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10 Horses to Kick Off the Year of the Horse

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Tomorrow begins the Lunar New Year Festival, celebrated in many Asian countries. In China, the festival lasts two weeks and will usher in the Year of the Horse. I "rounded up" some interesting horses that deserve to be remembered on this auspicious occasion. This is far from an exhaustive list of famous horses, just a few that you may find interesting. Please feel free to tell us about your favorites in the comments. 

1. The War Horse: Sgt. Reckless

In 1952, a young Korean sold his beloved horse Ah Chim Hai (Flame in the Morning) to the U.S. Marines so he could purchase a prosthetic leg for his sister, who lost hers to a land mine. The Marines renamed the mare Reckless. She was very friendly with the troops, sharing their rations, entering their quarters, and snuggling with them on cold nights. Her appetite was famous, as she loved candy, beer, eggs, and coffee, and would even eat poker chips or a blanket if she was feeling stubborn.

Reckless was used to carry ammunition. Her finest hour came during the five-day Battle of Outpost Vega in March of 1953, when she made 51 trips to the front in just one day -most of them unaccompanied- to ferry ammunition in and wounded servicemen out. That was a total of 9,000 pounds of ammunition over 35 miles, under enemy fire! Reckless was wounded twice, but kept going.

For her bravery, Reckless was promoted to Sergeant. She was eventually awarded two Purple Hearts and a slew of other medals. After the war, Sgt. Reckless was shipped to the U.S. She arrived in San Francisco on November 10, 1954, the Marine Corps birthday, and was feted at the Marine Corps Birthday Ball that evening, where she ate both the cake and the flowers. Just before a parade was held for her promotion, she ate her custom-made blanket, and a substitute had to be constructed quickly to hold her medals. Sgt. Reckless lived peacefully at Camp Pendleton until her death in 1968. See a video about Reckless here

2. The Wooden Horse: Trojan Horse

The tale of the Trojan Horse is in Homer’s Odyssey and in the poem Aeneid by Virgil. It tells of the siege of Troy by the Greeks. After some years, the Greeks appeared to retreat from Troy, but left behind a huge wooden horse. Despite warnings from elders, the Trojans brought the horse into their citadel. That night, as they slept or celebrated their apparent victory, a unit of Greek soldiers crept out of their hiding place inside the horse and slaughtered the Trojans. The story gave us the phrase “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts,” and “Trojan horse” became a term for computer malware that sneaks in by appearing as a benignly useful application.

3. The TV Horse: Mister Ed

Mister Ed was a television series about a talking horse that aired from 1961 to 1966. Mister Ed belonged to architect Wilbur Post, who was the only person Ed would talk to. As a consequence, Wilbur had to hide the fact that his horse talked to him, a device that fueled many of the plot lines. The show was directed by Arthur Lubin and the horse trainer was Les Hilton. Both had previously worked on the movie series Francis the Talking Mule, which was the direct inspiration for Mister Ed. Mister Ed was played by a show horse named Bamboo Harvester.

The horse’s dialogue was a voiceover, of course, of course, but how did they get the horse to move his lips? The story given by the show’s producers is that they gave Mister Ed peanut butter to chew on, but others believe that that method was supplemented by a nylon filament used as a bit to control the horse’s lip and head movements.

4. The Mythological Horse: Sleipnir

Artwork by Brianna Cherry Garcia.

In Norse mythology, Sleipnir was Odin’s horse, the finest horse in all the world, who could run like the wind because he had eight legs. The origin of Sleipnir is a strange tale. Loki, the god of mischief, turned himself into a mare and mated with a legendary work horse named Svadilfari. The ruse was to keep Svadilfari from work, but the result was an eight-legged colt, which was given to Odin. It’s not clear whether Odin was aware of the horse’s origin. 

5. The Racehorse: Eight Belles

We know many legendary racehorses: Man O’War, Secretariat, Seabiscuit, and others. You might remember Barbaro, the horse that won the Kentucky Derby in 2006, and then shattered three bones in one leg at the Preakness Stakes. Despite surgery and therapy, Barbaro was euthanized the following year. As sad as his story was, it was eclipsed by that of Eight Belles two years later.

Eight Belles was a filly that astonished fans by winning race after race early in 2008. As the only filly in the field, she came in second at the Kentucky Derby, behind winner Big Brown. Then she collapsed on the track with two broken front ankles. An ambulance was summoned, but the decision was made to put her down. Eight Belles was euthanized by injection right on the track, in front of the huge Derby crowd.

The magnitude of what happened was slow to reach the fans at Churchill Downs. Not only was a horse down, but it was the filly. And horse racing -- with the memory of Barbaro still fresh and the death of a horse coming only a day earlier on Kentucky Oaks Day -- had to confront grief one more time.

