Science - Nature
By: - at September 28, 2013

Top 15 Myths about Horses

Myths about horses - picture of lady and her horse

The horse as we know it today is an animal used mostly for hobbies and sports, though in some specific cases it is still used for work. Throughout the centuries horses have carried people to war, ploughed the fields and served for a very long time as the primary means of transportation. Since they've been around for so long, it's no wonder that certain myths have arised concerning this animal. There are many untruths regarding all things equestrian which shroud the facts. Weeding through the myths to get to the truths can reveal some insightful information about horses, their care and their evolution.

Myth 15)  There is Only One Species of Horse
The Equus genus, to which the horse belongs, has two extant subspecies. This means that both of these subspecies are still in existence today. The most commonly known subspecies is equus ferus caballas, which is known as the domesticated horse. The other subspecies is the Przewalski's horse, which is native to Mongolia. The latter subspecies was at one point considered to be extinct but was reintroduced to a nature reserve in Mongolia. According to an article published in the "International Union for the Conservation of Nature" in 2011, it was stated that there were 300 Przewalksi's horses ranging free in the wild.

Domesticated Horse
Equus Ferus Caballas, Domesticated Horse

Przewalksi's horse
Przewalksi's horse, a Domesticated Horse Native to Mongolia

There is an extinct subspecies, as well. This subspecies was known as Equus ferus ferus or the Tarpan. The last known Tarpan is believed to have died in Russia in the early 1900s. The name Tarpan is derived from the Kazakh or Kyrgyz language and means "wild horse". Like the Przewalksi's horse, the Tarpan was an undomesticated animal. Many attempts have been made to rebuild the phenotype of the Tarpan but because the breeding stock used during these processes was sometimes from domesticated stock, every breed created possessed domestic traits.

Tarpan Horse
Tarpan Horse is an extinct species

Myth 14)  It's Unsafe to Let Your Horse Graze
This myth is thought to have arisen from new horse owners with overprotective tendencies that were unfamiliar with the animal. The myth essentially states that it is dangerous to let a horse feed as it would naturally and that it is instead better to feed it from a hay net or some other manner of raised feeder. While this may seem like a silly notion to most people, there are still some that insist that letting a horse eat as they naturally would is unhealthy.

The fact is that the body of a horse has evolved and is designed specifically for grazing. When a horse is eating grass, the bottom jaw slides forward to ensure that the grass is properly grinded. This in turn triggers the appropriate amount of salivation, which aids in the process of digestion. In truth, it is unnatural for a horse to eat from a raised feeder. It's highly unlikely that anything unfortunate should happen if a horse does eats from a raised feeder but there is always a chance that it could develop digestive or choking problems if it's made to eat that way all the time.

Natural Horse Grazing is Healthy

Myth 13)  The Quality of a Horse Can Be Determined By its Color
Horse colorings and markings come into being the same way as eye and hair colorings do in humans; it's all due to genetics. Some horse colors are more desirable for breeding than others due to their rarity, such as: cremello, pearl and silver. There are certain color breeds of horses and the color of a horse can be more valuable than with other breeds. Palomino, paint, and appaloosa are three types of colorings that have led to registrations based primarily on said colorings. Additionally, each coloring can have many different color variations within its category, with the rarer color types being more highly prized.

Colorings do not determine the conformation or temperament though, which are two of the most important factors when it comes to deciding the quality of an animal. With poor conformation, stallions and mares won't be highly sought after for breeding. A bad temperament can lead to a horse that is mean, cunning, and unfriendly toward humans. All three of those attributes are less than desirable for breeders and owners alike.

Silver Dapple
Silver Dapple
By Kumana, via Wikimedia Commons

Palomino Horse
Palomino Horse

Myth 12)  Only Horses with Spots on Their Rump are Classified as Appaloosas
While the spotted rump is one of the most common images that comes to mind when picturing an appaloosa, it's not the only type of marking common to that particular color breed. In fact, the range of markings included in the appaloosa color classification are numerous and highly varied from each other. This means that appaloosa horses are among some of the most varied in appearance when it comes to colorings and markings.

