Simon and Schuster's Guide to Horses and Ponies

Simon and Schuster's Guide to Horses and Ponies

by Maurizio Bongianni


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780671660673
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
Publication date: 05/01/1988
Pages: 256

First Chapter


The horse is an ungulate mammal of the order Perissodactyla, family Equidae, genus Equus and species caballus. The Perissodactyla are four-legged animals characterized by their feet, which rest on an odd number of toes, either three or a single one (the middle toe) protected by a covering of horn, called a hoof.

The horse, Equus caballus, has evolved over a period of about sixty million years, starting in the early Tertiary era with Eohippus. From Eohippus in the Paleooene it developed via Orohippus and Epihippus of the Eocene and Mesohippus and Miohippus of the Oligocene into Merychippus during the Miocene, which stage in its evolution it reached either directly or via Parahippus. From Merychippus it further evolved during the Pliocene to become Pliohippus and eventually about one million years ago became recognizable as the genus Equus, the direct ancestor of Equus caballus, which first appeared during the Neolithic.

During this evolutionary process, over millions of years, many branches became extinct, as was the case with Anchitherium and Hypohippus, both of which descended from Miohippus, and Hipparion and Hippidion, which stemmed from Merychippus. The greater part of the evolution of the horse occurred on the American continent, from where Equus migrated to Asia, Europe and South America. Hyracotherium, the European contemporary of Eohippus, became extinct during the Eocene. In the late Pleistocene (about tenthousand years ago) the species living on the American continent disappeared, for reasons still unknown. The horse reappeared in America only after it was reintroduced to the continent by Christopher Columbus.

The evolution of the species has been accompanied by profound changes in stature, the shape of the molar teeth and the structure of the limbs. The height at the shoulder has gradually increased from about 9 in (24 cm) in Eohippus, to about 4 ft 4 in (1.3 m) in Equus caballus, which is similar in size to the present-day Equus przewalskii poliakov. As a result of changes in diet the molars slowly became more prismatic in shape and developed hard enamel ridges, suitable for grinding. The most important transformation occurred in the limbs and concerns the number of toes. Eohippus had four hoofed toes on each forefoot and three on each hind foot. In Parahippus this was reduced to three toes on all four feet, however, only one served to support the weight of the animal. In Equus caballus the number of toes was finally reduced to one only. The second and fourth digits still exist but only in vestigial form as thin, tapering splint bones (the secondary metacarpus and metatarsus, in the fore and hind foot respectively, and the chestnut on all four legs.

All present-day horses can be traced back to three main progenitors, belonging to a single species. These are Equus przewalskii gmefini, otherwise known as the Tarpan, the now-extinct horse of the eastern European steppes, Equus przewalskii poliakov from Mongolia, also in danger of becoming extinct, and Equus robustus of Central Europe, the first of the three to die out. The lighter-built dolichomorphic and mesomorphic breeds descend from the first two while the brachymorphic type of central and southern Europe descends from the third.


Any animal species may be subdivided into a number of natural or artificial breeds, that is groups of individuals sharing certain distinctive characteristics (breed standards), which are hereditarily transmissible. Natural breeds are formed by a process of natural selection, by which those individuals best adapted to a given environment succeed in surviving, passing on to their descendants their distinguishing characteristics. Most of today's breeds, however, are artificial, that is created by man in an attempt to perpetuate the most desirable characteristics of an individual. Artificial selection is therefore based on crossbreeding individuals belonging to different breeds, and hybridization, which is the coupling of crossbreds, that is those individuals obtained by crossbreeding. In artificial selection the choice of breeding stock is based either on morphological features (morphological selection) or functional characteristics (functional selection). In some cases, where functional selection prevails, the morphological characteristics become less well-defined and more variable, as in many racing breeds; in other cases, morphological selection is more important with the resultant enhancement of the distinctive physical characteristics of the breed.


