At first, man considered the horse simply as a source of food and for hides. But soon man decided that the horse was more valuable as a hauler of early wheeled carts. The horse was one of the most important discoveries for early human societies.
Horses were used to pull wheeled vehicles, chariots, carts, and wagons. From 2000 B. C. onward, they were increasingly used for riding. The bond between horse and man began early and has remained strong through the centuries. Horses were used in war, in hunting and as a means of transport. The average age of the horse is between 25 and 30 years.
The oldest horse known to man was a barge horse named Billy. Billy was born in 1760 in England and lived until 1822, which made him 62 years of age.
Some 55 to 42 million years ago, the horse ancestors were dog-like creatures. Over time, they grew in size and adapted from a damp, forested habitat to a prairie habitat.
Early horse ancestors were specialized for the tropical forests. But as the land changed, the horse changed to life on drier land. Fossils show that the foot and leg anatomy adapted to a grazing habitat and an ability to flee from predators.
The horse belongs to the Order Perissodactyla (odd-toed Ungulates). All horses share hoofed feet and an odd number of toes on each foot. The horse’s lineage shows several adaptations, which eventually reduced the horse to one Genus, Equus.
Around 3000 B.C. people began to tame horses and to domesticate them for carrying and pulling the carts and wagons man had invented for transport.
Scientists first believed that the horse was native to Europe. In reality, the horse’s ancestors came over from the Americas by way of the Bering Bridge over a million years ago. In the 1500s, Horses came back to America by way of Florida and Mexico. Christopher Columbus brought horses from Spain to the west Indies, and Spanish Conquistadors brought horses to Mexico.
The consensus is that the horses that remained in North America eventually became extinct and their ancestors were brought back by colonists.
There are too many breeds to mention here. I’m going to mention a few that are fairly popular with horse people.
Hand: is a unit of measure equal to 4 inches.
American Mustang–is a muscular, athletic horse– well liked by American riders.
American Quarter Horse--stands 14.3 – 16 hands–is a talented, dependable horse with a muscular neck and deep chest. Most are chestnut color.
Missouri Fox Trotter–developed in the Ozarks by settlers as a reliable riding horse. Stands 14-16 hands. This horse is a favorite of Forest Rangers. The horse has a tolerance for human company.
Agriculture, work breeds
Belgian Breed-is a heavy muscular horse–carriage pullers, good-natured creatures, stand 16-18 hands.
Clydesdale– from Scotland originally. A good-natured horse with the signature white feathered feet. Stands 16.2- 18 hands.
Percheron– stands 16-18 hands. Good on performance as well as pulling.
Thoroughbred– stands 15-17 hands. This horse was bred for racing and special events, jumping and competitions. The Horse is described as a long, lean, racing machine. Originally born in England.
Shetland Pony -stands under 11.2 hands. This is an especially good pony for children to learn to ride. These ponies are good family companions.
The horse is the most popularly used animal in therapy today. Horses respond immediately to the rider’s action or behavior. Horses also mirror the rider’s emotions. They react like human beings in their social and responsive behavior.
Professionals who work with people who have psychological problems prefer using horses in therapy sessions because of the natural, close bond between horses and humans.
You might say that a horse can read his human counterpart “like a book.” It’s easy for patients to establish a connection, or a bond, with his horse. The therapeutic value of horses is tremendous. Just being with a horse is therapy.
Horse Therapy isn’t about riding–it’s about just being with the horse. A horse can immediately pick up the emotional state of his human partner.
Working with horses can help people heal from a variety of psychological issues. People learn how to identify emotions and how to handle them.
Horse Therapy can be helpful for those who are recovering from substance abuse, trauma, depression, and a number of other problems.
Horses need a lot of care, and taking care of a horse can actually teach a person to develop a solid work ethic.
Horse Racing Industry
Horse racing is a performance sport involving horses ridden by jockeys over a set distance for competition.
Most ancient of all sports. Basic premise: to identify which of several horses is the fastest over the set course.
Industry Statistics-by Brandon Gaille
1. Horse racing is responsible for over 450,000 jobs.
2. Pays out over $1.9 billion in taxes every year to all levels of Government.
3. Contributes more than $100 Billion worth of spending to every level of the economy
4. The average horse owner owns 4 horses There are 9.2 million horses living in the U.S.
Only 10% are actually racing.
5. Seven million Americans are involved in the industry. 2 million are horse owners- a third of those make 75 K a year.
6. Over 16,000 horses are for sale.
Most horse owners take good care of their horses, train them well and provide for them in every way.
Trivia note: In 1973, at the Belmont Stakes, Secretariat won the largest payout ever at $103 million.
The downside of the Horse Racing Industry
A report from a writer for the New York Daily News, states that a racehorse is a genetic mistake- “it runs too fast, its frame is too large and its legs are far too small.”
Racehorses are victims of a multi-billion dollar industry that is rife with drug abuse, injuries and race fixing. Many horses’ careers, and lives, end on the track or in slaughterhouses because they have been medicated to keep them running, too many times, too fast.”