Appaloosas are most commonly identified by having leopard spotted patterns on their coat or by having a white blanket with dark spots covering their rumps. Other color variations with appaloosas include snow capped, snowflake, mottled and roan blanket. A varnish roan can also be classified as an appaloosa coloring. The varnish roan is a variation of the leopard-spotted appaloosa and is characterized by having a dark base coat color with some white spotting. As the horse grows older the number of white hairs in the coat will increase, which can make the marks blurry or faded completely.

Appaloosa Stallion
By Karakal, via Wikimedia Commons

Myth 11)  True White Horses Are Albinos
The fact is that albinism has never been documented in horses but here is a condition known as "lethal white syndrome" that is often confused with albinism by those unfamiliar with horses and coloring. Lethal white syndrome is an autosomal genetic disorder that occurs most frequently within the American Paint Horse breed. Foals affected with this syndrome will be born with blue eyes and coats that are completely white or almost entirely white.

White horse in the Snow, Not Albino

White horses do exist and they are known as having a dominant white coloring. Dominant white occurs most commonly within two specific breeds, the Camarillo White Horse and the American White Horse. A horse that is dominant white will be born with pink skin and a white coat that will not darken as the horse ages. Contrary to popular belief, horses that are dominant white will commonly have dark eyes as opposed to blue. Most horses that have blue eyes with a very pale coat are usually cremello colored or some other type of cream gene coloring.

Myth 10)  Hot Blood and Cold Blood Breeds Have Blood Temperature Differences
This myth is more of a misunderstanding with those not familiar with horses. The terms hot blood, cold blood, and warm blood refer to the temperament as well as the types of tasks the horses are best suited for, not their actual blood temperature. All horses are mammals, therefore they are scientifically classified as being warm-blooded.

Hot blood horses are generally lean, swift and can be hot tempered; one of the best representative breeds in this category is the Arabian. Most hot blooded breeds were developed in the Middle East, such as:  the Akhal-Teke and the Barb. Hot-blooded horses are generally bred for speed, mobility, and a quick learning capability. Physically, they will have a frame that is slight, thin, and long-legged.

Cold blood is a term used to refer exclusively to draft horses. These horses are large of frame, muscular and sturdy. Cold-blooded horses are also known to have a temperament that is calm, docile, and patient; this earns them the moniker of "gentle giants". Some of the best known cold blooded breeds include the Clydesdale, the Percheron, the Belgian and the Shire. Cold bloods are slower and more powerful than their hot blooded counterparts; they're more suited to heavy labor.

Warmblood horses came into being through the crossbreeding of cold bloods and hot bloods. The result was a horse far more refined than a draft horse yet still possessing its easy temperament. Warmbloods today are mostly used as sport horses in the world of show jumping, three day eventing, dressage and endurance racing. Warmblood breeds that are often used in such sporting events include the Trakehner, the Hanoverian, the Holstein, the Oldenburg, and the Westphalian.

Hot Blooded Akhal-Teke Horse
Hot Blooded Akhal-Teke Horse

Cold Blooded Clydesdale Horses
Cold Blooded Clydesdale Horses

Warm Blooded Westphalian Horse
Warm Blooded Westphalian Horse

Myth 9)  Horses Are Just Like Dogs
This is another common misconception among those unfamiliar with horses. While both animals are domesticated, the similarity pretty much ends there. Dogs are carnivorous, whereas horses are herbivores. The social structure of a herd of horses varies greatly from that of a pack of dogs. Many might assume that training horses occurs in the same way one might train a dog, that is an erroneous assumption. Dog training often begins when the animal is still a puppy but training a horse for riding or for working in a harness won't occur until the animal is at least three to five years of age.

Training methods themselves are different with the two animals as well. You will train a dog to perform tricks, to stop barking and to behave. Horses must be trained to tolerate a human presence on their back, to respond to cues from the rider's legs, thighs, and touch on the reins. The amount of trust needed for this type of training is monumental, making the training time of a horse lengthy and complicated. Additionally, training a horse will always have some element of danger because the horse is a mammal that can weigh up to 800 pounds and can spook easily.

