25 Facts about Horses.

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A horse’s markings and hair patterns are so individual, they can be used to identify one horse from another. All horses, ponies and donkeys in the UK now need to have their own passport and their color and markings are recorded here so we know who is who.

Before you see what a horse's passport looks like, you'll need to know the names for the various markings that horses can have.


Black - it’s very rare to see a black horse, as they must not have any brown hairs, not even any dark brown hairs. The horse in the photo is a Friesian - they are always black in color.

Brown - like Street Cry here, brown is when a horse is dark brown all over and with brown points (mane, tail, legs or ears.)

Bay - a very common color for thoroughbreds. They have a brown body (often mid to light brown) and black points (mane, tail legs and ears). Darley stallion Bertolini (pictured) would be described as a ‘bright bay’.

Chestnut - reddish brown, like humans with red hair. They should not have any black on them. The stallion in the photo is Halling, who you may have seen at Dalham Hall Stud.
Grey - This is when horses have a lot of white in their coat. They are normally dark at first and become lighter and lighter with age until they are almost fully white. They can have darker skin, eyes and muzzle than the rest of their body. The horse in the photos is Holy Bull, who raced in America and is now a Darley stallion. You can see that he has become much lighter since he went to stud. His speckled color is called “flea-bitten grey.”
These are the most common colors for thoroughbreds, but in other breeds there are a variety of other different colors and colour combinations, such as:
  • White
  • Blue Roan
  • Strawberry Roan
  • Dun
  • Palomino
  • Piebald
  • Skewbald
  • Appaloosa


Markings are the areas of white hair found on a horse's body. In thoroughbreds, this white is found on the legs or the face.


White pastern - where the horse's leg is covered in white up to the top of the pastern
  • Sock - the horse is white less than half-way up the cannon bone.
  • Stocking - the horse is white at least half-way up the cannon bone.


  • Star
  • Star and Stripe
  • Stripe
  • Blaze
  • Snip
The other markings used to identify horses are chestnuts and whorls.


As mentioned in the points of the horse, the exact location of a horse's chestnuts is particularly individual and can be used to identify one horse from another.


A whorl is like the top of our head, where the hair changes direction. In a horse, it looks like a little whirlpool of hair, circling around itself. They can be located anywhere and no two horses will have the same pattern. They are usually found somewhere on the crest, the stifle and often on the legs.
Just like us, horses need passports as every one is a bit different and we need to be able to tell who is who when they are travelling around.

Below are the official diagrams that need to be filled in by a vet to go into a horse's passport. There are no photos inside the passport, only these diagrams.

The highest point of the horse is the top of its head, which we now know is called the poll.

As horses can move their heads up and down a lot, it’s very difficult to measure their height from the ground to the poll.
So instead, a horse is measured from the ground to the top of his withers. Can you remember where the withers are? (Hint: have a look at points of the horse).
Horses are not measured in metres and centimetres in the UK, Ireland and the USA like we are. Instead, hands are the unit we use to measure horses.
So, what is a hand?
One Hand = four inches, or about 10cm. It is called a hand because it originally equated to the width of a man's hand.
If a horse is more than an exact number of hands high, the extra inches are given after a full stop. For example, 14 hands 2 inches is written as 14.2hh.
The average height of a thoroughbred is 16.0hh.
Have a look at the height chart to see how the horse grows from one month to four years of age.
The photos below show some different breeds of horse and their average heights:

Horses developed in the wild as prey animals, so their senses are tuned to protect them from predators. They have the same senses as ours: sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch but they work in slightly different ways.

Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal and are found on the side of the head. This means horses have the widest field of vision possible when grazing and they can see from nearly every direction (see diagram below). Horses can not see what is happening directly below their nose (so their sense of smell and whiskers are very important) or above their head where they are often sensitive to being touched. Neither can they see directly behind them, which is why you should never approach a horse from behind. It is best to approach horses from the side so they can see you properly.
Horses can’t see as well as us, but if an object is visible to both eyes they have very good depth ‘perception’ which means they can judge how far away it is. They can do this much better than us which is why they are so good at jumping. The only other animal like this is the cat and they usually land on their feet when they jump too!


Horses have long ears on the top of their heads and the movement of the ears can tell you a lot about a horse. They use their ears to listen to what is going on in front and behind and can tell the difference between a lot more individual sounds than we can.
However, because they hear so well they don't like loud noises. If you approach a horse from the side you should speak in a calm, soothing voice and this way they can use their sense of hearing to tell that you are a friend.

