Horses are mammals called ungulates – meaning they have hooves. This group of animals also includes deer, giraffes, cattle, pigs and many other animals. Horses are related to the donkey, the ass, and the zebra.
Horses can be found in a wide range of sizes, colors and even distinctive looks. Some horses are small, such as the Shetland Pony; a breed of horse which gets no larger than about four feet tall. They have a long mane of hair around their heads and long tails.
On the other side of the scale, there is the Clydesdale which is well known for the hair that grows over the hooves, their broad chests and their size which can be up to six feet in height.
A Horse's Body
The horse hooves are the remains of toes that once existed in the ancient horse. Ancient horses may have had two or three toes, but today's horses no longer exhibit any toes. The bones just above the hoof show evidence of those former toes.
The horse is well-known for its withers and long-haired tail. Horses are very powerful due to their strong muscles and leg structure.
Below is a diagram of the parts or “points” of a horse. Thinklikeahorse.org is a great place to learn more about the anatomy of a horse.
Horses are vegetarians and eat grasses and other plants. Baby horses or foals, drink milk from their mothers. A single foal is usually born to its mother, although rare twin births have happened. The foal is able to stand, walk, make noise, eat and run within hours of being born.
A horse has tall ears which helps it to have excellent hearing. Horses will move their ears forwards and backwards to aid their ability to take in sound. When a horse moves its ears tightly back, it could mean that they are feeling angry or aggressive.
A horse's sense of smell is much better than a human's. A mother horse can identify her foal by its smell.
A Horse History
Horses were originally wild animals and grazed for their own food and traveled together in herds. It is believed that the earliest horses first existed in North America. Early horses were found in all sizes – some the size of dogs. They had a variety of diets, coloring, and habitats. These various horses may have all lived at the same time. Some horses had three or four toes.
Horses lived in herds and were instinctively governed in this grouping. The herd usually consisted of one lead male known as the stallion. He protected the herd from predators. There were several females (called mares) and their offspring (called foals.) One female horse was dominant over the remainder of the herd, deciding where the herd should go and keeping the remaining members under obedience. Wild horses around the earth still live in this family relationship.
North American horses mysteriously disappeared about 10,000 years ago. Early horses found ways to travel to other continents by migrating across land bridges and spreading across the globe. Australia had no horses until they were brought there by settlers in 1788. Antarctica is the only continent which has no evidence of the existence of horses.
Horses are very muscular animals which made them a useful tool in the history of mankind. Man domesticated horses about 6000 years ago in areas of central Asia. Horses may have been used for meat and milk much like the way we use cows. Horses could be used for travel, to do heavy hauling, and to pull carts and plows. Horses became important in fighting wars and for hunting.
In the early 1500s, Hernando de Soto, a Spanish explorer, came to the American continent to search for gold and a route to China. He brought Spanish horses for his men to ride. Some of these horses were lost or stolen. They began to live wild in the open lands of America. These horses are the ancestors of the wild horses that live in North America now. Before the Spanish came to America, there had not been wild horses here for many, many years. Read more about the Spanish horses left here at America's First Horse.
The movies would have you believing that horses were a part of the pioneer trek west by pulling Conestoga wagons along the Oregon Trail. Horses cannot survive well on the wild grasses that grow in the prairielands of North America. Oxen could eat that grass with little or no trouble, at all. So oxen were the preferred animal for the trek west. Read more about the use of horses in the trip west at OregonTrail101.
Idaho's Hagerman Horse
The discovery of more than 200 fossils in 1928 on a ranch in Idaho, helped scientists to identify the existence of an animal that has been named the Hagerman Horse for the nearby town of Hagerman. It was most closely related to the zebra, but was one of the early horse breeds in North America before they all disappeared. Learn more about these horses from long ago at the National Park Service.
The Horse Today
Most horses in the world today are domesticated and live with humans. Nearly all of the continents have wild horses living somewhere in their unpopulated lands. Horses living in domesticated situations do not exhibit the herd behavior because they are often separated or live in individual fenced areas. Domesticated horses are not given the opportunity to behave as part of a herd. Most of the domesticated horses in the world today are used to ride and to do farm work. Some are treated similar to pets; being kept for their companionship and entertainment value.
Some horses are trained for racing, others for showing or for dancing and acrobatics. The famous Lipizzan Stallions are known for their ability to perform and to entertain. They are a breed of horse from Europe celebrated for their white coat and their ability to jump and dance.
Fun Horse Facts
- Male horses have more teeth than female horses.
- Horses only sleep about 3 hours a day.
- Horses can sleep standing up as well as laying down.
- A horse's hooves are similar in chemistry to your fingernails.
- A horse can live 20 – 25 years.
- Horses have about 205 bones in their body.
- Horses can see almost 360 degrees around their heads because their eyes are on the sides of their heads.
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