which contains DNA, ribosomes, enzymes and calcium phosphate granules.  Mitochondria are involved with the generation of ATP (a form of energy used to form biological activities).

·         golgi apparatus and lysosomes - the golgi apparatus 'processes and packs'  cell material into small sacs (vesicles) so that it can pass through the cell membrane.  It is also involved in the formation of lysosomes which remove worn out organelles (such as mitochondria).  Lysosomes are also involved with the breakdown of tissue and will digest substances which white blood cells have ingested eg: bacteria.

·         Centrioles - are involved in cell division.

·         Flagella and cilia are involved in cell locomotion.

The cell membrane forms the barrier between the cell and the environment around it.  It is strong but flexible because the cells must be able to move, grow and divide.  It also provides a surface for hormone and neurotransmitter receptor sites.

As I mentioned at the beginning of this blog there are many different types of cells in a horses' body.  They are all very similar in structure and ultra-structure BUT have specialised, this makes them more efficient.  However, some have specialised and so lost their ability to carry out other functions - red blood cells do not have a nucleus so they cannot reproduce.

Cells of the same type are grouped together to form tissue.  All the cells in the tissue will act together to perform the same function.

Tissue may join with tissue of a different type to form an organ: muscle tissue, nerve tissue and connective tissue all work together in the heart.   So an organ is a group of tissues which work together to   perform a specific function.  

 So, cells are pretty important .... to everything we do consciously and unconsciously!  

Have you seen Wednesday's video 'It's October!'  on my You Tube channel?   
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Until next time!