Domestic Horse, Equus ferus caballus

The domestic horse (Equus ferus caballus) is a subspecies of the wild horse that is thought to have developed over the course of forty five million to fifty five million years and contains over three hundred different breeds developed for a variety of purposes.

It is thought that the horse was domesticated in Asia before 3500 BC based on two main sources of information. The first information about the domestic horse was gathered from archaeological and palaeological sites in Kazakhstan and Ukraine. This evidence, which was dated between 3500–4000 BC, showed that the horse had been domesticated by 3,000 BC and by 2,000 BC it was spreading across the continent. Recent evidence of the horse’s domestication has been found at gravesites of the Sintashta and Petrovka cultures. Evidence taken from archeological sites, including teeth and bones, has been used in genetic studies to gather information about the domestication of horses. Because of these studies, it has been found that more mares than stallions were used in domestication practices. These studies have also shown that coat variations increased between the years of 5000 and 3000 BC.

The height of domestic horses is measured at the withers, because it is a stable point on the body, in a unit known as hands in English speaking countries and inches. The horse’s height is expressed in hands first and then inches, separated by a decimal point. The height of each horse depends upon its breed and can vary from 17 inches in the smallest recorded horse to 86.5 inches in the largest recorded horse. Ponies, although taxonomically the same as horses, are typically measured at or below 14.2 hands, but competition standards can vary from country to country and many breeders consider all ponies to be horses. Despite this varying standard in height and classification, most ponies have stocky bodies with thick fur, manes, and tails.

The coat color of horses varies greatly and is often the first determinant of classification, even before the breed. Markings, like spots or white patches, develop separately from the coat. Lighter coat colors, like greys, are often mistakenly classified as white, despite their darker appearance. The genes that determine coat color and patterns are variable, but thirteen have been identified including those that cause bay coloration, pinto markings, and the palomino coloration.

Domestic horses are also classified by their temperament, which can be hot-blooded, cold-blooded, or warm-blooded. Hot-blooded horse breeds, including the Arabian horse, the Akhal-Teke, and the Thoroughbred, are spirited and have a high amount energy. These breeds are bred to perform high-energy tasks like racing and have slim bodies with long legs. Cold-blooded horses, including the Clydesdale, the Percheron, and the Shire horse, are bred to perform tasks that require strength and a calm temperament, like plowing fields or pulling carriages. These breeds are typically large and muscular, although some ponies are classified as cold-blooded. Warm-blooded breeds, like the Hanoverian and the Irish Draught, were developed to be used as riding horses with more power than hot-blooded horses but with a calmer temperament.

Horses have been part of culture since their domestication performing important tasks like carrying riders, farming, and serving in wars, but they have also played an important role in entertainment including horse races, agility shows, and other competitions. Horses have also been used in various therapies including speech, physical, and occupational therapies.

Some behaviors of domestic horses, like curiosity and the ability to ascertain whether something is threat or not, are natural and have been enhanced or taken out of specific horse breeds. Horses are gregarious and can form relationships with members of their own species, humans, and other animals. They are known to be intelligent creatures that inherently perform cognitive tasks like searching for food or interacting with other horses within a hierarchy, but horses can also develop bad habits like biting wood if not properly taken of.

Caring for horses requires that they have enough water, typically ten to twelve gallons, and enough food. Because horses are grazing animal, they require a pasture to feed in or high quality forage like hay. Horses can consume up to 2.5 percent of their body weight each day, so the amount of food given depends upon the weight of the horse, among other factors. Horse care also requires adequate shelter, which can be anything from a shed to a stable, regular veterinary visits, hoof care, grooming, and exercise. Horses that are well taken care of can have an average lifespan between twenty-five and thirty years.

Image Caption: Two young Nokota mares. Credit: François Marchal/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.5)