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The horse has been a significant player in humanity’s history for thousands of years. But just how much do you know about them? Discover fourteen fascinating facts about horses that will leave you saying, “no way!”
Historical evidence puts the first domestication of horses somewhere around 3,500 BCE in the Western Eurasian steppes of modern-day Russia and Ukraine. Archeologists attribute the Botai people of Kazakhstan as the forefathers of horse domestication.
Horses featured heavily in Asian conquest and history. For example, the Mongols and Huns used horses to conquer thousands of miles of Asia.
Around 4,000 BCE, bridles and chariots appeared in Europe. Leaders like Alexander the Great would use chariots driven by horses to create enormous empires.
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Interestingly enough, archeological evidence indicates that the ancestor from which all horses came was no larger than a labrador retriever. The Eohippus, meaning Dawn Horse, existed as early as 50 million years ago during the Eocene era. It was roughly the size of a labrador and lived in the forests of ancient North America.
From the Eohippus, horses evolved. Today’s horse is a member of the Perissodactyla order of ungulates (or hooved creatures). The modern horse shares ancestry with other odd-toed ungulates, including rhinoceroses and tapirs.
The tribespeople of the Eurasian steppes originally hunted horses for food. Over time, they used horses for milk and transportation. The first evidence of bit wear use with horses appeared in Kazakhstan around 3,500 BCE, meaning that ancient Eurasian tribes had mounted and learned to control their steeds thousands of years before a derby existed.
Horse racing and breeding have grown into a multi-million-dollar industry. The world’s most expensive horse ever sold was Fusaichi Pegasus. The race horse sold in 2000 for just over $70 million. His stud fee sat at a whopping $150,000. Other notable expensive horses include Totilas for $21 million and Palloubet D’Halong, a show horse that sold for $15 million.
The Botai people thrived on drinking fermented horse milk. The practice has existed for more than 5,000 years and remains a popular tradition in the Eurasian steppes. Known as Koumiss or kumis, the beverage now lines grocery store shelves in Asia.
All horses in existence today come from the same ancestor. Popular and beloved breeds, like Palominos, Arabians, and Quarter Horses, share a common ancestry. Like dogs, humans have selectively bred horses to produce desired traits, like speed, color, and height, to create a myriad of breeds.
The American Quarter Horse Association firmly notes that Quarter Horses are the world’s fastest breed, clocking in at 55 mph. However, the Guinness World Record indicates that a Thoroughbred named Winning Brew holds the title as the fastest racing horse with a recorded speed of 44 mph on the books.
The Arabian horse has long been considered the most graceful of horses. The breed is lighter than most racing horses because of their different bone structure. Arabians have one less spinal vertebrae, one less tail bone, and one less rib than other horse breeds! The skeletal anomalies can occur in mixed breeds with Arabian parentage, too.
The ancestor of the modern horse, the Eohippus, died out in North America about 10 million years ago. Today, the horses populating the Americas are immigrants brought over by the Spanish during their global conquest.
Most horses that live in the wild are feral, not wild. The difference is relatively simple: wild horses have never been domesticated in their ancestral history. Thus, free-roaming horses of the Americas, which trace their ancestry back to the steeds of Spanish conquistadors, are considered feral because, at one point, their ancestors were domesticated.
Science remains conflicted on whether wild horses exist anymore. Only one breed possibly qualifies as wild. Przewalski’s horses live in Central Asia. Some scientific institutions believe these horses descend from domesticated Asian horses. However, others, including the Smithsonian, do not find enough evidence to prove Przewalski’s horses were ever domesticated.
You might hear a baby horse called a few different names, but each means something a little different. The most common name for a baby horse is a foal. However, the term filly refers to a female horse under two, and the term colt refers to a male horse under two. Additionally, if a baby horse no longer drinks milk, you may call it a weanling instead of a foal.
Baby horses enter the world with hooves intact. In fact, baby horses have fully formed hooves in the womb. But foals kick their mothers just like any baby, and so to protect the mother and baby during pregnancy and birth, a baby horse has a soft, gelatine-like capsule covering its hooves until after birth.
The cover is called an eponychium. The capsule doesn’t last long after birth. When the foal begins walking, usually within two hours of delivery, the cover over their hooves will break down to a normal hoof.
Horses do sleep standing up, though usually not as their primary method of resting. When horses sleep standing up, they use a special set of muscles that allow them to stand using only three legs at a time; thus, one leg gets some time to rest.
However, scientists agree that horses need to get their best quality sleep by lying down. When standing, horses only enter light sleep, which does not provide adequate rest for healthy functioning. Ergo, a horse lying down is probably sleeping better than one standing up.
The average horse lifespan ranges between 25 and 30 years. However, horses have lived far longer, with the oldest horse on record living to 62 years old. The horse’s name was Old Billy, and he lived a long life working as a barge horse in England until he died in 1822.
It might seem like common sense, but horses need companionship to live a happy life. Horses are, by nature, herd animals. Thus, they do best with one or more horsey friends around. However, many horses thrive with friends of different species, including dogs, donkeys, cats, and even pigs! Horses also can develop strong relationships with their humans because of their herding instincts.
For nearly six thousand years, humans have maintained a relationship with horses. Considering all the fascinating facts they bring, it’s no wonder that the horse continues to be an object of fascination for humans in today’s world!