One of the defining features of domestic horses is their height, which is measured in hands, with a hand being equivalent to 10 cm (4 in).


Although there is only one surviving species of wild horse, DNA tests suggest four wild bloodlines contributed to the ancestry of the domestic horse, and there are now around 300 breeds. These have been developed both for their speed, as in the case of the thoroughbred, and their strength, such as the Shire horse — the tallest of all breeds.

Today this species exists only as domestic breeds. These animals live on all continents of the world except Antarctica. In many places feral herds have appeared, such as in the Carmargue wetlands of southern France. The natural range of wild horses is thought to be the Eurasian steppes from Poland to Mongolia. Despite all being descended from domestic breeds, feral horses live in the same harem system as their wild ancestors, with a single male leading a small group of females. There are several breeds of horses, from the miniature Falabella and Shetland ponies to the mighty draft horses bred for hauling carts. Lighter horses were bred for speed. For example, the thoroughbreds used in racing are bred from fast-running Turkish and Arabic military breeds.


Distribution: Worldwide distribution, although less common in Africa than elsewhere. Originally domesticated from wild horses that used to roam extensively in Europe and Asia.

Weight: 27 - 1520 kg (700 - 3360 lb), depending on breed.

Height: 43 - 220 cm (17 - 87 in).

Maturity: 2 years, but not bred until 3.

Gestation Period: 335 - 340 days.

Breeding: 1; twins are rare and not normally viable; weaned at about 8 months.

Food: Grazes on grasses and other plants, also eating bark and leaves.

Lifespan: 25 - 30 years, but can be up to 50.


The broad nostrils help the horse breathe quickly when running.


Shades of brown and black are commonly associated with horses, often broken up with white areas.


Incisors are well suited to nibbling plant matter, but may also inflict a painful bite.


Horses have just a single toe, enlarged to form a hoof.

Ear posture helps to indicate the horse’s mood.


Horses have a recognized series of ‘paces’: walk, trot, canter and gallop.