What is a Horse? A Thorough and Comprehensive Answer.

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A city slicker asked:

I have never seen a horse please tell me what they are.

A horse is a large quadrupedal ungulate that averages in mass at about 500kg. It has a peculiar set of gaits because unlike other animals that walk on their feet, it has only one toe, which has been reinforced with a hard fingernail-like hoof. It shares the same order Perissodactyla as the rhinoceros and the tapir.

Horses grazing in a field

Exhibit A: A variety of domestic horses enjoying leisure time in their natural state of order.

The domestic horse has been valued throughout history as a riding animal and beast of burden due to its highly desirable skeletal anatomy ideal for riding (the back is carried straight, rather than whipping around like a deer’s) and its varied gaits with which it can travel at various speeds and paces. Naturally, it is a grazing beast and requires significant land and pasture to live comfortably, often with others of its kind in a herd structure. Horse herds congregate in hierarchy led by the most dominant or pushiest horse. Other horses then look to this leader for various cues: such as when to flee danger, when to seek better pasture, or when to sleep and rest. Unlike ruminants such as cows, the horse only has a single stomach, and cannot spit up its food. It is sensitive to poisonous vegetation. As a countermeasure, horses have dexterous lips and developed senses of taste that easily discern bitter and poisonous food and can maneuver around even a single sprig of inedible plant life. Even so, colic and other digestive ailments are dangerous and painful to horses. Their delicate, sensitive noses are highly prized by enthusiasts everywhere as the most soft and glorious part to pat and kiss.

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Exhibit B: the velvety and fantastic nose of the domestic horse, the most wonderful element man has ever introduced into a selectively bred animal.

When threatened, horses tend to flee. However, if cornered or aggressive with other horses or humans, the same fast-twitch muscles and single-pivot leg joints that make horses the second fastest sprinters among mammals also make for a powerful kick. While not optimized for biting, a horse may also lash out with their teeth as well. During these conflicts, horses will take special care to protect their legs, because they are not proficient at healing wounds and their need to stand most of the time makes significant leg injuries fatal without human intervention. However, usually horses are very docile so long as they do not perceive a threat in their environment. Domestic horses may come to see humans as their “leader” figure and look to them for how to behave in a crisis. In this way, a calm rider or ground handler can guide even an inexperienced horse through significant stress, though to brave hazards such as attackers, loud noises, fire, or hostile environments horses often need special training to remain manageable.

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Exhibit C: My sister exercises a horse in a ring riding lesson, taught by a skilled instructor.

Horses come in many shapes, colors, and sizes. Horses as tall as 19 hh (approx. 6’5” at the withers) and as small as 4 hh (approx. 18” at the withers) have existed, but horses under 14.2 hh (approx 4’8” at the withers) are considered ponies. Many variants have been bred to perform different functions, from pulling heavy weights, to sprinting, to endurance and heat tolerance, to braving ice and snow, and even just for companionship. Horses come in a wide range of natural colors and patterns, from pure black to pure white, grey, spotted, light brown, dark brown, speckled, roan, red, yellow, multicolored, and with all manner of patches, stripes, socks, and unique markings. All of them are very beautiful and deserve to be loved with kindness and care.

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Exhibit D: A pretty chestnut roan pony regards a stranger with curiosity and interest.

Do not stand behind a horse. Because their eyes are on the sides of their heads, they have significant blind spots directly in front and in back of them. The horse will be confused that they cannot see you and may get scared if you suddenly “appear.” If you must walk behind one, walk closely behind their tail and talk to them quietly so their swiveling ears can pinpoint your location by sound. Do not yell or scream around or on a horse. Horses appreciate your gentleness, patience, and peppermints.

Horses may not seem clever at first glance, but actually can be quite intelligent and some of the keenest can even solve basic problems or circumvent fencing and simple latches or locks. They easily get bored or lonely and should have a companion, food, or at toy at all times to prevent development of unhealthy behaviors, behavioral addictions, or mental illness. Despite their skittish and food-concerned nature, horses are capable of forming real attachments with humans and will prefer to be around people they already know and are comfortable with. While many horses can be lazy if allowed to be, they will also show many behaviors that are cleverly contrived to allow them to eat while working, do as little exercise as possible, and get out of having to obey unskilled handlers. However, other horses are athletes and are even enthusiastic to do well facing work or a challenge with a handler or rider they know and trust well.

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Exhibit E: A bored, itchy, stabled horse waiting to be tacked up. If left too long alone in a barn, horses become restless.

Many horses enjoy being groomed, and their hairy coats and long manes and tails are ideal to brush and comb. With a calm, skilled, and confident rider, they can be intrepid adventurers and enduring companions on a ride through the outdoors, though they do not like venturing into caves or underground. Horses are excellent and lovable animals and it is proven that nearly every part of the horse is optimal for hugs and kisses, with possible exceptions of the direct posterior, lower legs, and feet. Regard horses softly and with understanding, and do not alarm them, and they will be your combination walking couch and poop machine for up to thirty, forty, or even an amazing fifty years.

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Exhibit F: Horses rolling in poopy dirt paddock after exercising, who don’t understand you have to brush them tomorrow, too.

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