Common Misconceptions about horses

January 17, 2020

Common Misconceptions about horses


As children, we played the game “Pass the Message.” We’re well aware of how the game goes. One kid begins with one message and it morphs into a completely different one as the message is passed down the circle. This is how myths come to be — and amplified when passed down thousands of generations. Horses have been around for a hot minute. A lot of gossip has gone around about them, most of which are entirely made up to satiate the questions of more primitive times. In this article, we’ve detailed some of the most common misconceptions about our steeds and the human-equine dynamic.


Horses are not intelligent

Contrary to popular belief (at least among young riders) horses are in fact intelligent. Just because your horse doesn’t know how to do a trick or doesn’t follow your instructions doesn’t mean that they’re not intelligent. Horses don’t have the same level of cognition as people because humans are naturally higher in the pecking order, but they’ve got particularly good recognition and repetition skill. Horses, like most animals, must be trained before they understand a series of commands but it’s always a two-way street. You must also be a good communicator to your horse so that they understand what you want.


Behavior modification is a hokum

One big part of human-horse interaction is rife with misconceptions about the way we train horses. Most people believe that training a horse is easy, that adjusting their behavior is hokum. You need to know that behavior-modification principles are science, and they work. Methods such as positive and negative enforcement and also conditioned responses, habituation, desensitization, and other means by which we know horses learn what they do. However, it does not presume horses possess high cognitive capacity, so perhaps it can seem dismissive of the privileged position in which we put our horses. But these are methods that we know for sure are useful in training horses from the minor daily interactions to very advanced athletic skills.


Hot and cold-blooded horses have a difference in body temperature

All mammals, including horses, are warm-blooded. The informal terms "hot-blooded" and "cold-blooded" aren't varieties of a horse's body temperature but of their body and personality type. "Light" horse breeds are built for riding such as Arabians and Thoroughbreds. They are referred to as hot-blooded and are usually more spirited and energetic. In contrast, draft breeds are built for heavy pulling heavyweight like Percherons, Clydesdales, and Belgians, which are referred to as cold-blooded. They are also known for their calm temperament.


Horses are like “big dogs”

Aren't horses really just big dogs? No, they are quite different. Your horse and your dog have a number of shared interests. They both like sleeping in a warm bed; they enjoy munching on crunchy treats and enjoy the company of their owners. What sets dogs apart from horses is they are prey that hunters might like to eat, because they are herbivores, and their social structure is quite different from dogs. Although many people believe their horses are companion animals, they are not the same as for dogs.


Horses only sleep standing up

According to The Huffpost, “This is somewhat of a myth. Horses can get a lot of sleep while standing up, but they lie down when they require REM sleep. Typically, the amount of REM sleep they require is very small, so they don’t need to lie down often. However, many horses lie down just because they feel comfortable or want to do so.”

The reason why horses sleep standing up (most of the time) is so they can easily get away from predators. But if they’re in an otherwise relaxed environment, then they’ll opt to lie down instead. Horses have this method called the “stay apparatus.” It’s a system of ligaments and tendons that keep them upright with relative ease.


Hooves are solid

Horse hooves may look like solid objects to most people because they give the impression of being tough and hard all the way through. Truth is, we don’t blame them! While they make look like solid objects, this isn’t exactly the case. Horse hooves are made of several different layers and structures with each specific and unique functions. There are three bones present in the hoof (1) pastern bone (2) pedal or coffin bone (3) navicular bone. Surrounding said bones in the laminae. The laminae are a sensitive layer of tissue that carries blood to all the components of the hoof. Underneath the laminae and the bones structures is the digital cushion. It is a rubberlike pad of tissue that acts as a shock absorber for when the horse’s hoofs make contact with the ground.


Horseback Riding is Unaffordable

Many children want to get into horseback riding but their parents often say that lessons are too expensive! Obviously, the cost will vary depending on the state you live in, the type of facilities offered and the clientele that the training grounds offer. If you did a bit of research on facilities specializing in training beginners, you'll be shocked to find out that the prices are fairly reasonable.

Another concern that parents have is the cost of equipment. You should know that you're not expected to purchase a hoard of riding gear to get started with riding lessons. Most facilities rent out their equipment for a good price. Or you can go through Amazon to find a good deal. Amazon is the answer to all our problems. Fact! You can get a board approved helmet and pair of boots for well under $100.

If all else fails and your child doesn't enjoy horseback riding, you can always sell your equipment to a consignment shop or post a listing on craigslist. Additionally, do research on barns that will allow you to sell your outgrown or lightly used equipment to other riders at the farm.


Riding is easy

This should be a no brainer. Learning how to ride is just as difficult as learning any other sport. It takes skill and years of training for riders to properly hold themselves upright and control their horse. As Eliza Gaynor-Minded says “it’s amazing what goes into making something effortless.” That bodes true for all sports and forms of art. Ask any professional rider about what it took to get them where they are now and they will answer you just like any other athlete would: sweat, blood, tears, and a few broken bones on the side.  Riding is so much more than just sitting in the saddle. You need to think of communicating with your horse, proper execution, form, grace, speed, and a whole lot of other things.


Horses are colorblind

Horses see color, but they see it differently than the way we do. Humans have three different types of retinal cells, which allow them to see four unique primary hues (blue, green, red, and yellow), and around a hundred intermediate colors composed of blends of these four unique colors.

Horses do, however, have a two-color or dichromatic vision — which means that they have only two unique hues (blue and yellow), with no intermediate colors. Objects of other colors appear either as white or grey or a desaturated version of one of the mentioned primary hues.


Grinning, laughing, and smiling

We like to give our pets human attribution to make them a little more relatable. There's nothing quite like witnessing our steeds smiling at us or grinning or displaying their big, goofy teeth in the process. It's amusing, but horses aren't smiling or laughing at us. It's a process known as the Flehmen response. When horses twirl up their noses and curl up their lips, they are intensifying their noses to inhale the scent, so it reaches their olfactory glands positioned at the end of their nasal passages. Unlike other animals, a horse’s olfactory glands are located deep within their nasal passages, which is why we get the impression that our horses smile at our jokes when in truth, they're breathing in the air to have a better sense of the scents around them.


Never let a horse suffering from colic lie down

This old-wives tale has been proven wrong time and time again. Modern veterinarians recognize that as long as a horse is lying quietly, they can be left alone to rest. If your horse begins to roll around violently, it is still best to walk them because rolling could cause your horse to injure themselves or cause it to go into shock faster. However, there's little of a chance that rolling will twist their intestines, as earlier thought.

Horses have been around us for thousands of years, so humans have had time to create plenty of myths about them. Next time think twice before repeating an old equestrian myth — it may not be as true as you believe.


No cold water

There isn't enough evidence to prove that horses can't consume cold water, seeing that horses in the wild always drink from water sources such as streams and rivers that are often close to freezing temperatures. However, horses don't prefer consuming cold water right after a workout. Equines are warm-blooded creatures that need some time to cool off after a heavy workout. Therefore, this misconception is normally associated post-workout hydration, and there aren't any health issues allied with the consumption of cold water.


Female horses are easier to handle

Remember how we talked about hot- and cold-blooded horses? Well, it doesn’t just apply to male horses. Female horses can be just as feisty as fire-bred stallions. The notion of mares being timid, and underwhelming is very, very wrong. Did you know that female horses lead the pack? Surprising, isn’t it?


Now that we’ve dispelled many of these myths, we hope it answers some of your questions. If you have any more questions about whether something is true or not, feel free to shoot your local veterinarian or your farriers a question. They will be more than willing to answer you.

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