50 Science Supported Lesser Known Facts About Horses

animal communication horses Apr 20, 2022
50 Facts about horses

Horses. Equines. Those marvelous, majestic beings with a seeming extra-sensory capacity to empathize and understand us. Humans and horses have a solid 25,000+ years of relationship building under our combined belts. Yet there is still so much to learn about our helpmates with hooves. Animal communicator Shannon Cutts shares 50 science backed lesser known facts about horses to delight all equine lovers.


Is there any other animal species alive or extinct that has transformed humanity's trajectory as much as the equine?

Much as we might like to argue that dogs, cats, birds or reptiles deserve that accolade, the evolutionary record is clear....horses took our species places we could never have gone on our own.

What's more miraculous - they still do!


Perhaps this is also why some animal communicators insist horse communications go deeper than those of any other species. Many energy workers will say the same about the unique way that equine energy flows.


Is there any other animal species alive or extinct that has transformed humanity's trajectory as much as the equine? Much as we might like to argue that dogs, cats, birds or reptiles deserve that accolade, the evolutionary record is clear....horses took our species places we could never have gone on our own.


What's more miraculous - they still do!


Perhaps this is also why some animal communicators insist horse communications go deeper than those of any other species. Many energy workers will say the same about the unique way that equine energy flows.


Regardless of where you fall inside that debate, one thing is clear, horses + humans is a winning least for the humans. Animal communication is one way we can at least start to give back, to equalize the conversation, to appreciate all these magnificent animals have to offer and teach us.


Another way is to learn all we can about equines - what makes horses tick, how their bodies and minds work, how evolution has shaped their needs and why those needs simply must be met.


These 50 facts about horses represent just a fraction of the remarkable things we've learned about the animal that has given us so much and just keeps on giving.


