There are several horses from ancient and recent history whose names come up again and again. In this post, we share the stories of 6 famous horses so you can know who people are talking about when they say names like Secretariat and Seabiscuit!
This tall, black horse was the beloved steed of Alexander the Great. Born in approximately 355 BCE, Bucephalus was presented as a gift to Alexander’s father, Philip II of Macedon. Philip wanted to send the horse away due to its wild behaviour, but the 12-year-old Alexander managed to tame the animal.
Alexander rode Bucephalus in many battles and promised destruction when Bucephalus was kidnapped (the kidnappers returned the horse). After Bucephalus died in 326 BCE, Alexander founded a city called Bucephala in his memory.
The Godolphin Arabian is considered one of the 3 founding sires of the modern Thoroughbred. He was born in approximately 1724, likely in Tunisia, and was given as a gift to the King of France. This small, bay-coloured Arabian horse was imported to England in 1729.
His name refers to one of his owners, the Earl of Godolphin. This horse was the father of approximately 90 foals, several of whom went on to racing success. The Godolphin Arabian died in 1753.
Man o’ War
This chestnut Thoroughbred, nicknamed Big Red, was born in 1917 in Kentucky. He won 20 out of 21 races in his 2-year racing career, only coming in second place in 1919 to a horse named Upset. By his fourth race, he was carrying 130 pounds (59 kg) as a handicap.
After retiring from racing, Man o’ War moved to a stud farm, where he received hundreds of thousands of visitors. He sired 379 foals and died of a heart attack in 1947.
This small, scrawny horse with his knees turned inward was an unlikely champion. Indeed, Seabiscuit proved difficult to train and did not win any races until his eighteenth attempt. With the switch to a new trainer, Tom Smith, Seabiscuit’s luck started to turn.
This bay horse was born in 1933, and his eventual success provided hope during the Great Depression. His main rider was Red Pollard, a Canadian jockey who was blind in one eye. After an 89-race career, Seabiscuit retired to a ranch in California, where he received over 50,000 visitors and died in 1947.
This small, stocky, dark bay horse was born in 1961 in Ontario. He was the first Canadian-born and -bred horse to win the Kentucky Derby. Northern Dancer won 14 out of 18 races but is most famous for the success of his offspring.
This spectacular stallion moved to a stud farm in Maryland, siring, among others, 147 horses that won stakes races. The fee for a mare to breed with Northern Dancer rose all the way to $500,000. He died in 1990 of colic, and his body was transported back to his home farm in Ontario.
This cocky chestnut horse, nicknamed Big Red just like Man o’ War, was born in Virginia in 1970. In 1973, he was the first horse in 25 years to win the American Triple Crown, which means that he won the Kentucky Derby, Preakness Stakes, and Belmont Stakes.
Secretariat won the Belmont Stakes by an astounding 31 horse lengths. He went on to have over 600 offspring and was put down in 1989. After Secretariat’s death, his heart was estimated to weigh a hefty 21 to 22 pounds (9.5 to 10 kg).
Do you know any other famous horses? Let us know in the comments!
From dancing parrots to dogs shaking hands, talented animals are a popular source of amusement. Horses have had their own share of talent, from painting to performing mathematical calculations. In this post, we share the stories of 4 gifted horses.
Cholla: The Painting Horse
Born in Nevada in 1985, Cholla was a copper buckskin mustang-Quarter Horse mix. He had a black mane and tail, a dorsal stripe, and zebra stripes on his legs. After noticing that Cholla followed her around as she was painting his corral, his owner—Renee Chambers, a ballet dancer—decided to try giving him a paintbrush.
Although Chambers put the paint on the brush and stuck it in Cholla’s mouth, he did the painting independently. He appeared to enjoy painting, creating colourful abstract designs.
Cholla’s paintings have been displayed and sold internationally, and he even received an honourable mention for the Italian Arte Laguna Prize in 2008. The contest was open to all artists, although the judges did not realize initially that he was a horse. Cholla died in 2013.
Thor of Hopehaven: The Trick Performer and Painter
This American Sugarbush Harlequin Draft gelding lives on a farm in Georgia. He has a dark coat with a patch of spots around his hindquarters. His owner, Dorinda Hemmings, is a painter and has taught him a number of tricks.
Thor’s tricks include bowing, shaking hands, opening and closing a mailbox, and fetching a drink from a cooler. One day, Hemmings noticed him pick up a paintbrush, so she tried setting him up with a canvas. Hemmings picks the colours then gives Thor the brush.
Clever Hans: The Talented Tapper
In Berlin in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, awed crowds gathered to watch the performances of Clever Hans, an Arabian stallion. Hans answered questions from his trainer—Wilhelm von Osten, a high school math teacher—by tapping his hoof to indicate letters and numbers or by moving his head.
Hans gave accurate answers to math questions, stated the time, spelled names, and identified colours, musical pieces, and more. The German Board of Education studied Hans for a year and a half but did not find any hoax. However, in 1907, biologist and psychologist Oskar Pfungst discovered that the horse was responding to very subtle cues from questioners, in what is now known as the “Clever Hans effect.”
