Just the Facts: The horse (Equus caballus, sometimes seen as a subspecies of the Wild Horse, Equus ferus caballus) is a large odd-toed mammal, one of ten modern species of the genus Equus. Horses have long been among the most economically important domesticated animals; although their importance has declined with mechanization, they are still found worldwide, fitting into human lives in various ways.
Hands Up! The size of horses varies by breed, but can also be influenced by nutrition. The general rule for cutoff in height between what is considered a horse and a pony at maturity is 14.2 hands (h or hh) (145 cm, 58 inches) as measured at the withers. An animal 14.2h or over is usually considered a horse and one less than 14.2h is a pony.
Horse or Pony? The difference between a horse and pony is not just a height difference. There are noticeable differences in conformation and temperament.
Pony Profile: Ponies often exhibit thicker manes, tails and overall coat. They also have proportionally shorter legs, wider barrels, heavy bone, thick necks, and short heads with broad foreheads.
Still, some pony breeds, such as the Pony of the Americas or the Welsh cob, share some features with horses and may occasionally mature to become horse-sized ponies.
Small Equids: Ponies are less than 14.2h, but can be much smaller, like the Shetland pony at around 10 hands, and the Falabella which can be the size of a medium-sized dog. The miniature horse is as small as or smaller than either of the aforementioned ponies but are classified as very small horses rather than ponies despite their size.
To the Light Horse: Light horses such as Arabians, Morgans, Quarter Horses, Paints and Thoroughbreds usually range in height from 14.0 to 17.0 hands and can weigh from 850 lb to about 682 kg (1500 lb).
Galloping Goliaths: Heavy or draft horses such as the Clydesdale, Belgian, Percheron, and Shire are usually at least 16.0 to 18.0 hands high and can weigh from about 682 kg (1500 lb) up to about 900 kg (2000 lb).
Manicures for Horses?
Like human fingernails, hooves grow continuously, so horses that
wear horseshoes must have their
Every 4 - 6 weeks, their shoes must
be removed, and their hooves must be
filed and cleaned. These regular
manicures are essential for horse health
Fight or Flight? Horses are prey animals with a well-developed fight-or-flight instinct. Their first response to threat is to flee, although they are known to stand their ground and defend themselves or their offspring in cases where flight is not possible, such as when a foal would be threatened.
Through selective breeding, some breeds of horses have been bred to be quite docile, particularly certain large draft horses. However, most light horse riding breeds were developed for speed, agility, alertness and endurance; natural qualities that extend from their wild ancestors.
Horse and Herd: Horses are herd animals, and become very attached to their species and to humans. They communicate in various ways, such as nickering, grooming, and body language.
Many horses will become flighty and
hard to manage if they are away from their herd. This is called being
"herd-bound". However, through proper training, it is possible to teach any horse to be comfortable away from the herd.
Long Life the Horse! Depending on breed, management, and environment, the domestic horse today has an average life expectancy of 25 to 30 years.
Some specific breeds of horse can live into their 40s, and, occasionally, beyond. The oldest verifiable record was "Old Billy," a horse that lived in the 19th century, believed to have lived to the age of 62.
Growing up Horsey: Horses four years old are considered mature, though the skeleton usually finishes developing at the age of six, and the precise time of completion of development also depends on the horse's breed, rate of growth, and gender.
Size of the horse does not always dictate speed of maturity; the Lipizzan horse is generally not started under saddle until the age of four, while the American Quarter Horse, an animal of a similar height and weight, is often first trained to saddle at the age of two.
Child Labor: Depending on maturity, breed and the tasks expected, young horses are usually put under saddle and trained to be ridden between the ages of two and four.
First in the Running: Horse race horses are put on the track at as young as two years old in some countries (notably the United States), horses specifically bred for sports are rarely entered into top-level competition they are four years old.
Wild, Wild Horses: Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii), a rare Asian species, is the only true wild horse alive today. Also known as the Mongolian Wild Horse, Mongolians know it as the taki, while the Kirghiz people call it a kirtag.
Small wild breeding populations of this animal, named after the Russian explorer Przewalski, exist in Mongolia. There are also small populations maintained at zoos throughout the world. After a battle against extinction, the Przewalksi's Horse is finally flourishing in the wild once again.