Although the horse manifests the sexual instinct when it is nearly one year old, and reaches puberty at the age of two, it is inadvisable to mate either the male or the female before the age of three. The sexual life of horses is long, extending beyond the fifteenth year in stallions, and almost for life in the mare. The mare is able to reproduce throughout the year, but sexual activity is more pronounced in the period from February through August (northern hemisphere), with a high point during April, May and June. In this period, known as the breeding season, the sexual stimulus is more accentuated and the heat period in the female more evident. During this time the stallion may cover up to two mares a day. The mare's heat period lasts for three to eight days; in the event of no fertilization being achieved, it returns after three to four weeks, the oestrus cycle being of twenty-two days duration. In the female, the period of oestrum is accompanied by erection of the clitoris, reddening of the vaginal mucus, and emission of a viscous fluid from the vulva; the mare frequently assumes the urinating position, lifts her tail, appears restless and shows a tendency to kick. The stallion reacts to a mare on heat by appearing agitated and excited, whinnying insistently and often presenting the sexual organ in erection.

The choice of breeding stock is based on artificial selection, which should take into account both the conformation and functional characteristics of the mare and the stallion. The selection of race horses for breeding takes place on the racecourse, through special competitions known as pattern races.

The first indications that a broodmare is in foal will become evident very soon after her final service: she will be noticeably quieter and show an increase in appetite, the udders will grow larger and after the fifth month the abdomen will begin to swell, assuming a more rounded appearance. The pregnancy has an average duration of eleven months and ten days; during this time the mare should not be subjected to rigorous work, however nor should she be left totally inactive and moderate exercise is advisable. During the last month of gestation this should be limited to a daily walk, or being let out in the field. At the approach of parturition the first warning signs appear: the mare is restless, her gaze becomes anxious and distressed, the udders become swollen and the animal alternately stands up and lies down at frequent intervals. At this point labor commences; the lips of the vulva open revealing the water bag, the breaking of which and the release of its viscous fluid assure the lubrication of the birth canal. From this moment the delivery period begins in which dilation of the neck of the uterus takes place and the contractions begin, becoming progressively stronger and more frequent. The phase is short and, in normal circumstances, the foal's two forelegs will appear soon after the water bag has made its appearance. After a short time and a few more contractions the foal's head appears. Once the shoulders are through the foal slides out comparatively easily and the birth is completed.

One month after foaling the mare may resume normal activity. Heat recurs within a few days of foaling, during which period she is particularly fertile and may be covered again. The foal is suckled for about six to seven months after which it is weaned. In the wild this delicate transition takes place naturally under the mother's close supervision, however, foals born in captivity are generally completely separated from the mare as soon as they are considered old enough for training to begin.


Thoroughbreds destined for the racecourse are broken in at about eighteen months, however, with other breeds it is normal to wait until 2 1/2 or 3 1/2 years of age. Breaking a horse in is a very delicate operation and should be undertaken calmly and patiently, with no violence or maltreatment, seeking to persuade rather than to coerce. It these guidelines are not followed the animal may suffer mental trauma, which can have negative repercussions later. The human must seek to cultivate a feeling of trust and security in the animal to render it docile and calm. The young horse should be introduced to work very gradually and great care should be taken not to overexert it as this may make it unwilling to accept its new situation, or even reject it. A reasonable amount of work will help the physical development of the young animal while excessive fatigue will cause loss of appetite and consequent weakening that will impede its growth.

The horse should be put to the kind of work that best suits its build and aptitudes. Other factors that should also be taken into consideration are the sex and age of the animal, as well as climatic and seasonal conditions. Females tend to be more delicate than males and on hot days will become irritable; stallions are more attractive in appearance than geldings, but generally less even-tempered. Heat, especially if accompanied by a high level of humidity, makes work less acceptable, while wind irritates horses and makes them nervous.

The seasons, too, can affect the animal's performance: in spring the horse is more lively and full of energy, while in summer, especially in hotter countries, its appetite diminishes and it endures its work with more effort, besides which, it is often bothered by insects. Fall is a transitional season during which the horse still feels the negative influences of summer; then in winter it regains it vitality, its appetite increases and the cold stimulates it to move more energetically.


