There are over 350 horse and pony breeds worldwide but many of these breeds are extremely rare and in danger of extinction. For example, the rarest horse breed in the world, the Abaco Barb, went extinct in 2015 when the last mare died without being able to have a foal.
It is possible that breeds like the Abaco Barb could be recreated with cloning from genetic material left by the final members of a breed or through the old-fashioned way of breeding the best to the best and hoping for the best.
History and Origins
Horse facts can differ depending on which horse person you talk to. It is currently unknown which surviving horse breed is the oldest in the world. There are several breeds that loudly make this claim, including the Caspian, the Akhal-Teke and the Norwegian Fjord. However, the horse breed that is clearly ancient but also had tremendous influence on other horse and pony breeds throughout the world is undoubtedly the Arabian, one of the foundation breeds of the Thoroughbred and even the draft breed Percheron.
Horse Facts: Three Main Breed Groups
Books and websites devoted to horse facts or horse breed facts tend to place all horse breeds into three main groups:
- Light horse breeds: This is the largest group in number and not in size. These are all-purpose horses used for riding, driving and light agricultural work.
- Draft horse breeds: Also called “Heavy Horses”, drafters descend from horses bred to carry armored knights of the Middle Ages. They are now primarily bred for meat, for heavy hauling and to work in the forestry industry.
- Pony breeds: These small equines have different body proportions than either light horse or draft horse breeds but still are the same species as the other two groups. Sometimes a “pony” is merely whatever show judge is around claims it to be.
Physical Characteristics of the Three Breed Groups
Here are some fun horse facts for you:
- The tallest horse breed is the Shire from England. It averages 18 hands high and weighs an average of just over one ton.
- The smallest horse breed is the Falabella, also known as the Falabella Miniature Horse. They average a mere 8 hands high and weigh from 70 to 100 pounds. They are not dwarf ponies or dwarf horses, which are mistakenly called miniature horses.
- The fastest horse breed is the Thoroughbred, which can reach speeds of over 40 miles per hour. However, they cannot sustain this top speed for more than a quarter of a mile.
- Horses live an average of 30 years. The oldest known horse is thought to be the aptly named Old Billy from England, who was a reported 62 when he died in 1822.
Horse Facts: Temperaments
Temperaments are different for each horse depending on the individual’s age, gender and past experiences. But on the whole, these are the temperaments of horse groups:
- Light horse breeds have the worst temperaments in that they scare the easiest. When a horse is frightened, they first try to run. If they cannot run, they may lash out in self-defense. This may seem silly to modern humans, but this instinct kept the horse species alive for an estimated 3.5 million years.
- Draft horse breeds are often called “cold-blooded” since they are in general very hard to spook and therefore very docile. Draft horse crosses have become popular in horse sports to add strength and good temperament to “hot-blooded” breeds like the Arabian, the Barb and the Thoroughbred.
- Ponies are somewhere in between the extreme of a Thoroughbred and a draft horse. They tend to be less prone to spook but also tend to be cleverer than horses and will quickly figure out ways of getting out of work.
Having a Horse
Perhaps the saddest of horse facts is that there is a serious horse overpopulation problem in Europe, Australia and North America. Getting a free or nearly free horse has never been easier. However, keeping a horse is very expensive in terms of money, resources and time you need to commit to the care of the horse to keeping him or her happy and healthy. The Horse magazine came up with an annual horse owner’s expense chart, but made it just for keepers of light horse breeds. Costs will be slightly less for ponies and miniature horses but much more for draft horses. Average costs are:
- Boarding, stall or pasture rental services: $300 to $3000. The higher end of the price includes more services than just a space to live.
- Hay: About $520
- Feed: $390 per year. Ponies often do not need grain or they will get obese. Horses not breeding or doing heavy work also do not need grain.
- Bedding/ used bedding removal: About $1300. Even horses living in pastures need to have their piles of manure taken away.
- Veterinary fees (if the horse is healthy for that year): $250. Boarding or stall rental services: $300 to $3000 annually, depending on what services are included in the price.
- Dental care: $250. Some veterinarians do not provide dental services but they should be able to recommend a horse dentist for you.
- Farrier: $750. They need to visit about every six weeks or the horse will go lame.
- Basic grooming supplies: $250 (at least depending on inflation and the health of the horse.) These include brushes, buckets, pitchforks, hoof picks, shampoos, conditioners, fly spray, hoof conditioner and more.
- Tack: This category includes a wide variety of items such as saddles, saddle pads, girths, bridles, martingales, cruppers, reins, harness, training carts, carriages or sulkies. $2000.
Miscellaneous fact to end with: One of the cruelest of horse facts is that every time you turn around there is some horse-related item to pay for. These could be riding lessons, show entry fees, horse breed registration fees for purebreds, transportation costs or books to figure out how to do any of those things, including take care of your horse.
Image from depositphotos.com.