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iDomestic Horse
Image:Mangalarga Marchador.jpg
Conservation status


Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Perissodactyla
Family: Equidae
Genus: Equus
Species: E. caballus
Binomial name
Equus caballus
Linnaeus, 1758

The horse (Equus caballus, sometimes seen as a subspecies of the Wild Horse, Equus ferus caballus) is a large odd-toed ungulate mammal, one of ten modern species of the genus Equus. Horses have long been among the most economically important domesticated animals; although their importance has declined with mechanization, they are still found worldwide, fitting into human lives in various ways. The horse is prominent in religion, mythology, and art; it has played an important role in transportation, agriculture, and war; it has additionally served as a source of food, fuel, and clothing.

Horses first evolved in the Americas, but went extinct there until reintroduced by Europeans. While isolated domestication may have occurred as early as 10,000 years ago, the first clear evidence dates to c. 5000 BC, and becomes widespread only after 2000 BC. Selective breeding since that time has produced numerous breeds. Some can be ridden, usually with a saddle, while other breeds can be harnessed to pull objects such as carriages or plows. In some societies, horses are a source of food, both meat and milk; in others it is taboo to consume them. In industrialized countries horses are predominantly kept for leisure and sporting pursuits, while they are still used as working animals in many other parts of the world.


Biology of the horse

See also: Horse breeding
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Anatomy of a horse from an Egyptian document (15th century)


Depending on breed, management, and environment, the domestic horse today has an average life expectancy of 25 to 30 years. Some specific breeds of horse can live into their 40s, and, occasionally, beyond. The oldest verifiable record was "Old Billy," a horse that lived in the 19th century, believed to have lived to the age of 62.

Reproduction and development

Pregnancy lasts for approximately 11 months and usually results in one foal (male: colt, female: filly). Twins are rare. Females 4 years and over are called mares and males are stallions. A castrated male is a gelding.

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. Horses four years old are considered mature, though the skeleton usually finishes developing at the age of six, and the precise time of completion of development also depends on the horse's breed, rate of growth, and gender. Size of the horse does not always dictate speed of maturity; the Lipizzan horse is generally not started under saddle until the age of four, while the American Quarter Horse, an animal of a similar height and weight, is often first trained to saddle at the age of two.

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 and American Quarter Horse race horses are put on the track at as young as two years old in some countries (notably the United States), horses specifically bred for sports such as show jumping and 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.

Sizes of horses and ponies

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(h or hh) (145 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.

The difference between a horse and pony is not just a height difference. There are noticable differences in conformation and temperament. Ponies often exhibit thicker manes, tails and overall coat. They also have proportionally shorter legs, wider barrels, heavy bone, thick necks, and short heads with broad foreheads.

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 Pony of the Americas or the Welsh cob, share some features of horses and individual animals may occasionally mature at over 14.2h, but are still considered ponies. Another example of an exception to the height rule is the Caspian horse which often stands only eleven or twelve hands high, but is still considered a horse due to its horselike conformation.

Light horses such as Arabians, Morgans, Quarter Horses, Paints and Thoroughbreds usually range in height from 14.0 to 17.0 hands and can weigh from 850 lb to about 682 kg (1500 lb). Heavy or draft horses such as the Clydesdale, Belgian, Percheron, and Shire are usually at least 16.0 to 18.0 hands high and can weigh from about 682 kg (1500 lb) up to about 900 kg (2000 lb). Ponies are less than 14.2h, but can be much smaller, down to the Shetland pony at around 10 hands, and the Falabella which can be the size of a medium-sized dog. The miniature horse is as small as or smaller than either of the aforementioned ponies but are classified as very small horses rather than ponies despite their size.

Evolution of the horse

Mesohippus, an ancestor of the modern 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. In the past, this order contained twelve families, but only three families—the horses and related species, tapirs and rhinoceroses—have survived till today. The earliest equids (belonging to the genus Hyracotherium) were found approximately 54 million years to the Eocene period. The 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 out compete them.

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.<ref name="Budiansky">Budiansky, Stephen. The Nature of Horses. Free Press, 1997. ISBN 0-684-82768-9</ref>

Horse evolution was characterised 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, 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 equids evolved into the Orohippus. The 5th fingers vanished, and new grinding teeth evolved. This was significant in that it signaled 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.

