AskDefine | Define horses

User Contributed Dictionary



  • /hɔəsəs/


  1. Plural of horse


  1. third-person singular of horse

Extensive Definition

The horse (Equus caballus) is a large odd-toed ungulate mammal, one of ten living species of the family Equidae.
For centuries horses have been one of the most economically important domesticated animals, especially relied upon for farmwork and for transportation. Their importance declined following the introduction of mechanization. The history of the horse is prominent in religion, mythology, art, transportation, agriculture, and warfare.
Most horses perform work such as carrying humans or are harnessed to pull objects such as carts or plows. Hundreds of distinct horse breeds have been developed, allowing horses to be specialized for certain tasks; lighter horses for racing or riding, heavier horses for farming and other tasks requiring pulling power. Some horses, such as the miniature horse, can be kept as pets. In some societies, horses are a source of food, both meat and milk; in others it is taboo to consume these products. In industrialized countries, horses are predominantly kept for leisure and sporting pursuits, while in other parts of the world they are still used as working animals.
Horses and humans have lived and worked together for thousands of years and an extensive specialized vocabulary has arisen to describe virtually every horse behavioral and anatomical characteristic with a high degree of precision.


Horse anatomy is described by a large number of horse specific terms, as illustrated by the chart to the right. Specific terms also describe horses of various ages, colors and breeds.


Depending on breed, management and environment, the domestic horse today has a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years. It is uncommon, but a few horses live into their 40s, and, occasionally, beyond. The oldest verifiable record was "Old Billy," a horse that lived in the 19th century to the age of 62. In modern times, Sugar Puff, who had been listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's oldest then-living pony, died at age 56.
Regardless of a horse's actual birthdate, for most competition purposes, horses are considered a year older on January 1 of each year in the northern hemisphere Most domesticated foals are weaned at 4-6 months of age.
  • Yearling: a horse of either sex that is between one and two years old.
  • Colt: a male horse under the age of four. A common terminology error is to call any young horse a colt, when the term actually only refers to young male horses.
  • Filly: a female horse under the age of four.
  • Stallion: a non-castrated male horse four years old and older. Some people, particularly in the UK, refer to a stallion as a "horse." A Ridgling or "Rig" is a stallion which has an undescended testicle. If both testicles are not descended, the horse may appear to be a gelding, but will still behave like a stallion.
  • Gelding: a castrated male horse of any age, In the USA, both Thoroughbred racing and harness racing defines colts and fillies as four years old and younger.
A very rough estimate of a horse's age can be made from looking at its teeth.
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 (147 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. However, there are exceptions to the general rule. Some smaller horse breeds who typically produce individual horses both under and over 14.2h are considered "horses" regardless of height. Likewise, some pony breeds, such as the Welsh pony, share some features of horses and individual animals may occasionally mature at over 14.2h, but are still considered ponies.
The difference between a horse and pony is not simply a height difference, but also a difference in phenotype or appearance. There are noticeable differences in conformation and temperament. Ponies often exhibit thicker manes, tails and overall coat. They also have proportionally shorter legs, wider barrels, heavier bone, shorter and thicker necks, and short heads with broad foreheads. They often have calmer temperaments than horses and also a high level of equine intelligence that may or may not be used to cooperate with human handlers. and the Falabella which can be no taller than 30 inches (76 cm), the size of a medium-sized dog. However, while many miniature horse breeds are small as or smaller than a Shetland pony, because they are bred to have a horse phenotype (appearance), their breeders and registries classify them as very small horses rather than ponies.
It is thought that the largest horse in (recorded) history was a Shire horse named Samson, who lived during the late 1800s. He stood 21.2½ hands high (i.e. 7 ft 2½ in or 2.20 m ), and his peak weight was estimated at 3,360 lb (approx 1.5 tonnes). The current record holder for the world's smallest horse is Thumbelina, a fully mature miniature horse affected by dwarfism. She is tall and weighs .

