The horse must rank high as one of man's best friends. They were transport for us for hundreds of years. They are also rather beautiful animals with a sense of humour. Fortunes have been made and lost on horses and some have become legends, such as that earthy little fighter Seabiscuit. In times of war, a man and horse together, became the cavalry. A horse is also a companion and a rewarding hobby, or indeed a sporting performance creature, which I'm in favour of, provided the horse is not hurt. Either way they are marvelous creatures, but as with any animal you must look after and love them.
More than a friend
The horse (Equus caballus or Equus ferus caballus) is a large ungulate mammal, one of ten modern species of the genus Equus. Horses have long been one of the most economically important domesticated animals, and have played an important role in the transport of people and cargo for thousands of years. While isolated domestication may have occurred as early as 10,000 years ago, clear evidence of widespread horse use by humans dates to around 2000 BCE.
Like few other animals, horses can be ridden, either with or without a saddle. They can also be harnessed to pull objects like wheeled vehicles or plows. In some cultures, horses are a source of food, often horse meat and sometimes milk; in other cultures it is taboo to eat them.
Today, in wealthy countries, horses are predominently kept for leisure and sporting pursuits. However, around the world they continue to fulfill a wide range of economic functions.
Humans have bred horses for millennia, as with dogs, resulting in many different breeds. Some are well-known for particular qualities or abilities; for example, thoroughbreds for their racing speed.
Biology of the horse
The domestic horse can live to 20 or 30 years old. The mare is pregnant for 11 months and gives birth to one foal (male: colt, female: filly). They reach sexual maturity at 1-2 years old. The size of horses varies considerably, depending on the breed: light horses such as Arabians, Morgans, Quarter Horses, Paints and Thoroughbreds weigh up to 1300lbs (about 595kg), whereas heavy or draft horses such as Clydesdale, Draft, Percherons, and Shire horses can weigh up to 2000lbs (about 907kg). Ponies can be much tinier, down to the size of a large dog.
Eohippus, the ancestor of all modern horses
was only 20cm (about 8 inches) high
Evolution of the horse
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. Perissodactyls were the dominant group of large terrestrial browsing animals until the Miocene (about 20 million years ago), when even-toed ungulates, with stomachs better adapted to digesting grass, began to outcompete them.
All equids are part of the family Equidae, which dates back approximately 54 million years to the Eocene period. At one time there were twelve families of odd-toed ungulates, though today only three survive; tapirs and rhinoceroses are the closest living relatives of the modern horse.
The genus Equus, to which all living equids belong, evolved a few million years ago. Examples of extinct horse genera include: Propalaeotherium, Mesohippus, Miohippus, Orohippus, Pliohippus, Anchitherium, Merychippus, Parahippus, Hipparion, and Hippidion.
Horses as a species are believed by scientists to have first evolved in what is now North America. Horse evolution was characterized by a reduction in the number of toes, from five per foot, to three per foot, to only one toe per foot (late Miocene 5.3 million years ago); essentially, the animal was standing on tiptoe. One of the first true horse species was the tiny Hyracotherium, also known as Eohippus, "the dawn horse", which had 4 toes on each front foot (missing the thumb) and 3 toes on each back foot (missing toes 1 and 5). Over about five million years, this early equid evolved into the Orohippus. The 5th fingers vanished, and new grinding teeth evolved. This was significant in that it signalled a transition to improved browsing of tougher plant material, allowing grazing of not just leafy plants but also tougher plains grasses. Thus the proto-horses changed from leaf-eating forest-dwellers to grass-eating inhabitants of the Great Plains.
Domestication of the horse and surviving wild species
Theories on domestication
Competing theories exist as to the time and place of initial domestication. The earliest evidence for the domestication of the horse comes from Central Asia and dates to approximately 4,000 BCE. Archaeological finds such as the Sintashta chariot burials show how far this domestication had progressed.
Wild species continued to survive into historical times and, arguably, until today. For example, the Forest Horse (Equus ferus silvaticus, also called the Diluvial Horse) is thought to have evolved into Equus ferus germanicus, and may have contributed to the development of the heavy horses of northern Europe, such as Ardennais.
The tarpan, Equus ferus ferus, became extinct in 1880. Its genetic line is lost, but its phenotype has been recreated by a "breeding back" process, in which living domesticated horses with primitive features were repeatedly interbred. Thanks to the efforts of the brothers Lutz Heck (director of the Berlin zoo) and Heinz Heck (director of Munich Tierpark Hellabrunn), the resulting Wild Polish Horse or Konik more closely resembles the tarpan than any other living horse.
Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii), a rare Asian species, is the only true wild horse alive today. Mongolians know it as the taki, while the Kirghiz people call it a kirtag. Small wild breeding populations of this animal, named after the Russian explorer Przewalski, exist in Mongolia. 
Free-roaming mustangs Utah 2005
Wild animals, whose ancestors have never undergone domestication, are distinct from feral ones, who had domesticated ancestors but were born and live in the wild. Several populations of feral horses exist, including those in the West of the United States and Canada (often called "mustangs"), and in parts of Australia ("brumbies") and New Zealand ("Kaimanawa horses"). Isolated feral populations are often named for their geographic location: Namibia has its Namib Desert Horses; Sable Island Horses reside in Nova Scotia, Canada; New Forest ponies have been part of Hampshire, England for a thousand years. Feral horses may provide useful insights into the behavior of ancestral wild 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 infertile. A hinny is the less common hybrid of a female ass (jenny) and a stallion. Breeders have begun crossing various species of zebra with mares or female asses to produce "zebra mules" (zorses, and zonkeys (also called zedonks)). This will probably remain a novelty hybrid as these individuals tend to inherit some of the nervous difficult nature of their zebra parent, but they may inherit the zebra's resistance to nagana pest: zorses, also called zebroids, have been used in Central African game parks for light haulage.
Horses are prey animals with flight or fight instinct. Their first response to threat is to flee, although they are known to stand their ground and defend in cases where less capable horses would be left exposed, such as when a foal would be threatened. Horse people commonly say that inside every domestic horse is a wild horse. Through selective breeding, some horses have been made more docile, but most sport horse breeds are based on the principle of preserving the natural qualities that existed in horses that were taken from wild herds hundreds of years ago.
Horses as herd animals
Horses are highly social and intelligent herd animals. Like many other herd animals, their society is derived, or has evolved from survival instincts. At the center of the herd is the alpha or dominant mare. The center of the herd is the safest because it is further away from predators than any other part. The edge of the herd is where the lowest on the social order are found. Punishment is delivered in the form of expulsion from the herd temporarily or even permanently.
Herds are made up of mares, their foals, and immature horses of both sexes. Survival of the species dictates that females and foals are of primary importance, because they give and nurture life. Only a few males are needed -- very temporarily -- to continue the species. The herd of twenty mares could produce twenty foals in one year. They only need one or more stallions to impregnate all of them.
When colts become mature stallions, they leave to roam in small bachelor herds. They are no longer welcome in the main herd. Some of these horses may battle for the privilege of the most dangerous position in the equine world: dominant stallion.
The dominant stallion endures a somewhat quixotic existence. He lives on the periphery of the herd, exposed to predators and other bachelors who will fight him for that role. In stark contrast to the mythology of the stallion and his (ownership implied) harem, he has no value to the herd. He is totally dispensable since he is easily replaced. The male dominance hierarchy ensures an immediate replacement by a strong and healthy successor at any time.
As with many animals that live in large groups, establishment of a stable hierarchy or pecking order is important to smooth group functioning. Contention for dominance can be risky since one well-placed kick to a leg could cripple another horse to such an extent that it would be defenseless, exposed, and possibly unable to get to water. Survival dictates that the herd members ultimately cooperate and stick together. The alpha or dominant mare exercises control over herd members to moderate aggressive behavior.
Horses and humans
To a wild horse, humans are treated as an object of no consequence. However, horses are innately curious and may investigate any creature that is interesting but not threatening. Any domesticated horse will have had some experience with humans and may act accordingly, e.g. people bring food or possibly have treats.
The ability of humans to work in cooperation with the horse is based on the strong social bonds that horses have with each other. Horses do not like to be separated from the herd, because to be alone is to be exposed to predators on all sides. Horse training principles are based upon having the horse accept a human as the dominant herd member, not through force, but by virtue of ability and confidence. It is those attributes that are highly valued because they point the way to survival. A horse that is afraid more than necessary will expend energy needlessly and may not be able to escape when the threat is real. In pastures, it is the rule that horses tend to gravitate around the most mature and confident members.
