Throughout history, horses have been domesticated to serve a multitude of purposes, from transportation and agricultural work to riding and enjoyment. But how much do we really know about our horses?
With so many myths and misconceptions around this noble creature and the equine world, we’ve put together our top 10 horse facts to help you understand a bit more about this majestic animal.
1. Riding isn’t really exercise
This is a common misconception for most riders, and it’s a horse myth that is completely untrue. Those who believe riding isn’t a sport or a form of exercise clearly haven’t saddled up before!
Riding a horse provides a wealth of health benefits, from developing core strength and building stamina right down to coordination and flexibility. It’s also great for teaching discipline and responsibility, both in riding and caring for horses.
2. Cold water is dangerous for horses
Some horses drink less water in winter when their water is colder; however this horse myth isn’t strictly about feeding. The concern also comes from the misconception that horses who drink cold water after exercising are at greater risk of developing colic, laminitis and cramp.
The origin of this myth is uncertain. However it has been suggested that before the physiological effects of exhaustion were fully understood, drinking cold water may have been blamed for overworked horses that were just simply exhausted. If horses don’t drink enough water, they can be subject to bad intestinal impaction and dangerous dehydration so it’s a good idea to let your horse drink whenever he is thirsty. Horses out on a hack will happily drink cold water from a stream and many horses don’t suffer any ill effect from doing so.
3. Horses should be fed at the same time everyday
We all know the fuss a horse can make when they’re expecting their feed; however, this horse myth may simply have arisen out of routine. Horses who are fed at specific times are bound to expect meals at certain intervals, but there is no real reason to stick to a regimented feeding schedule at all. It’s often better to mimic a horse’s natural feeding schedule by allowing hay throughout the day, in between mealtimes, to help his gut and digestive system function better. Hungry horses will kick up more of a fuss, but if they’re content throughout the day without being overfed, they’re more likely to be patient if you’re a little later with their dinner than normal!
4. Horses only ‘talk’ to each other with neighs and whinnies
It’s a common misconception most people make when they hear horses neighing and whinnying at each other. This is not, in fact, the only way horses communicate, as they mostly ‘talk’ to each other through body language. Their large and mobile ears are great communicators, along with their facial expressions, which can speak a wealth of information to other horses. Their eye direction is also key in directing attention, whether it’s towards prey or away from threat and danger. Understanding horse behaviour and communication is extremely complex, but if you take the time to learn, it can help you form better relationships between you and your horse.
5. Horses only sleep standing up
This is an age-old horse fact that many still believe to be true, but we’re here to tell you that horses don’t just sleep on their feet. Horses can, without a doubt, spend hours snoozing whilst they stand, but for optimum health and for the few hours of REM sleep needed every day, horses must lie down either flat on the ground or sitting upright.
Many horses in groups spend more time resting on the ground than those stabled or housed indoors, as those horses that are awake can keep guard in case of any threat or danger to the herd. It’s harder for horses to get up from a position lying down, and as they are flight animals they must be ready to escape if danger is near – this is why it’s more common to see horses sleeping whilst standing up, but it isn’t their only sleeping habit!
6. Horses grow new teeth
A horse is born with all the teeth they will have during their lifetime, so the common horse myth that they grow new teeth is actually false. Most of their tooth structure is above the gum line, and as horses grind their teeth down on hay as they chew, the teeth descend and grow through as and when they’re needed. It’s important to have your horse’s teeth annually checked and filed by a vet or equine dentist to avoid any uneven tooth growth as this can cause your horse pain when he eats and interfere with the bit when you’re riding.
7. Horses are colour-blind
Many people think that like dogs and cats, horses can only see in shades of black, grey and white. This is a complete misconception as horses are not actually colour-blind, and can in fact see a spectrum of colours. Horses find it harder to see colours like red and yellow, but they can see blue and greens. The way they see colour is very different to humans as they can only see two of the three visible wavelengths in the light spectrum. They do, however, have incredible night-time vision.
8. Horses need a grain-filled diet
As grazing animals, horses have evolved and adjusted to the diet we feed them day to day; however forage, pasture and hay is still the basis of their nutritional and dietary requirements. The false horse myth that they need a diet rich in grain is untrue, especially as their digestive system is designed to break down plants and tough materials. Digestive upset can be a serious health complication in horses, which is why it’s important to feed them a nutritionally rich diet. At Animalife, our Vetrogard Intense formula is a proven gastric health support designed for horses of all ages and activities – so if you’re concerned and think that your horse could benefit from extra digestive support, take a look at our range online.
9. White hooves are weaker than dark hooves
Horse myths and misconceptions about the colour of hooves have been around for a long period of time when the structure of the hoof was unknown.
People believed this misunderstanding about white horse hooves so much that an old rhyme was even told:
One white foot—buy him.
Two white feet—try him.
Three white feet—look well about him.
Four white feet—go without him.
When vets began using microscopes and X-rays to visually capture the image of the hoof, they were able to study the blood vessels and bone structure giving further insight to the colourations and pigment inside. It has been found that the skin pigment of the hair at the coronary band determines the colour of the hoof, and that dark hooves and white hooves are no different in structure at all.
10. Horses can laugh
We’ve all seen our horses make strange expressions by curling their lips and showing us their teeth with a wide grin- in fact, many of us believe our horses to be laughing! Unfortunately this is not the case – this is a big one in the world of horse fact and horse myth. This strange behaviour is actually part of a special nose-enhancing technique called the flehmen response. Horses pull these funny faces to direct scents in the air towards the olfactory glands, which are located the end of their nasal passage. So next time your horse curls their lips and grins at you, you’ll know they’re actually just trying to determine what you smell like!
Have you heard any other horse myths or facts that are actually misconceptions in the equine world? Let us know in the comments below!