Horses have been teaming up with humans for thousands of years; it's safe to say the partnership is here to stay. Today, let’s honor them by taking a look at some of the more interesting aspects of their life and history.
1. The Horse Industry
Horses are used for in competitions and sports, breeding, recreation, and as part of the workforce. In fact, horses are a massive business. Approximately 4.6 million Americans work in the horse industry in one way or another. The U.S. horse industry is estimated to have an economic effect of $40 billion—annually.
And that's just the nine million American horses. There are approximately 58 million horses in the world and the vast majority of them are cared for by humans.
You've heard that elephants never forget. A 2010 study revealed it's true for horses as well. The study revealed our equine friends understand our words far better than we had previously thought. Be kind to a horse and it will remember your friendship for as long as it lives. You can disappear for years; the horse instantly resumes the friendship. Oh, and they remember places, too!
The good memory and relatively powerful intellect of horses is not always a good thing, though. If they get bored, they can accidentally figure out how to untie themselves from posts and open latches and grain bins. Once they learn these methods of mischief, they’ll never, ever forget.
3. Horse Shoes
Everyone knows most horses are fitted with shoes, but most people aren’t aware that these curved pieces of metal don't just provide protection. The hard parts of horse hooves are made of keratin—like your hair and nails—and leave a lot to be desired when it comes to things like traction. Imagine running on a wet or snowy street wearing fingernails. Ouch!
Shoes improve traction for the hoof and act as shock absorbers, much the same as your running shoes. Horse shoes also share another similarity with the sports shoe industry—there is a huge selection of different types, such as pronation-correcting support shoes, “natural balance” shoes, and lightweight aluminum shoes for serious racing horses.
At a diameter of roughly 2 inches, a horse's eyes are the largest of any land mammal; nine times larger than a human's by volume. The story goes that this means horses see things bigger, which is why they startle easily. Spoiler: It's not true!
The horse eye has three eyelids—two ordinary ones and a third called the nictitating membrane—which is located in the inner corner of the eye and occasionally sweeps the eye, lubricating and cleaning it if need arises. Horses can’t properly focus their eyes like we do. Instead, the lower parts of their retina see objects at a distance, and the upper ones are for closer viewing. This means that if you want to know where a horse is looking, you should pay attention to the position of its head. If you see a horse standing in a field and it’s standing with its head held high and ears pricked forward, the animal is probably just looking at something interesting in the distance.
5. Horse Names
Yes, they can seem ridiculous..."Almost Illegal", "Made You Look" or "Zorro Garlic". As random as this may seem, there are actually many traditions and superstitions associated with naming horses.
Many breeders name their horses to respect pedigree, which can lead to some unfortunate variations over time. Naming a horse after a family member is generally avoided, because if the horse you named after your mother turns out to be a failure, Mom probably isn’t going to be too happy. Many owners prefer powerful names like “Man O’War,” because it is believed this brings the horse good fortune in the races. On the other hand, naming a horse “Champion” will likely result in a racehorse doomed to failure, so some owners decide to simply have a bit of fun.
Actually, there are rules governing the naming tradition. These rules vary depending on your area. A good rule of thumb: no obscenities, racism, or similarity to actively competing horses. If a horse gets famous enough, think Seattle Slew, its name might be pulled from use altogether, much in the same way some sports retire the numbers of particularly legendary athletes.
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