Natural History

Before the automobile and tractors, horses were used to pull plows and wagons, and even stagecoaches and barges. Today, most farmers use machinery or automobiles for these tasks. Horses are still used by many mounted police forces, by some ranch hands, and for recreational purposes such as racing.

Horses are very social, since they are herd animals, and enjoy interacting with people. They are smart animals and can be trained to obey the orders of a rider. There are four major gaits in horse movement: Walking (4 mph, as  people do); trotting (9 mph); cantering (11 mph); galloping (18.5 mph).  Horses are excellent jumpers and can jump as high as 6 and a half feet. Although domesticated horses are easily trained, they do require a lot of maintenance and upkeep. Their hooves are made of keratin, the same as our fingernails.  In the wild, their hooves wear down naturally over time and grow continually. However, domesticated horses travel over hard surfaces and must be shod (when a horse is fit with a shoe). Horseshoes are made of steel and applied by a farrier. Horses also require regular grooming and cleaning of their stalls.

If properly cared for, farm horses can work until the age of 20 and will live 25 to 30 years. Smaller horse breeds and ponies will live longer, with an average of up to 30 years, and are typically used for pulling light loads or carrying children. At Maymont, we have Clydesdale/Hackney hybrid horses that perform a variety of tasks. One such instance is pulling carriages used for private events or rides around the Dooley’s estate.

Fun Facts

  • Horses eat hay, grass and oats, and enjoy apples or carrots as a treat.
  • When horses are happy, their tails are held up high!
  • Horsehair from their tails is used for the bows of violins and cellos.
  • One horse always stays awake in the herd to watch out for danger. They can also sleep standing up or lying down.
  • Horses sizes are measured in hands and a hand is about 4 inches. Ponies are under 14.2 hands (62 inches) and horses are over 14.2 hands.