Horses are ungulates — mammals with hooves. They also have long tails, short hair, muscular torsos, long thick necks and elongated heads. Due to domestication, they are found all over the world.
Horses have lived on Earth for more than 50 million years, according the American Museum of Natural History. According to Scientific American, the first horses originated in North America and then spread to Asia and Europe. The horses left in North America became extinct about 10,000 years ago and were re-introduced by colonizing Europeans.
It is believed that horses were first domesticated in Asia between 3000 and 4000 B.C., according to Oklahoma State University. Back then, horses were used mostly for milk and meat. Eventually, horses joined oxen as a form of animal transportation.
There are more than 400 different breeds of horses. Horses can be as big as 69 inches (175 centimeters) from hoof to shoulder and weigh as much as 2,200 lbs. (998 kilograms). Tiny horses exist, too. The smallest breeds of horses can be as small as 30 inches (76 centimeters) from hoof to shoulder and weigh only 120 lbs. (54 kg), according to National Geographic.
Horses are found in almost every country in the world and every continent except Antarctica. For example, the Abyssinian is found in Ethiopia, the Budyonny comes from Russia, Deliboz is from Georgia and Armenia, the Egyptian came from Egypt and the Colorado Rangerbred comes from the Colorado plains, according to Oklahoma State University.
Horses are very social animals. They live in groups called herds. In the wild, horses will live in herds that consist of three to 20 animals and are lead by a mature male, which is called a stallion, according to National Geographic. The rest of the herd is made up of females and their young.
Horses are herbivores. This means they only eat vegetation. Typically, horses eat grass, but domesticated horses are often fed bran, rolled oats, barley and hay, as well. A well-fed horse eats 1 to 2 percent of its body weight in roughage, such as grass or hay, every day, according to The Humane Society. Domesticated horses are also given blocks of salt and mineral blocks to lick. This is to supplement the nutrition that the horses get from their food.
Horses only have one stomach, unlike cows, and it is small. So to get enough food, a horse must graze throughout the day.
Horses have live births after around 11 months of gestation. Some people mistakenly call baby horses ponies. Actually, horse offspring are called foals. Ponies are adult horses that are shorter than 56 inches (147 cm), according to Encyclopedia Britannica. Shetland and Welsh horses are common pony breeds.
The foal is able to stand soon after birth and becomes mature at 3 to 5 years of age. At 2 years old, male foals are driven away from the herd by the stallion. The young males ban together in a herd until they find a herd of females that they can lead.
According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System, the horse's taxonomy is as follows:
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Subkingdom: Bilateria
- Infrakingdom: Deuterostomia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Subphylum: Vertebrata
- Infraphylum: Gnathostomata
- Superclass: Tetrapoda
- Class: Mammalia
- Subclass: Theria
- Infraclass: Eutheria
- Order: Perissodactyla
- Family: Equidae
- Genus: Equus
- Species: Equus caballus
The only truly wild horse is the Przewalski's horse. This horse once roamed from Manchuria to Spain. Populations have been reintroduced to China, Mongolia and Kazakhstan, according to the San Diego Zoo. Currently, the Przewalski's horse is listed as critically endangered on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List of Threatened Species. The population is increasing, though. At last count, in 2008, there were close to 2,000 Przewalski's Horse alive.
Many people think that mustangs are wild horses, but they are descendants of Spanish horses that are called Iberian horses. As descendents from domesticated horses, technically mustangs are feral horses and not wild horses.
Horses have four speeds called gaits. They walk (slow speed), trot (a little faster than walking), canter (faster than a trot) and gallop (a horse's fastest gait).
The Faeroes Pony Horse is found on the Faeroe Islands in the North Atlantic. It is one of the oldest breeds of horses. This breed is very rare, to the point of almost being extinct.
The Hungarian Warmblood was bred to be a sport horse breed. They are used for dressage, eventing, show jumping and combined driving events, according to Oklahoma State University.
The word Equus comes from an ancient Greek word that means "quickness," according to Oklahoma State University.