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 were shrinking in Hipparion and 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.

Domestication of the horse 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 Central Asia and dates to approximately 4,500 BC. Archaeological finds such as the Sintashta chariot burials provided unequivocal evidence that the horse was definitely domesticated by 2000 BC.

Wild species

Main article: Wild Horse

Most "wild" horses today are actually feral horses, animals that had domesticated ancestors but were themselves born and live in the wild, often for generations. However, there are also some truly wild horses whose ancestors were never successfully domesticated. Historical wild species include the Forest Horse (Equus ferus silvaticus, also called the Diluvial Horse), thought to have evolved into Equus ferus germanicus, and which may have contributed to the development of the heavy horses of northern Europe, such as Ardennais.

There is a theory that there were additional "proto" horses that developed with adaptations to their environment prior to domestication. There are competing theories, but in addition to the Forest Horse, three other types are thought to have developed:<ref name="Bennett"> Bennett, Deb. Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship. Amigo Publications Inc; 1st edition 1998. ISBN 0-9658533-0-6</ref>

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Przewalski's Horse, the last surviving wild horse species
  • A small, sturdy, heavyset pony-sized animal with a heavy hair coat, arising in northern Europe, adapted to cold, damp climates, somewhat resembling today's Shetland pony
  • A taller, slim, refined and agile animal arising in western Asia, adapted to hot, dry climates, thought to be the progenitor of the modern Arabian horse and Akhal-Teke
  • A dun-colored, sturdy animal, the size of a large pony, adapted to the cold, dry climates of northern Asia, the predecessor to the Tarpan and Przewalski's Horse.

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 Heck horse together with the 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. Also known as the Mongolian Wild Horse, 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.<ref></ref> There are also small populations maintained at zoos throughout the world. After a battle against extinction, the Przewalksi's Horse is finally flourishing in the wild once again.

Other truly wild equids alive today include the zebra and the onager.

Feral horses

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Free-roaming mustangs (Utah, 2005)

Feral animals, who had domesticated ancestors but were born and live in the wild, are distinct from wild animals, whose ancestors have never undergone domestication. Several populations of feral horses exist, including those in the western 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; the Sorraia lives in Portugal; Sable Island Horses reside in Nova Scotia, Canada; and New Forest ponies have been part of Hampshire, England for a thousand years.

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

Main article: Equidae for full species list.

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)). 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: zorses, also called zebroids, have been used in Central African game parks for light haulage.[citation needed]

Horse behavior

Main article: Horse behavior

Horses are prey animals with a well-developed fight-or-flight instinct. Their first response to threat is to flee, although they are known to stand their ground and defend themselves or their offspring in cases where flight is not possible, such as when a foal would be threatened. Through selective breeding, some breeds of horses have been bred to be quite docile, particularly certain large draft horses. However, most light horse riding breeds were developed for speed, agility, alertness and endurance; natural qualities that extend from their wild ancestors.

Horses are herd animals, and become very attached to their species and to humans. They communicate in various ways, such as nickering, grooming, and body language. Many horses will become flighty and hard to manage if they are away from their herd. This is called being "herd-bound". However, through proper training, it is possible to teach any horse to be comfortable away from the herd.

Horses within the human economy

See also: Horse training

Around the world, horses play a role within human economies, for leisure, sport and working purposes. To cite one example, 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.<ref> Most Comprehensive Horse Study Ever Reveals A Nearly $40 Billion Impact On The U.S. Economy, June 20, 2005.</ref>

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 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 for sport

Main articles: Equestrianism and Horse Racing

Horses are used in two ways for sports: as competitors, and as mounts for human competitors. Horses as competitors are trained to be ridden or driven in a particular event. Examples include barrel racing, eventing, carriage driving, dressage, and show jumping. Although scoring varies by event, most emphasize the horse's speed, maneuverability, obedience and/or precision. Sometimes the equitation of the rider is also considered.

Sports such as polo and horseball use horses as mounts on which the human competitors ride. Although their riders are the primary competitors, horses serve as a necessary part of the game. In jousting, for example, the main goal is for one rider to dismount the other. Buzkashi is a game played throughout Central Asia, the aim being to capture a goat while on horseback. [1] 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.

