Answers to 20 Common Questions About Horses

Horses in field
marchellem / Twenty20

Here are the answers to twenty common questions non-horse people ask about horses. 

  • 01 of 20

    Are Horses Color Blind?

    Horse standing in snow
    caitlinspaulding / Twenty20

    It's a common misperception that horses are entirely color blind, seeing the world only in shades of gray. This is not true, although horses do perceive color differently than a human with normal color vision does. Horse color perception is somewhat similar to that of a color-blind human—who is not truly blind to color but perceives it differently. A horse sees only two or three visible wavelengths in the color spectrum. It sees blues and greens, but not reds, so that a red apple or orange carrot appears as shades of green or brown to your horse.

  • 02 of 20

    Are Horses Mammals?

    A wild newborn colt (Equus caballus) standing up being nuzzled by its mother. Foothills of Reno, Nevada, USA, May.
    Horses are mammals. Diane McAllister / Getty Images

    Horses fit the official scientific definition of a mammal: They give birth to live young that suckle milk from their mothers. Horses have hair, like all other mammals, and are warm-blooded with a four-chambered heart.

  • 03 of 20

    Are Horses Dangerous?

    Woman on a rearing white horse
    Rearing can be dangerous. vm / Getty Images

    Horses are generally docile animals and are unlikely to hurt a person intentionally. However, because of their size and tendency to react quickly, a horse can easily hurt humans by accident. Some of the most common ways to be injured by a horse are having toes stepped on, being bitten, or falling off while riding.

    The sport of horseback riding can be dangerous. It's important to learn to ride well and to always wear safety equipment such as helmets and riding boots.

  • 04 of 20

    Are Horses Made Into Glue?

    Gold leaf being put on the leather cover of a book, the skillful art of restoring and replacing book bindings is a trade practiced by only a few craftsmen throughout the country
    Traditional glues are still used in bookbinding. Paul Felix / Getty Images

    Traditionally, animal hides and hooves were used to make glue, since collagen rendered from the skin and hooves made a sturdy adhesive. This glue was used in woodworking, bookbinding, and musical instrument-making, among other things. With more inexpensively made synthetic glues now available, animal glue is no longer commonly used. However, some craftspeople prefer traditional glue, which is still available but no longer manufactured in large quantities. These products are typically sold as hide glue.

    Presently, many types of dead animal stock, including cattle, goats, pigs, and horses are rendered for pet and livestock food and fertilizer, and some of these rendered materials are used in products such as cosmetics, soaps, and industrial fluids, including glues. If a horse dies or is euthanized and is then picked up by a commercial dead-stock vendor, some of the rendered materials may be used in hide glue, but horses are never slaughtered expressly for that purpose. If it is not rendered, a dead horse may be buried or cremated, depending on local regulations.

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  • 05 of 20

    Are Horses Smarter Than Dogs?

    dog and horse looking at each other
    Dogs are a bit smarter than horses.

    Maria itina/Maria itina/Getty Images

    Horses and dogs are very different animals; both are very good at being the type of animal they are. Because horses typically don't have the same motivations and wants that humans do, some people deem horses to be stupid. Dogs, on the other hand, have similar social needs and respond to negative and positive reinforcement in the same way that humans do, which results in a reputation for being smart.

    Another misconception is that a horse's brain is the size of a walnut. In reality, a horse's brain is roughly 25 times the size and weight of a walnut and has a considerable number of convolutions (creases and furrows) that add to the surface area. With surface area often used to define intelligence capacity, this means that horses have considerably more brain area than most people realize.

    As any horse enthusiast knows, horses are very good at picking up human body language. However, they may not beat out dogs in this respect. Dogs can read our cues much better. Research has shown we can train horses to do many of the things dogs do, but that it takes much more effort. This may have to do with how we've bred horses—selectively breeding in qualities such as size, speed, strength, and beauty, but not necessarily selecting intelligence or companionship qualities.

    There is no definitive way to rank animal intelligence, but when viewed by some of the common criteria for establishing human intelligence, such as memory and problem solving, horses tend to rank below some other common mammals such as apes and monkeys, dolphins and whales, dogs, and elephants. On the other hand, by most human intelligence standards, horses are decidedly more intelligent than cows and cats.