A horse's hoof grows continually and will renew itself completely over a period of about nine months. In the wild, with soft pasture land and natural terrain under foot, there is a perfect balance between the rate at which the hoof wears down and the rate at which it regrows. Domestic animals, however, are often forced to walk long distances over very hard surfaces, such as roads and rough dirt tracks, frequently carrying or pulling heavy loads, and this subjects the hoof to an excessive rate of wear that is not naturally compensated for. If the horse is to be prevented from going lame as a consequence, steps have to be taken, the most efficient of which is shoeing, whereby a protective iron is applied to the underside of the hoof.

The practise of shoeing was probably originated by the ancient Germanic Cimbrian tribe as long ago as 1600 B.C., although some Oriental peoples may have used a form of horseshoe in even earlier times. The Romans shod their horses with a type of nailless horseshoe, or solea, which consisted of an iron plate attached to the underside of the hoof by means of clamps and leather straps. The modern horseshoe, which is fixed to the hoof with nails, dates back to the Middle Ages. Most horseshoes, even today, are still made of iron, although other materials such as aluminum and plastic are occasionally used, being lighter though less hardwearing.

As a shod hoof is protected and will not therefore wear down, the farrier or blacksmith must make sure that the hoof, which is growing constantly, is trimmed down to its original size every. time the shoes are replaced (on average every thirty to forty days). the first shoeing is generally carried out soon after breaking-in, however care should be taken not to shoe a horse too early since this risks damaging the feet of a young animal.

Occasionally the horn of the front hooves will grow more quickly than that of the hind hooves, in which case only the forelegs should be reshod, and the hind legs left until the next shoeing.

The hoof is composed of a sloping outer wall of horn and on the underside the sole and frog. The wall can be subdivided into a forward area (the toe), symmetrical lateral sections the parts of which, from front to back, are known as the toe quarter and the heel quarter, and the heel at the rear. The height of the wall decreases from the toe to the heel, as does its outward slope; at the extremities of the heel the wall turns sharply inwards to form the two bars between which is the frog.

The sole of the hoof is composed of a thin layer of horny substance; its external surface is concave, and into this the wedge-shaped frog is inserted. The frog is composed entirely of horn, less compact than in the other parts of the hoof and with some elasticity that acts as a sort of shock absorber to the considerable pressures that are exerted on the foot as a whole. The frog is made up of an anterior section known as the apex, from which two branches run toward the rear divided by the central groove of the frog and terminating in the bulb of the heel.

The horny substance of which the hoof is formed is keratin, which, in the digital pad of the sole, forms an elastic structure that reduces the pressures exerted by the body weight. The bones that go to make up the foot of the horse are the lower half of the second phalanx (short pastern bone), the third phalanx (pedal bone), and the navicular bone.

The shoe is the same shape as the ground border of the hoof wall to which it is attached, and the different parts take the same names as the corresponding parts of the hoof, i.e. the toe, the toe quarters, the heel quarters and the heels. The shoe may also have projecting elements at the heels, bent downward and slightly forward, called calkins, the purpose of which is to provide a better grip on the ground, or extensions on the upper edge, turned upward, called clips, which ensure a more secure fit to the hoof wall. There may be either one single clip situated at the toe, or two clips, one at each toe quarter, and these may take different forms: triangular (Latin type) or semicircular (German type). In certain circumstances the clips may occasionally be used in place of nails. The shoes will differ in shape from the front hoof, which is more rounded, to-the back, which is more oval with a more concave sole. Around the lower surface of the shoe runs a groove (the fullering) with rectangular holes through which the nails fixing the shoe to the hoof are driven. Generally there are eight nail holes, but some shoes have only five; according to whether they are set close to the outside edge or away from it they are said to be fine or coarse. in most European countries it is often the practise to leave the shoe somewhat proud of the edge of the hoof wall, but in Great Britain the shoe is usually filed back to the contours of the hoof. The upper surface of the shoe is also "seated out" to prevent the sole coming into contact with the shoe when the foot expands under the pressure placed on it.