In a PETA report: Most racehorses are shipped from place to place without ever having a chance to bond with anyone human being or to consider any one place as home. Remember, one reason horses are so good as therapy animals is because they mirror a human’s necessity for an emotional connection with place and creature.
Horses run too many races in a year, PETA reports. They should not run every week without rest and time out.
Horses are medicated for soreness and injury, so they can continue to run race after race. A lot of people invest in horses as if they were stocks without considering that they are investing in a live, feeling animal.
Horses often become addicted to the drugs they are fed before every race. Even their Vets give them drugs to keep them running faster and faster. Trainers pump horses full of illegal drugs to keep them running.
One Colorado study found that out of 1,348 horses sent to slaughter houses, 58 were known to be former racehorses. You always hear the story that a horse that has just won a big race will be retired now and allowed to live out his life in a lovely pasture as a reward for winning his owner a big pile of money.
The reality is that it is very expensive to keep a horse that isn’t bringing in a lot of money. Even stud services won’t pay the bills.
Thousands of horses are sent to slaughterhouses in Canada, Mexico and Japan every year.
There are no slaughterhouses in the United States yet, but congress has approved funding for inspections should any try to open. That would pave the way for horse slaughter in the U.S.
If you feel that drugging should be banned for horses nationwide, there is legislation and you can contact your legislator and ask him or her to co-sponsor the: Horse racing Integrity Act.
Update on Horse Racing Integrity Act:
In response to a reader’s question on the above legislation: Horse Racing integrity Act was signed into law on December 28, 2020 focuses on ensuring the integrity of Thoroughbred horse racing and on the safety of Thoroughbred race horses and jockeys by requiring national uniform standards that include anti-doping and medication control and racetrack safety programs. ( There are already lawsuits against this being filed, so it isn’t over yet.)
The cost to care for a horse
Still want to own a horse? Well, Cow Girl magazine.com has calculated the cost to keep a horse, once you get past the upfront cost of just buying the horse. All these numbers are dollars, even if there isn’t a dollar sign in front:
Horse: 800 – 4000
- Pre purchase Vet Exam 25 -500
- Tack: 400 – 1500
- Stable Supplies: 50- 100
- Self Boarding: 250 – 500
- Field Boarding: 100 -200
- Farrier (6 to 8 weeks) 25- 100
- dewormer: 15
Self-care at home
- Hay 40 – 200
- grain 15 – 30 a bag
- Bedding 5 -12 a bag
- Fencing 500+
- Shelter 1200+
- Vaccines; 50 – 100
- Emergency Vet: 250+
- Teeth Floating: up to150
There is a lot more you could buy: Apparel, truck, trailer, first-aid kit, rubber stall mats,—-
Owning a horse can cost roughly from 9800 to 27,000 a year.
BLM Roundups of wild Mustang
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is in charge of management of Public Lands for the use of Ranchers, mining interests, and other interests as well as management of wild herds of horses and Burros.
The law declares wild horses and burros to be “living symbols of the historic and pioneer spirit of the west”— BLM and the Forest Service are responsible for managing and protecting herds which were found roaming areas of the west in 1971.
Basically, the BLM rounds up wild horses and burros and puts them up for adoption to the public. Sounds good doesn’t it? A lot of people in the west who have observed these roundups, say otherwise.
In reality, the yearly roundup results in mass incarceration of approximately 150,000 wild horses stockpiled in long term holding facilities across the country with no place to go. However, they continue these roundups every spring, and as more are put in captivity, the pressure to sell them for slaughter builds.
People in the western states continue to complain that the BLM’s method of roundup leads to too many deaths. The BLM uses loud helicopters and land vehicles, which terrorizes the horses and causes stampedes that leave many of the animals severely wounded or dead.
BLM schedules these roundups in early spring when mares are birthing or foals have just recently been born and cannot keep up with a stampeding herd. There are also complaints that the BLM doesn’t report the true number of deaths from the roundups.
The Wild Horse Education.org group is “devoted to protecting America’s wild horses from abuse and slaughter, and to preserve our herds and land they stand on for future generations.” For more information, visit their website.
Horses create intense feelings in many Americans who see them as icons of our country’s history. Horses were a large part of this country’s early development. Many of them died in battle right along with their owners. Grown men broke down in tears when they had to put down their loyal friend.
The bond between horse and man is probably more apparent than in any other animal/human connection. Their ability to sense our emotions and respond to our feelings makes them, at least psychologically, more closely bonded to us than other animals might be.
Information for this article came from: World Atlas.com; Equine Heritage Institute; Wikipedia; Bel Rea Institute of Animal Technology; Pet MD; Psychology Today; PETA, The Horseracing Industry: Drugs, Deception, Death; Cow Girl Magazine.com; Bureau of Land Management; Wild Horse Education.org.
I’m Barbara Nelson. I hope you enjoyed this article. I learned a lot as I researched and wrote this. I would like to hear from my readers. Let me know what you think.