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Top 10 amazing things about horses

Dr. Oneal Peters
Dr. Oneal Peters
Staff Photo |

I’ve been around horses since I was 6 years old. Like every little girl, I was mesmerized by them, enchanted by their size, graceful movements and underlying wildness. Many things have changed in my life since I was a dreamy-eyed 6-year-old, but my love for horses has never ebbed and I have leaned over the years, through life experience and veterinary school, how unique of a species they truly are. So in tribute to Mr. Letterman, here is my top 10 list of amazing things about horses.

10) Have you ever wondered why horses can stand within an hour of being born? Horses fit into the precocial category of species. Precocial species are quite incredible. They are born with the skills they need to survive shortly after birth. Because they are prey species, horses need to be able to escape rapidly, no matter how young they are.

If you’ve ever seen a newborn foal and watch its long, spindly legs unfold within the hour, you know how amazing this can be to see. When grown, horses still behave as prey animals, so keep this is mind when evaluating their behavior. Horses like to be in herds. A horse living alone experiences a higher level of stress than those that live around other horses. If you can’t have more than one horse, consider getting your horse a companion goat.

9) The average horse has a heart that weighs around 8 pounds. Secretariat, the world famous Triple Crown winner, had a heart that weighed over 20 pounds. This condition was theorized to be genetic, and several have tried to pass this trait on through generations of Secretariat’s prodigy. The condition is known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Some believe this cardiovascular abnormality led Secretariat to win his races due to better circulatory powers — or perhaps he just loved to run. The secret to his success remains a mystery, but no one can deny how this little red horse inspired so many people.

8) Horses and rabbits are intrinsically similar when it comes to anatomy. They both are what are known as hindgut fermenters, which means they digest their food in chambers of their gut that lie behind the stomach. Since horses and rabbits eat mostly plant material, they must break down a massive amount of plant sugars called cellulose. Horses and rabbits use their hindgut for this process. Rabbits and horses also share the same digestive system on the front end. Their teeth continue to grow during their lifetime, unlike many other species. This is why regular teeth floating for horses and teeth trimming for rabbits is essential to keep their mouth healthy and digestion at tiptop shape.

7) Horses cannot see directly in front of their face or directly behind them. Due to their eye position on each side of their head, rather than in front like many mammals, horses have monocular vision on each side, but when it comes to directly in front of their face of behind it, they have a serious blind spot. Next time you approach a horse, remember to walk up to their side so they know you are there and are less likely to spook.

6) The equine hoof is one of the most spectacularly beautiful. If you ever have a chance, Google the equine foot and you will be amazed, especially if you are a nerd like me. The equine hoof is unique in so many ways. Millions of years ago horses walked on four toes, much like a dog. Through the ages, horses adapted and eventually came to walk on one single digit, and thus the modern equine hoof was born. Horses have a delicate network of vessels within each hoof, intertwining and connecting to supply blood to all the structures within the hoof. As horses walk, the blood moves through the foot, nourishing and removing toxins any time they move.

The hoof wall protects many important inner structures within the hoof, such as the coffin and navicular bones, the digital cushion and the tendons and ligaments vital for normal movement. The hoof is incredibly sensitive, which is why so often horses become lame due to a hoof issue. Keeping horses feet trimmed every eight weeks or so is critical to maintain the integrity of the equine foot. It’s a seriously cool structure but needs to be taken care of.

5) Let’s talk about the equine stay apparatus. If you’ve ever wondered if horses can truly sleep standing up, the answer is yes. Horses have developed a locking mechanism in both their front and hind legs to allow their body to lock in position so they don’t burn energy when they are standing up snoozing. Instead of using muscle to stand, the tendons and ligaments lock into place, allowing the horse to stand without any muscle fatigue. They can rapidly unlock and speed into action if needed. If only humans were so cool…think how much easier airport delays would be.

4) We’ve all watched the Kentucky Derby and the beautiful thoroughbred horses moving fluidly around the track. Thoroughbreds, while ever popular in the racing scene, are in fact not the fastest horse. In the West, we are surrounded by the most speedy horse breed — the American Quarter Horse. Quarter horses are named appropriately — they are the fastest horse over a quarter-mile stretch. They can run 55 mph, and at such speeds the only animals that can run faster are the cheetah and antelope. Quarter horses have incredibly strong hindquarters, and this anatomical variation allows them to break into a full speed gallop from standing position, and maintain the fastest equine speed over a quarter of a mile. Buckle up, these horses will leave you in the dust.

3) Horses are sensitive to a variety of environmental maladies which can cause significant harm to them. One common culprit is the blister beetle, which loves to live in alfalfa. These beetles contain a toxin called cantharadin. Cantharadin provides the beetle with armor against predators, and when secreted causes blistering to the attacker. These little bugs become an issue for horses when they are eaten, dead or alive, in alfalfa hay. The cantharadin toxin causes blistering anywhere, and when consumed by a horse, causes painful ulceration of the gastrointestinal tract. If you feed your horse alfalfa, check it for any black beetles first.

2) The equine gastrointestinal tract is another incredible organ. At length, the entire tract measures around 100 feet long. The equine GI tract is a complicated system, and can be very sensitive to change. Horses were meant to graze throughout the day, eating small amounts all day long. As we’ve domesticated them, we’ve turned our grazers into meal time animals, and their GI tract has accepted the change well. As horses eat larger meals less often, they become more susceptible to impactions, twisting and loops of intestines traveling where it shouldn’t. While it’s not possible for every horse to graze all day, either due to where they are kept or compounding health issues, encouraging more frequent meals will make your horse’s GI tract happy.

1) The evolution of the horse is my top favorite fact about them. Starting as a five-toed animal that wasn’t much taller than a goat, to the graceful creatures they are now, horses have evolved through the ages with more changes than most domestic species. The array of equine breeds today is astounding, with a breed suited to meet any need. Horses on average outweigh a human 10 fold, but you can go on any social media site and watch videos of horses sleeping in human’s laps, dancing with them, flying over jumps…the list of what horses are capable of in our modern world is endless. The horses’ development through the ages is one of the best examples of how domestication can change characteristics to suite current needs.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my top 10 list. Please email me if you have any questions, about the top ten, or anything else. Happy riding!

Dr. Oneal Peters is a mixed animal veterinarian with All Pets Mobile Vet. She loves all creatures great and small, but has a particular fondness for dogs and horses. She can be reached at allpetsmv@gmail.com.


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