People who train horses first have to educate them that normal herd behavior is inappropriate for people. The biting and shadow boxing (rearing, striking) that is common among males in particular could be injurious or fatal to people. This is not aggressive behavior to a horse, but normal play. Even when trained, horses test boundaries and challenge dominance. They may nip or try other things that they have been trained not to do. Without consistent training most horses will revert back to their untrained ways.
These insights are based upon natural horsemanship principles. The first known instances of natural horsemanship were writtten by Xenophon in On Horsemanship. Lost during the Dark Ages, natural horsemanship was reborn again during the Renaissance in the schools that trained horses for military cavalry. There is an unbroken line from these trainers and institutions to the Olympic equestrian sport of dressage. This discipline is still the foundation which other equestrian sports such as eventing and stadium jumping build upon. One of the most revered institutions of the art of dressage is the Spanish Riding School of Vienna.
Horses are creatures of habit and have excellent memories, which make consistent training the most valuable component of the horse. Sport horse foals with top bloodlines can be bought relatively cheaply compared to those with training. Once started under saddle with some demonstrable rideability, the price easily triples.
Horses within the human economy
Horses in rich countries are primarily kept for leisure or sport purposes. Around the world, they play a role within human economies.
Horses for leisure
Many countries use horses for leisure. Some countries are more profound then others at producing quality horses and using them for leisure and sport. Such as: Britain, Germany, Australia, Denmark and Spain. When the British parliament banned fox-hunting, countryside stables prophesied a disastrous effect on their industry. Australia is known for their well mannered, elegant and hardy Australian stock horses and fast racing Thoroughbreds. Germany produces fine quality Holsteiner horses for dressage, stunning Friesians for harness and dressage, Percherons mainly for harness and Warmbloods for eventing. Spain breeds the beautiful and magnificent Andalusians (Pura Raza Espanola) and Lipizzaner horses, because of their beauty and agility, are used mainly for dressage and High School work in Vienna and other places. Denmark produces similar horse to Germany, while Britain breeds fast Thoroughbreds, heavy horses and an array of tough ponies, such as the Dartmoor, Exmoor and Welsh mountain. Many people find being around horses soothing and therapeutic. Therefore many people may not have horses for work or play, they sometimes simply have companion horses or breed them.
Horses for sport
This is big business, with television deals and sponsorship. There are many different types of horse sports. Some include:
This is an individual sport. A rider has one horse or as many as he/she wants to compete with, and they have to jump a course of jumps set up by officials. The jumps are of EFA standards and are of varying hights and difficulty, depending on the grade, top grade is called A grade EFA. These standards of jumps and riders are of novice professional standards and are only at 'open competition' shows and the olympics. Closed competition shows are that run by the pony club.
Usually in a 3DE, the first day is of dressage and cross country, the second is roads and tracks (which is like a short endurance ride), then on the last day is the showjumping. Eventing and showjumping are not for the inexperienced or faint hearted: it is usually for thrill-seeking people as it is exhillarating and exciting even for the spectators.
This is an individual sport. the horse and rider need to be fit and well practised as it tests accuracy and precision and is physically demanding on the horse. dressage is often related to as dancing on horseback. you and your horse need to be well presented- neat and well groomed. there are many different tests to take in dressage, the higher tests are generally for professionals, and ones under a certain standard are for pony clubbers.
This could be either individual or a team sport. Up until a few years ago (in Australia) cross-country was not a sport on its own, but now however it is. It is like cross-country running but with logs and jumps marked out that have to be jumped. Logs may have a coloured tags on them, depending on what grade you're in.
This is a team sport, popular in Britain and some parts of Australia, derived from the sport of fox hunting in Britain and England before it was banned. Generally people go to a stable with either their own horses or borrow one from the stable. There is usually a large group of riders of varying experience, the hunting leader in a red coat, two other riders in black coats and the hounds. The hounds sniff out a false bait and the riders chase after the dogs when they find the trail. Riders must be able to jump as there are obstacles along the way. horses must be able to be pulled up because if a horse and rider pass the leader in the red coat you are dissqualified and must return to the stables. Hunting is not really classified as a sport but rather as a leisure riding because you cannot go anywhere with it.
High School Work
This is only for professional horses and riders. It is performed for the enjoyment of spectators by highly skilled and trained horses and riders. The horses used, originally from Spain, are the Andalusian and the Lipizzaner which are especially bred for this exhausting work. Mostly stallions are used because of their muscle build, strength and stamina. It is similar to dressage as dressage incorporates some smaller movements, but it is much more challenging. The horses are generally much older when they start performing because it takes years and years to train them, thus why training starts at around three years.
