The horse is an animal long prized for its strength, speed, and beauty. Horses have served man in battle, at work, on the hunt, and in sports. Stone Age man drew pictures of horses on cave walls, and from the days of ancient civilizations to modern times horses have been among the most popular of all subjects for paintings, sculpture, and tapestries. The horse also has a prominent place in mythology and literature.The horse has played a prominent role in human history.
Chiron, a centaur (half horse, half man), and the winged horse Pegasus are notable in mythology. Among the most beloved horses found in literature are Black Beauty, from Anna Sewell's novel of the same name, and Flicka, from Mary O'Hara's My Friend Flicka. Famous horses that actually lived include Alexander the Great's Bucephalus, Robert E. Lee's Traveller, and U. S. Grant's Cincinnati; Justin Morgan, the only horse for whom a breed was named; and such racehorses as Dan Patch and Man o'War.
Even after death the horse serves man. Horsehide provides a fine quality leather. Hair from the mane and tail is used for stuffing furniture and can be woven into a stiff fabric used in tailoring. Horse meat is made into food for dogs and cats, and is eaten by people in some parts of the world. Other products derived from horses are gelatin, glue, and medical serums.
An adult male horse is a stallion; an adult female, a mare. A stallion kept for breeding is often called a stud or studhorse. (The mares and stallions together on a breeding farm are also known as a stud.) A castrated male is a gelding. A male horse between the time it is weaned and the time it is three or four years old is a colt; a female of the same age is a filly. A young horse is called a foal from the time it is foaled (born) until it is weaned. The mother is its dam; the father is its sire.
The horse is a mammal belonging to the same family (Equidae) as the ass and zebra. The only species of wild horse is Przewalski's horse, found in Central Asia in 1881 by Nicolai Przewalski (or Przhevalski), a Russian explorer. Other so-called wild horses, such as the mustang (also called cayuse and bronco) of the western United States, are descended from domesticated horses that escaped. This article treats mainly the domestic horse, Equus caballus.
Horses are social animals, not loners. In the wild, they have a strong instinct to belong to a herd. In the herd, they are part of a hierarchy (HY uh rahr kee), which is a group arranged in higher and lower ranks. In a herd, horses are protected from animals that might prey, or feed, upon them. The leader of the herd also leads the horses to food and water.
Whenever two horses meet, they “greet” one another. First, they stretch out their heads and sniff each other’s noses, then they smell other parts of the body. Horses may shove and press against each other, lay their heads on each other’s backs, and touch noses again. The greeting helps the horses to get acquainted, to recognize one another by their scents, to communicate their social status, and maybe even to test their strength.
A domesticated horse may feel it is either above or below a human, but it rarely feels it is the human’s equal. Even though a horse isn’t part of a herd, if a horse sees its owner as its “leader,” it will look to that owner for directions when it is scared or anxious.
Horses are able to do certain types of thinking. For example, a horse is able to figure out how to open the bolt on a stable door or on a gate. Researchers have also shown that horses are able to classify objects (arrange objects into groups by type).
Horses are usually eager to please their owners or trainers, and most horses can be trained to obey commands. A horse may learn to come to its owner, for example, when the owner whistles. A horse can also be trained to do such things as take a “bow” when its trainer gives a signal.
In fact, horses can learn to respond to even the slightest signals. People who watch an expert rider on a well-trained horse often cannot see these signs. For example, the horse might move forward when the rider’s legs are pressed lightly against the horse’s side. Or, the horse might turn at a touch of the reins and a rider’s leg.
Horses make a variety of sounds, including neighing, whinnying, nickering, squealing, and grunting. These sounds can express a range of emotions. A short whinny is usually a warning call, and a long whinny is an expression of contentment.
Horses also use their bodies to communicate their emotions and moods. This is called body language. For example, before a fight, a horse may stamp the ground with a front foot or rear up on its hind legs.
Other forms of body language include the head and tail. When a horse has its ears pinned back and it reaches its head toward you, it’s sending the message, “Stay back or I may bite you.” When it has its ears forward and its head held high, it may be wondering, “What is this object in front of me?” When a horse swishes its tail, it may be communicating that it is irritated or feeling ill. In the stable, pawing the ground with front feet may be the horse’s way of sending the message that “I want to go out.”
Horse terms Bronco, or bronc, is an untamed Western horse.Colt, technically, is a male horse 4 years old or less. However, the word colt is often used for any young horse.Crossbred means bred from a sire of one breed and a dam of another.Dam is the mother of a foal.Filly is a female horse 4 years old or less.Foal is either a newborn male or a newborn female horse.Frog is the elastic, horny, middle part of the sole of a horse's foot.Gait is any forward movement of the horse, such as the walk, trot, or gallop.Gelding is a male horse that cannot be used for breeding because it has had some of its reproductive organs removed.Grade is an unregistered horse or pony of mixed breed.Hand is a unit used to measure the height of a horse, from the ground to the highest point of the withers. A hand equals 4 inches (10 centimeters).Mare is a female horse more than 4 years old.Mustang is the wild horse of the Western plains, descended from Spanish horses.Pony refers to a horse less than 58 inches (147 centimeters) tall when full grown.Purebred means bred from horses that are of the same breed.Sire is the father of a foal.Stallion is a male horse that can be used for breeding.Yearling is a horse that is more than 1 and less than 2 years old. In the Northern Hemisphere, a race horse is considered a yearling from the first January 1 after its birth until the following January 1. In countries of the Southern Hemisphere, a race horse's official birthday is either July 1 or August 1.Withers is the ridge between a horse's shoulder bones.