Horses in the wild are defenceless and vulnerable to attacks from predators such as bears, wolves, or lions. But the prey animals are naturally endowed with survival traits that never cease to baffle even large and fast animals like cougars – in most circumstances.
Remarkably, horses have natural flightiness that increases their chance of outrunning these predators, and as prey species, the harmless and lovable creatures are also the most perceptive of all pets (animals) living among humans. Here are some fascinating horse facts you probably don’t know:
- Newborn horses are neurologically mature at birth. Foals (as newborn horses are generally called) can walk and run shortly after their birth.
- The height of horses is measured in “hands.” The globally accepted standard for measuring a horse’s height is called a hand. A pony is described as “an equine under 14.2 hands.” Miniature horses are, however, the only equines measured in inches or centimetres – not hands.
- Most white horses were not born white. Findings show that many white horses we see today were actually a much darker colour (bay, chestnut, brown or almost black) at birth. They eventually turn white later in their lives — a reason why they aren’t called white, but grey.
- The respiratory rate of a horse is about 4 breaths per minute although this can increase when the animal is under distress or working
- As herd animals, horses are always on the alert and very quick to detect predators due to their extremely responsive senses of smell and hearing as well as large eyes which are supersensitive to movements from a 360-degree angle.
- Horses have extraordinary vision. Their eyes are bigger than those of any other land mammal. The animals can see from almost 360 degrees because of the position of their eyes — on the side of their heads.
- In addition, horses have very fast response time. Without their flight-or-fight trait, horse won’t survive constant threats from predators in the wild.
- Horses are created to impulsively identify and react to a stimulus which humans easily fail to notice. Sometimes, these “spooky” or “bad” behaviours aren’t exactly what they seem to people with no knowledge of equine behaviour– a reason why human-horse interactions make trainers, riders and horse owners look like magicians.
- Horses are fast learners. The animals are easily desensitized from frightening stimuli by teaching them about what is harmless (such as dogs, birds, paintings etc) and harmful (such as wolves, bears, cougars etc). This ensures that horses don’t spend the rest of their lives running away from erroneously perceived danger.
- Horses have less bones than humans – but just one. Generally, every horse has a total of 205 bones in its skeleton.
- Domesticated horses have a life expectancy period of 25 years but one named Old Billy broke the jinx, living life to its fullest until the age of 62. Old Billy remains the oldest horse in history.
- Horses are not native to the North American continent. Historical findings show that horses in North America originated from Europe and were mainly feral horses that fled after their owners escaped captivity. Remains from archaeological excavations prove that horses disappeared from the Americas about 8,000 years ago whereas horse owners existed in Europe prior to that period.
- A baby horse may be called a colt, filly or foal – depending on their age and gender. However, the general term for baby horses are foals. They are never colts (males) or fillies (females) until the age of 2.
- A sire refers to a “father horse” while a dam is the “mother horse.” A foal is usually called “a weanling” soon after it is weaned from its dam.
- Horses are fast runners. The average speed of a regular horse is 27m/h but the world record for the fasted horse is 55m/h. When horses are at top speed, galloping with full strength and agility, people rarely notice that they float in the air – well, sort of – because at some point, the animal has all four hooves in the air.
- Horses hardly forget very bad situations, especially during first training sessions or interactions with humans. But the animals can forgive. It is always wise to make first impression count.
- Horses always distinguish their experiences in two ways: (i) something to fear, avoid and flee from or (ii) something never to fear, so ignore and always explore for knowledge and fun.
- Horses are very loyal and can be easily dominated. Among herd animals, there is always hierarchy, rules and regulations to be followed. So, if well exploited, humans can take total control of horses, especially by helping them overcome fear through professional training.