Horses are mammals. Mostly we think of our domestic horses. In biology, however, horses form a genus. To it belong the wild horses, the Przewalski horse, the donkeys and the zebras. "Horses" is therefore a collective term in biology. In our everyday language, however, we usually mean the domestic horse.
All species of horses have in common: they originally lived in southern part of Africa and in Asia. They live in landscapes where there are few trees at most and feed mainly on grass. They need to find water regularly.
The feet of all horses end in one hoof. This is a hard callus, similar to our toenails or fingernails. The end of the foot is only the middle toe. Horses no longer have the remaining toes. That is as if a human being would walk only on the middle fingers and middle toes.
A male is a stallion. A female is a mare. A young animal is a foal.
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Are there still wild horses?
The original wild horse is extinct. There are only his offspring, which man has bred, namely our domestic horse. There are many different breeds of it. We know them from horse racing, from jumping or from the pony farm.
There are still some herds of wild horses. They are often called wild horses, but this is actually wrong. These are feral domestic horses that have run away from a stable, for example, and have become accustomed to life in the wild again. But they are very shy of people.
In nature feral horses live in herds. Such a group usually consists only of several mares. In addition there is a stallion and some foals. They are escapees. They can defend themselves only poorly and are therefore always on guard. They even sleep standing up, so that they can flee immediately in case of emergency.
The Przewalski’s horse looks quite similar to our domestic horses, but it is a separate animal species. They are also called "Asian wild horse" or "Mongolian wild horse". It was almost extinct. It takes its name from the Russian Nikolai Mikhailovich Prtsevalsky, who made it known in Europe. Today there are again about 2000 animals of him in zoos and some even in some nature reserves in Ukraine and Mongolia.
How domestic horses live?
Domestic horses smell and hear very well. Their eyes are on the side of the head. So they can look almost all around without moving their head. But because they see most things with only one eye at a time, they can hardly tell how far away something is.
The pregnancy of a mare lasts almost a year from mating, depending on the horse breed. Usually the mare gives birth to a single young animal. It gets up immediately, after a few hours it can already follow the mother.
The kitten drinks the mother’s milk for six months to a year. With approximately four years it is sexually mature, can make then even boy. With mares this usually happens earlier. Young stallions must first assert themselves against their rivals.
What breeds of domestic horses are there?
The domestic horses are an animal species. From them man bred many different breeds. A simple distinguishing feature is size. One measures for it the height of the shoulders. In technical language, this is the stock size or height at withers. According to the German breeding law, the limit is 148 centimeters. So large is approximately a small adult human being. Above this mark lie the large horses, under it the small horses, also ponies called.
There is also the classification according to temperament: there are cold, warm or thoroughbreds. Their blood has always the same temperature. But they have different characteristics: cold blooded horses are rather heavy and quiet. They are therefore very suitable as draft horses. Thoroughbreds are nervous and slender. They are the best racehorses. The characteristics of the warm-blooded animals are somewhere in between.
A further subdivision is made according to the origin of the original breeding areas. Well known are the Shetland ponies from the islands, the Belgians, the Holsteins from northern Germany and the Andalusians from southern Spain. From the Jura in Switzerland originated the Freiberger and some others. Even in the monastery of Einsiedeln there is an own horse breed.
There is also the distinction by color: black horses are black horses. White horses are called gray, if they are somewhat spotted, they are called apple gray. Then there is also the chestnut, the piebald or simply "the bay" and many more.
How are horses bred?
People started to catch and breed horses about five thousand years ago. That was in the Neolithic Age. Breeding means: one always brings a stallion and a mare with the desired characteristics together for mating. In agriculture, the power of horses was important to pull the plow over the field. Riding horses should be rather fast and light. War horses were very large and heavy and were trained accordingly.
Many horse breeds were already naturally adapted to a certain climate. The Shetland ponies, for example, were small and used to warmth as well as storms. That’s why they were often used as draught horses in the English coal mines. The gaits were often not very high, and in the pits there was a damp, warm climate.
For certain work donkeys are better suited than domestic horses. They are far more surefooted in the mountains. One has therefore successfully crossed these two animal species. This is possible because they are so close relatives: A horse mare and a donkey stallion gave rise to the mule, also called a mule.
From a horse stallion and a donkey mare was born the mule. Both breeds are less shy than domestic horses and very good-natured. They are also older than domestic horses. However, mules and hinnies can no longer produce young animals themselves.
What gaits know domestic horses?
Horses can use their four legs in different ways to get around. One speaks here of different gaits.
A horse is slowest at a walk. It always has two feet on the ground. The order of movement is left front – right back – right front – left back. The horse is thus somewhat faster than a human being.
The next stage is called trotting. The horse always moves two feet at the same time, diagonally: left in front and right behind, then right in front and left behind. In between the horse is for a short time with all fours in the air. When riding this shakes quite strongly.
The fastest is a horse in the gallop. The horse puts on the two hind legs very shortly after each other and immediately after that the two front legs. Then it flies. Actually, the gallop consists of many jumps, which the horse strings together. For the rider, this gait is rounder and therefore calmer than the trot.
Women were not allowed to sit in the saddle like men in the Middle Ages or even in modern times. You sat on a side saddle or side saddle. They had both legs on the same side of the horse. There was also a special gait that was trained to the horses: the Passgang. Today it is called "Tolt. In doing so, the horse always continues alternately the two left legs, then the two right legs, and so on. That shakes far less. Horses that have mastered this gait are called Zelter.