  1. Every single modern horse breed (plus donkeys and zebras) is descended from and belongs to a single genus and species: Equus caballus. (Nature)
  2. The animal we know today as the modern domestic horse first began to take shape as early as 50-60 million years ago in the form of a dog-sized animal dubbed eohippus (Hyracotherium) or Dawn Horse. This animal was a forest-dwelling forager (versus today's grazer) and was only about the size of a Golden Retriever. (Science)
  3. The number and type of teeth an adult horse has can vary by breed and gender. Most male horses (but very few female horses) will have canines or tusks, a set of flat teeth which are located behind the incisors. An estimate 70 percent of horses also grow a set of pointed vestigial teeth called wolf teeth which have no purpose today but may have helped eohippus, the modern horse's ancient ancestor, browse for food in its forest home. (The Equine Report)
  4. Researchers currently place the emergence of the true genetic predecessor to today's modern domestic horse at roughly 4 to 4.5 million years ago - a full million years before our species, Homo sapiens, would make their first appearance! (Nature)
  5. No truly wild horse populations alive today - even feral remnant populations have interbred sufficiently with modern domesticated horse breeds to be considered domesticated for genetic purposes. (NOTE: Despite compelling genetic evidence to the contrary, some equine genetic researchers still maintain that the modern wild Przewalksi horses are wild, not feral). (Cell)
  6. Horses show up in more Paleolithic hominid artwork than any other animal species. (ScienceDirect)
  7. Horses arrived relatively late to the domestication party - well behind dogs, sheep, pigs and cows. Current evidence indicates equine domestication may have occurred as late as 5,500-6,000 years ago (which is a full 10,000 years behind dogs!). (Smithsonian)
  8. After analyzing a whopping 264 different horse genomes, researchers at last identified the birthplace of the modern domestic horse as southwestern Russia in what is today called the lower Volga-Don area. (Nature)
  9. All that research also highlighted a surprising fact - the closest modern relative to the domestic horse is actually the rhinoceros! Researchers report that they appear to share an ancient relative in the Perissodactyla group of odd-toed ungulate mammals, Cambaytherium thewissi. (Nature)
  10. Researchers have discovered at least two important genetic modifications that may have shaped (and been shaped by) humans' continued efforts to domestic ancient horses. One gene is related to strong backs and physical stress resilience and the other gene is related to emotional stability and a docile temperament. (Smithsonian)
  11. Horses dramatically altered human societies wherever they were introduced, revolutionizing areas of life including transportation, farming, warfare - and also adding important new dietary options. (The Horse)
  12. Fermented mares milk, an alcoholic drink called kumis, is considered a delicacy in certain Asian cultures. (LiveScience)
  13. Horses and humans share the social bonding trait of "kinetic empathy," a type of emotional (versus cognitive) empathy that gives us the ability to communicate via shared movement. (AAEP)
  14. In nature, horses are a prey species and humans are considered a predator species, which makes the closeness of our partnership particularly intriguing to neurobiological researchers. (Aeon)
  15. Mammoth (aka Shire), the Guinness Book of World Records' all-time tallest horse, stood at 86.25 inches, or 7.25 feet, tall. (GBWR)
  16. Contrast that with Thumbelina, Guinness's title-holder for all-time shortest horse, stood at less than a foot and a half tall. (GBWR)
  17. Horses may be a lot bigger than humans, but they actually have fewer bones in their skeleton (people have 206 and most horses have 205 - Arabians typically have 204 or fewer). (Horse Illustrated)
  18. Modern domestic horses exhibit four gaits (listed in order from slowest to fastest): walk, trot, canter and gallop. Typical gallop speeds are around 30mph, but some quarter horses have clocked in at up to 55 mph. (PBS)
  19. Researchers have pinpointed the two genes responsible for speed and stamina variance from one horse breed to another....and, amazingly, the (possibly) sole mare and stallion ancestors responsible for the same. (University of Cambridge)
  20. Horses and humans have thought to have surprisingly similar social needs throughout life and have been seen to form similarly close long-term partner, family and friend bonds. (IAABC)
  21. Horses have very small stomachs considering their large size. In fact, their stomachs are smaller than that of any other modern domestic animal species. (Iowa State University)
  22. Horses can (and should) eat between 1 and up to 3 percent of their body weight every single day. And if they go for more than an hour on an empty stomach (even in the evening!), health issues can arise. (UMN / Animals)
  23. Given access to pasture and free forage opportunities, a horse may spend up to 17 hours a day grazing to meet their daily dietary needs. (Four Paws in US)
  24. A horse's hooves are protected by a layer of keratin - the same material that makes up human nails - and grow constantly over the horse's lifespan. In the span of a year, a horse can regrow their entire hoof. (ASPCA)
  25. Horses are the sole representative mammal species today that only have one toe - the area called the hoof. However, their foot bones still bear traces of vestigial toes. Specifically, it is the middle toe that formed into the hoof, which means all that horse sits atop just four single toes! (Science / Horse Illustrated)
  26. Horses are "obligate nose breathers" - they can only breathe through their nostrils and nasal passages. Their unique anatomy functions to close off the connecting point between mouth and nose and the lungs so they can only intake oxygen through the latter. (Animal Frontiers)
  27. Horses can move each eye independently of the other, which is called monocular vision. Horses also use binocular vision, which is how humans see and allows for accurate depth perception. Horses rely much more on monocular vision and their depth perception is not acute. (Equine Science)
