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Myths and Misconceptions about Horses

There are many myths and misconceptions about horses, it is especially true in the modern age, as so much knowledge is gradually lost. We have become a more automated society with the birth of the industrial revolution some 250 years ago. The horse as we know it today, began evolving around 55 million years ago from a multi toed creature known as an Eohippus. They first evolved in the area now know as North America, but quickly spread across the globe from there. Myths and Misconceptions about Horses eohippus early horse

However, around 10,000 years ago (during the last ice age) they became extinct in North America. They were re-introduced to the mainland by the Spanish Conquistadors in the early 16th century.

Contrary to some peoples beliefs, horses are not dumb labour animals. They are highly intelligent and very sociable. They prefer to live in herds with their own social structure and as a result, they have similar hierarchical formations to us.


Generally speaking, in a mixed herd where there is no stallion, a mare will usually be the herd leader. Where there is a stallion, the stallion will rule the herd, but there will be a head mare who will usually control the rest of the herd.

As far as we are aware, humans began domesticating horses around 4,000 BC. As a result of this, it is believed that domestication was widespread by 3,000 BC.

Myths and Misconceptions about Horses early domestication

There are depictions of horses dating back to around 30,000 BC when horses were truly a wild and free animal. Around this time they would have been hunted for food rather than domestication. The ‘wild horses’ that exist today, are not truly wild, but are the result of domesticated horses either being set free, or escaping over the years.

Here are some of those Myths and Misconceptions about horses:

Horses do not have much intelligence:

Myths and misconceptions about horses abound. As mentioned earlier, horses are highly intelligent. They have the capacity to learn new ways of behaviour and sociability, both within their own herd environment, and in their interactions with humans.

Horses do not sleep laying down:

This is one of the biggest of the myths and misconceptions about horses and is untrue.

Horses have the capacity to sleep both standing and laying down. They generally doze whilst standing. They have the capacity to lock their hind legs in place so that they do not fall over whilst dozing. Horses only require around 20 – 30 minutes a day of what we know as REM sleep. This is the deeper sleep in which we would usually have our dreams.

Sleeping Horse

When in a herd, whilst most of the horses sleep, one will always stand guard to be on the lookout for predators, as horses are actually prey animals. Horses are herbivores mainly seeking grass and certain plant life to fulfill their dietary needs.

Horses have different body temperatures:

This is one of the myths and misconceptions about horses, that has come about because of the way we humans have divided horses into certain groups.

All horses are like us, and other mammals, are warm blooded. We humans have created certain classes of reference toward horses based on their types, namely:

Warmbloods: These are primarily the sports type horse. Originating mainly in Europe for equestrian sporting purposes. Most modern warmbloods are descended from the heavier breeds of horse.

Hotbloods: These horses are the breeds such as Arabs (Arabian) and Thoroughbreds.

Coldbloods: These are the heavier type horses used for heavy labour, such as draught horses, including Clydesdales, Shires etc.

Horses smile and laugh at us:

Flehmen response in a horse

One of the most popular myths and misconceptions about horses is that, although they look very cute when they lift their top lip and give the impression that they are laughing or smiling.

It is actually a response known as the Flehmen response. What they are actually doing is to enhance their nose to take in whatever scent they are smelling at the time.

A horses smelling glands are positioned a lot deeper within their nasal passages, than most other mammals. As a result of this they twirl up their lip in order for them to be able to draw in more air.

Myths and Misconceptions about Horses Horse anatomy

Horses only see in Black and White:

Horses have what is called monocular vision. They have one eye on each side of the head, so do not have the full field of vision that we do in front of us.

For example, when you are approaching a jump when you get within around 4 feet of the jump, it completely disappears from a horses vision point, which means you are asking your horse to jump something that their brain cannot see.

Myths and Misconceptions about Horses Differences between human and horses vision

Horses have the ability to perceive some colours, mainly Yellow and Blue, and because they need to use both sides of their brain to complete the picture in front of them.

Horses have the largest orb and corresponding retina of any known land animal today. As a result of this, what they see is actually around 50% larger than the actual size of an object, this is what can cause horses to be very cautious about their approach to other animals etc.

You cannot change a horses behaviour:

One of the most overstated myths and misconceptions about horses, is completely untrue and is often a term bandied by those with little or no understanding of horses in general.

Like us, horses like to learn and evolve beyond just ‘hanging around’. They will become bored quite easily if just left with no interaction, either human or other horse/s.

The biggest behaviour modification that humans have to adjust to is themselves when dealing with horses. Horses require time and patience to learn, just as we do. Unfortunately there are many people who just look at horses with a monetary value without considering the horse itself.

You have to spend time and teach a horse slowly what it is you expect from them. You must bear in mind, like us, depending on what you are asking of them, some will have the ability whereas others will not, just like humans.

Contrary to the term ‘Breaking’ a horse, this is the last thing that is wanted. We do not want horses with ‘broken’ character and spirit. We want horses that enjoy what they do when they do it. If you want positive results, ‘Back’ a horse, don’t ‘Break’ it.

Horses hooves are solid:

They can certainly feel like it if you are unfortunate enough to be kicked by a horse. In reality, they are made up of layers. Each has its own unique place in the makeup of the hoof.

Makeup of a horses hoof

There are approximately 12 parts that make up a horses hoof, from the ‘toe’ at the front to the ‘frog’ on the underside, (this is like the shock absorber for the hoof).

Their hooves form an essential part of their makeup and ability to walk, trot, canter and gallop. They are similar to our feet in that they are required to give them the ability to move.

Mares are easier to handle:

Contrary to a lot of popular belief, mares are usually the leaders within a herd. They are just as feisty outside one. Geldings are usually found to be more passive than mares having had their reproductive sacks removed at a young age usually.

Stallions however, will retain their feistyness as they do compete within herds to be the dominant horse alongside a dominant mare.

Horses are pets like dogs:

This is completely untrue. Horses cannot be regarded in the same way as a pet dog. They have a completely different lifestyle, the foremost of which is that, a dog is a predatory animal. Horses are prey animals by nature so are not as trusting as a dog might be on a first encounter.

Horse and dog

This is not to say that you cannot have a fulfilling relationship with your horse. Give it the respect, attention and patience that it deserves. It is required to bring it on, you will have some great fun and times together.

Riding a horse is easy:

Another great myth and misconception about horses. Learning to ride a horse is not as simple as learning to ride a bicycle unfortunately. When you learn to ride a bike, your biggest immediate challenge is balance, along with motion. This is achieved by using the bikes pedals in order to propel it forward whilst you try not to fall off.

Learning to ride a horse is somewhat similar. There are many different styles of riding, which are dependent on what you intend to use your horse for.

Eventing horse Police riding Military riding

You need to achieve your balance (in the saddle or bareback). You also need to learn to control the mouth of the horse with your hands. The biggest and most difficult part is learning to control the horses motion with your legs. Unlike your favourite western movie, you don’t just sit there and kick the horse. You have to squeeze your legs, convincing the horse to move forward.

Your legs are also used for directional movement i.e. turning and changing speed. Professional horse riding takes many years of training and practice in whichever field of eventing you choose.

The fastest ways to learn to ride a horse professionally. Get paid for it, and have a lot of fun in the process. Join either the mounted regiments in the army, or the police.

We hope that you have found this useful in dispelling some of the myths and misconceptions about horses. If you would like to know anymore, please feel free to contact us.

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