Colors and markings

Horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colors and distinctive markings, and a specialized vocabulary has evolved to describe them. Often, one will refer to a horse in the field by its coat color first rather than by breed or by sex. In spite of the adage that "a good horse is never a bad color," flashy or unusual colors are sometimes very popular, as are horses with particularly attractive markings, such as white on all four legs. Horses of the same color may be distinguished from one another by their markings.
The genetics of horse coat colors has largely been mapped, although research continues to be conducted on the identification of specific genes and mutations that result in specific color traits. Essentially, all horse colors begin with a genetic base of "red" (chestnut) or "black," with the addition of alleles for suppression of color, dilution of color, spotting, graying, or other effects acting upon the base colors in various combinations and varying degrees of dominance or recessivity that create the dozens of possible shades of horses.
Horses that are light in color are often misnamed as being "white" horses. A horse that looks pure white is, in most cases, actually a middle-aged or older gray. Grays have black skin underneath their white hair coat (with the exception of small amounts of pink skin under white markings). This is how a gray horse can be distinguished from a white horse. The only horses properly called white are those with pink skin under a white hair coat, a far more rare occurrence.There are no truly albino horses (white skin and pink eyes). True albinism is a lethal gene in horses.

Reproduction and development

Pregnancy lasts for approximately 335-340 days and usually results in one foal. Twins are rare. Colts are carried on average about 4 days longer than fillies..
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.
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. Although Thoroughbred race horses are put on the track at as young as two years old in some countries, horses specifically bred for sports such as dressage are generally not entered into top-level competition until a minimum age of four years old, because their bones and muscles are not solidly developed, nor is their advanced training complete. For endurance riding competition, horses may not compete until they are a full 60 calendar months (5 years) old.


Skeletal system

Horses have, on average, a skeleton of 205 bones. A significant difference in the bones contained in the horse skeleton, as compared to that of a human, is the lack of a collarbone--their front limb system is attached to the spinal column by a powerful set of muscles, tendons and ligaments that attach the shoulder blade to the torso. The horse's legs and hooves are also unique, interesting structures. Their leg bones are proportioned differently from those of a human. For example, the body part that is called a horse's "knee" is actually the carpal bones that correspond to the human wrist. Similarly, the hock, contains the bones equivalent to those in the human ankle and heel. The lower leg bones of a horse correspond to the bones of the human hand or foot, and the fetlock (incorrectly called the "ankle") is actually the proximal sesamoid bones between the cannon bones (a single equivalent to the human metacarpal or metatarsal bones) and the proximal phalanges, located where one finds the "knuckles" of a human. A horse also has no muscles in its legs below the knees and hocks, only skin and hair, bone, tendons, ligaments, cartilage, and the assorted specialized tissues that make up the hoof (see section hooves, below).


Horses are herbivores with a digestive system adapted to a forage diet of grasses and other plant material, consumed regularly throughout the day, and so they have a relatively small stomach but very long intestines to facilitate a steady flow of nutrients. A 1000 pound horse will eat between 15 and 25 pounds (approximately 7-11 kg) of food per day and, under normal use, drink 10 to 12 gallons (about 38-45 litres) of water. Horses are not ruminants, so they have only one stomach, like humans, but unlike humans, they can also digest cellulose from grasses due to the presence of a "hind gut" called the cecum, or "water gut," that food goes through before reaching the large intestine. Unlike humans, horses cannot vomit, so digestion problems can quickly spell trouble, with colic a leading cause of death.


Horses are adapted to grazing. In an adult horse, there are 12 incisors (six upper and six lower), adapted to biting off the grass or other vegetation, at the front of the mouth. There are 24 teeth adapted for chewing, the premolars and molars, at the back of the mouth. Stallions and geldings have four additional teeth just behind the incisors, a type of canine teeth that are called "tushes." Some horses, both male and female, will also develop one to four very small vestigial teeth in front of the molars, known as "wolf" teeth, which are generally removed because they can interfere with the bit. There is an empty interdental space between the incisors and the molars where the bit rests directly on the bars (gums) of the horse's mouth when the horse is bridled.
The incisors show a distinct wear and growth pattern as the horse ages, as well as change in the angle at which the chewing surfaces meet. The teeth continue to erupt throughout life as they are worn down by grazing, and while the diet and veterinary care of the horse can affect the rate of tooth wear, a very rough estimate of the age of a horse can be made by looking at its teeth.


