Author: Gabriella Lowe

The Domestic Feral Horse

Though unknown to many (including horse enthusiasts!), there is a difference between wild horses and feral populations. The term “wild horse” is meant to describe horses that have never been domesticated—such as the endangered Przewalski’s Horse. This is the last remaining true wild horse in the world; all others have been driven to extinction.


Therefore, a feral horse is considered to be domesticated, in a sense, because its ancestors have been domesticated. Though some populations of feral horses are managed as wildlife, the term “wild horse” is a misnomer. Feral horses are descended from domestic horses that escaped or were deliberately released into the wild.


As a result of its existence in nature, feral horse behavior has shifted over time; they more closely resemble the behavior of wild horses. They live in groups called bands, herds, harems, or mobs, and are often led by a dominant mare. The rest of the band is composed of additional mares, their foals, and immature horses of both sexes.


Like with most wild herds, band makeup shifts over time as young animals are driven out or welcomed in. Within a closed ecosystem, however, the ability to maintain genetic diversity necessitates a large group size—the minimum size for a sustainable, free-roaming horse population is between 150 to 200 animals.


These domestic feral horses were likely introduced by the Conquistadors in the 15th century AD; some horses escaped and formed the feral herds we now know as mustangs. Australia has the largest population of feral horses in the world—with an excess of 400,000 feral animals, it is not hard to spot one or a group cantering together. Though unusually controversial (livestock producers are often at odds with horse enthusiasts about habitat impact), the domestic feral horse populations will, likely, continue to thrive.


Categories: Blog

Evolution of the Horse

The horse has evolved over the course of 45 to 55 million years—from small, multi-toed creatures into the large, single-toed animal we know and love. Humans began to domesticate horses around 4000 BC, and their domestication became widespread a thousand years later—around 3000 BC. The earliest archaeological evidence for this domestication comes from sites in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, but there is a sharp increase in horse domestication in Europe some two thousand years later.


The horse’s natural anatomy drove its domestication—their bodies enable them to make use of speed to escape predators, and they have a well-developed sense of balance and a strong fight-or-flight response. Horses, historically and in modern times, have been used for leisure activities, sports, and for working purposes.


Moreover, their natural disposition and speed made horses an apt choice in warfare. In fact, they have been utilized in war for most of recorded history. The first archaeological evidence of this dates to between 4000 and 3000 BC, and their use in war was widespread by the end of the Bronze Age. They continue to be used in battle—most notably by the Janjaweed militias in the war in Darfur.


Horse breeds are loosely divided into three categories. These groups are based primarily on general temperament: “hot bloods” are considered to be fast, enduring, and spirited, “cold bloods” are suitable for slow or heavy work, and “warmbloods” are most suited for riding purposes. Horse use, over thousands of years, has driven breed development.


Horses require a lot of maintenance and care. Routine hoof care and vaccinations should be administered, and dental examinations are essential. Regular groom is helpful for maintaining good skin health, and they require daily exercise. Caring for a horse is a massive undertaking, but it is well-worth it!



Categories: Blog