As avid horse lovers, you probably already know that a long muzzle allows the horse to keep a watchful eye out for danger during grazing. However, did you also know that an evolutionary side effect of this long nose is the diastema? This is the gap between the horse’s incisors and the premolars – the space which makes bit placement possible.
Did you also that the horse’s choice of a high-fiber, low protein diet throughout evolution allowed them to avoid food competition from other species? It also meant that they required less energy than smaller animals (compared to their body weight) and can explain partly why the horse evolved to became a larger animal. Additionally, the horse’s cecum gave it an advantage over more digestively efficient ruminant animals as it allowed the horse to thrive in areas with seasonally cooler climates and plant growth – the horse could ferment its diet when all the food that was available weren’t young green plant shoots and was too fibrous for ruminants to cope with.
If you’re interested in exploring equine evolution, intelligence and behavior, the book, The Nature of Horses by Stepen Budiansky is filled with many more fun-facts like this. Budiansky discusses everything from evaluating the mechanics of the horse’s movement, to a little bit about coat color genetics, to explaining how horses see. The author argues that horses were never subject to extinction because of the inventiveness of man and the remarkable learning ability and physical prowess of the horse. He also touches upon one of my favorite discussion topics: does nature or nurture matter more in creating a great sport horse? All the while Budiansky builds up to a full chapter that outlines a breeding program with potential to produce a superior performance horse.
Bound by a hard cover and graced with beautiful equine imagery on the front, The Nature of Horses also makes a delightful gift or coffee table book for all equine lovers. This book offers insightful discussion about where the horse came from and where it is now headed and is a valuable read for any horse owner.