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What Are... Some Horse Facts
We have some fun and interesting facts about horses! Below are facts and information about horse vision, teeth, height, records, horse terms, and more.
- The horse has the largest eye of any land mammal.
- A horse can see better at night than a human. However, it takes a horse's eyes longer to adjust from light to dark and from dark to light than a human's.
- Horses are not color blind. They have what researchers call "dichromatic" vision, or "two-color" vision. Research indicates horses can perceive blue and green tones, and color variations based on them. However, they have difficulty with other colors, including reds.
- Most of the time, a horse has "monocular" vision. This means a different image is seen by each eye so that a horse is seeing two different pictures at the same time. A horse can also have "binocular" vision. Binocular vision is when both eyes work together to see one picture (humans have binocular vision). A horse only has binocular vision when it is looking down its nose.
- A horse has a wide range of vision. A horse can see completely around its entire body except for small blind spots directly in front of its face, underneath its head, and directly behind itself. This is why it's very important not to walk up right behind a horse - you are in its blind spot and if you startle it you may get kicked.
Below: The areas with a #1 shows where a horse has monocular vision. The area with a #2 shows where a horse has binocular vision.
- Most of the time, wherever a horse's ear is pointing is where the horse is looking with the eye on the same side. If the ears are pointing in different directions, the horse is looking at two different things at the same time. There are exceptions to this. For example, if a horse has its ears pinned back against its neck in anger, this does not mean it is looking backwards with both eyes.
Below: This horse is looking forward with his right eye, and back with his left eye.
A Horse Is A Horse When...
- A horse is usually not considered to be a "horse" until it is 5 years old. Before that, males are known as colts and females are known as fillies. However, it is still acceptable to call a colt or filly a horse.
- A foal is a very young horse and can be either male or female.
A Horse Has A Frog......Four, Actually
On the underside of a horse's hoof is a triangular shaped area called the "frog." When pushed on the frog has a firm, rubbery feel that yields to pressure. Each time the frog comes into contact with the ground it acts as a shock absorber for a horse's leg, and also helps to pump blood back up the leg.
A healthy, functioning frog that makes good contact with the ground is vital to the hoof and leg health of a horse.
Below: The yellow highlights outline the frog.
Horses Are Ungulates
A horse is an ungulate, which means it is a mammal with hooves. Horses have one hoof at the end of each leg, which makes them odd-toed ungulates. Cattle have two hooves at the end of each leg, which makes them even-toed ungulates.
Below: A horse hoof.
Horse Facts: Height
- Horses height is measured in units known as "hands." One hand is equal to four inches.
- A horse is usually considered to be 14.2 (14 hands, 2 inches) or taller when mature.
- Anything under 14.2 when mature is usually considered to be a pony.
- We have a more detailed article on horse height here.
Flehmen PostureThe flehmen posture (also called the flehmen position, the flehmen response, and other similar names) is a posture sometimes exhibited by mammals, including horses, when they encounter an interesting or stimulating scent. The flehmen posture is characterized by a raised, extended neck and head, along with a raising and curling of the upper lip, usually exposing some upper teeth.
While scientists aren't sure why mammals perform the flehmen posture, it seems to be a way for the animal to trap and analyze interesting odors.
Below: A horse exhibiting the flehmen posture.
The coronary band (sometimes also called the cornary band or coronet band) is a band of tissue circling a horse's leg just above the hoof. The coronary band is the source from which the hoof wall grows. An injury to the coronary band can sometimes result in irregular hoof growth and/or an unsound hoof wall.
In the photo below you can see that this mare's leg has a scar resulting from a deep cut that extended into the coronary band. In this case, even though the growth of the hoof wall was affected, she was sound for light use.
Below: The blue arrows point to the coronary band circling the hoof.
A BLM brand is a brand placed on an animal by the United States Bureau of Land Management (BLM). It is probably best known as the brand used on BLM horses (aka "mustangs). The brand uses a system known as the "angle system" to create the numbers 0-9 with only two characters.
We have a lot more information on BLM brands, including how to read them, here: What Is The Angle System For Branding.
Below: A BLM brand on a horse.
Horse Facts: Teeth
- Adult female horses (mares) usually have 36 teeth. A mare may have up to 40 teeth if she happens to have any canine teeth, which is possible but less common. Adult males have between 40 and 44 teeth. (These figures do not include wolf teeth.)
