(redirected from On horseback)
Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Idioms.


hoofed, herbivorous mammal now represented by a single extant genus, Equus. The term horse commonly refers only to the domestic Equus caballus and to the wild Przewalski's horsePrzewalski's horse
, wild horse of Asia, Equus przewalski, E. ferus przewalski, or E. caballus przewalski, the only extant wild horse that, in the purebred state, is not descended from the domestic horse.
..... Click the link for more information.
. (Other so-called wild horses are feral domestic horses or their descendants.) Adapted to plains environments, all Equus species, including the assass,
hoofed, herbivorous mammal of the genus Equus, closely related to the horse. It is distinguished from the horse by its small size, large head, long ears, and small hooves. There are three living species: Equus hemonius, the Asian wild ass; E.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and the zebrazebra,
herbivorous hoofed African mammal of the genus Equus, which also includes the horse and the ass. It is distinguished by its striking pattern of black or dark brown stripes alternating with white.
..... Click the link for more information.
, have lengthened foot bones ending in a single toe covered by a hoof, for fast running; teeth shaped for grinding grass; and intestinal protozoa for digesting cellulose. All species have tufts of hair on the tail, used against insects, and manes on the neck. Horses, zebras, and asses can interbreed, but the offspring are usually sterile. The offspring of a horse and a donkey (domestic ass) is called a mule.

A male horse is called a stallion, or if castrated, a gelding; a female is a mare; her offspring are foals—males are colts, females are fillies. A male parent is a sire, a female parent is a dam. A single foal is born after a gestation of about 11 months. Horses reach sexual maturity in about two years, but are not fully grown for about five years. The average life span is 18 years, but 30-year-old horses are common. The standard unit of height is a hand, equal to 4 in. (10 cm).

See horse racinghorse racing,
trials of speed involving two or more horses. It includes races among harnessed horses with one of two particular gaits, among saddled Thoroughbreds (or, less frequently, quarterhorses) on a flat track, or among saddled horses over a turf course with obstacles to
..... Click the link for more information.
; equestrianismequestrianism,
art of riding and handling a horse. Horseback riding was practiced as far back as the Bronze Age and was thereafter adapted to commerce, industry, war, sport, and recreation.
..... Click the link for more information.

History and Breeds

The earliest known direct ancestor of Equus, the eohippus [Gr.,=dawn horse], 10 to 20 in. (25–50 cm) tall, lived approximately 50 million years ago in both the Old and New Worlds. Equus originally evolved in North America by the late Pliocene epoch, some 4 million years ago (based on DNA sequencing of modern and ancient horses), spreading to all continents except Australia. Horses disappeared from the Americas for unknown reasons about 10,000 years ago, to be reintroduced by Europeans, c.A.D. 1500.

Many species of Equus arose in the Old World. Horses were probably first domesticated by central Asian nomads around 3500 B.C., probably initially for milk and meat. Horses were recorded in Mesopotamia and China (c.2000 B.C.), Greece (c.1700 B.C.), Egypt (c.1600 B.C.), and India (c.1500 B.C.). Horses were domesticated in W Europe no later than 1000 B.C. It is not known whether these early domesticated horses developed from a single wild race or from many local races.

Largely superseding the slower, less manageable ass, which had been domesticated much earlier, the horse's first known use was for drawing Mesopotamian war chariots. It was long reserved primarily for warfare and for transportation for the rich and well-born, while cheaper animals (e.g., oxen, mules, and donkeys) were used for lowlier work. Horses figured importantly in war and conquest in Europe, central Asia, and the Middle East for over 3,000 years. Early warriors rode bareback or with saddle cloths. The saddlesaddle,
seat or pad to support the rider on an animal, chiefly a horse. The saddles mentioned in the Bible are generally considered to have been saddlecloths. The ancient Greeks sometimes used saddlecloths, but they had no saddles and often rode bareback.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and the stirrupstirrup,
foot support for the rider of a horse in mounting and while riding. It is a ring with a horizontal bar to receive the foot and is attached by a strap to the saddle.
..... Click the link for more information.
 were probably developed in China in the early Christian era, spread by Asian horsemen (such as the Huns), and adopted by Arabs and Europeans in the early Middle Ages. Arab cavalry conquered the Middle East and N Africa in the 7th cent. A.D. In the same period, armored knights were riding to battles in Europe. With highly developed cavalry tactics, the Mongols extended their 13th cent. empire from China to E Europe.