Horse Being Trained to Jump

Myth 8)  A Horse Will Run Into a Burning Barn
There is some debate over this particular myth because barn fires still happen today and the observations made by those in attendance are that behavior differs depending on the horse. In many cases, some horses would refuse to leave their stalls even as the barn burnt around them. While the real reason for doing so is unknown, many speculate that the stalls where they spent a lot of time in are what they saw as a safe location. Some horses have in fact run back into a burning barn after being led to safety. It's assumed that they do so for the same reason that the barn is what they regarded as a safe haven. In other circumstances, horses that were freed from a burning barn fled the area entirely.

How a horse will act in an emergency situation is unpredictable, therefore many fire departments are willing to work with horse owners who have barns in order to institute escape plans when it comes to the animals. Wooden barns are obviously the most prone to fire and it's recommended when building one to take into account the possibility of a fire then certain fire safety allowances can be made during construction.

Barn Fire

Myth 7)  Horses Require Little Attention and Care
Anyone who owns horses for riding, breeding or as pets will tell you that horses require a great deal of attention and care. Like any animal, a domesticated horse needs to eat. They are just as prone to illness, disease and injury just like any other animal.  Horse hooves must be attended to and should be trimmed regularly. If the horse is going to be ridden over rocky or hard terrain, it's advisable that they be shod. If a horse travels frequently to shows, races or other types of competitions then it will need to be vaccinated against diseases, such as:  equine encephalitis, West Nile virus, rabies and rhinopneumonitis. In addition to all their other shots, horses need to be given de-worming medication multiple times a year.

Horses are prone to accidental injuries, much like other animals and humans. It is common for horses secured within any type of wire perimeter to sustain injuries from the wire, ranging from mild to serious. Injuries can also be incurred from other horses. Treatment for injuries can range in difficulty with minor wounds being treatable by the owner and major wounds requiring the services of a large animal vet.

Caring for Horses Takes A Lot of Work

Myth 6)  Horses Don't Mind Being Worked Hard
It's another common misconception to think that because a horse is an animal, it's all right to push it to its physical limits often. The truth is that horses get tired, sore and grouchy just like people do. Proper horse care includes realizing when your horse needs a break from whatever task it's performing, regardless of whether it's a sport competition or a leisure ride. Horses that trust and have formed a strong bond with their rider will often give all their effort in their performance. However, it's important to realize that horses tire just as easily as humans. By giving the animal a break and rewarding it for all its effort, a rider can go a long way toward ensuring further good behavior.

Horses Get Tired and Grumpy Too

Myth 5)  Riding a Horse Requires No Skill
Anyone who has ever ridden a horse knows it requires skill and depending on what manner you're riding, it can require a great deal of skill. Leisure trail riding is one of the simplest equine activities and while it doesn't require an enormous amount of skill it does require situational awareness along with being able to read the animal's mood as well as body language. With equine sports such as three-day eventing, show jumping, or dressage, skill becomes more paramount as the activities are more complicated and physically demanding. These sports don't only require the rider to be in top physical shape but they also demand that the rider be aware of their mount, the surroundings and the plethora of cues that must be given in order to make the horse perform the actions needed. Riders that compete in these types of equine sports have often spent many years training in order to do so.

Horse Riding Takes Skill

Myth 4)  Horses Always Sleep Standing Up
While horses do in fact slumber while standing, they can also sleep while lying down. When standing, a horse will lightly doze. This is an evolutionary adaptation to being prey when in the wild because lying down to sleep will render the animal more vulnerable to predators. Horses have a physiological aspect to their bodies that allows for the relaxation of their muscles while lightly sleeping that won't lead to a collapse. There is a locking device in all four legs that allows this to be possible.

Horses do however need to enter REM sleep, just like humans do. They cannot achieve that state while standing, so horses therefore sleep lying down as well. A horse will only need to lie down for a couple hours every four to five days to ensure they are getting the minimum of REM sleep they require. Also, they rest easier in groups than when they are alone because of the inherent predator instincts they possess.

