Horse 101: What do you know about horses?

Do you know that all horses in a herd cannot lie down at the same time, and they sleep while standing? The animals also have the largest eyes among all land mammals. There are more than 300 species of horses around the world used for different purposes, including sport, non-sport and recreational activities.

Horse and a girl (Image Source: Jennifer Murray/Pexels)

Horses may be classified into three vis-a-vis: “hot bloods” because of their endurance, speed and strong fight-or-flight response in the face of danger; “cold bloods” such as ponies and draft horses which are resilient and mostly used for slow, hard jobs; and “warm bloods” because they are results of cross-breeding involving “hot and cold bloods.” “Warm blood” horses are larger in size than “hot bloods”, mild tempered than “cold bloods” and specially bred for specific riding and light work.

History: Horses are domestic animals categorized as one out of the two extant subspecies of Equus ferus. The odd-toed Mammalia has evolved from a multi-toed creature that existed over 50 million years ago to a huge and lovable single-toed animal whose domestication around the world was popularized in the past 500 centuries. Today, the number of wild horses has reduced significantly as a large number now live among people who feed, shelter, use them as farm animals, and control their breeding for different purposes which include horse racing games and cricket.

Prehistoric remains, however, provide reliable proofs that about 10, 000 years ago, towards the end of the Ice Age, a large number of wild horses in Western Europe and the Americas died from unknown causes. Their cause of extinction is not yet known. But some wild horses survived in Central Asia and the wet plains of Eastern Europe where the animals found pasture on vast, dry acres of arable farmland. Scholars therefore believe it was in these locations that horses first learned to bond and live together with humans.

Breeds: All horses, specifically those used in racing games, have a sire (i.e. father) and a dam (i.e. mother) with unique traits. When a stallion who has achieved great success on race tracks retires, it is usually put to stud and subjected to genetic processes involving embryo transfer technology and/or artificial insemination, enabling creation of previously unknown horse species. Horses categorized under “subspecies caballus” are mostly tamed animals. But some of the domesticated group also thrive as feral horses in the wild even though these feral populations aren’t totally wild in the real sense of the word because “feral”, in this context, implies that the animals have never been domesticated. An example of wild horses is the unique, rare and endangered subspecies of Przewalski’s horse breed—the last of true wild horses that ever existed in human history.

Horses are commonly differentiated by some equine-related terms which include: colour, size, markings, anatomy, movements, behaviour, and breeds. Generally, the animals are naturally adapted for speed, agility and fast response to stimuli—some of the unusual traits which helps them escape threats from predators in the wild. The common horse breeds among the pedigree and plethora of stallions found on race tracks and history books or websites are as follows:

  • Horse species categorized as thoroughbreds are traced back to three founding sires in the male line namely the Byerley Turk, the Darley Arabian, and the Godolphin Arabian which were named after their different owners Captain Robert Byerly, Thomas Darley, and Lord Godolphin. The three sires were transported to England for intercourse with other British and imported mares, resulting in birth of foals which were considered the first offspring of Thoroughbreds. Modern species of Thoroughbred are small-sized, measuring about 15 hands, but are remarkably fast, agile and energetic. The colours may be white, black, gray, brown, bay or chestnut. Cloning of Thoroughbreds is not yet approved. However, embryo transfer and artificial insemination may be used.
  • Standardbred horses are descendants of Thoroughbreds and other extinct breeds, including the Morgan horse, which are used for various purposes—mainly harness racing. They are nifty and can easily adapt. A remarkable trait of Thoroughbreds is their fearlessness which makes them suitable as pleasure riding horses, dressage, or jumpers.
  • This specie of compact, muscular horses existed in early 1600s. Quarter horses were bred from English and Spanish horse species and mainly used for farm work. When competing in horse racing games, the animals must hurl themselves forward at very high sprinter speed. They are, however, not suitable for endurance racing because of their large hind limb muscles which are quite larger than those found in Arabian horses. The American Quarter Horses Association recognized and accepted Quarter horse as an official breed in the year 1940.
  •  Originating from the Bedouin race in the Gulf, Arabian horses are popular for their unrivaled strength—which it exploits against competitors in long-distance races. The Arabian horse breed was introduced in the United States around the 18th century. Arabian horse owners and jockeys competed in different sections from thoroughbreds until 1908, when the US-Arabian Horse Registry included these unique creatures in its Jockey Club.