By Keith Londrie
Depending on breed, management and environment, the domestic horse today has a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years. It is uncommon, but a few horses live into their 40s, and, occasionally, beyond. The oldest verifiable record was “Old Billy,” a horse that lived in the 19th century to the age of 62. The size of horses varies by breed, but can also be influenced by nutrition. The general rule for cutoff in height between what is considered a horse and a pony at maturity is 14.2 hands(h or hh) (147 cm, 58 inches) as measured at the withers. An animal 14.2h or over is usually considered a horse and one less than 14.2h is a pony.
However, there are exceptions to the general rule. Some smaller horse breeds who typically produce individual horses both under and over 14.2h are considered “horses” regardless of height. Likewise, some pony breeds, such as the Pony of the Americas or the Welsh cob, share some features of horses and individual animals may occasionally mature at over 14.2h, but are still considered ponies. The difference between a horse and pony is not simply a height difference, but also a difference in phenotype or appearance. There are noticeable differences in conformation and temperament. Ponies often exhibit thicker manes, tails and overall coat. They also have proportionally shorter legs, wider barrels, heavy bone, thick necks, and short heads with broad foreheads.
Light horses such as Arabians, Morgans, Quarter Horses, Paints and Thoroughbreds usually range in height from 14.0 (142 cm) to 16.0 hands (163 cm) and can weigh from 386 kg (850 lbs) to about 680 kg (1500 lbs). Heavy or draft horses such as the Clydesdale, Belgian, Percheron, and Shire are usually at least 16.0 (163 cm) to 18.0 hands (183 cm) high and can weigh from about 682 kg (1500 lb) up to about 900 kg (2000 lb). Ponies are less than 14.2h, but can be much smaller, down to the Shetland pony at around 10 hands, and the Falabella which can be the size of a medium-sized dog. The miniature horse is as small as or smaller than either of the aforementioned ponies but are classified as very small horses rather than ponies despite their size. The largest horse in history was a Shire horse named Sampson, later renamed Mammoth, foaled in 1846 in Bedfordshire, England. He stood 21.2Â½ hands high (i.e. 7 ft 2Â½ in or 2.20 m ), and his peak weight was estimated at over 3,300 lb (approx 1.5 tonnes). The current record holder for the world’s smallest horse is Thumbelina, a fully mature miniature horse affected by dwarfism. She is 17 inches tall and weighs 60 pounds.
Pregnancy lasts for approximately 335-340 days and usually results in one foal (male: colt, female: filly). Twins are rare. Colts are usually carried 2-7 days longer than fillies. Females 4 years and over are called mares and males are stallions. A castrated male is a gelding. Horses, particularly colts, may sometimes be physically capable of reproduction at approximately 18 months but in practice are rarely allowed to breed until a minimum age of 3 years, especially females. Horses four years old are considered mature, though the skeleton usually finishes developing at the age of six, and the precise time of completion of development also depends on the horse’s size (therefore a connection to breed exists), gender, and the quality of care provided by its owner.
Also, if the horse is larger, its bones are larger; therefore, not only do the bones take longer to actually form bone tissue (bones are made of cartilage in earlier stages of bone formation), but the epiphyseal plates (plates that fuse a bone into one piece by connecting the bone shaft to the bone ends) are also larger and take longer to convert from cartilage to bone as well. These plates convert after the other parts of the bones do but are crucial to development.
Depending on maturity, breed and the tasks expected, young horses are usually put under saddle and trained to be ridden between the ages of two and four. Although Thoroughbred and American Quarter Horse race horses are put on the track at as young as two years old in some countries (notably the United States), horses specifically bred for sports such as show jumping and dressage are generally not entered into top-level competition until a minimum age of four years old, because their bones and muscles are not solidly developed, nor is their advanced training complete.
Horses are adapted to grazing, so their teeth continue to grow throughout life. There are 12 teeth (six upper and six lower), the incisors, adapted to biting off the grass or other vegetation, at the front of the mouth, and 24 teeth, the premolar and molars, adapted for chewing, at the back of the mouth. Stallions and geldings have four additional teeth just behind the incisors, a type of canine teeth that are called “tushes.” Some horses, both male and female, will also develop one to four very small vestigial teeth in front of the molars, known as “wolf” teeth, which are generally removed because they can interfere with the bit. There is an empty interdental space between the incisors and the molars where the bit rests directly on the bars (gums) of the horse’s mouth when the horse is bridled.
The incisors show a distinct wear and growth pattern as the horse ages, as well as change in the angle at which the chewing surfaces meet, and while the diet and veterinary care of the horse can affect the rate of tooth wear, a very rough estimate of the age of a horse can be made by looking at its teeth.
Keith Londrie II is the Webmaster of http://horse.about-animals.info A website that specializes in providing information on horses that you can research on the internet at your own pace. Please Visit http://horse.about-animals.info now!
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