20 most random facts about horses
by Sarah Walker
Horses have been around for centuries, almost guaranteeing that some weird and random facts have emerged about them. In honour of National Day of the Horse, here are the top 20.
Horses can weigh a lot. Like, a lot. While some look like they’re only a couple hundred pounds, others can weigh up to 2,200 lbs (998 kg).
Horses haven’t always been domesticated. Up until some 6,000 years ago, they ran wild after which the animals were bred to help with daily tasks, like farming and travel. Once the Industrial Revolution arrived, horses were replaced by machines.
My little horsey
Horses are first documented to have appeared about 56 million years ago. The Guardian reports that “these little proto-horses included the ‘dawn horse,’ Eohippus, which stood at barely 50 cm at the shoulder”.
From there, horses evolved to the animal we all see and know today. According to the Enyclopaedia Britannica, “Przewalski’s horse, a subspecies of the modern horse, is believed to be the last surviving horse to have evolved through natural selection rather than through domestication by humans”.
The earliest horses lived in dense, lush forests and grazed on large amounts of foliage or small animals (yep, they were carnivores!). It was only as the earth’s vegetation changed that the species adapted and began eating drier things like grass.
A horse by any other name…
Horses are called by a number of names. A male horse is called a stallion, and a female is known as a mare. Baby horses are called foals. Colts are male horses at around two years of age. A filly is a young female horse.
As crazy as it may seem, horses can’t vomit. Their bodies are built in such a way that they can’t physically regurgitate food. They’re also not neurologically wired to produce the vomit reflex.
That smile horses make isn’t actually a smile. It’s called the flehmen response, and horses do it to smell their surroundings, especially in regard to pheromones.
Equestrians know that horses’ tails can say a lot about how they’re feeling. “If a horse has its tail pressed tightly against his buttocks, chances are it is nervous or fearful. By contrast, a tail that is carried unusually high usually indicates a hyper-alert state.”
As horses evolved, they not only increased in size, but lost all but one of their toes on each foot. They also grew longer necks and tails. Horses have some 205 bones in their bodies.
Unlike other mammals that roam the earth, horses sleep standing up so they can always be on the lookout for predators. They lie down only when they need REM sleep. What’s more, they sleep using a “buddy system”, meaning that while one horse is sleeping, the other stays awake.
Think there’s only one type of horse? Think again! While there are up to 400 different breeds of equine (from those that run wild to those that are built to race and work), there is only one type of domestic horse (bred for trotting and galloping).
Eye on the prize
Horses have the largest eyes of any mammal that lives on land, and because of their placement, this animal has a nearly 360-degree view of its surroundings. What’s more, horses see a variety of colours, but are especially sensitive to blue and green hues.
“Horses belong to a group of mammals with an odd number of toes.[…]Most members of this group, known as perissodactyls, are extinct. But several species survive at present. They include rhinoceroses and tapirs, the horse’s closest living relatives,” notes the American Museum of Natural History.
Ponies aren’t horses
You may think these two are the same mammal, but you’d be wrong! The main difference is their height. Horses are generally four feet ten inches (1.47 m) tall, while ponies are smaller than that. Ponies also have different bone structures and conformations that give them their particular stature.
Stallions and mares have different numbers of teeth — his 40 to 42 to her 36 to 40. Why? As the leaders of the herd, stallions’ canine teeth help them ward off predators and control their groups.
The best time to approach a horse is when their ears are forward or back… that means they’re at their most relaxed and/or are listening to something. If the ears look like they’re rigidly pinned that’s a sign they’re feeling aggressive.
Horses, like any other animal, may act aggressively if they feel threatened or fearful, are in pain, or feel their food or water is too restricted. Learning how to read their mood before approaching them, therefore, is very important.