The Spanish conquistadors brought horses to the New World, where Native Americans soon acquired them from ranches and missions. The Plains Indians of North America quickly developed a horse culture that led to their ascendancy in numbers and power. Horses were used for hunting buffalo and other game, for warfare, and for pulling loads on a travoistravois
, device used by Native North Americans of the Great Plains for transporting their tepees and household goods. It consisted of two poles, lashed one on either side of a dog or, later, a horse, with one end of each pole dragging on the ground.
..... Click the link for more information.
. Escaped Indian horses were ancestral to the mustangmustang
[Sp. mesteño=a stray], small feral horse of the W United States. Mustangs are descended from escaped Native American horses, which in turn were descended from horses of North African blood, brought to the New World by the Spanish c.1500.
..... Click the link for more information.
, the so-called wild horse of the W United States.

The two major groups of modern horses—the light, swift southern breeds, called light horseslight horse,
any breed of horse that is used primarily for riding or for light work such as pulling buggies. Light horses have their origin in the Middle East and N Africa.
..... Click the link for more information.
, and the heavy, powerful northern breeds, called draft horsesdraft horse
or work horse,
any breed of horse that is suited to or used for drawing heavy loads. Draft horses originated in central Europe, where their domestication preceded the Roman invasion.
..... Click the link for more information.
—are believed to have arisen independently. The small breeds called poniespony,
small horse, officially any horse under 14.2 hands (58 in./145 cm) high. Most ponies are of Celtic origin. They are noted for their extreme hardiness and gentle natures. Some ponies are only 26 in. (65 cm) high. See Shetland pony; Welsh pony.
..... Click the link for more information.
 may derive from a southern, light horse or from a wild race.

Draft Horses

During Roman times the Gauls and other Europeans used horses of the heavy, northern type for pulling loads and other work. In the Middle Ages huge draft animals, over 16 hands (64 in./160 cm) high, were bred to carry armored knights as well as their own armor. As cavalry warfare declined, such medieval inventions as the horseshoe and the rigid horse-collar (see harnessharness,
comprehensive term for the gear of a draft animal, excluding the yoke, by which it is attached to the load that it pulls. Although harnesses are used on dogs (for drawing travois and dogsleds), on goats, and sometimes on oxen, the typical harness is for horses.
..... Click the link for more information.
) made draft horses more useful for work. By the 19th cent. the draft horse had replaced the ox in N Europe and North America. Draft breeds common in the United States were the BelgianBelgian horse,
one of the largest breeds of draft horses of pure European descent. It has a long history, antedating the Christian era, but became especially popular during the Middle Ages. In the 15th and 16th cent.
..... Click the link for more information.
, the ClydesdaleClydesdale horse,
breed of draft horse developed in Scotland. It closely resembles the Shire horse, although it is not as heavy. The Clydesdale is characterized by its graceful, springy step.
..... Click the link for more information.
, the PercheronPercheron horse
, breed of draft horse developed in NW France, originally of Flemish origin, but also containing some Arabian blood (see Arabian horse). For a heavy horse, it has considerable stamina and is a good trotter.
..... Click the link for more information.
; and the ShireShire horse,
a breed of draft horse native to central England. It is equal in weight to the Belgian horse and is usually slightly taller. Widely used as a war horse during the Middle Ages, it was well adapted to carry the excessive weight of armor worn by both horse and rider.
..... Click the link for more information.
, also the most common draft horse in England.