- "Wolf teeth" in horses are teeth that are vestigial premolars. "Vestigial" means something that has lost most or all of its original function through evolution. Wolf teeth are usually just on the upper jaw but are sometimes found on the lower jaw, too. Wolf teeth can be a serious nuisance and most horsemen have them removed. Since wolf teeth typically have poorly developed roots, they are usually quickly and easily removed.
Below: There are no wolf teeth on this horse skull. However, the blue arrow is pointing to the approximate location where a wolf tooth would be found.
- Wolf teeth cannot always be seen. They can remain below the surface of the gum where they are called "unerupted" or "blind" wolf teeth. However, they can usually be felt as little bumps in the gum. Blind wolf teeth often cause a horse a great deal of soreness in the mouth so they should be removed the same as wolf teeth that have erupted above the gum line. Be careful if you decide to feel for blind wolf teeth in a horse's mouth - a horse may react suddenly and violently if you touch a sore spot on its gum.
- Adult horses have teeth that are several inches long. Most of the tooth cannot be seen because it is below the gum line. Little by little the teeth erupt through the gum to replace the surface of the teeth as they are worn down.
- This is one of the reasons why a horse's teeth should be checked to see if they need floated at least once a year: As the teeth erupt their formerly smooth and even surface can become uneven and sharp.
- A horse's upper jaw is wider than its lower jaw. During normal chewing sharp edges or points frequently form along the outside edge of the upper teeth and the inside edge of the lower teeth due to the uneven grinding surface created by the different width of the jaws.
- A horse's age can usually be accurately determined by its teeth until the horse is about 9 years old. After that, a horse is known as "smooth mouthed" or "aged" and it becomes far more difficult or impossible to tell its age by its teeth.
- The "interdental space" is an area in a horse's mouth, both on the upper and lower jaws, where there is not any teeth. This area is between the front teeth (the incisors) and the back teeth (the molars). When a horse is bridled, the interdental space is where the bit rests. On the bottom jaw, most horsemen refer to this area of bare gums as the "bars." In the photo below, the yellow arrows are pointing to the interdental space.
Below: The interdental space.
- "Floating" a horse's teeth means to file or rasp their teeth. This is done
to make the chewing surfaces relatively flat or smooth, and to prevent sharp
edges from forming and cutting the inside of the horse's mouth. The type of file
used for this is called a "float," which is where the procedure gets its name.
We have more information on floating a
horse's teeth here.
In the photo to the right you can see a horse getting its teeth floated. A dental wedge (on the right side of the photo) has been placed between the back teeth on one side of this mare's mouth to keep her mouth open. On the left side of the photo you can see the arms of the veterinarian as he is floating the teeth. He will file, or float, the teeth on the upper and lower jaws on both sides.
Above: A horse getting its teeth floated.
- Colt - A young male horse, 4 years old or younger. The word "colt" is also sometimes used more casually to refer to a young horse that is male or female.
- Filly - A young female horse, 4 years old or younger.
- Foal - A newborn or very young horse, male or female.
- Gelding - A male horse that has been castrated, or gelded.
- Horse Colt - Another way of saying "colt," which is a young male horse, 4 years old or younger. In casual conversation some people refer to any young horse, or a young horse of unknown gender, as a "colt," so the term "horse colt" is sometimes used to make sure there is no misunderstanding that the young horse is a male.
- Mare - A mature female horse.
- Stallion - A male horse that has not been castrated.
- Dam - The term give to a female horse when she becomes a mother.
- Sire - The term given to a stallion when he becomes a father.
Horse chestnuts are normal, healthy growths found on most horse's legs. Chestnuts appear on the front legs of a horse above the knee, or on the back legs of a horse below the hock. They can be large or very small. Some people call horse chestnuts "night eyes."
For more information about horse chestnuts, please see our article What Are Horse Chestnuts and Ergots?
Below: A horse chestnut above the knee.
Inside A Horse
- The horse has one stomach. In contrast, cattle, sheep, goats, bison, deer, elk, caribou, moose, and camels are "ruminants" which means (among other things) they have four digestive chambers instead of just one stomach.
- The horse is an herbivore, which means it feeds mostly on plants.
- The normal horse’s small intestine is about 70 feet long.
- The normal horse's large intestine is about 12 feet long.