Shoeing is an extremely skilled operation since, if badly done, it may affect the natural stance of the horse, adversely affecting its action. A good shoe should fit the hoof perfectly so that it is comfortable for the horse, and not too heavy. Shoeing may also have corrective or therapeutic uses, if, for example, a horse's natural stance is defective, or if there is pressure on the foot, or damage to the tendons. Obviously the fitting of special shoes will follow consultation with and approval by a veterinary surgeon.


The horse, popularly depicted in literature and films as brave, courageous and hardworking, is in reality a nervous, apprehensive and lazy animal; it loves a quiet life and even years of domestication and training will fail to alter its true nature and sense of independence. Its submission to man is in fact no more than a compromise with itself that enables it to overcome its innate feelings of apprehension and insecurity. When frightened, a horse will often kick or bite, but in the face of real danger its most likely reaction will be to bolt. This flight is most evident in the seemingly heroic cavalry charge, in es are often credited with great bravery as they fling headlong into the enemy lines. In fact, the horses are terrified by the shouts and bugle calls and, imagining the danger to be coming from behind, flee to what seems, in their panic, to be safety.

In spite of its timid and fearful nature, the horse shows an uncommon intelligence and sensitivity; fundamentally good-natured, it does not, however, easily forget cruelty, and even years later will remember everything that it associates with pain or suffering. Its relationship with man must be based on trust, and it is therefore important for the owner or trainer to be consistently firm and decisive, yet attentive and considerate, since the horse looks to him for protection. Horses, like humans, each present different subjective character traits that together form the personality. Thus a horse may be lazy, apathetic, generous, aggressive, nervous, curious, indifferent, obedient or obstinate. Horses are also capable of expressing a wide range of feelings such as love, hatred, jealousy, gratitude, like, dislike, and ill-will. It interprets man's wishes from the tone and inflection of his voice.

A horse's feelings toward fellow breeds are particularly evident in the wild state, where the animal is in a position to select for itself a group of individuals with which it can establish bonds of real friendship. The character of a race horse can generally be determined from its behavior on the track: there are competitive types that will fight to the last in order not to allow themselves to be beaten by an adversary. Others show themselves to be lazy and need constant encouragement, and then there are those that lose heart as soon as a competing horse overtakes them. Finally some horses always love to gallop or trot ahead of all the others and it will be a difficult task for the rider or driver to dampen their enthusiasm.

Horses express themselves and communicate with each other by making sounds: the whinny and the neigh. The whinny is a short plaintive sound, low in tone, and always used to express distress; the neigh, however, presents itself in various forms denoting different situations and feelings. When long, high-pitched and repeated at regular intervals, the neigh conveys a sense of well-being and contentment; if the sounds are short and high-pitched they demonstrate anger; when the sound is drawn-out, ending with low repeated notes it expresses desire; if low-pitched, short and almost forced it denotes fear.

The horse's state of mind is also reflected by the position of the ears. When both ears are laid back flat, the animal can be expected to rebel, attack, or even bite. When the ears twitch backward and forward, independently of each other, they signal anger; when the horse is in movement, with one ear laid back and the other forward, but immobile, this indicates tension and may precede a show of obstinacy toward the rider or driver. Immobile ears that only move occasionally, with an accompanying movement of the head, convey insecurity and fear in the animal. Conversely, if they droop passively it shows that the horse is taking no interest in its surroundings, hearing sounds, but with indifference. Finally, when the horse is in movement, with its ears inclined slightly forward, in a proud and confident position, it denotes a sense of security and well-being.

Most horses are sociable toward other animals and will frequently have a kid goat, a dog or a cat as a constant stable companion. One famous example is the race horse, Diamond Jubilee, whose cat would even accompany it to the races, in the days before quarantine laws came into force. Some horses, however, display character defects that reduce their commercial value. Even after having been broken in, a horse may continue to defend itself by biting, kicking, stamping its feet, trying to scrape the rider's leg against a wall, or bolting. A bolting horse is trying to escape from the action of the reins on the bit, and will run away at full gallop to the extent of losing its own sense of self-preservation. This type of defect is generally found in anxious, nervous animals, with hard mouths, but may also be the result of back pain, or of a visual disturbance, such as a place of white paper caught in a hedge.