Trail riding, like hunting, is called leisure riding because it is usually done with friends as a weekend activity. Nothing fancy is needed, just a quiet horse. Trail riding can be done in most areas and is fun to take friends, drinks and food and go picnicking. A serious trail rider may go into endurance, which is basically the same but more challenging and fast work.
This can be team or individual. its tough on both horse and rider, both need to be extremely fit and the horse needs to undergo a vet chech before and after ride. a trail is marked out of varying lengths and depending on what class you're in depends on how fast you go. professionals can do anywhere from an 80km ride to 100km ride, galloping some of the way but mainly on the home stretch. riders often get off and walk some of the way as it is tyring on the horse. lots equipment is needed as you sometimes need to ride at night or stop over.
Pony club is an excellent place for children to go to learn how to ride. It is usually on public grounds where many pupils attend with their horses to be instructed. It is not only for young children, you may be a member up until you are 25 years old. After that you must either become an instructor or become a member of an adult riding club. Pony clubs hold commpetitions and events for the members to compete in. However simple pony club may seem it is actually quite complicated. one pony club is grouped with about 6-8 others from the same area and that is called a 'zone'. 'zones' are then grouped with about 4 others from the same region and that is called an 'area'. pony clubs, zones and areas will have a number after it according to where it is from. Uniforms are needed for pony club and a different one for a zone and again for an area. if someone wishes to go further, then they would go to as many competitions as they could in a year to try to get qualified for state. To represent your pony club at state is quite an honour. If you win your division at state you may then proceed to interstate, then the nationals then the internationals. If you make it to the internationals, you will be widely noticed and someone may make contact with you to ask you to join the young riders squad which is like the Olympics for young riders.
Cutting is an individual sport, mainly for advanced riders and horses bred for stock work (quarter horse). Horse and rider are in an arena with a group of cows: they cut one out and keep it away from the rest for a certain amount of time. It seems simple enough, but they must not touch the reins. It is all leg work and shows the horse's natural ability.
This is a team sport, used by the mounted police many years ago. Four riders are at one end of a field and a tent is set up in the middle. They ride fast (usually a gallop) up to the tent and reach right down and whip out the tent's pegs, until it collapses. Effective when the police wanted to confuse someone. Horses are usually small and special gear is needed.
This is a team sport. Three riders are in an arena with a group of cows. They need to cut three cows out and push them into a makeshift pen. It needs to be done quickly but quietly. The team decides what they will do before they get in, so that there is no confusion and each person knows what to do. This sport can be done by anyone.
This is an individual sport. A horse and rider are in a stall and a calf is let loose in the arena. The horse and rider are then let out and chase the calf flat out across the arena, when they catch up, the horse moves in close alongside the calf and the rider lassoes the calf around the neck; the horse pulls up and the rider leaps off and pins it down. They then tie up the calf's legs and wait to see their score and what time they got.
This can be a team sport. Horse and rider have are given a cow that they need to navigate through pegs on poles. The horse needs to be well mannered and responsive as cows can move quickly. They also need to have a lot of 'cow sense': this means the horse can usually anticipate what the cow will do next and not be intimidated by it but also not giving it a kick or bite.
This is an individual sport, consisting of showjumping and dressage.
This is an individual sport. A horse and rider need to do loops around three barrels in the fastest time. Professionals must do it under a certain time without knocking the barrels. Top barrel racing is not for the inexperienced.
Horses for work
There are certain jobs that horses do very well, and no amount of technology appears able to supercede. Mounted police are used for crowd control. Some land management practices such as logging are most efficiently done with horses, to avoid vehicular disruption to delicate soil such as a nature reserve. Forestry rangers may choose to use horses for their patrols.
In poor countries such as Romania, horses are widely used for agriculture, mainly pulling plows.
In countries such as Kyrgyzstan, horse-riding is still the most common means of transport, at least in the countryside.
Horses in warfare
Although no army now uses horses in combat, they were so used until the middle of the C20 as cavalry units, and are still kept for parade purposes. Historically, warfare depended on horses, and arguably one of the most important inventions in terms of its effect upon the destiny of nations was the stirrup, which gave the nomadic tribes a decisive military advantage over those who did not have that item of technology. One reason the Europeans were able to conquer the Americas was their use of horses for combat. The graceful ballet that is now known as dressage started as battle maneuvres.
Horses for food
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 USA.