Light Horses

Modern light horses, all descended in part from the Arabian horseArabian horse,
breed of light horse developed in Mesopotamia and N Africa, and probably the first true domesticated breed. Prized since earliest times for its superior beauty, spirit, speed, grace of movement, stamina, and intelligence, the Arabian has served as parental stock
..... Click the link for more information.
, the oldest surviving breed of known lineage, include the ThoroughbredThoroughbred horse,
breed of light horse more properly known as the English running horse. As its name implies, it was the first pedigreed, or "thoroughbred" horse. It originated in England from crosses between imported Turkish and Arabian horses and existing English lines and
..... Click the link for more information.
, celebrated as a racehorse; the American saddlebred horseAmerican saddlebred horse,
breed of light horse with great beauty, easy gait, and stamina; also known as the American saddle horse and the Kentucky saddler. It was developed primarily from the Thoroughbred and the Naragansett pacer.
..... Click the link for more information.
, known for its easy gaits; the MorganMorgan horse,
breed of American light horse descended from a single progenitor—the famous Justin Morgan. Morgans are used as all-purpose light horses and are very popular on cattle ranches. Their average height is just under 15 hands (60 in.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and the quarter horsequarter horse,
American breed of light horse that originated during the colonial era, partly from Arabian ancestry (see Arabian horse). The name refers to the horse's reputation for speed at the quarter-mile distance.
..... Click the link for more information.
, favored for riding and cow herding; and the StandardbredStandardbred horse
or trotter,
American breed of light horse developed especially for harness, or sulky, racing. Of Thoroughbred ancestry, it is similar in appearance to a thoroughbred but has shorter legs.
..... Click the link for more information.
, or trotter, developed for light harness racing. The AppaloosaAppaloosa horse
, breed of light horse developed in the United States by the Nez Percé of Idaho from a horse that originated in Asia and was popular in Europe during the Middle Ages. Lewis and Clark found the breed in the possession of the Nez Percé in 1805.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and the PintoPinto, Fernão Mendes
, c.1509–1583, Portuguese traveler. For some 20 years he traveled in Africa and Asia, journeying to far places and experiencing great hardships, including years as a slave.
..... Click the link for more information.
, much used in cow herding, are distinguished by their patterned colors. The palominopalomino horse,
American light horse that, contrary to popular opinion, is not a breed but a color type. The palomino is a characteristic golden, creamy tan, with an almost white mane and tail. White stripes on the face and white stockings are common.
..... Click the link for more information.
 is not a breed but a color type. Among the small horses are the Shetland ponyShetland pony,
smallest breed of horse, originating in the Shetland Islands some 200 mi (322 km) N of Scotland. The Shetland resembles a miniature draft horse and has long been used for working purposes.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and Welsh ponyWelsh pony,
breed of small horse of European origin. First bred primarily in Saxony, it later became localized in Wales. Although the breed is of ancient type, it presently bears traces of the Arabian horse and shows influences of the Thoroughbred horse.
..... Click the link for more information.
. The terms cow pony and polo pony refer to the animal's use rather than its size or breed. Although little used for work today, horses are widely owned for recreational riding and show activities.


Horses are classified in the phylum ChordataChordata
, phylum of animals having a notochord, or dorsal stiffening rod, as the chief internal skeletal support at some stage of their development. Most chordates are vertebrates (animals with backbones), but the phylum also includes some small marine invertebrate animals.
..... Click the link for more information.
, subphylum Vertebrata, class Mammalia, order Perissodactyla, family Equidae.


See A. Hyland, Equus (1990); E. H. Edwards and C. Geddes, ed., The Complete Horse Book (1991); K. R. Ward, The American Horse (1991); J. Clutton-Brock, Horse Power (1992); J. Holderness-Roddam, The New Complete Book of the Horse (1992); A. N. Greene, Horses at Work: Harnessing Power in Industrial America (2008); P. Kelekna, The Horse in Human History (2009).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.


A large hoofed mammal, having a short-haired coat, a long mane, and a long tail, and domesticated since ancient times for riding and to pull vehicles or carry loads.
See also: Ornament
Illustrated Dictionary of Architecture Copyright © 2012, 2002, 1998 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc. All rights reserved


(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Horse is one of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac. It refers to one of the 12 earthly branches, which are used in Chinese astrology, together with the 10 heavenly stems. Such a branch designates one day every 12 days: the days are named according to a sexagesimal (60) cycle, made of 10 series of 12 branches.