Clever Hans was drafted during the First World War and died in 1916.
Lady Wonder: The Psychic Horse
Lady Wonder, a black mare with white feet and 3 white stockings, was born in Virginia in 1924. Her owner, Claudia Fonda, worked at an iron foundry and raised Lady from a young age. Suspecting that her horse had special abilities, Fonda trained her to move blocks containing letters and numbers.
Fonda built a large, piano-sized typewriter that Lady could press with her muzzle to answer questions. Approximately 150,000 people visited the supposedly psychic horse, paying $1 to have her answer 3 questions about topics ranging from romance to horse race results and the location of missing children.
She gave enough correct answers that many people believed in her powers, even some scientists. Of course, many were also skeptical, attributing her success to unconscious cues or trickery. Lady Wonder died in 1957.
What do you think about these horses’ exceptional abilities? Let us know in the comments!
Horses might not be the first animal that you think of when you think about Christmas. That honour would probably go to the reindeer. You may even call to mind the donkey before the humble horse.
However, horses have long been involved with Christmas celebrations and continue to play an important role around Christmastime. In this post, we’ll explore some of the many links between horses and Christmas.
Associations Between Horses and Christmas
Picture a traditional Christmas scene - perhaps on the front of a vintage Christmas card. The snow is softly falling as a horse or team of horses pulls a sleigh past a quiet village.
Besides horses’ association with an old-fashioned country Christmas, they’ve found their way into toys and ornaments, past and present. Think wooden rocking horses, plush and plastic ponies, Christmas carousels, and horse figurines dangling on Christmas trees.
More recently, you can find horses on Christmas pillows, mugs, and stockings. There are even horse advent calendars where every day leading up to Christmas you get a mini toy to add to your horse collection.
The strong representation of horses in Christmas decorations and presents likely speaks to little girls’ classic dream of getting a pony for Christmas. Unless their parents are as rich as Elvis Presley (who gave his friends horses as presents), they’ll likely have to make do with horse toys or riding lessons.
Treating Horses at Christmastime
It’s not only humans who get in on the Christmas fun. If you want to put a smile on your face, look up photos of horse Christmas costumes. Whether horses are staying in the barn or participating in a parade, their owners love dressing them up in festive red-and-green outfits or even transforming them into reindeer by putting on antlers.
Although horses might not appreciate these additions to their wardrobe, they’re unlikely to say no to extra treats around Christmas. In fact, for several years in early 20th-century Boston, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and the Animal Rescue League of Boston organized a special Christmas for the Horses. At the Horses’ Christmas Tree, located in a busy square, the city’s thousands of work horses could take a break from their hard, dangerous work pulling wagons to enjoy a free meal.
There’s a legend that barn animals, including horses, gain the ability to speak between midnight on Christmas Eve and dawn on Christmas day. As humans are enjoying family traditions and getting some rest before the excitement of Christmas, what do you think the horses talk about?
Did you learn anything new about horses and Christmas? Or maybe you can think of another connection between horses and this holiday? Let us know in the comments!
Howdy! How many expressions about horses can you name? In this post (the first of two!), we’ll explore phrases with their origins in horseback riding or horse racing.
A burr under one’s saddle - A source of irritation that won’t go away
Free rein - The freedom to do as one pleases
To get back in the saddle - To return to an activity that one previously struggled with or suffered harm while completing. This expression refers to getting back on a horse after one falls off it.
To get a leg up - To receive a boost, support, or encouragement. This expression suggests someone sticking out their hands for another person to use as a step for mounting a horse.
To keep a tight rein on - To maintain strict control over someone or something
To loosen the reins - To loosen your control over someone or something
To put someone through his or her paces - To make someone demonstrate how well he or she can perform tasks. This expression refers to a person requesting to see a horse display its different gaits before deciding to buy it.
To rein in - To start to control something, such as one’s spending, more strongly
To ride two horses at the same time - To try to do two things at the same time, even though those activities may conflict with each other
Dark horse - An individual or team that performs unexpectedly well in a competition, usually a sports competition. In the Victorian era, “dark” meant anything that was unknown, so a dark horse was an unknown horse that won a race.
One-horse race - A competition with only one participant likely to win. You also might come across the term “two-horse race,” meaning that there are two candidates who are likely to win.
Straight from the horse’s mouth - To receive information directly from its source. Members of horse racing circles like to receive information from those who have interacted most recently with a horse, like its trainer, to guess which horse will win. The ideal situation for these folks would be to receive information straight from the horse’s mouth.
To bet on the wrong horse - To support a person or effort that ends up failing
To champ at the bit - To be anxious to do something. This expression refers to the way that impatient horses tend to chew on their bit before the start of a race.
To have no horse in a race - To not care about, or be affected by, the outcome of something
To win by a nose (or whisker) - To win by only the smallest amount possible. This expression refers to a finish so close in horse racing that only part of one horse’s nose - or even its whisker - crosses the finish line before the next horse.
Do you have a favourite expression related to riding or racing? Let us know in the comments!
Some of the most beloved horses of all time live on the pages of books or the silver screen. Horses’ central role in literature and film is hardly surprising given their bond with humans and their cinematic beauty. At least one of these enduring horse-centred stories is sure to catch your fancy.