Mare's milk is used by people with large horse-herds, such as the Mongols. They may let it ferment to produce kumis. However, mares produce a much lower yield of milk than do cows.
Horse blood was also used as food by the Mongols and other nomadic tribes.
Horses as producers of hormones
Premarin is a mixture of estrogens isolated from horse urine (PREgnant MARes' urINe). It is a widely used drug for hormone replacement therapy.
Because horses and humans have lived and worked together for thousands of years, an extensive specialized vocabulary has arisen to describe virtually every horse behavioral and anatomical characteristic with a high degree of precision.
The English-speaking world measures the height of horses in hands. One hand is defined in British law as 101.6 mm, a figure derived from the previous measure of 4 Imperial inches. Horse height is measured at the highest point of an animal's withers. Perhaps because of extensive selective breeding, modern adult horses vary widely in size, ranging from miniature horses measuring 5 hands (0.5 m) to draft animals measuring 19 hands (1.8 m) or more. By convention, 15.2 hh means 15 hands, 2 inches (1.57 m) in height.
Horses versus ponies
Usually, size alone marks the difference between horses and ponies. The threshold is 14.2 hh (4 feet 10 inches, 1.47 m) for an adult. When a horse is 14.2 hh exactly, it is called borderline and is either a horse or a pony depending on the breed. Below the threshold an animal is a pony, while above the threshold it is a horse. Thus normal variations can mean that a horse stallion and horse mare can become the parents of an adult pony. However, a distinct set of characteristic pony traits, developed in northwest Europe and further evolved in the British Isles, make it less clear whether it is more appropriate to use the word "pony" to describe a size or a type. Many people consider the Shetland pony as the archetypal pony, as its proportions are so different from those of horses. Several small breeds are mostly referred to as "horses" but occasionally as "ponies", though that is generally considered improper by those familiar with the breeds. These include the Icelandic horse, Fjord horse and Caspian horse breeds. Breeders of miniature horses favor that name because they strive to reproduce horse-like attributes in a much smaller animal, even though their horses undeniably descend from horses of small stature, which are thereby classifiable as ponies by size.
Words for gaits
All horses move naturally with four basic gaits; these are referred to as the walk, the trot/jog, the canter/lope ("canter" in English riding, "lope" in Western), and the gallop.
A walk is a "four-beat" lateral gait in which a horse must have three feet on the ground and only one foot in the air at any time. The walking horse will lift first a hind leg, then the foreleg on the same side, then the remaining hind leg, then the foreleg on the same side. A rider on a trained horse gently squeezes the sides of the animal and releases the pressure on its reins in order to initiate a walk from a stationary position. To initiate a walk when a horse is trotting or proceeding at a faster gait, the rider gently applies pressure on the reins and sits more firmly in the saddle (or on the horse's back in the absence of a saddle), gently gripping the horse's sides with the thighs.
A trot is a "two beat" diagonal gait in which a foreleg and opposite hindleg (often called "diagonals") touch the ground at the same time. In this gait, each leg bears weight separately, making it ideal to check for lameness or for stiffness in the joints. A rider on a walking horse initiates a trot by reducing tautness on the reins and applying more leg pressure. There are three types of trot a rider can perform; these are called posting trot, in which the rider stands up slightly in the saddle each time the animal's outside front leg goes forward, sitting trot, in which the rider sits in the saddle and matches the horse's movement, and two point, when the rider lifts slightly out of the saddle and leans foward from the hips. A jog is only used in western riding and is slower than the trot. When jogging the horse the rider sits deeply in the saddle moving along with the horse's movement.
A canter is a "three beat" gait in which a foreleg and opposite hindleg strike the ground together, and the other two legs strike separately. A cantering horse will first stride off with the outside hind leg, then the inside hind and outside fore together, then the inside front leg, and finally a period of suspension in which all four legs are off the ground. the rhythm should be 1-2-3, 1-2-3, etc. When cantering in a straight line, it does not usually matter which foreleg (or leading leg) goes first, but both leads should receive equal practice time, as otherwise the horse may become "one-sided" or develop a reluctance to canter on a specific lead. In the arena, the horse should canter on the inside lead, unless performing counter-canter, a dressage movement in which cantering with the outside lead is required. In making a fairly tight turn, the inside leg (the one nearest to the center of the turn) should lead, as this prevents the horse from "falling in". To get a horse to canter on the correct leg from trot, the rider must go into sitting trot, place the outside leg slightly behind the girth and squeeze with the inside leg. To get a horse to canter from gallop, the rider must alter the position of the body slightly back in the saddle, then place the outside leg behind the girth to allow the horse to canter on the correct leg, and apply pressure on the reins. This is also called "lope" when riding in a Western show class at a slower pace.