Some vices consist of abnormal or unnatural means of defense such as rushing a man, shying, rearing, not answering to the reins, making sudden sideways swerves in an attempt to unseat the rider, not allowing the rider to mount, or displaying awkward behavior once mounted. This category also includes touchy, restless or obstinate horses, such as those that back up, and those that try to crush the rider against a wall.

Other vices, all of which make the animal difficult to control, may be a consequence of bad habits such as constantly shaking the head; arching the neck and bowing the head down so the muzzle almost touches the chest; or holding the head too high to escape the action of the reins.

Finally there are some vices that are categorized as abnormal, as they denote either cunning or particular needs. Such vices include breathing in while being saddled in order to expand the girth, pawing at the ground, breaking loose from the halter, rubbing the tail, blowing he lips, lying down suddenly like a cow, lying down in water, lying down as soon as the harness is on, throwing fodder to the ground, eating excessive amounts of straw, putting the bit between the teeth, gnawing the blanket, kicking off the shoes, resting one foot on the other and twitching. The last is always a sign of nervous tension, due sometimes to prolonged idleness, as is "weaving," when the head, neck and anterior parts of the body constantly swing from side to side, so that the weight rests alternately upon each forelimb. In bad cases the foot is raised as the weight passes over on to the other. This state can eventually deteriorate into a nervous disease and make the horse unsafe to ride. Another bad habit is "crib-biting" or "wind-sucking" in which the horse takes the edge of its manger or of the door to its box between the teeth, emitting a characteristic sound caused by swallowing air.


The natural gaits of the horse are the walk, the trot, the pace, the canter, and the gallop. In each of these gaits there are two distinct phases for each leg, the raising and putting down of the foot. The raising motion comprises the lifting of the foot from the ground, propulsion, and suspension, while the landing motion is accomplished in two stages, first the toe, followed fractionally by the heel.

In the walk, which is a regular gait of four separate beats, the horse moves its legs one at a time in the following order: right hind leg, left foreleg, left hind leg, right foreleg. This gait has the advantage of being very stable and comfortable for the rider as well as the horse, which can keep going steadily over long distances.

In the trot, which is a springing gait of two beats, the horse moves in a synchronized fashion. The legs move in diagonal pairs, first the right foreleg with the left hind leg, then the left foreleg with the right hind leg, or vice versa.

The canter is a fast gait of three beats, in which, the progression of movements is as follows: first one hind leg, then the other hind leg and the diagonally opposite foreleg together, and finally the remaining foreleg. At the canter, unlike the other gaits the back remains relatively rigid.

In the full gallop there are four beats because the movement of the one diagonal pair, which is synchronized in the canter, falls into two distinct beats.

The pace, like the trot, is a springing gait of two beats, but It is a lateral gait in which it is the two legs on the same side of the body that move together, first on one side, then the other.


A horse, besides having good conformation, should also have a correct "natural" stance. This means that when the animal is standing so the weight of the body is equally distributed over all four legs, there are no visible defects.

The stance is said to be correct when eight imaginary vertical lines leading respectively from the point of the shoulder (the scapulohumeral joint), the mid point of the elbow, the point of the buttock, and the stifle (knee bone) on each side of the animal, present themselves in a precise relationship with the lines of the legs, showing that the horse's weight is being correctly carried. Verification of the correctness of the stance must be made by examination of the legs from the front (forelegs) and the back (hind legs) as well as from both sides of the animal.

Viewed from the side, the stance of the forelegs may be judged correct when the vertical line dropping from the point of the shoulder meets the ground about 4 in (110 cm) in front of the point of the toe, and the line from the elbow exactly bisects the knee, cannon and fetlock, meeting the ground just behind the heel. Viewed from the front the vertical from the point of the shoulder should exactly bisect the front of the elbow, knee, cannon, fetlock, pastern and foot. The stance of the hind legs is considered correct when, viewed from the side, the vertical from the point of the buttock just touches the point of the hock and continues down the back of the cannon, and the vertical line from the stifle meets the ground just in front of the point of the toe. Viewed from behind the vertical dropping from the point of the buttock should exactly bisect the hock, cannon, fetlock and foot.