With his fiery nature, the Horse quickly gets worked up. Happy and not complicated, a little naive and sometimes weak, this socialite likes to entertain and to be entertained; he is appreciated everywhere. This enthusiastic worker is ambitious, persuasive, and a great improviser. He often does well in his plans, but he is not noted for his inordinate intelligence. He likes travelling, mostly abroad, and has a rather fickle nature.

—Michele Delemme

The Astrology Book, Second Edition © 2003 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.

What does it mean when you dream about a horse?

The horse is a powerful animal representing noble and forthright actions. If the dreamer is riding the horse, the dreamer is most probably in control of his or her life. The drives of power and sex can also come into play in this kind of dream.

The Dream Encyclopedia, Second Edition © 2009 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.


A large rock caught along a fault.
(mining engineering)
(vertebrate zoology)
Equus caballus. A herbivorous mammal in the family Equidae; the feet are characterized by a single functional digit.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Scientific & Technical Terms, 6E, Copyright © 2003 by The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


1. See sawhorse.
2.See carriage.
3. Framing used as a temporary support.
McGraw-Hill Dictionary of Architecture and Construction. Copyright © 2003 by McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc.


symbol of agents of destruction. [Christian Tradition: N.T.: Revelation 6; Mercatante, 65]
See: Death


symbolizes fecundity. [Bengali Folklore: Binder, 67]


Al Borak
white horse Muhammad rode to the seven heavens. [Islam: Leach, 172]
fabulous winged horse; offspring of Demeter and Poseidon. [Gk. Myth.: Zimmerman, 31]
Arundel Bevis’s
incomparable steed. [Br. Lit.: Bevis of Hampton]
famous horse in history of thoroughbred racing. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1273]
immortal steed of Achilles. [Gk. Myth.: Kravitz, 44]
the Cid’s horse. [Sp. Legend: Brewer Dictionary, 80]
Black Beauty
story of a horse has become a children’s classic. [Br. Lit.: Black Beauty, Payton, 80]
Black Bess
belonged to the notorious highwayman, Dick Turpin. [Br. Hist.: Benét, 103]
wild steed, broken by Alexander to be his mount. [Gk. Hist.: Leach, 167]
beast that is half-horse, half-man. [Gk. Myth.: Mercatante, 201–202]
famous horse in history of thoroughbred racing. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1273]
legendary wooden horse on which Don Quixote and Sancho Panza think they are taking a journey through the air. [Span. Lit.: Bella, 205]
a paragon of horses. [TV: “My Friend Flicka” in Terrace, II, 125]
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, The
ride white, red, black, and pale horses, symbolizing, respectively, invasion, civil strife, scarcity and famine, and pestilence and death. [N.T.: Revelation 6:1-8]
Gallant Fox
famous horse in history of thoroughbred racing. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1273]
Gilpin, John
his borrowed horse carries him at a mad pace for miles to its owner’s home, then turns and runs back. [Br. Poetry: John Gilpin’s Ride]
Grane Brünnhilde’s
war horse, presented to Siegfried. [Ger. Opera: Wagner, Gotterdammerung, Westerman, 244]
Gringalet Gawain’s
steed. [Br. Lit.: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight]
Ichabod Crane’s favorite steed. [Am. Lit.: Washington Irving “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”]
famous trotting horse after which race for threeyear-old trotters is named. [Am. Culture; Mathews, 769]
Harum, David
would rather trade horses than eat or sleep. [Am. Lit.: David Harum in Magill I, 192]
Hippolytus, St.
patron saint of horses. [Christian Hagiog.: Brewster, 367]
race of horses that represent nobility, virtue, and reason. [Br. Lit.: Gulliver ’s Travels]
o’ War (“Big Red”) famous racehorse foaled at Belmont Stables. [Am. Hist.: Payton, 421]
(Maggie) Tam O’Shanter’s gray mare that lost her tail to the witch. [Scot. Poetry: Burns “Tam O’Shanter”]
Mr. Ed
the talking horse. [TV: Terrace, II, 116–117]
Native Dancer
famous horse in history of thoroughbred racing. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1273]
winged mount of Bellerophon. [Gk. Myth.: Hall, 238]
roan stallion
tramples its owner to death and is shot by his wife, though she had been seduced by the stallion’s beauty. [Am. Poetry: Robinson Jeffers The Roan Stallion in Magill I, 835]
Don Quixote’s mount. [Span. Lit.: Don Quixote]
Tonto’s horse. [TV: “The Lone Ranger” in Terrace, II, 34; Radio: “The Lone Ranger” in Buxton, 143]
famous horse in history of thoroughbred racing. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1273]
Seattle Slew
famous horse in history of thoroughbred racing. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1273]
famous horse in history of thoroughbred racing. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1273]
great horse of the wizard Gandalf. [Br. Lit.: J. R. R. Tolkien Lord of the Rings]
the Lone Ranger’s trusty steed. [Radio: “The Lone Ranger” in Buxton, 143–144; TV: Terrace, II, 34–35]
Odin’s eight-legged gray horse. [Norse Myth.: Benét, 937]
Tom Mix’s “Wonder Horse.” [Radio: “Tom Mix” in Buxton, 241–242]
Hopalong Cassidy’s faithful horse. [Cinema and TV: “Hopalong Cassidy” in Terrace, I, 369]
Roy Roger’s horse. [TV: “The Roy Rogers Show” in Terrace, II, 260]
famous horse in history of thoroughbred racing. [Am. Hist.: NCE, 1273]
Allusions—Cultural, Literary, Biblical, and Historical: A Thematic Dictionary. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