- The average horse's heart weighs approximately 9 or 10 pounds. The great New Zealand / Australian racehorse, Phar Lap, had a heart that weighed 14 pounds. The great American racehorse Secretariat had a heart estimated during his autopsy to weigh 21 pounds, though the heart was not weighed.
- Horses produce approximately 10 gallons of saliva a day.
Ermine marks are black or dark spots that appear in white markings just above the hoof.
Below: A horse with ermine marks.
- The tallest horse on record was a Shire named Samson. He was 21.2 hands (7 feet, 2 inches) tall. He was born in 1846 in Toddington Mills, England.
- The oldest horse on record is "Old Billy," an English barge horse. He was 62 years old when he died, living from 1760 to 1822.
- The record for the highest jump made by a horse is held by a horse named Huaso who jumped 8 feet, 1 and 1/4 inches on February 5th, 1949 in Vina del Mar, Chile. He was ridden by Captain Alberto Larraguibel.
- The record for the longest jump over water is held by a horse named Something who jumped 27 feet, 6 and 3/4 inches on April 25, 1975 in Johannesburg, South Africa. He was ridden by Andre Ferreira.
Mules and Hinnies
- A mule is a cross between a male donkey (called a jack) and a female horse (called a mare). Male mules are called johns and females are called mollies. Even though male and female mules are almost always sterile, male mules are routinely castrated (gelded) in order to prevent the behavioral problems inherent in many studs.
- A hinny is a cross between a male horse (called a stallion) and a female donkey (called a jenny). Like mules, hinnies are almost always sterile.
Below: A mule.
Lips and Nostrils
- Horses have a prehensile upper lip. Prehensile means "adapted for seizing, grasping, or taking hold of something." Their upper lips are very sensitive and capable of feeling the smallest of differences in objects.
- Horses with typical anatomy are "obligate nasal breathers" which means they must breathe through their nostrils and cannot breathe through their mouths.
Below: A horse's upper lip and nostrils.
In horses of typical anatomy the "nasolacrimal duct" is a tear duct that drains tears from the corner of the eye, down the tube-like nasolacrimal duct, and out through an opening at the bottom of the nose. This opening is usually visible to the naked eye inside the horse's nostril.
Below: The yellow arrow is pointing to the nasolacrimal duct inside the left nostril of a horse.
If a horse's eye tears excessively the problem may be a nasolacrimal duct that is blocked by debris, inflammation, or scar tissue, or that has been damaged.
Less commonly, a horse may have a congenital condition in which there is not an opening for the nasolacrimal duct in the nostril. These conditions usually result in excessive tearing in the eye since there is nowhere for the tears to drain. Fortunately, these conditions are often easily treatable.
Below is a young mare who was born without an opening in her nostrils for her nasolacrimal ducts (this condition was present on both sides of her face). Surgery was performed to create openings, then a small tube was inserted the entire length of her nasolacrimal ducts to hold the new openings open until they healed. Excess tubing was brought out the top (at the eyes) and bottom (at the nose) of the nasolacrimal ducts then stitched to her face to keep it in place. When the surgically created openings were healed, the tubing was removed.
- All horses, regardless of when they were actually born, are considered to have a common birthday of January 1. This is one of the reasons most horsemen don't like their foals to be born late in the year: Even if a foal is born on December 31st he or she will have their first birthday the very next day.
- Scientists believe that the first known ancestor of the horse lived about 50 million years ago. This prehistoric horse is called Eohippus and had four padded toes on the front legs and three padded toes on the back legs. Eo means "dawn" and hippus means "horse," so Eohippus is "dawn horse."
A horse's splint bones are thought to be remnants of toes from prehistoric horses. The splint bones are small bones (about the size of a pencil at the top and tapering down to be much smaller) found on each side of the cannon bone.
In the photo to the right the red arrow is pointing to a small bulge that is a splint bone that has "popped." This happens when the splint bone becomes detached from the cannon bone. A splint might become detached due to a nutritional imbalance or trauma. It is usually not a cause for concern. In most cases a popped splint will cause mild pain to the horse but when the splint has "set" or healed it is completely pain free and is not a health or soundness concern.
A zebroid is a cross between a zebra and any other member of the family Equidae (which, besides zebras, includes donkeys, ponies, and horses).
- A "zonky" is a cross between a zebra and a donkey.
- A "zony" is a cross between a zebra and a pony.
- A "zorse" is a cross between a zebra and a horse.
Below: A zony.
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