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horse, 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 horse. (Other so-called wild horses are feral domestic horses or their descendants.) Adapted to plains environments, all Equus species, including the ass and the zebra, 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 racing; equestrianism.

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 saddle and the stirrup 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 travois. Escaped Indian horses were ancestral to the mustang, the so-called wild horse of the W United States.

The two major groups of modern horses—the light, swift southern breeds, called light horses, and the heavy, powerful northern breeds, called draft horses—are believed to have arisen independently. The small breeds called ponies 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 harness) 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 Belgian, the Clydesdale, the Percheron; and the Shire, also the most common draft horse in England.

Light Horses

Modern light horses, all descended in part from the Arabian horse, the oldest surviving breed of known lineage, include the Thoroughbred, celebrated as a racehorse; the American saddlebred horse, known for its easy gaits; the Morgan and the quarter horse, favored for riding and cow herding; and the Standardbred, or trotter, developed for light harness racing. The Appaloosa and the Pinto, much used in cow herding, are distinguished by their patterned colors. The palomino is not a breed but a color type. Among the small horses are the Shetland pony and Welsh pony. 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 Chordata, 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 © 2022, 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.