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Horse History

12 Fascinating Facts about Horses

Anyone who loves horses knows that they’re majestic, athletic, and absolutely fascinating animals. They also have some unique attributes and history. Let’s take a look at some 12 fascinating facts about our horses.

1. A horse’s heart weighs about 10 pounds (in comparison to the human heart, which weighs less than a pound). But in an amazing coincidence, two Thoroughbred racehorses who competed in 1973’s Triple Crown series possessed extra-large hearts: 22 pounds for the amazing Secretariat and 18 pounds for his rival, Sham!

2. This probably comes as no surprise, but horses are incredibly intelligent. In fact, studies have shown that horses understand variances in human facial expressions, are capable of indicating preferences, and can exhibit at least some degree of empathy.

Photo by Happylights/Shutterstock

3. Horses have exceptionally large eyes (some of the largest eyes of any mammal), and the prominent placement of the eyes on the sides of a horse’s face results in vision that is known as monocular. Humans have binocular vision, meaning that the eyes work together to view the same scene. With monocular vision, horses see two different scenes independently.

4. The average gestation period of equines is approximately 340 days, which makes it similar to the gestation periods of llamas, alpacas, and seals. Variations can and do occur, but most mares typically carry their foals in the range of 320 to 370 days. Situations beyond either extreme aren’t unheard of, but they aren’t common, either. Mares carrying colts (male foals) tend to have slightly longer gestation periods than mares carrying fillies (female foals), and foals born in January tend to have shorter gestations than foals born later in the season.

5. Bay, black, buckskin, cremello, chestnut, champagne—the genetics behind equine coat colors can be complicated! Thankfully, some of the rules are easy, so here are a couple to keep in mind:
◆ A gray horse must have at least one gray parent.
◆ Two chestnut horses will always produce a chestnut foal.

Photo by Zelena/Shutterstock

6. Envision the skeletal system of the human body, and then mentally compare it to the skeletal system of a horse. Which one do you think has the higher number of bones? The answer: they’re virtually identical! Adult humans have 206 bones, while most adult horses have 205 bones.

7. And speaking of bones, here’s a quick shout-out to the amazing Arabian’s special skeleton. With only five lumbar vertebrae in their backs (most horses have six) and one less rib, Arabians tend to have shorter backs than other horse breeds.

8. As anyone who has ever watched a horse race can attest, horses are capable of achieving impressive rates of speed. Although the Thoroughbred is the breed that comes to mind when talking about speedy horses, Thoroughbreds generally excel at carrying their speed over long distances of ¾ of a mile to 1½ miles or more. For short distances, the American Quarter Horse is actually the fastest breed, capable of sustaining 45 mph for ¼ mile.

9. Don’t look that gift horse in the mouth, because you may just discover that he’s a bit older than you expected! Quaint proverbs aside, it’s possible to determine a horse’s age with a fair degree of accuracy simply by examining his teeth. The presence or absence of certain deciduous teeth, the particular markings on the teeth, and the angle of the upper and lower incisors can all be used to help estimate the age of a horse.

Ramses III depicted with a chariot. Photo by Mountainpix/Shutterstock

10. Horses played an important part in ancient Egyptian history, but only after their introduction to the country in about 1600 BC. The famous pharaoh Ramses the Great (Ramses III) even recorded the names of his two chariot horses; they were “Victory in Thebes” and “Mut is Contented.”

11. Horses have also played an important part of American history. Think of all the iconic scenes from history: hardworking horses on cattle drives, farm horses plowing fields, carriage horses in cities, Pony Express riders galloping across the West. But all of this is fairly recent history, as horses have only been present in North America for about 500 years. Columbus—and shortly after, Spanish explorers—brought the first horses across the Atlantic.

12. And for our final of 12 facts about horses: While the world is populated with hundreds of different horse and pony breeds, the most popular breed in the United States is the American Quarter Horse. The American Quarter Horse Association has registered nearly 6 million horses worldwide since 1940.

After these 12 facts about horses, what do you find fascinating about our equine companions? Share your stories in the comments!

Samantha Johnson

Samantha Johnson is a freelance writer and the author of several books, including The Field Guide to Horses, (Voyageur Press, 2009). She raises Welsh Mountain Ponies in northern Wisconsin and is a certified horse show judge. She loves Corgis and shares her home with her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Peaches.

View Comments

  • I was surprised most about the skeleton facts, and that horses have one less bone than we do. Wow!

    Thanks for the facts - fascinating reading!

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