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, steeple chasing, i.e. racing with jumps, and harness racing, where horses trot towing a small cart where the driver sits. Most racing 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, 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.

Horses for work

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 logging can be more efficiently managed with horses, to avoid vehicular disruption to delicate soil in areas such as a nature reserve. Forestry rangers may use horses for their patrols.

In poor countries such as Romania, Kyrgyzstan, and many parts of the Third World, horses, donkeys and mules are widely used for transport and agriculture, especially for pulling plows or carts. In areas where roads are poor or non-existent, fossil fuels are scarce, and the terrain rugged, riding horseback is still the most efficient way to get from place to place.

Horses used for entertainment and culture

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Horses walking through Charlotte

Horses today also are used to re-enact their historical work purposes. A famous example are the Budweiser Clydesdales, a team of draft horses who pull 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, to enact various historical battles. Popular subjects include American Revolutionary War and Civil War reenactments, as well as battles of the 19th century between the U.S. Cavalry and Native Americans.

Horses also are used to reenact specific periods of history, or to preserve cultural resources, or for ceremonial purposes. Examples include the use of horses at tourist destinations such as Colonial Williamsburg. 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 movies to add authenticity to historical dramas as well as adding charm to films set in the modern-day, or even futuristic dramas.

Horses used for therapeutic purposes

Main article: Hippotherapy

Hippotherapy is a physical, occupational and speech therapy treatment strategy that utilizes equine movement. In the hippotherapy environment, a therapist uses the horse's movement to provide carefully graded sensory input. Another form of equine-assisted therapy using a horse is called therapeutic horseback riding, in which specific riding skills are a means to physical, occupational or speech therapy goals.

People with both physical and mental disabilities have obtained medically beneficial results from riding. 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 and sometimes has helped injured people regain the ability to walk. Soldiers injured in warfare have been known to use this form of physical therapy to regain movement in limbs or simply become accustomed to prosthetic limbs. People who have cognitive or sensory disabilities benefit because riding requires attention, reasoning skills and memory. [citation needed]

The benefits of equestrian activity for people with disabilities has also been recognized with the addition of equestrian events to the Paralympic Games.

"Equine-assisted" or "equine-facilitated" psychotherapy is a new but growing movement which uses horses as companion animals to assist people with psychological problems. Actual practices vary widely due to the newness of the field; some programs include Therapeutic Horseback Riding and hippotherapy. Non-riding therapies simply encourage a person to touch, speak to and otherwise interact with the horse. Even without riding, people appear to benefit from being able to connect to a horse on a personal level; horses are very sensitive to non-verbal signals from humans and are an ideal tool for working with patients who have "tuned out" human therapists. Benefits can be obtained from the interaction and relationships formed between horses and people. Horses are also used in camps and programs for young people with emotional difficulties.[citation needed]

There also have been 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. A correctional facility in Nevada has a successful program where inmates learn to train young mustangs captured off the range in order to make it more likely that these horses will find adoptive homes. Both adult and juvenile prisons in New York, Florida, and Kentucky work in cooperation with the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation to re-train former racehorses as pleasure mounts and find them new homes.[citation needed]

Horses in warfare

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Jousting is a sport that evolved out of heavy cavalry practice
Main article: War horse

Horses were used in warfare for most of recorded history, dating back at least to the 19th century B.C. While mechanization largely has 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 are also used to reenact historical battles; see Culture above. The training of the war horse has vestiges in the disciplines of classical dressage and eventing.

Horse products

  • 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. [citation needed] Horse consumption is taboo in some cultures.
  • Mare's milk is used by people with large horse-herds, such as the Mongols. They may let it ferment to produce kumis. Mares produce a lower yield of milk than cows, but more than goats and sheep.
  • Horse blood was also used as food by the Mongols and other nomadic tribes. The Mongols found this food source especially convient 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.
  • Premarin is a mixture of female hormones (estrogens) extracted from the urine of pregnant mares (pregnant mares' urine). It is a widely used drug for hormone replacement therapy. This horse product is especially controversial; see the Premarin article.
  • Horse hooves can be used to produce hoof glue.

Specialized vocabulary

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Parts of a horse
Morphology and Locomotive System of a Horse

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 anatomy of the horse comes with a large number of horse specific terms.