  • 06 of 20

    Is a Horse a Carnivore, an Herbivore, or an Omnivore?

    Two horses in a shady pasture.
    Horses grazing in a shady pasture.

    Demetrio Carrasco/ Dorling Kindersley /Getty Images

    The term carnivore means meat-eater, a category that includes members of the cat family and animals such as crocodiles and badgers. In the predator species, teeth are developed to tear apart flesh, and the animals have a short digestive system since they don't need to digest tough plant fibers.

    Omnivores are those animals that eat a variety of meats and plants. Humans, skunks, pigs, bears, and mice are examples of omnivores. These species have both flat teeth for grinding food and sharp teeth for tearing meat. Their digestive systems are evolved to allow them to digest both plant fibers and meat.

    Horses are among those animals that are pure herbivores—animals that eat only plant material. These species are equipped with flat grinding teeth and have very long digestive systems designed to break down the tough cellulose fiber in plants. In addition to horses, this category includes most of the grazing animals, such as cows, bison, zebras, elephants, and antelope.

  • 07 of 20

    Is a Horse Considered Livestock?

    Foal resting in the sun
    Horses are considered livestock. / Getty Images

    Horses are classified as livestock along with animals like sheep, goats, cattle, and swine, although many people consider them to be pets or companion animals. This is a more complicated distinction than you might think, since legal designation as a companion animal can change many of the regulations regarding issues such as raising and keeping horses, medical treatment, and certain agricultural tax benefits enjoyed by livestock owners.

    This has become a surprisingly contentious issue. Miniature horses have received federal classification as an emotional-support species, leading to travelers bringing their horses onto commercial air flights. While several airlines do allow miniature horses to travel as emotional support (ES) animals, this is not popular with some other travelers.

  • 08 of 20

    Is a Horse a Domestic Animal?

    Young cowboy on Shetland pony
    Horses are domestic animals. Ralf Nau / Getty Images

    The modern horse is a domestic animal, defined as a species bred, born, raised, and used by humans. Horses were domesticated about 5,600 years ago. There are some herds of original native horse breeds still in existence in the wild, but most so-called wild horses are domestic breeds that have escaped domestication and become naturalized.

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  • 09 of 20

    Is a Horse a Pet?

    Child sitting with pet horse
    ArtMarie / Getty Images

    Many people consider their horses to be pets and keep them only for companionship and enjoyment. However, some horse enthusiasts believe that it is not a great idea to treat a horse too much like a pet, since horses treated in this way can become a behavior problem and hazard.

    The modern horse has been bred as a livestock species. In other parts of the world, horses are still raised as meat animals for consumption. Many horses are still used as pack and draw animals and are still used to pull horse-drawn vehicles for transportation and agricultural cultivation. Horses are still also used in logging operations.

    With rare exceptions, such as some miniature horse breeds, horses have been bred as a working livestock species and are best raised and used in that manner.

  • 10 of 20

    Will a Horse Die If It Lies Down?

    Horse laying in field
    martonaphoto / Getty Images

    Horses can and do lie down if they feel comfortable in their stalls or pastures. Often, groups will lie out in the sun, while one or two others stand to watch. Horses will nap for short times when they lie down, but if a horse lays prone for too long, blood flow can be restricted, causing a reperfusion injury that occurs when muscles and organs become damaged from lack of blood. Blood can also pool in the lungs if a horse lays down for too long.

  • 11 of 20

    Can Horses See in the Dark?

    Equine Dusk
    Horses see better than humans in low light. Silentfoto / Getty Images

    Horses can see better in low light than humans can, but they can't see in pitch darkness. Horses have a membrane at the back of their eye called the tapetum lucidum, which reflects light more efficiently than a human eye. This allows the horse to see better in low-light conditions than many other species.

  • 12 of 20

    Can Horses Sit?

    Irish brown horse on field in funny pose.
    This horse looks like its sitting, but it's only paused while getting up from lying down. mikroman6 / Getty Images

    Horses don't generally sit as natural behavior, but they can be trained to sit. Because it is an unnatural position, it is uncomfortable for the horse to sit for a long time.

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  • 13 of 20

    Can a Horse Bite Your Finger Off?