Should the line of the legs in relation to the eight verticals deviate substantially from any of these guidelines, the stance must be considered incorrect; the horse may be thrust forward, under in front, forward at the knee, back at the knee, too narrow in front, too open at the front, pigeon-toed, splayed, with bow hocks, under at the back, straight-hocked, cow-hocked, sickle-hocked, narrow at the back, open at the back, short or long in the pastern.

Defects of stance will clearly have a negative effect on the performance of the animal at speed. A horse that is under in front will tend to stumble due to the legs knocking into each other (brushing); a horse that is thrust forward will have a restricted action and so will cover less ground; the hooves of a horse that is too close in front will tend to strike and damage the legs, especially whilst trotting; a splayfooted horse will tend to trip due to "dishing" where, during action the limbs are carried outward in a circular motion; a pigeon-toed horse will tend to brush itself especially at the trot and at the gallop; a horse that is too open at the front will generally develop a rolling gait and the soles of the feet will become bruised.


The hair covering the body of the horse is commonly known as the coat. Besides protecting the animal from adverse weather conditions, the coat provides an important means of identification, making it possible to distinguish between two horses of the same breed with almost total accuracy. The most obvious means of recognition is the color of the coat, however, when it is necessary to distinguish one horse from several similar colored horses of the same sex and breed, certain individual peculiarities and markings are taken into account. While the color of the coat may be subject to variations after a foal is born (in many cases the color of a foal's coat will differ from its adult coat, although it is usually possible to see what the adult coloring will eventually be from the color of the head) the markings on the coat are more permanent and less likely to alter. As well as modifications that come with age, the coat undergoes seasonal changes; in summer, when the animal molts, it is less thick and made up of shorter hairs, often causing it to vary slightly in color; in winter it is longer and thicker and where the climate is more rigorous takes on the look of fur. Different shades of the same color may occur in the same coat. When a coat is entirely composed of hairs of one color it is described as "whole colored" (cream, chestnut, or black). Other coats may be composed of hairs of two separate colors, such as bay, palomino, yellow dun, and blue dun; a mixture of hairs of two colors interspersed, as in red roan and gray; a mixture of three colors (roan); it may have patches of hairs of a different color from the main body color (piebald and skewbald).

In a whole-colored coat there is no admixture of white hairs. When such an admixture occurs with bay, chestnut, black or palomino, the resultant color is called roan. A coat with circular markings of the same color as the body bolor, but differing in shade, is said to be "dappled."

White markings on the head take various names according to their shape and size. The star is a white, irregularly shaped mark situated on the forehead, and varying considerably in size. When a star is prolonged downward along the nose it is said to be extended. The stripe is a narrow, white marking, regular or irregular, running down the length of the face as far as the nostrils. When there is a broader splash of white covering much of the forehead between the eyes and running down the nose toward the muzzle, the horse is said to have a blaze. In a white face the white covers the forehead and front of the face down to the muzzle; according to whether all or half of the face is covered the extension is said to be bilateral or unilateral. A white muzzle is where the white covers one or both lips and extends up to the nostrils.

A snip is a pink marking covered with soft down between the the nostrils. Fleshmarks are areas of skin devoid of pigmentation and found in places not covered by hair, such as the lips and the nostrils. An eel stripe or list is a black line running along the spine from the withers to the base of the tail.

A horse will frequently have white markings on the lower parts of the leg, known as socks or stockings, and these can vary considerably from a narrow band above the coronet to white socks reaching as high as the fetlock, the quarter cannon, the half cannon, the hock etc. Such markings may occur on one, two, three, or all four legs.