When horses put their ears forward (like Consolidator above) they are straining to hear and showing a keen interest in what is going on around them. When they put their ears back (like in the photo to the left) they are closing their ears to show they are feeling angry or aggressive.


Horses like to use their sense of smell as much as they can. To do this they will approach with their neck stretched out and their nose pointed towards the object they want to smell.
The sense of smell is very important to horses, as it is how they recognize each other. For example, a mare can identify her foal by its smell and pick it out of a large herd. Because horses have lots of teeth, they have a bigger area inside their nose to help them smell. This means that they can smell over a hundred times better than we can.
If you allow horses to smell the back of your hand and approach them with your arm out-stretched, they will know that you are a friend and can trust you.


Thoroughbreds have much thinner skin than other breeds of horse, which means they are quite sensitive to touch. They use their whiskers to identify an object below their nose and check out the texture of food. Horses also have whiskers (like eyebrows) above their eyes which protect them and warn them if anything is too close to their eyes.
Horses show their friendship by scratching one another with their teeth; you can make friends with some horses by scratching them in certain places where they can't reach, such as the withers. If the horse wants to return the show of friendship he will begin to scratch you with his teeth!
A horse has two sets of teeth during its life and just like we lose our baby teeth, a horse loses his milk teeth during his first few years of life with a permanent set replacing them.
An adult horse should have forty teeth (count yours, how many do you have?) They have:
  • 24 premolars and molars - back teeth to grind down food.
  • 12 incisors - front teeth for tearing at grass and other forage.
  • Four canine teeth - most male horses have these but not all female horses.These are also called tushes.

You can work out how old a horse is by looking at its teeth. Here’s how:
  • Check to see how white they are - the more yellow, the older the horse
  • A horse will have lost its milk teeth by the time is it two years old
  • The surface enamel of the permanent (or adult) teeth will slowly wear away with age
  • The biting surfaces of the teeth are called 'tables' and these will change from an oval shape in a young horse to triangular and then almost square in an older horse
  • In a horse of around ten years of age, a dark groove becomes visible in the incisor - this is called the 'Galvayne's Groove' and as the horse gets older, the groove will move down the length of the tooth
  • As you can see from the diagram, once the horse is 20 years or older, the teeth will begin to slope forwards and may eventually fall out
It is very important to look after a horse’s teeth as they need them to eat and chew their food. There are equine dentists who rasp or “float” horse's teeth. This is a bit like filing your nails although most horses like having this done and find it very relaxing. The dentist just has to be careful his fingers don't get chomped by the horse!


Now we know all about their teeth, we can look at what horses eat. Firstly, horses are vegetarians, so don't eat any kind of meat.
They are very selective about what they eat and they use their whiskers, lips and incisors to feel and choose the food they want. Horses eating hay for example will use their whiskers to feel a rough bit of hay which is too hard to digest and will push it aside with their lips. They may pick up the soft hay surrounding it and shake it between their incisors to free it from the nasty, rough bit.
Horses are grazers, which means their stomachs are designed for them to eat constantly. This works best in the wild where horses have to exercise to look for grass and will wander many miles in a day whilst grazing. However once horses are confined to a paddock or stall, they need to have their diet modified so they don't become too fat. It is also better to feed them little and often, rather than two big feeds a day.
It is also very important that a horse has access to a supply of fresh, clean water that can be monitored to make sure they are drinking.
Both humans and horses need to eat some of the following to remain fit and healthy. See some sources of different food groups in the table below:
Food Group Horses Humans
Peas and beans, linseed oil, oats or barley
Lean meat, lentils, beans
Peas and beans, oats, barley or maize
Potatoes, pasta, rice, bread
Sugar beet, bran or hay
Fruit and vegetables, bran flakes!
Fats and Oils
Linseed or sunflower oil
Butter, oil, cheese
A horse needs to eat about 2.5% of its body-weight every day. A fully fit racehorse will weigh around 480 kg so will need to eat about 12kg of food a day!
Of that about 70% should be concentrate, such as oats, barley or maize and 30% should be roughage or bulk, such as grass, hay and bran.
A pony will need to eat that in reverse, i.e. 70% roughage and 30% concentrate - that is provided of course that the pony is being exercised!
Vitamins and minerals may need to be supplemented at different times in a horse's life. Before a mare gives birth or foals, she will need extra calcium in her diet to help her produce milk. For the first three month's of the foal's life she will continue to need extra calcium.
Young thoroughbreds from a year old to when they are fully grown may need extra protein and vitamins to help them develop their bones and muscles.

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