The critical importance of the feet and legs is summed up by the traditional adage, "no foot, no horse." The horse hoof begins with the distal phalanges, the equivalent of the human fingertip or tip of the toe, surrounded by cartilage and other specialized, blood-rich soft tissues such as the laminae, with the exterior hoof wall and horn of the sole made essentially of the same material as a human fingernail. The end result is that a horse, weighing on average 1,100 pounds, travels on the same bones as a human on tiptoe. For the protection of the hoof under certain conditions, some horses have horseshoes placed on their feet by a professional farrier. The hoof continually grows, just like a large fingernail, and needs to be trimmed (and horseshoes reset, if used) every five to eight weeks.


seealso Equine vision
The senses of a horse are generally superior to those of a human. As prey animals, they must be aware of their surroundings at all times. They have very large eyes (among land animals only the ostrich has a larger eye), and the side positioning of the eyes gives the horse a wide field of vision of about 350°.Horses have excellent day and night vision, but studies indicate that they have two-color, or dichromatic vision; their color vision is somewhat like red-green color blindness in humans. This means that certain colors, especially red and related colors, appear more green.
Their hearing is good, Their sense of smell, while much better than that of humans, is not their strongest asset; they rely to a greater extent on vision.Besides these basic gaits, some horses pace, instead of trot. In addition, there are many "ambling" gaits such as the slow gait, rack, fox trot running walk, and tölt. These special gaits are often found in specific breeds, often referred to as gaited horses because they naturally possess additional gaits that are approximately the same speed as the trot but smoother to ride. Technically speaking, "gaited horses" replace the standard trot (which is a 2 beat gait) with one of the four beat gaits.
Horse breeds with additional gaits that often occur naturally include: the Tennessee Walking Horse which naturally performs a running walk; the American Saddlebred which can be trained to exhibit a slow gait and the rack; Paso Fino, which has two ambling gaits, the paso corto and paso largo; the Peruvian Paso, which exhibits the paso llano, and sobreandando; and Icelandic horses which are known for the tölt. The fox trot is found in several breeds, most notably the Missouri Foxtrotter. Standardbreds, depending on bloodlines and training, may either pace or trot. Horses are herd animals, with a clear hierarchy of rank, led by a dominant animal (usually a mare). Horses are also social creatures who are able to form companionship attachments to their own species and to other animals, including humans. They communicate in various ways, including vocalizations such as nickering or whinnying, mutual grooming, and body language. Many horses will become difficult to manage if they are isolated. However, through proper training, it is possible to teach any horse to accept a human as a type of companion, and thus be comfortable away from other horses. When confined with insufficient companionship, exercise or stimulation, horses may develop stable vices, an assortment of bad habits, mostly psychological in origin, that include wood chewing, wall kicking, "weaving" (rocking back and forth) and other problems.

Sleep patterns

Horses are able to sleep both standing up and lying down. In an adaptation from life in the wild, horses are able to enter light sleep by using a "stay apparatus" in their legs, allowing them to doze without collapsing. Horses sleep better when in groups because some animals will sleep while others stand guard to watch for predators. A horse kept entirely alone will not sleep well because its instincts are to keep a constant eye out for danger. Most of this sleep occurs in many short intervals of about 15 minutes each.
Horses must lie down to reach REM sleep. They only have to lie down for an hour or two every few days to meet their minimum REM sleep requirements. This condition differs from narcolepsy, though horses may also suffer from that disorder.


seealso Horse behavior Horses are mammals, and as such are all "warm-blooded" creatures, as opposed to reptiles, which are cold-blooded. However, these words have developed a separate meaning in the context of equine description, used to describe temperament, not body temperature. For example, the "hot-bloods", such as race horses, exhibit more sensitivity and energy, while the "cold-bloods," such as most draft breeds, are quieter, calmer creatures.

"Hot" bloods

The "hot blooded" breeds include "oriental" breeds such as the Akhal-Teke, Barb, Arabian horse and the now-extinct Turkoman horse, as well as the Thoroughbred that was developed from these oriental breeds. These five breeds are the only breeds given the classification of "hot blooded" today. These hot bloods were brought to Europe from East Asia and Northern Africa when European breeders wished to infuse the hot blood traits into their best racing and light cavalry horses.

"Cold" bloods

Muscular and heavy draft horses are known as "cold bloods," as they have been bred, not only for strength, but also to have the calm, steady, patient temperament needed to pull a plow or a heavy carriage full of people. They are sometimes nicknamed "gentle giants" because of their placid dispositions. The "cold-blooded" group includes many pony breeds.
There are well over a dozen well-known draft breeds, and many more rarer breeds developed in various regions of the world that were adapted to local conditions. Some breeds are lighter and livelier, developed to pull carriages or to plow large fields in drier climates. Others are slower and more powerful, bred to plow fields with heavy, clay-based soils. One of the most common draft breeds is the Belgian. The largest is the Shire. Clydesdales, with their common coloration of a bay or black coat, with white legs and long-haired, "feathered" fetlocks, are one of the most easily recognized.