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 rather than by breed or by sex. The genetics of the coat colors has largely been resolved, although discussion continues about some of the details.

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, 1.57 m in height.


The most commonly used nomenclature describing horses by age is as follows:

  • Foal: a horse or either gender less than one year old. A nursing foal is sometimes called a suckling and a foal that has been weaned is called a weanling.
  • Yearling: a horse of either gender that is between one and two years old.
  • Colt: a male horse three years old or younger.
  • Filly: a female horse three years old or younger.
  • Mare: a female horse four years old and older.
  • Stallion: is a non-castrated male horse four years old and older. Some people, particularly in the UK, refer to a stallion as a "horse."
  • Gelding: A castrated male horse of any age, though for convenience sake, many people also refer to a young gelding as a "colt."

In horse racing the definitions of colt, filly, mare, and stallion or 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.[citation needed] In the USA, thoroughbred racing and harness racing defines colts and fillies as four years old and younger.<ref>Glossary of Horse racing Terms</ref>


Main article: Horse gait
Image:Muybridge race horse animated.gif
Sequence of a race horse galloping

All horses move naturally with four basic gaits;the walk, trot or jog, canter or lope, and gallop. See horse gait for further details.

Besides these basic gaits, there are many additional "single foot" gaits such as pace, 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 the so called "gaited horses" replace the standard trot which is a 2 beat gait with a four beat gait (as opposed to the canter/lope and gallop which are three beated gaits).

Horse breeds with additional gaits include the Tennessee Walking Horse with its running walk, the American Saddlebred with its "slow gait" and rack, the Paso Fino horse with the paso corto and paso largo, Icelandic horse which are known for the tölt, and the Rocky Mountain Horse with its smooth, even four-beat gait. The Fox Trot is found in several gaited breeds, most notably the Missouri Foxtrotter. Standardbreds, depending on bloodlines and training may either pace and trot.

The origin of modern horse breeds

See also List of horse breeds Horses come in various sizes and shapes. The draft breeds can top 19 hands (2 metres, 76 inches) while the smallest miniature horses stand as low as 5.2 hands (0.56 metres, 22 inches). The Patagonian Fallabella, usually considered the smallest horse in the world, compares in size to a German Shepherd Dog.

Different schools of thought exist to explain how this range of size and shape came about. One school, which we can call the "Four Foundations", described in the domestication section above, suggests that the modern horse evolved from multiple types of early wild pony and horse prototypes; the differences between these types account for 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. See: Domestication of the horse.

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.

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. Germany produces many Warmblood breeds that are used for dressage. 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. Both the United States and Great Britain are noted for breeding Thoroughbred race horses. Russia takes great pride in breeding harness racing horses, a tradition dating back to the development of the Orlov Trotter in the 18th century.

Breeds, studbooks, purebreds, and landraces

Main article: Horse breeding
Seabiscuit, one of the most well-known race horses

Selective breeding of horses has occurred as long as humans have 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,<ref></ref> 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 Arabian mares to only the most worthy stallions, and kept extensive pedigrees of their "asil" (purebred) horses. Though these pedigrees were primarily transmitted via an oral tradition, written pedigrees of Arabian horses can be found that date to the 14th century. 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 espanol.

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; 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.[citation needed] Still other breeds, such as most of the warmblood sport horses, require individual judging of an individual animal's quality before registration or breeding approval, but also allow outside bloodlines in if the horses meet the standard.

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.

On the other hand, since the advent of DNA testing to verify parentage, most breed registries now allow artificial insemination (AI), embryo transfer (ET), or both. The high value of stallions has helped with the acceptance of these techniques because they 1) allow a stallion to breed more mares with each "collection," and 2) take away the risk of injury during mating.

Hot bloods, warm bloods, and cold bloods

See also: List of horse breeds

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", such as race horses, exhibiting more sensitivity and energy, while the "cold-bloods" are heavier, calmer creatures such as the draft giants.

Hot bloods 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 "hot bloods" for their temperament, characterized by sensitivity, keen awareness, athleticism, and energy. European breeders wished to infuse some of this energy and athleticism into their own best cavalry horses. These traits, combined with the lighter, aesthetically refined bone structure of the oriental-type horse (Akhal-Teke, Arabian, Barb), were used as the foundation of the thoroughbred breed.