1. a domesticated perissodactyl mammal, Equus caballus, used for draught work and riding: family Equidae
2. the adult male of this species; stallion
3. wild horse
a. a horse (Equus caballus) that has become feral
b. another name for Przewalski's horse
a. any other member of the family Equidae, such as the zebra or ass
b. (as modifier): the horse family
5. Gymnastics a padded apparatus on legs, used for vaulting, etc.
6. a slang word for heroin
7. Nautical a rod, rope, or cable, fixed at the ends, along which something may slide by means of a thimble, shackle, or other fitting; traveller
8. Chess an informal name for knight
9. Informal short for horsepower
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005


The horse is a noble and powerful animal. As a dream symbol it can represent a wide range of positive thoughts and ideas about self or others. Depending on the details of the dream, horses can symbolize freedom, power, and sexual energy. At times, they can also be considered messengers, relaying information from the unconscious to the conscious, from the spiritual to the physical. If you are horseback riding it suggests that you are self-assured and feel a sense of control in your daily life. Old dream interpretation books say that the color of the horse is also significant. (Remember that this is based on superstition.) Black horses are said to point out delays; white horses reinforce the positive and transformative aspects of life; gray horses may point to the difficulties in the dreamer’s current situation; piebald horses are symbolic of confusion; brown horses are associated with mental pursuits; tan horses are said to be symbolic of love and sex.
Bedside Dream Dictionary by Silvana Amar Copyright © 2007 by Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
He much prefers golf but now he has taken the Duke of Edinburgh's responsibilities and he will be appearing on horseback at this year's Trooping the Colour," the source previously said.
Victoria will have loved learning about the camaraderie that has existed over the years between hugely competitive jockeys in the weighing rooms, especially in National Hunt racing, across the country where the warriors on horseback make their fame and fortune if they are lucky.
They practice Leave No Trace camping on horseback, and participate in an Alpengirl BBQ and Rodeo with prizes for traditional rodeo events such as barrels and poles."
Jo Darke, director of the Public Monuments and Sculpture Association, said: "Liverpool was always a thriving city and was in a position where it could afford statues of royals on horseback.
It sent chills up my spine to learn that I had an ancestor who was on horseback constantly as a way of life."