Origin of horse breeds

seealso Domestication of the horse
Different schools of thought exist to explain how this range of size and shape came about. One school, which some refer to as the "Four Foundations", (see Domestication and surviving wild species, below), suggests that the modern horse evolved from multiple types of early wild pony and horse prototypes, each adapted to a given habitat, and the differences between these types account for some of the differences in type of the modern breeds. A second school - the "Single Foundation" - holds only one type of wild horse underwent domestication, and it diverged in form after domestication through human selective breeding (or in the case of feral horses, through ecological pressures). This question will most likely only be resolved once geneticists have finished evaluating the horse genome, analyzing DNA and mitochondrial DNA to construct family trees.
In either case, modern horse breeds developed in response to the need for "form to function"; that is, the necessity to develop certain physical characteristics necessary to perform a certain type of work. Thus, light, refined horses such as the Arabian horse or the Akhal-Teke developed in dry climates to be fast and with great endurance over long distances, while heavy draft horse such as the Belgian developed out of a need to pull plows and perform other farm work. Ponies of all breeds developed out of a dual need to create mounts suitable for children as well as for work in small places like mine shafts or in areas where there was insufficient forage to support larger draft animals. In between these extremes, horses were bred to be particularly suitable for tasks that included pulling carriages, carrying heavily-armored knights, jumping, racing, herding other animals, and packing supplies.

Purebreds and registries

Selective breeding of horses has occurred as long as humans have domesticated them. However, the concept of purebred bloodstock and a controlled breed registry has only gained wide importance in modern times. Sometimes purebreds are incorrectly termed Thoroughbreds, which is incorrect. A "Thoroughbred" is a specific breed of horse, while a "purebred" is a horse (or any other animal) with a defined pedigree recognized by a breed registry.
The Bedouin people had a reputation for breeding their prize Arabian mares to only the most worthy stallions, and kept extensive pedigrees of their "asil" (purebred) horses. Though these pedigrees were originally transmitted via an oral tradition, written pedigrees of Arabian horses can be found that date to the 14th century. In the same period of the early Renaissance, the Carthusian monks of southern Spain bred horses and kept meticulous pedigrees of the best bloodstock; the lineage survives to this day in the Andalusian horse. One of the earliest formal registries was General Stud Book for Thoroughbreds, which was begun in 1791 and traced back to the Arabian stallions imported to England from the Middle East to become the foundation stallions for the breed.
The modern landscape of breed designation presents a complicated picture. Some breeds have closed studbooks. For example, a registered Thoroughbred or Arabian must have two registered parents of the same breed, and no other criteria for registration apply. Other breeds tolerate limited infusions from other breeds; for example, the modern Appaloosa must have at least one Appaloosa parent but may also have a Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, or Arabian parent and must also exhibit spotted coloration to gain full registration. The Quarter Horse normally requires both parents to be registered Quarter Horses, but allows "Appendix" registration of horses with one Thoroughbred parent, and the horse may earn its way to full registration by completing certain performance requirements.
Still other breeds, such as most of the warmblood sport horses, require individual judging of an individual animal's quality and conformation before registration or breeding approval, but also allow outside bloodlines in if the horses meet the standard. A few "registries," particularly some color breed registries, will allow membership of any horse that meets a certain criteria, such as coat color, regardless of pedigree or conformation. Breed registries also differ as to their acceptance or rejection of breeding technology. For example, all Jockey Club Thoroughbred registries require that a registered Thoroughbred be a product of a natural mating (live cover in horse parlance). A foal born of two Thoroughbred parents, but by means of artificial insemination or embryo transfer is barred from the Thoroughbred studbook. Any Thoroughbred bred outside of these constraints can, however, become part of the Performance Horse Registry. However, cloning of horses is highly controversial, and at the present time many mainstream breed registries will not accept cloned horses, though several cloned horses and mules have been produced.

