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Last updated on April 18th, 2022
For over 50 million years, horses have been around men. And in that time, they have developed many interesting features and quirks to their anatomy. The interesting pet began its history in the Northern America and later spread throughout Europe and Asia thanks to the land bridge. While they continued to die in the northern America, these animals highly thrived in Central Asia and the Eastern Europe and continued to evolve to their current landscape.
Even though horses have been around men for a long time and they are not showing any sign of going away, many people only see them on television. In this article, you will learn many fascinating facts about the many horse species around the globe.
Interesting facts about horses
1. The horse is a member of the mammal family called Equidae which consists of a single species called Equus Caballus. This single species, however, consists of many different varieties that are referred to as horse breeds.
2. The earliest known ancestor of the horse is believed to have lived some 55 million years ago and was about the size of a large dog. Called Hyracotherium, this horse ancestor had the appearance of a small goat or deer and lived during the Eocene Epoch.
3. It is estimated that the horse was domesticated some 6000 years ago by an Indo-European tribe located in the mountains near the Caspian and Black seas. It is believed that in prehistoric times wild horses were probably hunted for food.
4. The horse has a long history of use in agriculture and as a means of transport. Before the advent of mechanized transport, the principal means of moving between places for most people was riding horses or using them to pull wheeled vehicles.
5. Many early civilizations relied on horses and the Greeks considered the sacrifice of a white stallion to be the greatest way to honor their Gods. In Greek mythology, the Centaur (a creature that is half man and half horse) is a symbol of the connection between man and horse.
6. Over recent centuries horse have been selectively bred to emphasize certain of their attributes and today there are over 600 distinct horse breeds recognized. A genetic study conducted in 2017 found that all modern horse breeds descend from only two ancient breeds of horses: Turkoman and Arabian.
8. The United States has the most horses in the world with a population of around 3.8 million as of 2020. This is a significant fall from the 9.2 million estimated population in 2008. China and Mexico are home to the next largest numbers of horses.
9. Horses, however, are not native to North America and the horses present there today were introduced in modern times. There is fossil evidence that prehistoric ancestors of modern horses were present in the Americas over 11,000 years ago but they became extinct.
10. There were also no horses on the continent of Australia until 1788 when they were introduced by the British colonial fleets to help with transport and farming work in their settlements.
11. There are no truly wild horses in existence anymore. Most horses that are considered to be wild today (such as the Australian Brumbie and American Mustang) are descendants of domesticated horses and are correctly termed ‘feral’ horses.
12. The Przewalski horse, found by a Russian explorer in the 19th century, is a descendant of horses first domesticated by the Botai culture in Mongolia over 6000 years ago and is probably the closest to a wild horse in existence today.
13. The closest wild animals related to horses in existence today are zebras, donkeys and rhinos and what unites them is that they all share the characteristic of having an odd number of toes.
14. All of today’s horse breeds fit into one of five categories: cold-blooded (draft), warm-blood, hot-blood, pony or miniature. Hot-blood horses originated from the Arabian breed in the Middle East while cold-blooded (or heavy horses) originated in Northern Europe.
15. A horse categorized as warm-blood refers to a horse that are a cross of hot-blooded and cold-blooded (and pony) breeds while miniature horses are selectively bred to be smaller examples of larger breeds.
16. The most popular horse breed in the world is currently the American Quarter Horse with over 2.8 million registered examples of the breed in 2020. They are a stocky, muscular breed and were originally bred for quarter-mile races but their versatility makes them useful as stock horses and for other disciplines.
17. The rarest horse breed is the Sorraia. A feral pony originally from Portugal, the breed was nearly extinct by the early 20th century. Conservation efforts saved this breed which is considered to be a descendant of primitive horses living in Southern Iberia.
18. The biggest horse that was ever recorded stood at 21 and a quarter hands which is approximately 2.2 meters (or seven feet) tall. This horse was called Sampson and was raised in Bedfordshire, England in 1846.
19. The smallest horse ever recorded was a dwarf miniature called Thumbelina (that lived between 2001 and 2018) and measured a height of only 17 and a half inches (44.5 cm) and weighed 57 pounds (or 26 kilograms).
20. The smallest living horse today is called Einstein which stands 14 inches tall (35.5 cm). A miniature Pinto stallion he is recorded as being the smallest foal in history weighing only 6 lbs (2.7 kg) at birth.
21. A horse can have a lifespan of up to 30 years. With advances in knowledge of horse nutrition and modern veterinary care, horse life expectancy has increased in modern times.
22. The oldest recorded horse was called Old Billy and was aged 62 years when he died. Born in 1760 and dying in 1822, he worked as a barge horse in Lancashire, England. While his exact breed is unknown, it is believed he was a Shire-type horse and continued working until his last years.
23. Ponies generally live longer than other types of horses and many reach over 40 years of age. Some horses have a higher life expectancy than others including the Arabian, Quarter Horse, Appaloosa and Haflinger breeds, among others.
24. Horses’ skeletons consist of 205 bones which is only one less bone than humans have. This isn’t true, however, for all breeds of horses with Arabians having one less pair of lumbar, rib and tail vertebrae bones which means they have 201 bones in all.
25. Horses are herbivores (they eat plants for food) and this has influenced the evolution of their teeth, digestive system and the position of their eyes (among other things) as they are prey animals for carnivores (meat eaters).