  28. Horses can see in 350-degree vision. The missing 10 percent is due to the presence of two blind spots - one in front of them that corresponds to the center point of the nose and the other at the exact opposite point behind them, giving them tremendous peripheral vision ability. Horses can also move each ear along with the corresponding eye to capture both visual and sound data. For this reason, it is said it is not possible to sneak up on a horse. (Equine Science IAState)
  29. Horses have 10 muscles in each ear (humans have 3) and can rotate each ear independently to a range of nearly 180 degrees to catch sound nuances. (Cell)
  30. Horses can sleep standing up as well as lying down, but they can only enter REM sleep while lying down, which means their daily REM sleep may be one-half hour or less. As prey animals, horses typically get less than a total of four hours of sleep per day. (Frontiers in Veterinary Science)
  31. As herd prey animals, any time the herd as a whole is sleeping, a sentry horse will always stay awake to alert the others of potential dangers. (Equine Wellness Magazine)
  32. Horse knees have something called the "stay apparatus" which allows them to lock their knees when they are sleeping standing up - this prevents them from falling over while asleep. (BCSPCA)
  33. Horses have five types of bones in their anatomy: long bones (limbs), short bones (joints), flat bones (internal structures like ribs), irregular bones (vertebrae), sesamoid bones (tendon structures). (Horse Nation)
  34. A very strong valve called the cardias or "Swiss tie" that sits at the entry point to the horse digestion tract means horses can't burp or vomit. (Vetscope)
  35. All horse breeds except the miniature pony are measured in "hands." One hand is equivalent to four inches and is measured from the edge of the palm to edge of the thumb held flush against the hand . The "hand" as a unit of measure was first used as early as 3,000 B.C. (HorseNetwork)
  36. Horses can be horses, ponies or miniature horses. However, while all miniature horses are ponies, not all ponies are miniature horses. A pony can only be a miniature horse if it stands 34 inches or less. And while some horse breeds are pony-sized, local customs typically dictate which term is used.
  37. However, when a horse is measured, the measurement only represents from the base of the hooves to the top of the withers, or shoulder girdle. (Horse and Country)
  38. A group of horses can have quite different names depending on their purpose. A herd is a group of wild or domestic horses. A band is a sub-group within a herd. A team is a group of (usually two or four) working horses. A troop is a larger working group. A string is a group owned by one person. A rag is a group of colts. A stud (or harras in some areas) is a group of male horses used for breeding. A remuda is a group of horses managed by a lead wrangler. (Strathorn Farm)
  39. Examining a horse's set of 12 incisors, or front teeth, is an ancient yet still-practiced way to approximate a horse's age. Four methods are in use: looking for presence of permanent teeth, examining indented areas called "cups," examining angle of incidence (bite symmetry) and tooth shape surface. (MU Extension)
  40. Horses readily distinguish between known and unknown people based on sight, smell and hearing. Even more amazing, horses can do the same using only sight and smell or hearing - they don't need to use all three senses at once to figure out if they know you or not. (Animal Cognition)
  41. Social media has popularized memes of horses raising their upper lip because it looks like a funny expression. But a horse's reason for doing this is to get a better sniff - it is called the flehmen response and is also seen in many other animal species, including dogs, cats, birds and even reptiles. (Vetfolio)
  42. A horse's tail is an extension of the spinal column and contains its own set of around 18 vetebrae. The horse uses their tail to keep warm, communicate, protect from bugs and support balance. (Scientific American)
  43. Contrary to many popular reports of a global equine population of around 60 million, there may actually be as many as 116 million equines on the planet right now. (Brooke Charity)
  44. While most horses will live between 20 and 30 years, it is not unheard of for horses to live into their 40s and 50s. And at least one amazing horse lived to be 62! (GBWR)
  45. A horse named Northern Dancer sired 5 of at least 7 most expensive racehorses in history, including one grandson that sold for $10.2 million and was reported to be "embarrassingly slow" and nearly infertile. (America's Best Racing / HH)
  46. A newborn foal (baby horse) is born with hooves already ready to run - a healthy foal will be standing within 30 to 60 minutes after birth. (Merck)
  47. Some horse breeds can grow whiskers so long and lush they appear to be mustaches. The function of these whiskers is sensory - they help the horse see and navigate. The most famous mustached horses include the Gypsy Vanner, the Shire and the iconic Clydesdale.(Redwings Horse Sanctuary)
  48. Horse cloning exists...and is sufficiently reliable that at least one business duo has used equine cloning to support the creation of more than 100 cloned champion horses per year. (Journal of Reproduction and Fertility Development / DVM360)
  49. Horses (or at least one record-setting horse named Hueso ex-Faithful) can jump more than eight feet high. And in 1975, a horse named Something jumped more than 27 feet. (GBWR / GBWR)
  50. All racing thoroughbred horses born in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate their birthdays on January 1 annually. For Southern Hemisphere-born thoroughbreds, their official birthdate is August 1. Why? Because it makes it easier to determine eligibility to participate in age-based races. (Lady and the Track)


Which of these 50 science supported less well known facts about horses is your favorite? 

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