Regional specialization

Some countries specialize in breeding horses suitable for particular activities. For example, Australia, the United States, and the Patagonia region of South America are known for breeding horses particularly suitable for working cattle and other livestock. Ireland is recognized for breeding hunters and jumpers. Spain and Portugal are known for the Iberian horse breeds used in high school dressage and bullfighting. Austria is known worldwide for its Lipizzaner horses, used for dressage and high school work in the famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna. The United Kingdom breeds an array of heavy draft horses and several breeds of hardy ponies. Russia takes great pride in breeding harness racing horses, a tradition dating back to the development of the Orlov Trotter in the 18th century.


The horse as it is known today adapted by evolution to survive in areas of wide-open terrain with sparse vegetation, surviving in an ecosystem where other large grazing animals, especially ruminants, could not. 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 familiesEquidae (the horse and related species), the tapir and the rhinoceros—have survived to the present day. The earliest equids known as Hyracotherium developed approximately 54 million years ago, during the Eocene period. One of the first true horse species, it had 4 toes on each front foot, and 3 toes on each back foot. the extra toe on the front feet soon disappeared, and 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 first shrunk in size until they have vanished in modern horses. All that remains are a set of small vestigial bones on either side of the cannon (metacarpal or metatarsal) bone, known informally as splint bones, which are a frequent source of splints, a common injury in the modern horse. Their legs also lengthened as their toes disappeared and until they were a hoofed animal capable of running at great speed.
Over millions of years, equid teeth also evolved from browsing on soft, tropical plants to adapt to browsing of drier plant material, and grazing of tougher plains grasses. Thus the proto-horses changed from leaf-eating forest-dwellers to grass-eating inhabitants of semi-arid regions worldwide, including the steppes of Eurasia and the Great Plains of North America. For reasons not fully understood, Equus caballus disappeared from North America around 10,000 years ago, at the end of the last Ice Age.

Domestication and surviving wild species

Competing theories exist as to the time and place of initial domestication. The earliest evidence for the domestication of the horse comes from Ukraine and dates to approximately 4,000 BC. It is thought that the horse was completely domesticated by 3000 B.C., and by 2000 B.C. there was a sharp increase in the number of horse bones found in human settlements in northwestern Europe, indicating the spread of domesticated horses throughout the continent.

The "Four Foundations" theory

There is a theory that there were four basic "proto" horses that developed with adaptations to their environment prior to domestication. There are competing theories, some arguing that the prototypes were separate species, others suggesting that the prototypes were physically different manifestations of the same species. Either way, the most common theories of historical wild species from which other types are thought to have developed suggests the following base prototypes: There are also small populations maintained at zoos throughout the world. The species was for a time extinct in the wild between 1969 and 1992 but due to conservations efforts by numerous zoos, a small breeding population of Przewalksi's Horse was reestablished in the wild. Other truly wild equids alive today include the zebra, the African Wild Ass and the kiang.

Feral horses

Feral horses, who had domesticated ancestors but were born and live in the wild, are distinct from wild animals, whose ancestors have never undergone domestication. Many populations of feral horses exist throughout the world. 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.

Other modern equids

Other members of the horse family include zebras, donkeys, and onagers. The Donkey, Burro or Domestic Ass, Equus asinus, like the horse, has many breeds. A mule is a hybrid of a male ass (jack) and a mare, and is usually infertile. A hinny is the less common hybrid of a female ass (jenny) and a stallion. Breeders have also tried crossing various species of zebra with mares or female asses to produce "zebra mules" (zorses, and zonkeys (also called zedonks or zebroids)). This will probably remain a novelty hybrid as these individuals tend to inherit some of the undomesticated nature of their zebra parent, but they may inherit the zebra's resistance to nagana pest.

Horses and humans

seealso Equestrianism Around the world, horses play a role within human economies. The FAO reports that in 2003, China had the largest number of horses in the world with over 8 million horses, followed by Mexico (6,260,000), Brazil (5,900,500), the United States (5,300,000), and Argentina (3,655,000). Horses can be used for leisure activities, sports, and working purposes. 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. In a poll conducted by Animal Planet in 2004, the horse was voted World's 4th Favorite Animal. More than 50,000 viewers from 73 countries voted in the poll.
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. In poorer Third World economies, they may also be used for recreational purposes by the elite population, but may 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.