    A sign saying 'Warning-Horses May Bite' with trees and grass in the background.
    Horses can bite and cause injury. Best to not stick fingers or faces over fences where unknown horses live. Getty Images/Angelo DeSantis

    Horses can bite hard. Rather than the piercing, tearing teeth of a carnivore, horses have the flat grinding teeth of an omnivore. This means that they are unlikely to bite a finger off, but can badly crush it.

    Horses can leave nasty bite marks on faces and other body parts and have been known to rip noses and ears off. This is one more reason why you should always check with the handler before approaching a horse you don't know.

  • 14 of 20

    Can a Horse Give Birth to Twins?

    Twins are rare. antonio arcos aka fotonstudio photography / Getty Images

    Horses can give birth to twin foals. Unfortunately, it's common for one or both twins to die shortly after birth. Responsible breeders will have mares checked for twin pregnancies early on, and if it's found the mare is carrying twin embryos, one can be "pinched," allowing the other to thrive and be successfully born. It's very unusual for twin foals to survive.

  • 15 of 20

    Can a Horse Sleep While Standing Up?

    three horses sleeping in sun. close up of head.
    Horses do sleep standing up. Daniel Valla Frps / Getty Images

     Yes, horses can sleep while standing up. A mechanism in the joints of the front and hind legs locks when the horse drops one hip as it dozes off into REM sleep. This way, the horse doesn't fall over while it sleeps. As a genetic adaptation, horses sleep standing up to allow them a quick getaway should a predator approach.

  • 16 of 20

    Do Horses Like to Be Ridden?

    Man riding horse
    Yuri_Arcurs / Getty Images

    Many people think their horses like to be ridden. But when a 2012 study tried to evaluate a horse's desire to work, researchers concluded that horses don't really care to work at all and would rather be eating or chumming with their pasture mates.

    But like any animal, a horse needs exercise to maintain health and enjoys some measure of interaction and companionship. The ritual of riding and putting away a horse provides both animal and owner important socialization time, as well as physical exercise for the horse. However, your horse will not mind, nor will he be harmed, if you miss a weekly riding session.

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  • 17 of 20

    Do Horses Get Fleas?

    Horses and insects
    Randy Swiatek / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Horses are not susceptible to fleas since these insects are unable to make a meal of horse blood. However, horses do get lice and other skin parasites.

  • 18 of 20

    Do Horses Eat Meat?

    Horse eating hay.
    Horses can, but probably shouldn't eat meat.

    Mac99/Getty Images

    Although biologically, horses are herbivores, they can eat meat. There are instances in which horses were fed meat diets, such as during the early expeditions to Antarctica, when pack horses were fed high-calorie fish meal as part of the diet. However, given a choice, horses don't usually choose to eat meat. Because their digestive systems aren't designed to digest meat, it is not good for horses in the long term.

    Horses have the digestive system of a herbivore and are healthiest eating good grass or hay.

  • 19 of 20

    Do Horses Have Emotions and Feelings?

    Newborn foal in stall with mare; College Park, Maryland, United States of America
    Horses have feelings. Edwin Remsberg / Getty Images

    Horses have emotional feelings and express them through facial expressions and body language. Some horses are very emotional, while others are more reserved. Facial expressions might be hard for a non-horse person to recognize, but many horses have expressive eyes and muzzles that show what they are feeling. The positions of ears and tail are other obvious indicators of what a horse may be thinking and feeling.

    Horses also have very sensitive skin. They can feel the tactile sensation of tiny flies landing on their coats and can shiver away pests with very precise movements of their muscles and skin.

  • 20 of 20

    Are Horses and Donkeys the Same Species?

    Horses And Donkey On Grassy Field Seen Through Fence
    Equus asinus and Equus caballus are two distinct species. Betty Blahna / EyeEm / Getty Images

    Horse and donkeys are from the same animal family, Equidae, which also includes zebras. And they belong to the same genus, Equus. However, donkeys belong to the species Equus asinus, while modern horses are Equus caballus. The Przewalski's horse (Equus ferus przewalskii) is the last truly wild horse. It is sometimes known as the Mongolian wild horse.

    The offspring of a donkey and a horse is called a mule. As a hybrid, mules are not able to reproduce (with exceedingly rare exceptions).