Whether you’re thinking of riding a horse for the first time, adding riding to your hobbies or considering buying a horse, you’ve come to the right place.
My goal is to help you understand the horse – what it is and how it works.
Hopefully, once you get the basics down you’ll be hungry to learn and explore more!
Where do horses come from?
Horses have evolved to survive in wide-open terrain with sparse vegetation and low-quality forage. Today there are few truly wild horses left.
The only surviving wild horse is the Przewalski horse (below). However, even the modern Przewalski is technically feral as it became extinct in the wild, and is now an endangered species after being reintroduced to the wild. Many Przewalskis live in zoos around the world today.
The Tarpan was the only other wild horse to survive into modern times but was extinct in the early 20th century.
Most horses living in the wild today are feral (horses of domesticated ancestry). These horses include Mustangs in the US, Brumbies in Australia and other isolated populations all over the world.
There are also populations that live in feral conditions, but are occasionally handled or managed by humans and are usually referred to as semi-feral. Some privately-owned semi-feral populations include Camargue horses in France, Dartmoor and Exmoor ponies in England, and the eastern European Konik.
Horses live in small herds lead by a dominant mare.
There is usually one stallion and a harem consisting of mares and their offspring. Young colts, and sometimes fillies, leave the herd to form separate bachelor groups and eventually new herds.
Horses are extremely social animals and will become stressed, depressed and even seriously ill if kept alone without any kind of companionship. If it is not possible to keep a horse with other horses or ponies, other animals such as goats or cows can be considered.
The domestication of horses.
Humans and horses have a long history together. Horses appear in cave art as early as 30 000 BCE, but it is believed that horses weren’t domesticated until 4000-2000 BCE.
The exact time of domestication is under dispute as different theories consider different evidence and criteria as domestication. It is believed that horses were initially kept for milk and meat production before they were used for working, as riding animals, or for pulling chariots and carts.
Although domestication has altered the appearance of modern day horses from their wild ancestors, their species-specific qualities have remained unchanged. The type of care and housing a horse receives may dampen the occurrence of some behavioural models, but all horses still have an inherent ability to survive in the wild and herds that are allowed to become feral begin to exhibit the kind of behaviour that is typical to their wild relatives.
Horses that have lived their entire life in stables still carry the same behavioural patterns and survival instincts as do wild horses. These behaviours will be triggered by the right stimulus, so understanding how and why this happens will help to lessen the misunderstandings between us and our equine companions.