INTERESTING HORSE FACTS
I have always loved animals, with horses being my favorite. I’m intrigued by how an animal with so much power could also have such beauty and grace. I did some horseback riding as a child, but growing up in the city restricted me from ownership. Now that I am older, I still have an appreciation for these beautiful animals. There are so many recreational horse activities that a person can participate in. Western riding, barrel racing, steeple chase, show jumping, and rodeo are just a few. My favorite has always been equestrian dressage. I believe it to be the highest expression of horse control and training. The music combined with the control of such a powerful animal, coupled with the communication between horse and rider is truly amazing. After much reading I was able to gather some interesting horse facts to share with you. Some readers who consider themselves horse experts may already know these interesting facts about horses, while other readers may find this article interesting reading.
A LITTLE HORSE HISTORY
Horses have lived on Earth for more than 50 million years. The first ancestral horse was thought to be the Hyacotherium. The Hyacotherium was a smaller, hoofed animal which looked nothing like the modern horses of today. Commonly called the Eohippus or “dawn horse” it stood around 20 inches tall, weighed around 50 pounds and had an arched back with raised hindquarters. Its feet were padded with four hooves on the forefeet and three hooves on each hind foot. It slightly resembled today’s horse but with a smaller head and shorter muzzle. As climates began to change newer species of the horse rapidly evolved. Horse breeds became larger and had the same familiar hooves that we see with horses today. Currently, there are over 300 breeds of horses in the world, with some breeds dating back thousands of years. The Arabian horse is thought to be one of the oldest breeds still living. They are a distinct breed and have one rib less than other horses.
The Quarter horse is the most common breed of horse in the United States. The male horse is referred to as a “stallion” and the female is called a “mare.” If the male is castrated it is then called a “gelding.” The term “colt” describes a young male over the age of one and the term “filly” describes a young female also over the age of one. A young horse that is less than a year old and of either sex is referred to as a “foal.” A normal horse pregnancy will last around eleven months. The length of a foal’s legs when born are already at 80 to 90 % of their future length and indicates the height the horse will be when matured. Within one to two hours of birth, a newly born foal is able to stand up and walk.
Wild horses gather in groups of up to 20 or more. A stallion normally will always lead the group. The group usually consists of mares and young foals. When young males become colts at around two years of age, the stallion will drive them away from the group. The colts will then roam with other young males until they can gather their own band of females. Horses are highly social animals and prefer to live in groups. They are capable of forming companionship attachments not just to other horses, but to other animal species as well as humans. A horse who is kept stabled alone may feel lonely. Horses are also capable of mourning the loss of a companion.
A horse’s height is measured in units known as “hands.” One hand is equal to four inches. This unit of measurement began in ancient Egypt. It was proclaimed by King Henry VIII in 1541, and was considered to be a simple way to measure horses height. Because hand sizes varied among humans, a special type of tape measure was designed to measure horse height in both hands and centimeters. Any horse that measures shorter than 14.2 hands (or 58 inches tall) at the withers (the highest part of the horses back), is not classified as a horse, but recognized as a pony.
Horses navigate in four speeds called gaits. They walk (slowest speed), trot (a little faster than walking), canter (faster than a trot) and gallop (a horse’s fastest pace). When a horse gallops all four hooves come off the ground at the same time.
ANATOMY OF A HORSE
The horse’s skeletal system is made up of 205 bones. The average horse’s heart weighs approximately 9 or 10 pounds (a human heart weighs about 11 ounces) and a horse’s brain weighs 22 ounces (a humans brain weighs 48 ounces), that is nearly half the size of a human’s. Horses have eight major blood types which are internationally recognized.
Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal, with the average horse eye being 34mm (that’s almost 1 ½ inches). The human eye is around 24mm (which is nearly an inch). Because the retinas of their eyes are very large they have very good peripheral vision. The horse’s eyes are positioned laterally, on the sides of its head. A horse’s range of vision is noted to be 350°. 285 degrees is monocular vision in which both eyes are used separately to see. Using the eyes this way increases their field of vision. 65° is binocular vision in which the horse is using two eyes separately to see, thus allowing for good depth perception. Horse’s also have dichromatic vision, which means they see hues of yellow and green better than hues of purple and violet. This is why when designing obstacles for a horse to jump it is best to use two or more contrasting colors. This way a horse can distinguish the jump better from the landscaping surrounding it. Horses can see better at night than humans can. However, it takes a horse’s eyes longer to adjust from light to dark and from dark back to light again.