Horses are trained to be ridden or driven in many different sporting events and competitions. Examples include horse shows, gymkhana and O-Mok-See, rodeos, endurance riding, fox hunting, and Olympic-level events such as three-day eventing, combined driving, dressage, and show jumping. Although scoring varies by event, most emphasize the horse's speed, maneuverability, obedience and/or precision. Sometimes the equitation, the style and ability of the rider, is also considered.
Sports such as polo and horseball do not judge the horse itself, but rather use the horse as a partner for human competitors as a necessary part of the game. Although the horse assists this process and requires specialized training to do so, the details of its performance are not judged, only the result of the rider's actions -- be it getting a ball through a goal or some other achievement. Examples of these sports of partnership between human and animal also include jousting (reenacting the skills used by medieval knights), where the main goal is for one rider to dismount the other, and buzkashi, a team game played throughout Central Asia, the aim being to capture a goat carcass while on horseback.
The most widely known use of horses for sport is horse racing, seen in almost every nation in the world. There are three types: "flat" racing; steeplechasing, i.e. racing over jumps; and harness racing, where horses trot or pace while pulling a driver in a small, light cart known as a sulky. Most race horses in the developed world are Thoroughbreds, a breed which can reach speeds up to 40 mph/70 km/h. In the case of a specialized sprinting breed, the American Quarter Horse, speeds over 50 mph have been clocked. In harness racing, performed by Standardbred horses, speeds over 30 mph have been measured. A major part of the economic importance of horse racing, as for many sports, lies in the gambling associated with it.


There are certain jobs that horses do very well, and no amount of technology appears able to supersede. Mounted police horses are still effective for crowd control. Cattle ranches still require riders on horseback to round up cattle that are scattered across remote, rugged terrain. Search and rescue organizations in some countries depend upon mounted teams to locate people, particularly hikers and hunters, who are lost in remote areas.
Some land management practices such as cultivating and logging can be efficiently performed with horses. In agriculture less use of fossil fuels, reduced soil compaction and degrading of soil structure can be seen over time with the use of draft animals such as horses. In forestry, logging can be done with horses and can result in reduced damage to soil structure and less damage to trees due to more selective logging.
Horses can also be used in other areas where it is necessary to avoid vehicular disruption to delicate soil. Examples include areas such as a nature reserve. They may also be the only form of transport allowed in wilderness areas. They are also quieter than motorized vehicles. Peace officers such as Park rangers or game wardens may use horses for patrols, and horses or mules may also be used for clearing trails or other work in areas of rough terrain where vehicles are less effective.
In less affluent countries such as Romania, Kyrgyzstan, and many parts of the Third World, horses, donkeys and mules are routinely used for transport and agriculture. In areas where roads are poor or non-existent and fossil fuels are scarce or the terrain rugged, riding horseback is still the most efficient way to get from place to place.

Entertainment and culture

Modern horses are often used to re-enact their historical work purpose. One famous example is the Budweiser Clydesdales. This team of draft horses pulls a beer wagon in a manner similar to that used prior to the invention of the modern motorized truck. Horses are used, complete with equipment that is authentic or a meticulously recreated replica, in various historical reenactments of specific periods of history, and especially famous battles. Horses also are used to preserve cultural traditions and for ceremonial purposes. Countries such as the United Kingdom still use horse-drawn carriages to convey royalty and VIPs to and from certain culturally significant events. Horses are frequently used in television and motion pictures to add authenticity to historical dramas as well as adding charm to films set in modern-day, or even futuristic science fiction settings. The horse frequently appears in coats of arms in heraldry. The horse can be represented as standing, trotting, courant (running) or salient (rearing). The horse may be saddled and bridled, harnessed, or without any harness whatsoever. The horse features in the 12-year cycle of animals which appear in the Chinese zodiac related to the Chinese calendar. According to Chinese folklore, each animal is associated with certain personality traits, and those born in the year of the horse are intelligent, independent and free-spirited.

Assisted learning and therapeutic purposes

People with disabilities obtain beneficial results from association with horses. Physically, the movement of a horse strengthens muscles throughout a rider's body and promotes better overall health. In many cases, riding has also led to increased mobility for the rider. The benefits of equestrian activity for people with disabilities has also been recognized with the addition of equestrian events to the Paralympic Games and recognition of para-equestrian events by the FEI. Hippotherapy and therapeutic horseback riding are names for different physical, occupational, and speech therapy treatment strategies that utilize equine movement. In hippotherapy, a therapist uses the horse's movement to provide carefully graded sensory input, whereas therapeutic horseback riding uses specific riding skills.
Horses also provide psychological benefits to people whether they actually ride or not. "Equine-assisted" or "equine-facilitated" psychotherapy uses horses as companion animals to assist people with psychological problems. these therapies encourage a person to touch, speak to and otherwise interact with the horse. People who have "tuned out" human therapists appear to benefit from being able to be around horses, who are sensitive to non-verbal communication. Equine Assisted Learning (EAL) (also known as equine guided education or equine assisted professional development) is field of experiential learning for corporate, professional and personal development. There are also experimental programs using horses in prison settings. Exposure to horses appears to improve the behavior of inmates in a prison setting and help reduce recidivism when they leave. Horses are also used in camps and programs for young people with emotional difficulties.