At the gallop, with all four feet off the ground
The gallop is another "four beat" gait which follows a similar progression to the canter, except the two paired legs land separately, the hind leg landing slightly before the foreleg. The gallop also involves having a leading leg. In turning at a very rapid rate, it is even more important that the horse use the appropriate lead, leading with the left leg if making a left turn, and the right leg if making a right turn, since the faster the turn the more the horse needs to lean into the turn. Horses that usually are galloped in a straight line need to be changed to alternate leads so that they do not suffer a muscular imbalance and subsequent difficulty making turns in one direction or the other. To get a horse into gallop, the rider must alter their position so they are slightly more forward in the saddle, then they should allow the horse its head and gently nudge the horse's sides. The gallop is usually used in races or fox hunting. However, a horse should not be galloped during training in a ring or enclosed area, due to the fact that the horse may slip in attempting to gallop in such an area. Although a race track is an enclosed area, it is large enough for a horse to gallop safely.
Some horses, called Gaited Horses, have gaits other than the most common four above. For details, see Horse gaits.
Words relating to horses
In horse racing the definitions of colt, filly, mare, and horse may differ from those given above. In the United Kingdom, Thoroughbred racing defines a colt as a male horse less than five years old and a filly as a female horse less than five years old; harness racing defines colts and fillies as less than four years old. Horses older than colts and fillies become known as horses and mares respectively.
Words relating to horse anatomy
Horse coat colors and markings
Horses exhibit a diverse array of coat colors and distinctive markings, and a specialized vocabulary has evolved to describe them. In fact, one will often refer to a horse in the field by his or her coat color rather than by breed or by sex.
Coat colors include
Many horses develop a more extensive coloration than they were born with over the course of several years. It is not unusual for markings to change over time and with the seasons. It should be noted that not every horse with the leopard gene will exhibit spotting. However, even solid individuals will exhibit 'characteristics' such as vertically striped hooves, mottles skin around the eyes, lips, and genetalia, and visible scelera of the eye. Several breeds of horse can boast leopard (a term used collectively for all patterns) individuals including the Knabstrup, Noriker, and most famously the Appaloosa.
Liver chestnut: dark red coat with black hairs in the mane and tail. Blond chestnut: lighter orange coat with pale mane and tail. Taffy chestnut: light brown-cream coat with flaxen mane and tail. (also as sorrel)
A white horse training a rider
On the face:
On the legs:
For horse color and marking genetics see Equine coat color genetics. Another good resource for horse color is: Horse color, markings, and genetics. Another that has numerous photographs of various colors and markings is Equine color.
The origin of modern horse breeds
Horses come in various sizes and shapes. The draft breeds can top 20 hands (80 inches, 2 metres) while the smallest miniature horses can stand as low as 5.2 hands (22 inches, 0.56 metres). The Patagonian Fallabella, usually considered the smallest horse in the world, compares in size to a German Shepherd Dog.
Several schools of thought exist to explain how this range of size and shape came about. These schools grew up reasoning from the type of dentition and from the horses' outward appearance. One school, which we can call the "Four Foundations", suggests that the modern horse evolved from two types of early domesticated pony and two types of early domesticated horse; the differences between these types account for the differences in type of the modern breeds. A second school -- the "Single Foundation" -- holds only one breed of horse underwent domestication, and it diverged in form after domestication through human selective breeding (or in the case of feral horses, through ecological pressures). Finally, certain geneticists have started evaluating the DNA and mitochondrial DNA to construct family trees. See: Domestication of the horse
The Icelandic horse (pony-sized but called a horse) provides an opportunity to compare contemporary and historical breed appearances and behaviour. Introduced by the Vikings into Iceland, these horses did not subsequently undergo the intensive selective breeding that took place in the rest of Europe from the Middle Ages onwards, and consequently bear a closer resemblance to pre-Medieval breeds. The Icelandic horse has a four-beat gait called the "tölt", similar to the "rack" of certain American gaited breeds.