Wild at Heart: Feral animals, who had domesticated ancestors but were born and live in the wild, are distinct from wild animals, whose ancestors have never undergone domestication.
Several populations of feral horses exist, including those in the western United States and Canada (often called "mustangs"), and in parts of Australia ("brumbies") and New Zealand ("Kaimanawa horses").
Isolated feral populations are often named for their geographic location: Namibia has its Namib Desert Horses; the Sorraia lives in Portugal; Sable Island Horses reside in Nova Scotia, Canada; and New Forest ponies have been part of Hampshire, England for a thousand years. Studies of feral horses have provided useful insights into the behavior of ancestral wild horses, as well as greater understanding of the instincts and behaviours that drive horses.
Domestication Nation: Competing theories exist as to the time and place of initial domestication. The earliest evidence for the domestication of the horse comes from Central Asia and dates to approximately 4,500 BC. Archaeological finds such as the Sintashta chariot burials provided unequivocal evidence that the horse was definitely domesticated by 2000 BC.
Equine Evolution: Horses and other equids are odd-toed ungulates of the order Perissodactyla, a relatively ancient group of browsing and grazing animals that first arose less than 10 million years after the dinosaurs became extinct. In the past, this order contained twelve families, but only three families—the horses and related species, tapirs and rhinoceroses—have survived till today. The earliest equids were found approximately 54 million years to the Eocene period. The Perissodactyls were the dominant group of large terrestrial browsing animals until the Miocene (about 20 million years ago), when even-toed ungulates, with stomachs better adapted to digesting grass, began to out compete them.
The horse as it is known today evolved to graze in areas of wide-open terrain with sparse vegetation, surviving in an ecosystem where other large grazing animals, especially ruminants, could not.
Vanishing Toes: Horse evolution was characterised by a reduction in the number of toes, from five per foot, to three per foot, to only one toe per foot. Essentially, the animal was standing on tiptoe. One of the first true horse species was the tiny Hyracotherium, which had 4 toes on each front foot (missing the thumb) and 3 toes on each back foot (missing toes 1 and 5). Over about five million years, this early equids evolved into the Orohippus. The 5th fingers vanished, and new grinding teeth evolved.
By the Pleistocene era, as the horse adapted to a drier, prairie environment, the 2nd and 4th toes disappeared on all feet, and horses became bigger. These side toes were shrinking in Hipparion and have vanished in modern horses.
Horsing Around: Around the world, horses play a role within human economies, for leisure, sport and working purposes. To cite one example, the American Horse Council estimates that horse-related activities have a direct impact on the economy of the United States of over $39 billion, and when indirect spending is considered, the impact is over $102 billion
Horses and Leisure: In wealthier, First World, industrialized economies, horses are primarily used in recreational pursuits and competitive sports, though they also have practical uses in police work, cattle ranching, search and rescue, and other duties where terrain or conditions preclude use of motorized vehicles.
Horses and Labor: In poorer, Third World economies, they may also be used for recreational purposes by the elite population, but serve a much wider role in working pursuits including farming, ranching and as a means of transportation. To a very limited extent, they are also still used in warfare, particularly in regions of extremely rugged terrain.
Foal Play: Pregnancy lasts for approximately 11 months and usually results in one foal (male: colt, female: filly). Twins are rare. Females 4 years and over are called mares and males are stallions.
A castrated male is a gelding.
Horses, particularly colts, may sometimes be physically capable of reproduction at approximately 18 months but in practice are rarely allowed to breed until a minimum age of 3 years, especially females.
The Wild World of Horses: Most "wild" horses today are actually feral horses, animals that had domesticated ancestors but were themselves born and live in the wild, often for generations. However, there are also some truly wild horses whose ancestors were never successfully domesticated.
Historical wild species include the Forest Horse (Equus ferus silvaticus, also called the Diluvial Horse), thought to have evolved into Equus ferus germanicus, and which may have contributed to the development of the heavy horses of northern Europe, such as Ardennais. There is a theory that there were additional "proto" horses that developed with adaptations to their environment prior to domestication.