Horses Are Special Too!

The Horse Body



Horse owners measure the height of a horse in hands, from the ground to the highest point of the withers (ridge between the shoulder bones). A hand equals 4 inches, the average width of a man's hand. A horse that stands 14.2 (14 hands and 2 inches) is 58 inches high.


IconCoat and Skin

The horse's body is covered by a coat of hair. A healthy, glowing coat gives a splendid appearance. A thick winter coat grows every autumn and is shed every spring. Horses never shed the hair of the mane or the tail. If the mane and tail become too thick, the horse's owner many pull out some hair to make the horse look better. Pulling the hair does not hurt because the animal has no nerves at the roots of its hair. A horse uses its tail to brush off insects. A horse also has special muscles for twitching the skin to get rid of insects.

Sweat glands on the surface of the horse's body help the animal stay cool. The heavy coats of horses used for fast work, such as racing or polo, should be clipped in winter. The horses can then cool off more easily when they sweat. When the animals are resting, they should be covered with a blanket to keep them warm. I must stressed here that only horses who require the hair clipped need a blanket for warmth, as winter hair has been shortened for cooling purposes in the horses natural ability. Otherwise, this should never be done to avoid illness.

Horses have many colors, including various shades of black, brown, chestnut (reddish-brown), dun (yellowish-gray), gold, gray, sorrel (yellowish-brown), and white. Bay horses have a reddish-brown coat and black points (legs, mane, and tail). Many dark bays have brown hair on the back and reddish-brown hair on the flanks, underpants, and face. Chestnut horses may have flaxen (pale-yellow) or sorrel manes and tails, but not black point. Many gray horses are born a dark color and turn lighter as they grow older. Lipizzans and some other gray horses turn white by the time they are fully grown. Roan horses have a yellowish-brown or reddish-brown coat sprinkled with gray or white hairs.  Pintos, also called paints, have a black or dark-colored coat with large white areas that very in pattern.

Horse raisers often use special terms to describe the markings on a horse's face or legs. These terms include:

Bald face - a mostly white face.

Blaze - a large white patch on the face.

Race - a narrow strip down the center of the face.

Star - any small white patch on the forehead.  (Often the shape of a star.)

Snip - any small white patch near the muzzle (mouth).

Sock - a white patch above the hoof.

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IconLegs and Hoofs

A horse's legs are suited for fast running. Large muscles in the upper part of the legs provide great speed with a minimum of effort. The long, thin lower legs give the horse a long stride. The front legs carry most of the horse's weight. They absorb the jolts when the animal runs or jumps. The rear legs provide power for running or jumping.

Thousands of years of evolution have given the horse hooves ideally suited for running. Each foot is really a strong toe. Only the tip of the toe, protected by the strong, curved hoof, touches the ground. The remains of what were once two other toes grow as bony strips on the cannon bone of the horse's legs. The frog (an elastic mass on the sole of the foot) acts like the rubber heel. It helps absorb the jolt when the hoof strikes the ground. The horse's real heel bone is the hock, located about halfway up the leg. The hock never touches the ground.

A horse with a bad fracture is usually killed because the break caused shock and extreme pain. But certain kinds of broken bones do not cause much pain and may heal.  Veterinarians treat such breaks with slings and casts.



Most male horses have 40 teeth, and most females have 36. The molars (back teeth) grind food as the horse chews. These teeth have no nerves, and they never stop growing.  Sometimes the molars grow unevenly and must be filed down so the horse can chew properly.

An expert on horses can tell a horse's age by counting the number of teeth and checking their condition. Most foals are born toothless but soon get two upper and two lower front teeth. When 4 months old, the horse has four upper and four lower teeth. At the age of 1 year, it has six pairs of upper and lower incisors, which are cutting teeth. At 5 years, a horse has 12 pairs of incisors and is said to have a full mouth. Adult horses have six pairs of molars. Males grow four extra teeth at the age of 5. By the time a horse is 8 years old, the rough grinding surfaces of the bottom incisors have been worn down. The horse has a smooth mouth and is said to be aged. Sometimes tiny wolf teeth grow in front of the molars. These teeth interfere with the bit, which is the part of a bridle that goes into the horse's mouth. Wolf teeth are usually removed. The bit rests in spaces between the horse's incisors and molars.



Horses have larger eyes than any other land animals except ostriches. A horse's eyes are oval, and they are set on the sides of the head. The two eyes can be moved independently, each in a half a circle. Thus, a horse can look forward with one eye and backward with the other. Because of the position of its eyes, a horse has a blind spot a short distance in front of it. A horse must turn its head to see a nearby object that lies directly ahead. The shape of a horse's eyes makes objects far to the side or back appear to move faster than they actually do.  For this reason, a horse may shy (move suddenly) at the slightest movement of an object to the side or back. Horses' eyes require a fairly long time to adjust to changes of light.  When a horse is moved from a dark stall into bright sunlight, it may appear nervous until its eyes adjust.

Horses have keen hearing. They have short, pointed ears that they can move around to pick up sounds from almost any direction. Certain positions of the ears may indicate a horse's attitude. For example, when a horse points its ears forward, it is curious about an object in front of it. When a horse twitches its ears or lays them back against the head, it is angry and may kick.

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Horses have a well-developed sense of smell. Their nostrils are very large and can pick up scents from long distances. A strong wind and heavy rain interfere with the sense of smell and cause horses to become nervous.

The sense of touch varies among different breeds of horses. The thin skin of most breeds of light horses is sensitive to insects and rough objects. Most breeds of heavy horses are less sensitive to such irritations.



Horses can learn to follow signals, but they must be taught through constant repetition. They also must be encouraged to overcome their fear of unfamiliar objects and situations. Horses have excellent memories and recall pleasant or unpleasant experiences many years after they occur.


IconLife History

A mare carries her foal for about 11 months before giving birth. This period may vary from 10 to 14 months. Foals can stand shortly after birth, and within a few hours they are able to run about. The legs of newborn horses seem much too long for their bodies. As the horse matures, the legs grow more slowly than the rest of the body.

A year-old colt is about half grown. Most horses reach full height and weight by the age of 5. Most horse raisers breed mares at the age of 3 or 4, and stallions at the age of 2. Most mares have five or six foals during their life, but some have as many as 19.

Race horses have their official birthday on January 1, except in the Southern Hemisphere, where it is on August 1. Regardless of their actual birth date, race horses become a year older on their official birthday. This system is used to qualify horses for races that are limited to certain age groups. For example, only 3-year-olds race in the Kentucky Derby. Most horses live from 20 to 30 years.

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