Breeds, studbooks, purebreds, and landraces
Selective breeding of horses has occurred as long as man has domesticated them. However, the concept of controlled breed registries has gained much wider importance during the 20th century. One of the earliest formal registries was General Stud Book for thoroughbreds, a process that started in 1791 tracing back to the foundation sires for that breed. These sires were Arabians, brought to England from the Middle East.
The Arabs had a reputation for breeding their prize mares to only the most worthy stallions, and kept extensive pedigrees of their "asil" (purebred) horses. During the late Middle Ages the Carthusian monks of southern Spain, themselves forbidden to ride, bred horses which nobles throughout Europe prized; the lineage survives to this day in the Andalusian horse or caballo de pura raza español.
Standardbreds are another racing breed. They have an additional gait, the pace, and are usually driven, pulling a light carriage known as a sulky, rather than ridden.
The modern landscape of breed designation presents a complicated picture. Some breeds have closed studbooks; a registered Thoroughbred, Arabian, or Quarter Horse must have two registered parents of the same breed, and no other criteria for registration apply. Other breeds tolerate limited infusions from other breeds—the modern Appaloosa for instance 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. Still other breeds, such as most of the warmblood sporthorses, require individual judging of an individual animal's quality before registration or breeding approval.
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, is barred from the Thoroughbred studbook. Any Thoroughbred bred outside of these constraints can, however, become part of the Performance Horse Registry.
Many breed registries allow artificial insemination (AI), embryo transfer, or both. The high value of stallions has helped with the acceptance of these techniques because they 1) allow for more doses with each stallion 'collection' and 2) take away the risk of injury during the mating.
Hotbloods, warmbloods, and coldbloods
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, with the "hot-bloods" generally originating from hotter countries and exhibiting more sensitivity and energy, while the "cold-bloods" are heavier, calmer creatures such as the draft giants.
Arabian horses, whether originating on the Arabian peninsula or from the European studs (breeding establishments) of the 18th and 19th centuries, gained the title of "hotbloods" for their temperament, characterised by sensitivity, keen awareness, athleticism, and energy. It was these traits, combined with the lighter, aesthetically refined bone structure, which was used as the foundation of the thoroughbreds. The European breeders wished to infuse some of this energy and athleticism into their own best cavalry horses.
The Thoroughbred is unique to all breeds in that its muscles can be trained for either fast-twitch (for sprinting) or slow-twitch (for endurance), making them an extremely versatile breed. Arabians are used in the sport horse world almost exclusively for endurance competitions. Breeders continue to use Arabian sires with Thoroughbred dams to enhance the sensitivity of the offspring for use in equestrian sports. This Arabian/Thoroughbred cross is known as an Anglo-Arabian.
True hotbloods usually offer greater riding challenges and rewards than other horses. Their sensitivity and intelligence enable quick learning, and greater communication and cooperation with their riders. However, they sometimes decide that a new flowerpot is really a dragon, and the rider must spend the next five minutes calming them down.
Muscular and heavy draft horses are known as "coldbloods", as they have been bred to be workhorses and carriage horses with calm temperaments. Harnessing a horse to a carriage requires some level of trust in the horse to remain calm when restrained. The best known coldbloods would probably be the Budweiser Clydesdales .
Warmblood breeds began in much the same way as the Thoroughbred. The best of the European carriage or cavalry horses were bred to Arabian, Anglo-Arabian and Thoroughbred sires. The term "warmbloods" is sometimes used to mean any draft/Thoroughbred cross although this is becoming less common. The warmblood name has become the term to specifically refer to the sporthorse breed registries than began in Europe, although now worldwide. These registries, or societies, such as the Hanoverian, Oldenburg, Trakehner, and Holsteiner have dominated the Olympics and World Equestrian Games in Dressage and Show Jumping since the 1950s.
The list of horse breeds provides a partial alphabetical list of breeds of horse extant today, plus a discussion of rare breeds' conservation.
Tack and equipment
"Tack" (also known as saddlery) refers to equipment worn by the horse, normally when being ridden or longed for exercise. The tack may be made from leather or from a synthetic material, which tends to be lighter to carry and cheaper to buy.
The basic tack a horse requires is:
Saddling and mounting
The common European practice and tradition of saddling and mounting the horse from the left hand side is sometimes said to originate from the need to avoid inadvertently striking the horse with a carried sword in the process. However, several other explanations are equally plausible.
Bareback horses, lacking stirrups, can be mounted with a vault from the ground, although in practice most riders use a mounting block.
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. See: Horse (Zodiac).
Horses grazing on US managed land
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