Horses in warfare have been seen for most of recorded history, dating back at least to the 19th century B.C.. While mechanization has largely replaced the horse as a weapon of war, horses are still seen today in limited military uses, mostly for ceremonial purposes, or for reconnaissance and transport activities in areas of rough terrain where motorized vehicles are ineffective. Horses have been used in the 21st century by the Janjaweed militias in the Darfur conflict in attacks against unarmed civilians.


Horses have been used for the production of many products throughout history, including byproducts from the slaughter of horses and products collected from living horses. Horse meat has been used as food for animals and humans throughout the ages. It is eaten in many parts of the world and is an export industry in the United States and other countries. Bills have been introduced in both the House and the Senate which would put an end to this practice in the United States. Horse consumption is taboo in some cultures. baseballs,and baseball gloves. The saba is a horsehide vessel used in the production of kumis. Horsehide and horse hooves can also be used to produce animal glue. Horse bones can be used to make implements. Specifically, in Italian cuisine, the horse tibia is sharpened into a probe called a spinto, which is used to test the readiness of a (pig) ham as it cures.
Products collected from living horses include mare's milk, used by people with large horse-herds, such as the Mongols. They may let it ferment to produce kumis. Horse blood was also used as food by the Mongols and other nomadic tribes. The Mongols found this food source especially convenient when riding for long periods of time. Drinking their own horse's blood allowed the Mongols to ride for extended periods of time without stopping to eat. The tail hair of the horse can be used for making bows for stringed instruments such as the violin, viola, cello, and double bass.

Horse care

Horses are grazing animals, thus their most important dietary need is for abundant good-quality forage from hay or pasture. A common guideline is that horse weighing approximately 1,000 pounds should eat 15 to 18 pounds of good quality roughage daily. Some supplementation with concentrated feed such as grain may be an addition (not replacement for) pasture or hay, especially when the animal is active or working. Horses require a plentiful supply of clean water, a minimum of 10 to 12 gallons per day. Although horses are adapted to live outside, they require shelter from the wind and precipitation, which can range from a simple shed or shelter to an elaborate stable.
Horses require regular vaccinations to protect against various diseases, need routine hoof care, and regular dental examinations from a veterinarian or a specialized equine dentist. If horses are kept inside in a barn, they require regular daily exercise for their physical health and mental well-being. When turned outside, they require well-maintained, sturdy fences to be safely contained. Regular grooming is also helpful to help the horse maintain good health of the hair coat and underlying skin.

Riding and Driving

seealso Horse tack Horses are usually ridden with a saddle on their backs to assist the rider with balance, and a bridle on their heads to assist the rider in maintaining control. However, many riders ride on occasion without a saddle and some horses can be trained to perform without a bridle or other headgear. Many horses are also driven, which requires a different set of tack. From the time the horse was domesticated, a wide variety of riding methods or styles have developed, all of which balance the need to allow the horse freedom of movement in activities such as horse racing or show jumping and the need for security and comfort for the rider, precision of commands, and overall control. Activities such as dressage and reining require high levels of control, while horse racing or show jumping require that a horse have considerable freedom of movement. Worldwide, the most common modern riding style is referred to in the United States as English riding, which is a broad style that encompasses most Olympic Equestrian competition, and includes such specific styles as dressage, hunt seat, show jumping and saddle seat, among many others. Western riding is a popular style seen in North America, derived from the traditions of Spain, modified to fit the needs of cattle ranchers. A similar riding style is seen with the Stockman of Australia.