A horse’s teeth take up more space in their head than their brain. Male horses have 40 teeth and female horses tend to have between 36 and 40. In some instances, inspecting a horse’s teeth can be used to determine their age. Things that are considered when doing so are; the angle at which the teeth meet, patterns and ridges formed on the biting surface, the color of the enamel, and the shape of the chewing surface. It was this practice that brought about the expression “Never look a gift horse in the mouth.”
A horse’s range of smell is better than that of humans but less sensitive than that of dogs. At times a horse will curl up its upper lip exposing its teeth, this behavior is called “flehman.” A horse will do this to direct scents toward a special olfactory gland in the back of their nasal passage. It is this way that a horse can determine whether a smell is good or bad. People unaware of this behavior, often think a horse is smiling.
Horses are “obligate nasal breathers” which means they breathe through their nostrils and not through their mouths. A tissue called the soft palate blocks off the pharynx from the mouth of the horse, except when the horse is swallowing. This prevents the horse from inhaling their food. The strong band of muscles around their esophagus prevents them from vomiting. Because of their inability to regurgitate food, digestive problems can be fatal for horses. Colic is listed as the number one cause of death in horses.
Horses have three pairs of salivary glands and can produce approximately 10 gallons of saliva a day. A horse will drink up to 25 gallons of water a day, and in hotter climates they may drink even more. The amount of food a horse eats depends on their size. They will continue to eat even after their nutritional requirements are met just because their food tastes good. Some estimates say that a horse weighing 1200 pounds can eat seven times its weight in a year. Horses like sweet flavors and generally they will not accept anything that is sour or bitter tasting.
Horses have 16 muscles in each ear, allowing them to rotate their ears 180 degrees. Whatever direction a horse’s ear is pointing will usually indicate where the eye on the same side of the head is looking. If the ears are pointing in different directions, the horse is said to be looking at two different things at the same time A good indicator if a horse is cold would be to feel the area behind the horses ears. If the area is cold the horse is most likely also cold.
Horse hooves are made from the same protein that human hair and fingernails are composed from. A horse has only one functional toe on each foot and its thick toenail is actually the hoof. On the underside of a horse’s hoof is a triangular shaped area known as the “frog.” This part of the hoof not only serves as a shock absorber for the horse’s leg but also functions to pump blood back up the horse’s leg. It can take nine to twelve months to re-grow an entire horse hoof.
Horses can sleep both lying down and standing up. They are able to sleep standing up because they can lock their joints. Horses will not lie down all together at the same time. One will stay awake and serve as a look-out to alert the others of potential dangers. When they do sleep it is usually only for three or four hours a day. Their sleep is not consecutive and is done in short bursts, no longer than 10 to 15 minutes at a time. They also cannot get frostbites on their legs. A protective mechanism prevents this from happening, and horses can endure sitting in icy water or snow without a problem.
OTHER THINGS YOU MAY NOT KNOW
At some point in time you may come across a horse with a ribbon tied to its tail, and you may wonder, why that is? The ribbons are tied on their tails signify something. A red ribbon tied to a horse’s tail is to warn you to stay back because the horse kicks. A white ribbon signifies the horse is for sale. A pink ribbon is to let you know that horse is a mare, while a blue or yellow ribbon lets you know that it’s a stallion. A green ribbon signifies that the horse is younger and most likely inexperienced.
The term Equinophobia is used when a person has a fear of horses.
Horses are said to have a sixth sense, an extrasensory perception beyond our five normal senses of smell, sight, taste, touch and hearing. Having a sixth sense gives you the ability to perceive something that is not there or to have intuitive feelings whether bad or good.
The Przewalski’s Horse is only one sub-species of horse that has never been domesticated by humans. Sometimes referred to as the “Mongolian Wild Horse,” they are the only known wild horse in existence today. The Przewalski’s horse is around 4 or 5 feet tall and can weigh anywhere from 500 to 800 pounds. Its body is stocky with a large head, thick neck and short legs. Its coat is beige to reddish-brown in color. Although the horse was considered extinct in the 1960’s it is said to have been making a comeback moving it’s classification in 2008 from extinct to critically endangered species.
If you have any interesting horse facts you would like to share I would love to hear from you. I encourage any readers who are horse experts to comment on this article.