03 Jan Things You Should Know About Horses (Facts, Care & More)
Horse Facts Every Equestrian Should Know
Horses are animals that have intrigued and fascinated humans for thousands of years. While horses are portrayed in countless movies and books, there is a lot more to horses than we are often led to believe through various media. If you plan on working with horses in any way, there are some facts you should make yourself familiar with:
Horse Fact #1: Horses Are Herd Animals
Many of us have heard that horses are herd animals. But what does this mean in terms of the way that they behave and interact?
As with all animals living in a group setting, a horse herd has a social structure that is built around the safety of the herd. A natural horse herd will consist of a stallion, several mares, and their foals. While the stallion’s job is to protect the herd, within the group of females there will be an alpha mare that will lead the herd. The rest of the horses will fall somewhere along the social ladder, with one always being on the bottom rung. This social structure is essential to the success and safety of the herd, and no two horses will be “equal” if kept together – one will always outrank the other.
This social hierarchy will affect you if you own more than one horse (and you should keep more than one horse for your horse’s mental health) – but will also affect you in your own relationship with your horse. Whenever you are working with your horse, you and your horse are in your own small “herd”. Your horse needs to be able to trust you and feel comfortable looking to you as the leader.
Horse Fact #2: Horses Are Prey Animals
We’ve established that horses are herd animals. One of the reasons that horses live in herds is the protection that this provides them because horses are also prey animals. It’s difficult to imagine the type of predator that will take on a 1,000-pound horse, but the truth is that horses in the wild will fall prey to mountain lions and packs of wolves and coyotes. The way a horse will stay safe is through the herd and by remaining vigilant against predators.
But your horse is not in the wild. Your horse is domesticated and tucked safely in a barn at night. So how does this affect you?
Horses do not lose this prey mentality, regardless of the safety precautions you have taken around them. Your horse may not ever see a real mountain lion or wolf, but he will see predators in the shadows of his stall. He will hear danger at the loud sound it makes when you accidentally drop your grooming bucket on the ground. He will sense peril when you tense up suddenly while trotting in the saddle.
Because of this prey mentality, you should take care to always react confidently and calmly in new or uncertain circumstances when you are around your horse. Your horse will feed off of your energy and will mirror your own confidence (or fear).
Horse Fact #3: Horses Have Monocular Vision
Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal, and with those large peepers comes excellent peripheral vision. Horses can see from their nose all the way to their tail – and are able to move each eye independently of the other. This is due to their monocular vision or having their eyes on the side of their head as most prey animals do.
Their vision is not perfect, however, and they do have two blind spots – directly in front of their noses, and directly behind their tails. For this reason, you should always use caution when approaching them front behind, or from directly in front. It is a better practice to approach them from the side – and always alert them of your presence before approaching by speaking calmly to them.
Horse Fact #4: Horses Can Live Much Longer Than You Might Expect
Just as is the case with humans, advances in both nutrition and medical care have significantly increased the horse’s life expectancy in recent decades. It is not uncommon for horses to live, and even remain sound to ride, into their 30’s and even 40’s.
Most domestic horses live to be 25 to 35 years old. The longest-lived horse on record is a horse named “Old Billy”, who lived to be 62 years old. What is especially fascinating is that Old Billy was born in the late 1700’s – meaning he lived to be 62 when veterinary care and nutrition were rudimentary compared to the care horses can access today. Old Billy not only lived until he was 62, but he worked as a plow horse until he was 59 years old, spending his last 3 years in retirement.
Horse Fact #5: Horses Can Sleep Standing Up
Yes, horses really can sleep standing up. This is achieved through a stay apparatus that keeps the horse’s kneecaps locked in place, allowing the horse to remain standing without muscle engagement.
While horses sleep standing up, they also sleep lying down. Horses can achieve a deeper, REM sleep when they are lying down. Because horses are prey animals, however, they will only lay down to sleep if they feel especially safe and secure. Within a herd, you will almost never see every horse lying down to sleep together. At least one horse will always be standing sentry, ready to alert the rest of the herd if there is any sign of danger. Having these alert herd mates surrounding them allows individual horses to feel safe enough to lie down and sleep deeply.
Horse Fact #6: Horses Should Eat As Often As Possible
The digestive system of the horse was designed to take in small amounts of food throughout the day and night. For this reason, it is rare for a horse in the wild to go more than an hour or two without eating.
Many domestic horses do not have access to pasture and are therefore fed hay. When feeding your horse hay, you should feed at least twice per day. A more ideal feeding schedule would be 3 – 4 meals throughout the day, more closely mimicking the horse’s natural feeding habits. This is simply not practical for many horse owners, however, with most people being away at work or otherwise busy during the day.
If your horse is not on pasture alone, your horse should also be fed on a schedule. There is not a physiological reason that horses should be fed at the same exact two times per day, however, your horse will quickly pick up your schedule and will expect food at his regular feeding times. It is best to stick to a predictable schedule if only to avoid irritation and negative behaviors from your hungry horse.
Horse Fact #7: Horses Do Not Need To Live In Barns
Horses do not need to sleep in barn stalls at night. In fact, in most regions, they are happier and healthier if they don’t. Barring very extreme weather, a horse will almost always prefer to be outside where they can graze and roam at will. Horses who are turned out 24/7 naturally get more exercise, are less stiff and have healthier lungs due to having fresh air over the limited ventilation a barn will offer.
While barns are not ideal for most horses, they do still need adequate shelter from the elements. The alternative to a barn is called a run-in shed. A run-in shed is a shelter that the horse can access and leave at will. It will be big enough to fit multiple horses and will be a structure that can protect the horse from wet weather and the hot sun. A run-in is ideal for most horses because it gives them the freedom to roam at their desire, while also providing the protection from inclement weather that they need.
There are, of course, situations in which a barn will be more advantageous than a run-in. For example, it is easier to separate and monitor feed among your herd if they have separate barn stalls. You can also separate an injured or sick horse if you have barn stalls, and you can control aggressive or problem behaviors within the herd.
Learning More About Horses
There is so much to learn about horses, and you can read for hours without even breaking the surface. If you are interested in learning more about horses, check out some of the other posts we have available – you can learn about everything from riding tips to horse care, and everything in between. Check out the articles down below to learn more interesting horse facts!
- Top 15 Most Expensive Horse Breeds in the World
- Benefits of Horseback Riding: Top Physical and Mental Benefits
- Basic Horse Knowledge Every Equestrian Should Know
I’m a lifelong horse trainer and horseback rider who’s passionate about teaching others about the things I’ve learned. I grew up competing in numerous English horseback riding disciplines and am now a certified equine massage therapist. I currently own three horses.