"There was no way to save her. She couldn't stand," trainer Larry Jones said. "She ran an incredible race. She ran the race of her life."

6. The Twitter Horse: Horse_Ebooks

Horse_Ebooks is a famous Twitter account that was supposedly run by a spambot. It would send nonsensical Tweets that appeared to be random text strings from various sources, rarely encompassing an entire sentence or coherent thought. But the Tweets were more varied and funnier than the average spambot, and did not contain the expected advertising links. The account eventually gathered over 200,000 followers, as users couldn’t wait to see what the spambot came up with next.

Then in September of 2013, the Horse_Ebooks account was exposed as a hoax. Or actually, a piece of performance art by Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender. Bakkila took over an existing spambot account two years earlier and attempted to get inside the mind of a spambot as he imitated, and eventually improved upon, its performance. The two were also responsible for the popular and enigmatic YouTube account Pronunciation Book

7. The Cartoon Horse: Quick Draw McGraw

Quick Draw McGraw was a Hanna-Barbera creation that spoofed Western movies. Quick Draw was an anthropomorphic horse who worked as the brave but dim-witted sheriff of an Old West town. His sidekick, a burro named Baba Looey, was much smarter, but Quick Draw never let him forget who was the authority figure. His catchphrase was “Hold on thar, Baba Looey! I'll do the thin'in' around here, and don't you for-git it!" Quick Draw occasionally appeared as his alter ego, the masked hero El Kabong, who used his guitar as a weapon to beat up on outlaws. Although Quick Draw was a horse himself, he was often shown riding a realistic horse or driving a team of horses. Go figure.

8. The Community of Horses: My Little Pony

My Little Pony is a TV series and a line of toys by Hasbro. The franchise began as the toys called My Pretty Pony developed by Bonnie Zacherle and Charles Muenchinger in 1981. They were renamed My Little Pony in 1983. TV specials were produced to promote the toys in the mid-‘80s. The Ponies have been on TV, home video, and movies ever since, and have in the past few years developed a huge internet presence. The fourth generation TV series, My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, debuted in 2010. A community of adult fans called Bronies have formed around the show. They keep in touch through online forums, community projects, and meet ups.

9. The Movie Horse: Khartoum

Khartoum was a fictional horse in the movie The Godfather, and was featured in its most horrific and memorable scene. Khartoum was a Triple Crown winner bought for $600,000. In the film, movie producer Jack Woltz was very attached to his horse, which he planned to use for stud. He learned the hard way that you don’t mess around with the Corleones when he woke up one morning with Khartoum’s severed head in his bed. Although the horse that played Khartoum was well-treated on the film set, the horse head found in the bed was real, having been procured from a dog food manufacturer.

10. The Survivor Horse: Comanche

The story of Comanche is often told as the horse that was the sole survivor of the massacre at Little Big Horn, but that’s not quite true. The huge bay horse indeed survived, but to be exact, he was the only survivor on the U.S. Cavalry side of the fight that was found at the scene. There were plenty of survivors on the side of the Sioux, Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes, as well as military horses captured by the warriors (Comanche was left behind because he was injured). Still, Comanche became a symbol of the carnage of Little Big Horn. He was nursed back to health and paraded as symbol of U.S. military might. Comanche was never ridden again, but was retired to a peaceful life at Fort Riley in Kansas. When he died in 1890, a taxidermist from the University of Kansas Natural History Museum preserved his hide. The mounted remains of Comanche can be seen to this day at the museum. 

For more horses, I recommend you look through these links.
The 30 Best Horse Movies
The American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame
The Most Famous Racehorses in History
13 Fictional Horses You Wouldn’t Want To Eat
Wikipedia’s List of Historical Horses
The Singing Horses

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Ted Cranford
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science
Scientists Use a CT Scanner to Give Whales a Hearing Test
Ted Cranford
Ted Cranford

It's hard to study how whales hear. You can't just give the largest animals in the world a standard hearing test. But it's important to know, because noise pollution is a huge problem underwater. Loud sounds generated by human activity like shipping and drilling now permeate the ocean, subjecting animals like whales and dolphins to an unnatural din that interferes with their ability to sense and communicate.

New research presented at the 2018 Experimental Biology meeting in San Diego, California suggests that the answer lies in a CT scanner designed to image rockets. Scientists in San Diego recently used a CT scanner to scan an entire minke whale, allowing them to model how it and other whales hear.

Many whales rely on their hearing more than any other sense. Whales use sonar to detect the environment around them. Sound travels fast underwater and can carry across long distances, and it allows whales to sense both predators and potential prey over the vast territories these animals inhabit. It’s key to communicating with other whales, too.

