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Horses: Power and grace

Updated February 01, 2013

Have you seen a goat or cow participating in the Olympics? But the horses are present there! So what makes this animal so different from others? Height? Weight? Or their hunting tactics? Well, none of these!

Horses are full of valour, grace and power. It is valuable, affectionate, hardworking and friendly with humans and had served us in many ways. For instance, in the early days, their meat was eaten, they were also used as a mode of transportation and also helped in the farms and fields too. Machines and motor cars have taken over much of their work but people in rural areas still have horses helping them pull carriages or take them to places. And many ride horses in different sports, for example equestrian sports and polo, and horsing riding is also a very healthy and interesting hobby.

Horses’ height is measured in hands, with hand being a non-SI unit of measurement of length currently used only for the measurement of the height of horses in some English-speaking countries. Originally based on the breadth of a human hand, it equals four inches and following the adoption of the international inch in 1959, it is 10.16 centimetres.

Horses have four movements called paces — walk, trot, canter and gallop. Walk is the slowest movement, which accelerates to become trot, going faster it becomes cantering and running at great speed is called galloping. Whatever the movement, when the hooves touch down it is called a gait.

The order of footfalls is different for each gait. For instances, the walk is four-beat gait, while a trot is two-beat gait and the canter is a three-beat gait.

The origins of horses can be traced back to over 60 million years ago in what is now North America. The ancestors of modern horses were the size of small browsing animal no bigger than rabbit, and became extinct about 40 million years ago.

There are many breeds of horses but let us discuss just a few of the most famous one from around the world.

Akhal-Teke: This is said to be the oldest surviving breed and over time it has adapted to severe climatic conditions. It is long and lean, have little mane and forelock and has glowing coats. This breed is from Turkmenistan where they are the national emblem. They weigh between 900 to 1100 pounds and are 14-16 hands (58-64 inches) in height. This breed is famous for its speed and endurance. Currently, there are only about 3,500 Akhal-Teke in the world, mostly in Turkmenistan and Russia.

Andalusian: They are about 15.1/2 hands (61.5 inches) in height and 412-512 kg in weight. Usually grey but they are also found in other colours, and boasts silky mane and tail. Their origin is considered to be in the Iberian Peninsula of Andalusia. This breed is also known as the pure Spanish horse and throughout history its prowess is noticed as war horses.

Arabian horses : Well-known for their bonding with humans, Arabian horse originated on the Arabian Peninsula and is one of the oldest surviving horse breeds, domesticated by the Middle Eastern people around 1500BC.

Arabian horses come in many colours such as black, grey, chestnut brown roan, etc., and weighs between 800-1000 pounds. They have the ability to form a cooperative relationship with humans and are quick to learn. Today, Arabian bloodlines are found in almost every modern breed of riding horse and are among the top 10 most popular horse breeds in the world.

Appaloosa: Unique in its own way, Appaloosa is famous for their colourful leopard-spotted patterns. It is said that the Spanish introduced this breed in Mexico in the 1500s.

The main characteristics of Appaloosa are their mottled or partially coloured skin. They are 14-16 hands tall and weigh around 1000 to 1100 pounds. Some Appaloosa has vertical stripped hooves. Appaloosa can be traced as far back as ancient Greece, ancient Persia and the Han Dynasty in China; later depictions in paintings appeared in 11th century France and 12th century England.

Palomino: This breed has a golden coat colour, beautiful white mane and tail, and is popular as show horses and in the 1940s and 1950s they were cast in a lot of Hollywood cowboys’ movies.

Mustang: This breed was also brought by the Spanish in the 1500s to Americas. And it is believed that during those times they were the best breeds among others as they were a mixture of Arabian, Barb and Andalusian blood. The Spanish Mustang is medium-sized and usually between 13 to 15 hands with proportional weight.