We have ever increasing responsibility to the horse as a species and as individuals—for life.
Evolution & History of Domestication
The modern horse evolved 4 million years ago in North America. The horse’s ancestor, Eohippus, was a mammal the size of a fox with 4 toes in front, 3 in back, 50 million
years ago in the Wind River basin of Wyoming, then a semitropical forest. He ate fruit and leaves. From that, the modern horse evolved and spread, becoming the fast, agile,
grass eater of the prairie. The modern horse is most closely related to the Tapir and the Rhinoceros.
Even after his racing days were over, Ben-Hur still enjoyed a
relaxing chariot ride in the forest.
10,000 years ago the “modern” horse became extinct in North America-- (prehistoric man (Clovis Man) may have been a primary predator of the horse along with glaciations that doomed
the species here. Luckily, horses were moving across the Bering Sea land bridge to Europe and Asia throughout their evolution. The oldest modern horse skeleton was found in Italy.
There is evidence that 5,000 years ago the horse was first domesticated in Kazakhstan by the Botai culture and used for meat, milk, locomotion and hauling.(Evidence
includes bit damage on skulls and remnants of fats and fatty acids from mare’s milk and carcasses in jugs. Prized stallions and chariots were buried 2500 years ago in the
Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Russia (tan). In Africa, the Arabian horse was developed and became the source of fine bloodlines throughout Europe.
In 1493, Columbus, Cortez (16 solid color-1 paint), Coronado and other Spanish, invading Mexico and Central America, reintroduced the horse to the American Continents.
Escapees became the basis for the reestablishment of the mustang in the Americas.
Closer to home, in the 1800’s, horses from a Montana rancher were turned out in Disappointment Valley near Dove Creek, Colorado and used as cavalry mounts until the 1940’s.
These horses are feral, but still the same species genetically as the horse found in the permafrost of Alaska dating 11,000 years ago.
Quarter Horses: a mixture of mustangs, Spanish barb, Arabian, and Morgan, TB. Thoroughbred: English war horses crossed with 3 primary Arabians.
The wild horse of today grows up in a huge range, traveling miles each day, foraging 14 or more hours on rough grasses, twigs, leaves and bark, drinking dwindling, often brackish water,
surviving on the wit of the lead mare, driven and protected by a herd stallion. These leaders know the best paths, the way to available water and graze depending on the
time of year, which hill to stand behind depending on the prevailing wind, when to head to lower ground in winter. Or at least they try. The weak, the poor hooved,
ones with malalignment of the teeth, the lame fall to the predators.
The only physical remnants of it’s Eohippus ancestor on today’s horse are the splint bones on each side of the cannon bone that represent the outer and inner toes, and the chestnuts on the inside
of the leg. Anatomically, the horse walks on the tip of his middle finger and toe, producing massive weight and pressure on one digit.
Consequently, if the hoof is left too long, it is equivalent to torture—try bending back your middle fingernail on a long term basis. Hoof care on a regular basis,
year round, is a big responsibility of horse ownership.
The horse’s knee = our wrist, his hock is our ankle. The horse seems to damage his hocks about as often as we sprain our ankles.
Domestication changes the pattern of eating, shelter seeking, behavior, and hoof health. A horse in a 12 by 12 pipe corral cannot seek shelter from the wind and cold,
travel miles to keep his muscles tight, find water when the bucket is not filled, or food when stomach acid builds from 4 pm to 8 am the next morning.
He cannot wear off his hooves, so they grow and curl and split and tear away from the sensitive laminae of his foot. He pines alone with no pasture mate
to guard him at nap time, to mutually swat his flies. He is all dependent on his caretaker, that descendent of the predator who extinguished his kind
so many years ago. Luckily, domestication has also changed man.
Our Responsibility as Caretakers of the Horse
Food: The horse is still designed to eat 14 hours a day. They develop acid that may lead to stomach
ulcers if left over 12 hrs without food. In winter, that means that you cannot feed at dusk and expect the horse to go until dawn.
In the winter horses also depend on the metabolism of grass hay to maintain body temp—2 pounds for each 10 degrees below 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Horses need an absolute minimum of 1% of their body weight in forage—hay or grass, so 10 pounds for a 1000 pound horse. Commonly, active,
adult horses need 1.5% or 15 pounds of hay per day. Most importantly, horses are sensitive to any change in feed -— including a new cut of hay,
even from the same provider. Always mix old and new hays for at least a week, and when changing concentrates,
do not change more than 1 pound per week.