Black Beauty (1877)
This children’s classic by English author Anna Sewell was the first major story told from an animal’s perspective. Though Black Beauty starts out with kind owners, he faces increasingly cruel masters. Black Beauty has had numerous movie adaptations.
Smoky the Cowhorse (1926)
This novel by Will James won the 1927 Newbery Medal for American children’s literature. Set in the Western United States, it tells a similar story to Black Beauty of a horse that develops a trusting relationship with a human but then faces harsh treatment. Smoky has had 3 film adaptations.
National Velvet (1935)
In this book by Enid Bagnold - perhaps better known for its 1944 film adaptation starring Elizabeth Taylor - 14-year-old Velvet Brown wins a horse in a raffle. Velvet decides to enter The Piebald in the Grand National, a major English horse race.
My Friend Flicka (1940)
In this book by Mary O’Hara, imaginative 10-year-old Ken lives on a Wyoming ranch and wants his own colt. He ends up with a spirited filly named Flicka. My Friend Flicka has been the subject of several adaptations, including a 2006 movie with a female protagonist, Katy.
The Black Stallion (1941)
This popular book by Walter Farley is the first in a series of 20 books. It describes the adventures of young Alec Ramsay and Arabian horse the Black or Shêtân, starting with being trapped on a desert island. There have been movie adaptations of 3 books in the series.
Misty of Chincoteague (1947)
American writer Marguerite Henry based this fictional children’s classic on real people and ponies. In the book, the first in a series and adapted into a 1961 film, siblings Paul and Maureen buy Phantom and her foal Misty at an auction. Henry brought the real-life Misty with her to author events.
In this novel by British author Michael Morpurgo, horse Joey lives on Albert’s family’s farm until Albert’s father sells him to the British army. Joey courageously rides with kind Captain Nicholls, while Albert longs to reunite with his horse. Warhorse was adapted into a 2007 play and a 2011 Steven Spielberg film.
The Horse Whisperer (1995)
In this best-seller by British author Nicholas Evans, teen Grace has a serious accident while riding her horse Pilgrim. Her mother Annie takes her to “horse whisperer” Tom Booker in Montana in the hope that he can heal her daughter as well as Pilgrim. This story was made into a 1998 movie starring Robert Redford.
Have you read or seen any of these classic horse stories? Or maybe you have another book or movie to add to the list? Let us know in the comments!
Given that humans have been interacting with horses for thousands of years, it’s not surprising that we’ve developed some funny ideas about them. No matter your level of involvement with horses, there are surely some details that you didn’t know about these awe-inspiring, mysterious creatures. In this post, we’ll bust 7 common myths about horses.
1. Horses only sleep standing up.
It’s true that, unlike humans, horses often sleep standing up. Since it takes them a long time to get moving once they’re lying down, standing enables them to run away quickly if there’s any danger.
However, in the wild, some horses will often take the opportunity to lie down while a couple stand on the alert. Lying down allows horses to enter deep REM sleep, which is essential for their health and performance.
2. Horses are colour-blind.
This statement is another one that’s not completely wrong. Unlike humans, horses can’t see all 4 primary colours (blue, green, red, and yellow), let alone all the intermediate hues. Horses can only perceive blue and green, meaning that any other colours appear as either white, grey, or a desaturated blue or green.
3. Horses’ hooves are solid.
Although horses’ hooves may look hard, they’re actually a mixture of bone, tissue, and keratin, a protein that’s also present in human hair and fingernails. The 3 bones in a horse’s hoof are surrounded by laminae, or sensitive tissue that carries blood. The hoof also contains a digital cushion, or rubber-like shock absorber.
4. Horses cannot drink cold water.
If you think about it, in the wild, horses drink from streams and rivers that are often cold. The only caveat is that, as warm-blooded animals, horses may prefer not to drink cold water right after working out.
5. Cold-blooded horses have a different body temperature than hot-blooded ones.
Although you can be forgiven for assuming that cold-blooded horses have cooler blood than hot-blooded ones, this description does not refer to the temperature of the liquid running through their circulatory system. Rather, these adjectives describe a horse’s body and personality type.
As we noted in our post about horse breeds, hot-blooded horses are spirited and energetic. Cold-blooded equines, meanwhile, tend to be calmer.
6. When a horse shows its teeth or curls its lips, it’s smiling or laughing.
Unfortunately, the horse is not showing its amusement at the joke that you just told. In fact, it’s taking a sniff, in what is known as the flehmen response. A horse’s olfactory glands are buried deep in its nasal passage, so it needs to make a funny face to smell things.
7. The only way that horses can communicate is via neighing or whinnying.
Horses are generally not very vocal, so it would be challenging for them if neighs and whinnies were their only way of communicating. In fact, these animals also use body language to get their point across.
Do you know any other myths about horses? Let us know in the comments!
Hello, My name is Shelby Gatti, and I am the owner of Shelby Ranch. I love being able to share my passion for animals with you and your family. At Shelby Ranch you can expect a ton of family adventure from horseback riding to mechanical bull riding & axe throwing.