Other details of the coat are whorls, whirlpool-like formations of hair that prove very useful in identification, especially in the case of animals entirely devoid of other markings. A coat may also present the so-called zebra markings, horizontal black stripes found on the legs, especially of some of the more primitive breeds. For identification purposes, certain individual peculiarities play an important rôle these are called "acquired" or "adventitious" markings, and occur as groups of white hairs resulting from wounds, bruises, grazing, or from pressure from the saddle or other parts of the harness; scars and brands also fall into this category. Other peculiarities, although unrelated to the coat, Gan also aid identification: the "Prophet's thumb mark," which is a muscular depression usually found at the base of the neck, sometimes in the shoulder and and, more rarely, in the hindquarters, is one such peculiarity, more often found in Arabs and Thoroughbreds than In other breeds.


All modern horses descend from the original breeds that first attracted the attention of primitive man, many thousands of years ago. It is not known exactly when the horse was first domesticated, nor by which ancient peoples, and a certain amount of controversy surrounds the issue. Some theorists believe that the Aryans or Scythians, ancient nomadic tribes, were the first to train horses and use them as mounts as early as the twentieth century B.C., whereas according to others the Chinese began domesticating horses very much earlier, in around 3500 B.C.

Whatever the exact date, however, there is no doubt that it marked the beginning of a relationship between horses and man that has lasted into the present day. To begin with horses would have been used for riding and as pack animals, but later, with the Invention of the wheel, methods were devised of attaching the horse to car's by means of a primitive harness. Thus the strong and enduring draft breeds developed, capable of drawing coaches of people and wagons of goods over long distances that would have been impossible on foot. This facilitated trade and cultural exchanges between peoples from different geographical regions, and broadened man's horizons.

As the horse participated in the development and civilization of mankind, so man has contributed to the evolution of the horse, gradually modifying its morphological characteristics, by selective breeding, to suit his own requirements. Many breeds were formed, and although many others became extinct, they were able to pass on some of their characteristics, directly or indirectly to newer breeds. Machines have now taken over most of the jobs that horses traditionally carried out in agriculture, transport and in war, causing the disappearance of a number of purely functional breeds that were unable to adapt to the new mechanized society. Unfortunately, the survival of many other breeds has only been possible as a result of the dedication of a few breeders. Today the future of the horse lies in sports such as flat racing, trotting racing, polo, and eventing, as well as in leisure riding. which is steadily increasing in popularity.


With the advent of motorization tasks that had for centuries been traditionally carried out by horses have gradually been undertaken by machines. This is particularly noticeable in the military, where the cavalry was very quickly substituted by battalions of tanks and armored vehicles. Similarly in transport and agriculture the change that occurred over little more than half a century was radical. Stagecoaches disappeared from the roads, and in the cities horsedrawn omnibuses became an increasingly rare sight, as these means of transport were rapidly replaced by faster motorized vehicles.

Very soon the only area left solely to the horse was that of Sport and leisure. Horse breeding thus became dedicated to the production of racing breeds (both trotting and flat racing), polo ponies, and competition horses. Many breeds that were used at one time in mountainous areas for agricultural work are now used for riding holidays, where people can escape from the stresses of the city and rediscover a more humane way of life that brings them closer to nature. As a result, riding schools have sprung up everywhere to teach the increasing number of people who are becoming interested in this new leisure activity, the rudimentary skills of horse riding.

Other breeds, once famous for drawing luxurious coaches and carriages, are gradually adapting to the changed environment and generally make good competition horses suited to a wide variety of equestrian events. Breeds that in the past were of the heavier, mesomorphic type have tended to become lighter, taller and more of the dolichomorphic type, acquiring different features, more in accordance with the demands of their new rôle. Some breeds disappeared altogether because they were unable to adapt to the new circumstances. Many breeds, although no longer used for the work for which they had been created continue to exist through the love of some inspired breeders. As in the past, all the breeds in existence today present particular morphological characteristics that relate to the functions they are requested to perform. However, it is not enough purely to belong to a specific breed, and in fact, only animals possessing the characteristics required for the fulfillment of the tasks they are called on to perform can be successfully employed. If a horse presents defects that restrict its performance of a given task, it will not prove practical to use it, even if it belongs to a suitable breed.

Copyright © 1987 Arnoldo Mondadaori Editore S.p.A., Milan
English translation copyright © 1988 Arnoldo Mondadaori Editore S.p.A., Milan

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