Water: In winter horses drink about 5 gallons a day, twice that in summer. Snow is only about 1/10th water by weight.
A horse would have to eat 50 gallons of snow a day to get adequate hydration. Heated water tanks or buckets are essential to good health.
Shelter: In a pasture with hills and trees, horses learn to find shelter from the wind and cold, shade in the summer.
Without that, we must provide shade in summer, windbreak and protection from cold below freezing in the winter.
Exercise: Horses are designed to move. Foals will have a permanent decrease in strength of tendons if confined more
than 3 weeks after birth. Two year old horses exercised on a regular basis will have stronger bones than horses left in paddocks until three.
Rest: Horses prefer to sleep in a group with a sentry horse standing watch. Although horses can rest and even
lightly sleep standing up, (because of the reciprocal apparatus) they require a brief time of complete sleep, lying down, on a regular basis or they
become sleep deprived. They need a secure, comfortable environment and need to be comfortable enough to lie down and get up. Older horses or
horses with severe arthritis may hurt too much to lie down.
Hoof Care: In the wild, horses on rough rock and sand wear off their hooves. They develop a callus
just behind the toe of the hoof and toughen the bars at the heels. Some domesticated horses also have tough feet, but often their
hooves are too small for the size of the horse, the sole is too thin and sensitive to every rock and gravel. Ideally, horses can
go barefoot during the winter, use boots to transition into spring before shoeing and again in the fall after the shoes are pulled.
Horses need to be trimmed about every 6 weeks, year round, to maintain normal angles of the hooves relative to the bones inside.
Hoof/Pastern Angles: The Angle of the shoulder should be the same as that of the pastern and the pastern angle
should be contiguous with the dorsal hoof wall angle. Hoof flaring should be removed.
Dental Care: A horse with normal dental anatomy—no overbite, no hooks or waves, broken teeth or abscessed
roots—may go one or two years without dental equilibration or “floating”. But because of the angle of the teeth and the fact that the upper teeth
are wider than the lower, sharp “points” develop on the outer edges that rub against the cheeks. Abrasions and ulcerations of the inside of the cheek may result, especially in a horse being ridden with bit or hackamore. Younger horses (under 8) have softer teeth and often require more frequent dental work. Correction of bite defects greatly extends the life of the teeth and the comfort of the horse.
Vaccinations: The minimum essential vaccinations for an adult horse include Tetanus toxoid, Eastern and Western Encephalitis
(mosquito borne) and West Nile Virus (also mosquito born). Horses in high contact with other horses or traveling and showing should also be given Influenza and
Rhinopneumonitis for respiratory infections. Rabies is moving closer all the time in Colorado and is now recommended.
Deworming: All horses are exposed to parasite larvae in the pastures and stalls. Fecal examinations should be done
to determine the level of infestation for a given horse, and deworming done on schedule depending on that level and on the length of efficacy of a given wormer.
They are all different. The last deworming of the year should be done after a hard frost, and should include Praziquantel that eliminates tape worms.
Documentation: Colorado is a brand inspection state. This means to prove ownership when selling or transporting a horse,
you should have a permanent brand inspection done—even if your horse does not have a brand. Permanent identification may include hot or freeze brands, or microchips
that are inserted into the fibrous Nuccal ligament just below the mane on the left side. Additionally, transport outside of Colorado requires a health certificate
that is good for only 30 days, and a Coggins blood test for Equine Infectious Anemia that is good for 6-12 months.
Training: The horse is a prey animal, with a flight or fight response: act now or be eaten. And man may
well have been the predator that once wiped out the horse in North America. Which brings us to the predator/prey relationship. To handle a
horse one needs to study herd dynamics and the “body language” that horses use to move each other around. A horseman needs to use quiet motion,
soft words, and the rewards of food and relaxation—ask for a move, a flexion, a giving, and reward by relaxing the pressure. Get help from knowledgeable
Lifespan: "Teddy Bear", a pony, received his last birthday card at 60 years of age. More commonly, horses live
over 30 years with adequate care.