True hot bloods usually offer both greater riding challenges and rewards than other horses. Their sensitivity and intelligence enable quick learning with greater communication and cooperation with their riders. However, their intelligence also allows them to learn bad habits as quickly as good ones. Because of this, they also can quickly lose trust in a poor rider and do not tolerate inept or abusive training practices.

Cold bloods

Muscular and heavy draft horses are known as "cold bloods", as they have been bred to have the calm, steady, patient temperament needed to pull a plow or a heavy carriage full of people. One of the most best-known draft breeds is the Belgian. The largest is the Shire. The Clydesdales, with their common coloration of a bay or black coat with white legs and long-haired, "feathered" fetlocks are among the most easily recognized.<ref></ref>

Warmbloods "Warmblood" breeds began when the European carriage and war horses were crossed with oriental horses or thoroughbreds. The term "warm blood" was originally used to mean any cross of heavy horses on Thoroughbred or Arabian horses. Examples included breeds such as the Irish Draught horse, and sometimes also referred to the "Baroque" horses used for "high school" dressage, such as the Lipizzaner, Andalusian, Lusitano and the Alter Real. Sometimes the term was even used to refer to breeds of light riding horse other than Thoroughbreds or Arabians, such as the Morgan horse. But today the term "warmblood" usually refers to a group of sport horse breeds that have dominated the Olympic Games and World Equestrian Games in Dressage and Show Jumping since the 1950s. These breeds include the Hanoverian, Oldenburg, Trakehner, Holsteiner, Swedish Warmblood, and Dutch Warmblood.

The list of horse breeds provides a partial alphabetical list of breeds of horse extant today, plus a discussion of rare breeds' conservation.


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 practice of right-handed fighters carrying their sheathed sword on their left hip, making it easier to throw their right leg over the horse when mounting, and sometimes it is regarded as a superstition. However, several other explanations are equally plausible.

Horses can be mounted bareback with a vault from the ground, by grabbing the mane to provide leverage as a rider makes a small jump and scrambles up onto the horse's back (an awkward but popular method used by children), or by "bellying over", a technique which involves placing both hands side by side on the horse's back, jumping up so that the rider lays belly down on the horse's back, and swinging the leg over to sit astride. Some people prefer bareback pads, which are basically sheepskin cushions, when riding bareback, especially on old, under-nourished or bony horses.

In actual practice, however, most bareback riders use a fence or mounting block, or another object which can be stood upon to be able to simply slide onto the horse's back. This method is more convenient for both horse and rider, as the horse does not like someone "hiking' onto their back, and the "hiking" can be found to be very difficult for the rider, especially if the horse is tall or large.


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).

Riding Methods

Main article: Equestrianism

See also: English riding, Western riding, Dressage

Since the horse was domesticated, a wide variety of riding methods or styles have developed, but all basically balancing the need to allow the horse freedom of movement in activities such as horse racing or show jumping and the need for security of the rider, precision of commands and overall control as seen in activities such as dressage and reining. Worldwide, the most common modern riding style is referred to 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 the needs of cattle ranchers.


<references />


  • Book of Horses: A Complete Medical Reference Guide for Horses and Foals, edited by Mordecai Siegal. (By members of the faculty and staff, University of California, Davis, School of Veterinary Medicine.) Harper Collins, 1996.
  • Illustrated Atlas of Clinical Equine Anatomy and Common Disorders of the Horse, by Ronald J. Riegal, D.V.M. and Susan E. Hakola, B.S., R.N., C.M.I. Equistar Publications, Ltd., 1996.
  • International Commission on Zoological Nomenclature. 2003. Opinion 2027 (Case 3010). Usage of 17 specific names based on wild species which are pre-dated by or contemporary with those based on domestic animals (Lepidoptera, Osteichthyes, Mammalia): conserved. Bull.Zool.Nomencl., 60:81-84.
  • Bennett, Deb. Conquerors: The Roots of New World Horsemanship. Amigo Publications Inc; 1st edition 1998. ISBN 0-9658533-0-6
  • Budiansky, Stephen. The Nature of Horses. Free Press, 1997. ISBN 0-684-82768-9

See also

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