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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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NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
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technology
Researchers in Singapore Deploy Robot Swans to Test Water Quality
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

There's something peculiar about the new swans floating around reservoirs in Singapore. They drift across the water like normal birds, but upon closer inspection, onlookers will find they're not birds at all: They're cleverly disguised robots designed to test the quality of the city's water.

As Dezeen reports, the high-tech waterfowl, dubbed NUSwan (New Smart Water Assessment Network), are the work of researchers at the National University of Singapore [PDF]. The team invented the devices as a way to tackle the challenges of maintaining an urban water source. "Water bodies are exposed to varying sources of pollutants from urban run-offs and industries," they write in a statement. "Several methods and protocols in monitoring pollutants are already in place. However, the boundaries of extensive assessment for the water bodies are limited by labor intensive and resource exhaustive methods."

By building water assessment technology into a plastic swan, they're able to analyze the quality of the reservoirs cheaply and discreetly. Sensors on the robots' undersides measure factors like dissolved oxygen and chlorophyll levels. The swans wirelessly transmit whatever data they collect to the command center on land, and based on what they send, human pilots can remotely tweak the robots' performance in real time. The hope is that the simple, adaptable technology will allow researchers to take smarter samples and better understand the impact of the reservoir's micro-ecosystem on water quality.

Man placing robotic swan in water.
NUS Environmental Research Institute, Subnero

This isn't the first time humans have used robots disguised as animals as tools for studying nature. Check out this clip from the BBC series Spy in the Wild for an idea of just how realistic these robots can get.

[h/t Dezeen]

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There May Be an Ancient Reason Why Your Dog Eats Poop
iStock
iStock

Dogs aren't known for their picky taste in food, but some pups go beyond the normal trash hunting and start rooting around in poop, whether it be their own or a friend's. Just why dogs exhibit this behavior is a scientific mystery. Only some dogs do it, and researchers aren't quite sure where the impulse comes from. But if your dog is a poop eater, it's nearly impossible to steer them away from their favorite feces.

A new study in the journal Veterinary Medicine and Science, spotted by The Washington Post, presents a new theory for what scientists call "canine conspecific coprophagy," or dogs eating dog poop.

In online surveys about domestic dogs' poop-eating habits completed by thousands of pet owners, the researchers found no link between eating poop and a dog's sex, house training, compulsive behavior, or the style of mothering they received as puppies. However, they did find one common link between the poop eaters. Most tended to eat only poop that was less than two days old. According to their data, 85 percent of poop-eaters only go for the fresh stuff.

That timeline is important because it tracks with the lifespan of parasites. And this led the researchers to the following hypothesis: that eating poop is a holdover behavior from domestic dogs' ancestors, who may have had a decent reason to tuck into their friends' poop.

Since their poop has a high chance of containing intestinal parasites, wolves poop far from their dens. But if a sick wolf doesn't quite make it out of the den in time, they might do their business too close to home. A healthier wolf might eat this poop, but the parasite eggs wouldn't have hatched within the first day or two of the feces being dropped. Thus, the healthy wolf would carry the risk of infection away from the den, depositing the eggs they had consumed away in their own, subsequent bowel movements at an appropriate distance before the eggs had the chance to hatch into larvae and transmit the parasite to the pack.

Domestic dogs may just be enacting this behavior instinctively—only for them, there isn't as much danger of them picking up a parasite at home. However, the theory isn't foolproof. The surveys also found that so-called "greedy eaters" were more likely to eat feces than dogs who aren't quite so intense about food. So yes, it could still be about a poop-loving palate.

But really, it's much more pleasant to think about the behavior as a parasite-protection measure than our best pals foraging for a delicious fecal snack. 

[h/t The Washington Post]

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