The world of horses is a weird and wonderful one. These majestic animals aren’t just pets, trusted companions, athletes and hard workers who help out around the farm; they’re also fascinating creatures that are unique in the animal kingdom and have many millennia worth of history behind them.
“Horses first came on the scene 55 million years ago.”
Before you declare yourself a horse expert, however, have a gander at these four interesting facts about our favorite equine allies. You may be an expert on horse care, but we guarantee you’ve never heard these before:
1. They have a long life span
If you’re a veteran horse owner, you’ve probably noticed that horses tend to live a fairly long time. While estimates vary, horse life expectancy is generally placed somewhere between 18 and 25 years old, with the American Quarter Horse Association counting all horses age 25 and over as deceased, according to America’s Horse Daily. While this might not hold a candle to marine mammals, some of whom can live for hundreds of years, it’s a lot longer than Fido or your average cat.
The title of oldest living horse is currently somewhat up in the air, with the previous titleholder – Orchid, age 50, a mare from Essex – passing a few weeks ago, according to the Mirror. However, even this record pales in comparison to Old Billy, the oldest horse on record, who lived to the ripe old age of 62 before passing in 1822. Who knows: With the right horse healthcare, even your horse could rival these hall-of-famers.
2. They’ve been around longer than we have
Even apart from their longer-than-average life spans, horses have been with us for a long time. In fact, according to the American Museum of Natural History, they first came on the scene 55 million years ago. By contrast, the first bipedal human ancestor is believed to have evolved around 5.8 million years ago, according to New Scientist.
For half of their time on earth, horses were fairly small, with the first species only being the approximate size of a dog. It was only about 20 million years ago, when the climate shifted and grasslands grew, that new, larger species started to evolve, typically living side by side with each other.
3. Their ears are incredibly dexterous
You’ve probably heard before about horses’ unique eyes, which allow them to see in nearly 360 degree vision at once. But did you know their ears are just about as dexterous?
As the University of Glasgow points out, horses have 16 auricular muscles – in other words, they have 16 muscles in their ears. To put that into perspective, we only have three such muscles. For this reason, horses can move their ears in a 180 degree range of motion.
This is why horses’ hearing tends to be particularly good – they can simply point their ear toward the source of a sound, picking it up more clearly. Horses are also able to hear tones that are nearly an octave higher than the sounds humans can discern.
4. We first domesticated them 4,000 years ago
By just about all accounts, archeological evidence points to the fact that humans first domesticated horses approximately 6,000 years ago, at around 4,000 B.C. According to Oklahoma State University’s Department of Animal Science, the first domestication of horses took place somewhere around central Asia.
At the time, they were kept for their milk and meat – after all, during the ice age in Europe, around 10,000 years ago, humans hunted horses. But presumably, soon enough, people recognized the immense value horses had beyond their meat, such as their ability to traverse great distances in a short amount of time and to pull plows and carriages.
That’s not to say all horses today are domestic. As the National Geographic points out, feral horses – such as wild mustangs in North America – descended from horses brought over by Europeans more than four centuries ago.