26. Horses spend the majority of their time eating – between 16 and 18 hours a day. This is because their stomachs must always have food in them to operate effectively. Even not eating for only an hour or two can cause a horse physical discomfort.
27. When horses are unable to get food for long periods they develop painful stomach ulcers that are caused by the presence of acids in their stomach that break down plant matter; without food particles to act on the acid damages their stomach lining.
28. Horses can sleep both when lying down or standing up. This ability is regarded as a survival adaptation (by giving them the ability to run at any sign of threat) and is made possible by a series of tendons and ligaments that connect the stifle and hock parts of their legs which can be locked in place.
29. Horses have the biggest eyes of any land-based mammal and also have a unique third eyelid which is located on the inside of the eye and can close diagonally to protect it.
30. Because horses’ eyes are located on each side of their head and can be moved independently, they have a 350-degree visual range which means they can see almost completely around themselves. Horses and mules move their eyes independently, allowing them to see objects in two different directions at once.
31. Horses see the world differently to human beings. They have poor depth perception and are unable to see small details. They are, however, very good at detecting motion which means they can protect themselves against any predators in their vicinity.
32. A horse has 10 different muscles in its ears (compared to humans’ three) which helps the animal to detect sounds in its environment as a survival tactic. These muscles enable them to rotate their ears almost 180 degrees with each ear able to move independently of the other.
33. Horses have incredibly fast reflexes and when they need to react to a predator or fight, they can deliver a powerful kick in 0.3 seconds reaction time, whereas for a human this would take 1.6 seconds.
34. A horse’s heart is more than 10 times bigger than a human heart. An average horse’s heart weighs in at around 9 or 10 pounds (just over 4 kilograms) while a human heart weighs a meager 10 to 12 ounces (between 0.28 and 0.34 kilograms). A normal heart rate for an adult horse ranges from 28–48 beats per minute.
35. A horse can’t breathe through its mouth, only through its nose; this is called ‘obligate nose breathing’. A horse’s mouth is also estimated to produce more than 10 gallons of saliva a day.
36. A horse cannot burp or throw up because of a band of muscles located in their esophagus; these muscles are so strong that a horse’s stomach would burst before it could vomit.
37. A horse’s hoof generally grows at a rate of about a quarter of an inch to half an inch per month and takes between ten and twelve months to re-grow completely.
38. Horses hooves are composed of keratin which is the same substance found in human hair and nails. Because their hooves grow constantly, domesticated horses must have their hooves trimmed regularly otherwise it could result in crooked legs.
39. Horses don’t have collarbones like other mammals that are used to connect an animal’s arms to the skeleton and stabilize their shoulders. Instead, horses have a thoracic sling consisting of a group of tendons, ligaments and muscles that perform a similar function.
40. An average-size horse weighs about 1000 pounds (around half a metric ton) but many larger breeds can weigh more than 2000 pounds, or over a metric ton.
41. A horse has a ‘frog’ to help absorb shocks to its foot. This is a triangular-shaped feature that is located at the bottom of a horse’s foot that absorbs any shocks and then distributes it to a spongy structure under the horse’s heels which protects the horse’s joints and bones.
42. A horse has four natural ways of moving, or ‘gaits’. A horse can walk, canter, trot or gallop. Many people think that a canter or gallop are the same but a canter has a three-beat gait while a gallop is four-beat and is also much faster.
43. A photographer called Eadweard Muybridge showed for the first time in the 1870s that all four of a horse’s legs leave the ground when it is galloping but not when the legs are outstretched but rather when its hind legs swing near to its front legs.
44. Until the characteristics of the horse’s galloping gait were revealed by these photographs horse galloping was often displayed in art as flying through the air with all four of the horse’s legs stretched out.
45. The record for the length of a horse’s tail is held by a mare living in Kansas called JJS Summer Breeze and measured 381 cms (or over 12 and a half feet) according to the Guinness Book of World Records on 23rd August 2007.
46. Horses can grow mustaches. This is seen on the Gypsy Vanner horse breed and is believed to have evolved to help the horse distinguish different types of grass and to identify objects in front of it.
47. The old saying, ‘Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’, refers to the ability to tell a horse’s age by its teeth. Unlike humans, horses don’t have middle teeth and stallions have more teeth (40) than mares (36).
48. In both mares and stallions, their teeth are so large that they take up a greater area in their heads than their brains do. A horse brain weighs just over 600 g which is about half the weight of a human brain.
49. Horses are, nonetheless, highly intelligent animals and can be trained for a wide variety of uses through the process of positive reinforcement (where the animal is rewarded for performing the desired behavior). Horses have also been shown to be able to communicate by touching symbols on a board.
50. Horses also can produce complex facial expressions and recent studies have shown that horses can interpret human emotions by understanding their facial expressions and can alter their behavior based on a person’s emotional state.
51. Horses are herd animals and demonstrate strong social bonds. They can recognize familiar animals and will spend time with those they have created a bond with. In a herd, it has been found that one horse will stand guard over the group so the others rest, eat or sleep.
52. A wild herd of horses generally consists of a stallion and 8 or 10 mares and their foals. Herds can be larger or smaller and can sometimes have two stallions – although only rarely. The stallion breeds and protects the mares and leads the group to food and water sources.
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