  • Equine Ophthalmology
  • Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship
  • The Manual of Horsemanship of the British Horse Society and the Pony Club
  • The Nature of Horses
  • National Gambling Impact Study Commission Final Report (1999)
  • Horse: How the Horse Has Shaped Civilizations
  • The Everything Horse Care Book
  • The Arabian: War Horse to Show Horse
  • Horses and Horsemanship: Animal Agricultural Series
  • Horses and Tack
  • The Horse
  • Horse Breeding and Management
  • Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa
  • Horse Owner’s Veterinary Handbook
  • The Language of Horse Racing
  • Horse Gaits, Balance and Movement
  • Horse Conformation: Structure, Soundness and Performance
  • All About Horses
  • Horses' Teeth and Their Problems: Prevention, Recognition, and Treatment
  • Bone, Antler, Ivory and Horn: Technology of Skeletal Materials Since the Roman Period
  • Shaping World History: Breakthroughs in Ecology, Technology, Science, and Politics
  • A Natural Approach to Horse Management
  • The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds
  • Horse Safe: A Complete Guide to Equine Safety
  • Animal By-product Processing & Utilization
  • Basic Horsemanship: English and Western
  • Large Animal Internal Medicine
  • Horse Stable And Riding Arena Design
horses in Amharic: ፈረስ
horses in Old English (ca. 450-1100): Hors
horses in Arabic: حصان
horses in Aragonese: Caballo
horses in Asturian: Caballu
horses in Aymara: Kawallu
horses in Azerbaijani: آت
horses in Min Nan: Bé
horses in Banyumasan: Jaran
horses in Bavarian: Pferdl
horses in Tibetan: རྟ་
horses in Bosnian: Konj
horses in Breton: Marc'h
horses in Bulgarian: Кон
horses in Catalan: Cavall
horses in Yakut: Сылгы
horses in Chuvash: Лаша
horses in Czech: Kůň
horses in Corsican: Cavaddu
horses in Welsh: Ceffyl
horses in Danish: Hest
horses in Pennsylvania German: Gaul
horses in German: Hauspferd
horses in Navajo: Łįįʼ
horses in Estonian: Hobune
horses in Modern Greek (1453-): Άλογο
horses in Emiliano-Romagnolo: Cavàl
horses in Erzya: Лишме
horses in Spanish: Equus caballus
horses in Esperanto: Ĉevalo
horses in Basque: Zaldi
horses in Persian: اسب
horses in French: Cheval
horses in Scottish Gaelic: Each
horses in Galician: Cabalo
horses in Hakka Chinese: Mâ
horses in Korean: 말 (동물)
horses in Croatian: Domaći konj
horses in Ido: Kavalo
horses in Indonesian: Kuda
horses in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Cavallo
horses in Ossetian: Бæх
horses in Icelandic: Hestur
horses in Italian: Equus caballus
horses in Hebrew: סוס הבית
horses in Javanese: Jaran
horses in Georgian: ცხენი
horses in Cornish: Margh
horses in Haitian: Chwal
horses in Kurdish: Hesp
horses in Latin: Equus
horses in Latvian: Zirgs
horses in Lithuanian: Arklys
horses in Ligurian: Cavallo
horses in Limburgan: Taam peerd
horses in Hungarian: Ló
horses in Macedonian: Коњ
horses in Malagasy: Soavaly
horses in Malayalam: കുതിര
horses in Maltese: Żiemel
horses in Min Dong Chinese: Mā
horses in Dutch: Paard (dier)
horses in Dutch Low Saxon: Peerd
horses in Cree: ᑳᐸᓚᑲᔅᐧᑫᐤ
horses in Japanese: ウマ
horses in Norwegian: Hest
horses in Norwegian Nynorsk: Hest
horses in Narom: J'va
horses in Occitan (post 1500): Equus cavallus
horses in Low German: Peerd
horses in Polish: Koń
horses in Portuguese: Cavalo
horses in Romanian: Cal
horses in Quechua: Kawallu
horses in Russian: Лошадь
horses in Scots: Horse
horses in Sicilian: Cavaddu
horses in Simple English: Horse
horses in Slovenian: Domači konj
horses in Serbian: Коњ
horses in Serbo-Croatian: Konj
horses in Finnish: Hevonen
horses in Swedish: Häst
horses in Tagalog: Kabayo
horses in Tamil: குதிரை
horses in Thai: ม้า
horses in Tajik: Асп
horses in Turkish: At
horses in Ukrainian: Кінь
horses in Võro: Hopõn
horses in Walloon: Tchivå
horses in Yiddish: פערד
horses in Samogitian: Arklīs
horses in Chinese: 马
horses in Slovak: Kôň (podrod)
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