Equine of the Past
The first ever horse, discovered by the Geological Society of London, is known as Hyracotherium. The Hyracotherium evolved into Mesohippus, a specie with a longer muzzle development. From there the horse evolved into the Merychippus, a specie slightly larger than its ancestors, and one where hoof growth began. Then the Merchippus evolved into the Plichippus, the specie that closely resembled the modern day horse, but did not have the hoof shape that is known today. Finally the Plichippus evolved into the loving animal that we have come to love and use in many aspects of life, the Equus or horse.
It is thought that horses may have been domesticated as early as 5000-5500 years ago. During this time, horses were most likely used for transportation, milk, and meat purposes. Buried remains were found in the Volga region, which contained parts of horses and other domesticated livestock species which suggests these animals were domesticated and not just wild. Eventually the horse progressed into more uses. Horses were used for war, packing, and pulling related transportation, such as wagons, and chariots. By 1000 to 800 BCE cavalry riding became popular and people started riding horses more than riding in chariots.
The horse history within agriculture really began after the conquest of England in 1066. Before this time, ox and other large bovine creatures were the main source of farm labor. Eating horse meat started to become taboo in certain parts of the world and horses needed another purpose. Horses were faster and could last longer than their ox counterparts so they became preferred for farm labor such as plowing and hauling carts. Ox and other bovine were still used for food, and so they became more expensive than the horse during this time. A good riding horse would still set one back a nice amount for the time, but older (still in good shape) horses could be bought cheaply and used for many more years on the farm. During the 16th century, horses were introduced to North America from explorers. Of these original horses, some escaped to form the ‘wild’ herds found in North America today. Horses continued to be major work animals until the 20th century when machines were invented that offered more efficient ways to work. After this, horses did not just disappear, they have taken on new and important roles in agriculture.
Equine in Today’s Industry
The equine industry today is multi-billion dollar operation with $38.8 billion being produced annually in an industry that not only provides employment opportunities but also recreation sources for many.
Horses in today’s agriculture are kept for many uses, ranging from farm work to pleasure riding. Horses today are also used in equine sporting events, such as: dressage, racing, showing, endurance, cutting, roping, and more. Horse sporting events are held for amateurs at local levels all the way to Olympic professionals at the international level. Work horses today are used similar as in the past and for new positions in today’s industry; horses are still used on the farm for traditional agriculturalists but also work in law enforcement as police mounts, therapy solutions, tourists interactions through rides and carriage pulling, and so much more.
In the United States, Texas tops off the list of horse ownership with over one million horses in the state alone. Coming in second with around 700,000 horses, California also has a booming equine industry. Rounding up third, Florida still has an amazing 500,000 registered horses. Oklahoma, Kentucky, Ohio, Missouri, North Carolina, Colorado, and Pennsylvania bring up the rear of the top 10 horse states by population. Actually, 45 out of the 50 states have at least 20,000 head of horses. The majority of American horse ownership relies heavily in recreational uses such as trail riding and fun competitions. Only 7% of owners say they are professional trainers and participate in professional level competitions.
Current trends in the equine industry show positive outlooks for the future. Membership and show entry increases show that people are staying involved in the equine industry. Show and competition entries rising but horse registrations declining give rise to the idea that horses are also able to work harder than in the past and used for a wider variety of purposes. The equine industry is a large part of agriculture today.
Equine Nutrition Requirements
Now that you know where they come from and how they are used today, what do they need to maintain their health.
Equine are very versatile creatures, but in order to perform at their best, a balanced and nutritional feed system is required. Throwing sweet feed at your horse for the last year and then expecting them to have the energy necessary for a professional level competition is the same as eating junk food all through winter and then expecting to have that summer bod wen June rolls around. It is important to realize that horses are non-ruminant herbivores; they survive on grazing up to 16 hours a day. Horses do not have a gallbladder and the amount of fats they can safely digest is extremely slim, so a fatty feed will not necessarily give quick energy to these mammals. Normal horse diets only contains 3 to 4% fats. The other main nutrients horses require are water, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals.
Arguably, the most important nutrient for horses is water. Horses can live over eight days without proper feed requirements before their body shuts down, but will have organ failure in three to four days without water. In fact, 62-68% of a horse’s body is made up of water, that’s right, simple H2O. Consuming around 2 quarts of water for every pound of hay consumed, it is vital that horses have 24/7 access to a clean water supply. Increased activity and temperature can up the amount of water each individual horse needs to sustain a healthy internal environment. It is not hard to see why water is such a large factor in equine nutrition.
Carbohydrates are the largest portion of energy in feed. Soluble carbohydrates, such as starches and sugars, are readily broken down and absorbed through the small intestine. Soluble carbs are found in almost all feed sources, so a high carb feed will be easy to come across. Insoluble carbohydrates, such as fiber and cellulose, are broken down and absorbed after much more digestion and microbe break down to provide further energy sources.
Proteins are used largely for muscle growth and development. Proteins are made up of amino acids similar to how a chain fence is made of links. Certain amino acids are synthesized in the body, but there are 10 essential amino acids that must be obtained through the diet. It is also important to realize that some amino acids are “limiting”. In other words, if the horse runs out of a certain “limiting” amino acid, then it will be unable to the use the other amino acids in the feed efficiently. The first three most-limiting amino acids, are lysine, methionine and threonine; it is very common to see feed tags with a guaranteed analysis of these amino acids to indicate the protein quality of the feed.
Vitamins are fat soluble (A, D, E, and K) or water-soluble (C, and B-complex) organic compounds that are used for a variety of functions within the horse. Vitamins are usually present in small amounts within the body, but don’t think that doesn’t make them any less vital. Vitamins A, E, and D are usually gathered within excess just from a day foraging on fresh greens within in the sun. The other vitamins are usually plentiful in a combination of feedstuffs, but if you are not getting enough, there are vitamin and mineral blocks to add to your horses stall or pasture.
Minerals are needed for maintenance and bodily functions. Small amounts of the macro-minerals calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, chloride, magnesium, and sulfur are needed daily for proper nutrition. Alfalfa hay provides abundant calcium and phosphorus, while the other minerals can be found in feedstuffs and grazing. If a horse is on a well-balanced diet of pasture grazing, hay, and/or grain then it should be meeting its required minerals. Sodium chloride is the one exception and should be provided through salt blocks accessible daily. It is important to know that excess sweating can deplete sodium, potassium, and chloride rapidly from a horse’s system. Horse with rigorous exercise regimes and excess sweaters should have special mineral blocs/licks available to replace what is lost.
Blog created by Anna Boland