Fun Facts About Horses: Truth Is Stranger Than Fiction

Here are some fascinating facts and stories about horses, like how a "neigh" is pronounced and spelled in several different languages and countries..
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Here are some fascinating facts and stories about horses, like how a "neigh" is pronounced and spelled in several different languages and countries..

The expression ?horsepower? actually refers to the amount of power it takes to pull a 150-pound weight out of a hole 22 feet deep in one minute. Extensive tests run at Iowa State College during the early 1920s established that a 1,700-pound horse could rev himself up to 1 1/3 horsepower, working continuously for eight hours at a moderate pace.

Horse Neighing. Courtesy of Horse & Rider

The practice of driving on the right side of the road in American was originated by Conestoga wagon drivers who hauled freight from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, Pennsylvania between 1750 and 1850. There men rode behind the near (left) horse, freeing their whip (right) hand to control the team. Such as arrangement necessitated driving on the right side of the narrow roads for better visibility when meeting or passing other vehicles.

While your run-of-the-mill human sleeps away a third of his life, the average horse spends only an eighth of his time in dreamland. Awake for an average of 21 hours and eight minutes a day, the horse is active and alert for 19 hours and 13 minutes, and drowsy for one hour and 55 minutes. He sleeps during the remaining two hours and 52 minutes each day, requiring almost five fewer hours of sleep per day than his human counterpart.

The aviator who took a little off the top of a wandering Canadian buffalo pony wasn?t practicing his barbering skills at the time. The unfortunate pony, turned out on a reservation in Canada?s Red Deer River Country during World War II, was clobbered by a pilot trainee who buzzed too low over the herd one frigid winter day. Even with his neck badly cut, the pony survived; the cold along with the snow that filled his wound may have been enough to staunch the flow of blood. Uncommonly ewe-necked, the steadfast steed lived to age 24.

The longest ride: on April 23, 1925, A.F. Tschiffely, an Englishman teaching in Argentina, left Buenos Aires on horseback for a 7,000-mile ride to Washington D.C. Two years and seven months later, he arrived at his destination riding the same horse. The trusty 18-year-old Criollo -- an Argentine mustang -- had carried him over mountains and deserts, across rivers and belly-deep swamps, through the hazardous traffic and along the slippery pavement of a motorized America. They were met in Washington not by cheering crowds, but by a parking ticket when Tschiffely tied the horse to a lamp post so he could look for a telephone.

An American named Louis Bruhnke and a Russian-born, French citizen named Vladimir Fissenko bested Tschiffely?s record ride. In 1988, they left Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina--the world?s southernmost city--and rode all the way to Alaska, a distance of nearly 18,000 miles. The arrived in 1993. Like Tschiffely before them, they relied on sturdy Argentine Criollos--as well as Arabians and Quarter Horses--to take them the distance.

The horse named Beware Chalk Pit was never an illustrious racehorse. But a monument marking his grave in Southampton, England proclaims what a hero he was before he hit the track. During a hunt in September 1733, his inattentive rider neglected to notice a deep chalk pit in the duo?s path. However, the alert horse leaped across the 25-foot-wide abyss and landed safely on the other side with his master astride. He earned his unusual name that day along with the undying gratitude of his owner, who erected an inscribed, pyramid-shaped monument in the horse's memory after the trusty steed died in 1739.

Horses played no part in the first 124 years of the original Olympics, but in 664 BC, four-horse chariot racing made its debut as a contested event. Sixteen years and four Olympiads later, competition in bareback riding entered the roster.

?Big head disease,? an abnormal enlargement of the head bones, is also known as ?miller?s disease? because in the past horses kept near grain-grinding facilities were often fed mill sweepings. Their unusual ration -- low in calcium and high in phosphorus -- created the mineral imbalance which triggers the irregular bone formation.

Although admirers of equine grace and beauty wouldn?t want to admit it, the horse's closest cousins on the face of the earth (outside of his zebra and ass brothers) are the rhinoceros and the tapir. On the surface the two homely relatives look more like pigs than horses, but the arrangement of the teeth, bones and feet places them on the same branch of the family tree as our swift and shapely steeds.

The horse may speak the same language the world round, but his voice is heard differently by the people of various nations. Americans and Englishmen interpret the sound as ?neigh,? the French as ?en-nee,? the Germans as ?ee-ha-ha,? the Spanish as ?he-ee-ee,? the Russians as ?pr-r-r? and the Japanese as ?heen.? But perhaps the most lyrical description of the equine voice was suggested by Jonathan Swift in his classic Gulliver?s Travels, an 18th-century satire in which horses, called Houyhnhnms, had exceptional powers of reason and intelligence. Try whinnying ?Houyhnhnm? out loud and you'll get the idea.

Small? If it were straightened out, the horse's so-called small intestine would be eight times as long as the horse himself. Two inches in diameter, it has the capacity to hold almost a half-keg of beer.

Six inches or so is all the mane a horse needs to shoo flies, but 14 feet three inches is what it takes to qualify him for immortality. Prince Imperial has been dead for more than 100 years, but his lengthy locks still bedeck the neck of his well-preserved physique. He was originally imported from France by Jacob Howser, an Ohio breeder who received the horse as a gift from Emperor Charles Louis Napoleon III. Prince is believed to have been one of the first Percherons to live in the United States. It took 23 years for him to sprout the mane that Howser claimed was the longest in the world, and $7,000 to have him stuffed and mounted (and that was in 1886). As the property of the Marion County Ohio Historical Society, the huge stuffed animal makes appearances at the county fair and other local events.

Few horsemen would volunteer for the double whammy of a kick in the shins and a bite on the neck, but to travelers in the roadless marshes of eastern Siberia, it's an accepted risk. The basket case known as an Olenetzkii cradle consists of two long poles fastened to the horses? harnesses to carry a four-cornered ?armchair? woven of willow shoots. For the ultimate in passenger comfort, a special footrest can be tacked on--but with little more than two yards between the preceding rump and the head behind, there isn?t much more room for options.

America?s Wild West folklore pitted cowboys against the Indians, but in Canada, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police were responsible for close encounters with natives. The Mounties originated in 1873 as a semi-military body whose main purpose was to stop liquor traffic among the Indians of western Canada. One of the first missions, undertaken in 1874, was to find and destroy Fort Whoop-Up, a western stronghold for whiskey traders.

Q: Why are horses able to gallop when they are too tired to stand up?

A: At the gallop, they actually bounce themselves along. Changing speed requires extra muscular effort, and an exhausted, galloping horse lacks the strength to stay on his feet when he tries to slow down!