A CT scan of two halves of a dead whale
Ted Cranford, San Diego State University

Human technology, meanwhile, has made the ocean a noisy place. The propellers and engines of commercial ships create chronic, low-frequency noise that’s within the hearing range of many marine species, including baleen whales like the minke. The oil and gas industry is a major contributor, not only because of offshore drilling, but due to seismic testing for potential drilling sites, which involves blasting air at the ocean floor and measuring the (loud) sound that comes back. Military sonar operations can also have a profound impact; so much so that several years ago, environmental groups filed lawsuits against the U.S. Navy over its sonar testing off the coasts of California and Hawaii. (The environmentalists won, but the new rules may not be much better.)

Using the CT scans and computer modeling, San Diego State University biologist Ted Cranford predicted the ranges of audible sounds for the fin whale and the minke. To do so, he and his team scanned the body of an 11-foot-long minke whale calf (euthanized after being stranded on a Maryland beach in 2012 and preserved) with a CT scanner built to detect flaws in solid-fuel rocket engines. Cranford and his colleague Peter Krysl had previously used the same technique to scan the heads of a Cuvier’s beaked whale and a sperm whale to generate computer simulations of their auditory systems [PDF].

To save time scanning the minke calf, Cranford and the team ended up cutting the whale in half and scanning both parts. Then they digitally reconstructed it for the purposes of the model.

The scans, which assessed tissue density and elasticity, helped them visualize how sound waves vibrate through the skull and soft tissue of a whale’s head. According to models created with that data, minke whales’ hearing is sensitive to a larger range of sound frequencies than previously thought. The whales are sensitive to higher frequencies beyond those of each other’s vocalizations, leading the researchers to believe that they may be trying to hear the higher-frequency sounds of orcas, one of their main predators. (Toothed whales and dolphins communicate at higher frequencies than baleen whales do.)

Knowing the exact frequencies whales can hear is an important part of figuring out just how much human-created noise pollution affects them. By some estimates, according to Cranford, the low-frequency noise underwater created by human activity has doubled every 10 years for the past half-century. "Understanding how various marine vertebrates receive and process low-frequency sound is crucial for assessing the potential impacts" of that noise, he said in a press statement.

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Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Humans Might Have Practiced Brain Surgery on Cows 5000 Years Ago
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi
Scientific Reports, Fernando Ramirez Rozzi

In the 1970s, archaeologists discovered a site in France containing hundreds of cow skeletons dating back 5000 to 5400 years. The sheer number wasn't surprising—human agriculture in that part of the world was booming by 3000 BCE. What perplexed scientists was something uncovered there a few decades later: a cow skull bearing a thoughtfully drilled hole. Now, a team of researchers has released evidence that suggests the hole is an early example of animal brain surgery.

Fernando Ramírez Rozzi, a paleontologist with the French National Center for Scientific Research, and Alain Froment, an anthropologist at the Museum of Mankind in Paris, published their findings in the journal Nature Scientific Reports. After comparing the opening to the holes chiseled into the skulls of humans from the same era, they found the bones bore some striking similarities. They didn't show any signs of fracturing from blunt force trauma; rather, the hole in the cow skull, like those in the human skulls, seemed to have been carved out carefully using a tool made for exactly that purpose. That suggests that the hole is evidence of the earliest known veterinary surgery performed by humans.

Trepanation, or the practice of boring holes into human skulls, is one of the oldest forms of surgery. Experts are still unsure why ancient humans did this, but the level of care that went into the procedures suggests that the surgery was likely used to treat sick patients while they were still alive. Why a person would perform this same surgery on a cow, however, is harder to explain.

The authors present a few theories, the first being that these ancient brain surgeons were treating a sick cow the same way they might treat a sick human. If a cow was suffering from a neural disease like epilepsy, perhaps they though that cutting a hole in its head would relieve whatever was agitating the brain. The cow would have needed to be pretty special to warrant such an effort when there were hundreds of healthy cows living on the same plot of land, as evidenced by the skeletons it was found with.

Another possible explanation was that whoever operated on the cow did so as practice to prepare them for drilling into the heads of live humans one day. "Cranial surgery requires great manual dexterity and a complete knowledge of the anatomy of the brain and vessel distribution," the authors write in the study. "It is possible that the mastery of techniques in cranial surgery shown in the Mesolithic and Neolithic periods was acquired through experimentation on animals."

Either way, the bovine patient didn't live to see the results of the procedure: The bone around the hole hadn't healed at all, which suggests the cow either died during surgery or wasn't alive to begin with.

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