Animal of the Issue: Horses

ESU senior Paige Ocker with her riding partner Zipper at Mountain View Farms in Kunkeltown. Photo Credit / Briana Magistro
ESU senior Paige Ocker with her riding partner Zipper at Mountain View Farms in Kunkeltown. Photo Credit / Briana Magistro
ESU senior Paige Ocker with her riding partner Zipper at Mountain View Farms in Kunkeltown.
Photo Credit / Briana Magistro

By Briana Magistro
SC Staff Writer

Horses have long been part of human history. From warhorses to riding partners, horses play many roles in the human world.

Horses evolved from the ancestor Hyracothereum, which lived during the Eocene Era. This creature was much smaller than its present-day descendant, weighing in at only about 50 pounds.

During the Eocene Era, most herbivorous mammals were small, as they needed to be able to escape larger predators in dense forests.

The horse’s ancestor had three toes, while the present-day horse exhibits one toe, which we call a hoof.

This ancestor was the base for more than just the horse. It is believed that the horse shares this ancestor with the rhinoceros and tapir.

The present-day horse can weigh over 2,000 pounds. Size depends on breed, and nutrition can also play a role in growth.

There are many horse breeds, and each has its own specific function to humans.

Some horse breeds, such as Clydesdale horses, are large and muscular, leading them to be used for farm work, as well as pulling weight. These types of horses are also typically bred for their calm attitudes.

Tall, thin breeds, like Arabian horses, are bred for their speed and energetic demeanor. These horses are typically used for racing.

Oldenburg horses, and other similar breeds, were created to have an even temper and a strong, yet elegant build. These horses were made for riding and showing.

One interesting physical property that horses exhibit is the presence of hooves. Hooves are made of keratin, which is the same material that composes human nails.

In captivity, horseshoes are typically applied to the underside of the horse’s hooves in order to provide protection. Essentially, horses are always walking on the tips of their toes.

The ancestors of the horse were preyed upon in the wild. Therefore, they have developed large eyes — the largest of any mammal — that are positioned on the sides of the head.

This enables the horse to see in almost all directions, allowing it to easily detect predators.

Horses generally only need a few hours of deep sleep a day. Being able to sleep standing up allows horses to sprint at a moment’s notice if the need to escape a predator arises.

In the wild, horses live in herds. At least one herd member will stay vigilant while the rest of the herd sleeps.

Studies have shown that horses have sensitive hearing, which causes them to maintain a preference for quiet and calm settings.

Constant loud noise can stress these animals.

Horses can be easily startled and are more likely to run from a dangerous situation than to stand their ground.

Horses, being sturdy, can carry loads for long distances. They have great balance due to an innate adaptation. They are also sure-footed, meaning they are careful steppers.

Because horses are herd animals, they will generally obey whom they perceive to be their leader.

In captivity, trainers and riders assume the position of alpha. However, when a rider is new to a horse, it can take some time for the horse to obey the rider. Most riding and working breeds are bred to be calm and submissive.

Because of their temperament and learning ability, horses are common riding and working animals. They are also able to identify individuals and can socialize consistently.

Generally, the term “wild horse” refers to a feral horse, as in, an individual of the domesticated species that is not kept in captivity. Przewalski’s wild horse is the only wild horse that is alive today, having never been domesticated. A resident of northern Asia, this wild horse is an endangered species.

Domestication of today’s horse dates back earlier than 3500 BCE. They were used as work animals primarily, especially in farming. They were also used as warhorses to carry weapons and soldiers.

Today, especially in the US, the horse is revered as a graceful giant. Many brands use horse-themed commercials, logos, or products, as they are generally seen as a positive image.

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