Sometimes Horses Sleep While Standing, Most of the Time They Lay Down

Myth 3)  The Training of Gaited Horses is Always Cruel
Gaited horses differ from other horses in that they have the ability to do what is known as an ambling gait. An ambling gait is a four-beat gait that is usually very smooth to ride. Gaited horses are the result of selective breeding programs meant to produce offspring that have gaited tendencies. Some of the more well known gaited breeds include the Tennessee Walker, the Missouri Fox Trotter, the American Saddlebred, and the Peruvian Paso.

Gaited horses will sometimes undergo training to enhance their ability to perform ambling gaits. Some horses have been trained to perform unnatural high stepping gaits and it's an unfortunate fact that in some of these situations cruelty was implemented. However, not all owners or trainers resort to such tactics and do genuinely care about their animals. There is an unfortunate negativity that publicity surrounds the training of gaited horses but it is a misconception that all gaited horse owners, riders and trainers are cruel in their practices. The truth is that there are many who own as well as ride gaited horses that treat them with nothing but the utmost respect, love, and attention.

5 Gaited Horse named Courageous Lord
By AkimaDoll, via Wikimedia Commons

Myth 2)  A Horse with a Broken Leg Must Be Shot
One of the most common myths surrounding horses that has endured for centuries is that a horse with a broken leg must be put down. In earlier times, this was most certainly the case because there was no medical technology that could mend such an injury. Subsequently, many horses were put down because of fractures in their legs. This grim conclusion is no longer the case because currently horses with broken legs can receive medical attention.

Unfortunately, broken legs in horses are expensive to mend. The sad reason why horses with fractured legs are put down is simply because the owner cannot afford the veterinary operations needed to remedy the issue. However, there are some options available for those who are financially able that don't include the barrel of a shotgun. Surgery can be performed on the injured limb and if the fracture is contained to certain small areas, a cast may be applied. Metal implants can also be used, just like for a severe limb fracture in a human.

It's always important to take into account the quality of living the animal will experience once it has healed. A sporting animal that had a fractured limb will never again be able to perform the way it used to. In addition, there's the very high possibility that laminitis will at some point afflict the animal. Additionally, the damaged bone will never be as strong as it was. A horse's legs are meant to absorb high amounts of shock and a weakened bone may compromise that purpose, leading to further injury. Ultimately, the decision of whether to put down an animal with a broken limb needs to be considered from every angle.

Medical Care is Available for Horses

Myth 1)  Horses are Dumb Animals
Horses, like nearly every other type of animal, are not capable of thinking as humans do. However, it is a mistake to regard them all as being stupid. The truth is that horses are capable of considerable intelligence and much of the training that horses undergo is proof of this. If the horse were truly a dumb animal without the capacity for thought, it wouldn't be used for sport, leisure or trick riding.

A truly dumb animal would not respond to subtle pressure, voice or hand cues as trained horses do. Horses are able to recognize as well as form bonds of trust with their handlers and owners. That trust then becomes a key part of the complicated relationship between horse and rider. A horse may also possess a certain brand of cunning, the type which leads to it learning how to manipulate a latch on a gate, tip over containers to gain access to feed or even drop to the ground and squeeze under the bottom wire of a fence.

Many people who are new to riding horses may assume that their mount is dumb because it will not respond the way they want it to right away. However, part of learning to ride a horse is learning that everything a rider asks it to do will be a foreign and unnatural experience. Training a horse requires a lot of time and dedication. Patience with a horse, along with acknowledging and rewarding its good behavior, is one of the best tactics to use in training.

Horses are Intellegent Animals

As a companion, horses have been with mankind for many long centuries. Originally being vital for causes such as war and transportation, their importance has diminished over time with the increasing pace of technology. Horses have remained popular animals to own for both leisure and sport. Even those that are familiar with all things equine may still be deceived by some myths concerning these animals. It's important to recognize and debunk these myths that have persisted for many years because it could impact a horse's health, happiness, and longevity.





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