A horse is dangerous at both ends and uncomfortable in the middle.

IAN FLEMING (1908-64)


Horse Manure

In the 1890s the key environmental concern was horse manure. London had 11,000 cabs and several thousand buses, each using 12 horses per day - more than 50,000 horses in public transport alone. Each horse produces 15-35 lbs of manure per day; New York had 2.5 million lbs per day to shift, leading a New York Times editorial to comment in 1894, 'how much pleasanter the streets of a great city would be if the horse was an extinct animal.'

'Crossing sweepers' were employed to clear paths through the dung, which was either sludge in wet weather or a fine powder which blew about in the dry. The piles of manure produced huge numbers of flies, which spread typhoid fever and other diseases; it's estimated that three billion flies hatched in horse manure per day in US cities in 1900, and in New York, 20,000 deaths per year were blamed on manure. 

Furthermore, each horse produced about two pints of urine daily; 40,000 gallons per day in New York. They were incredibly noisy (iron shoes on cobbles made conversation impossible on busy streets), and much more dangerous than modern traffic (horses kick, bite and bolt; the fatality rate was 75% higher per capita than today). And then there were the dead horses. The average streetcar horse had a life expectancy of about three years; in 1880, New York cleared 15,000 carcasses from its streets, 41 per day. Dead horses were unwieldy, and street cleaners often waited several days for the corpses to putrefy so they could more easily be sawed into pieces. 

In spite of this widespread pessimism, the problem had all but disappeared within two decades. Electric trams, then cars and motor buses led to a rapid collapse in the horse population; in 1912, New York, London and Paris traffic counts showed more cars than horses for the first time, and most cities experienced their first motor traffic jams in 1914. At the time, the motor-car was widely hailed as an environmental saviour, and some modern environmental sceptics draw from this story the conclusion that environmental problems just sort themselves out if you wait long enough. 


Horses can lock their knee and elbow joints to enable them to stand (and sleep) without using their muscles.

Horsey History

The horse, like the dog and the camel, first carved out its evolutionary niche in the North America of 50 million years ago. In those days, it scampered around the rain forest eating fruit, much as its relative the tapir still does today. But as the planet cooled, and the forests were replaced by vast grass-filled plains, the American proto-horses diversified and adapted themselves to the new environment, eventually crossing the Bering land bridge into Asia. All our breeds of domestic horse, Equus caballus, are descended from these American immigrants: only one wild  horse, the Mongolian Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalskii)  has survived.
Horses are animals of the steppe, and many of the adaptations that allowed them to thrive in an open landscape of rough grass continue to affect their behaviour today. Poor diet requires a large digestive tract, so they grew larger. Because they aren’t ruminants, horses depend on lots of small meals, to maintain energy levels, rather than one large feast. They are ‘hind-gut fermenters’, absorbing nutrients through their intestines rather than their stomachs, so a change in diet can cause serious problems: over-rich pasture, mouldy hay, and unfamiliar or toxic plants can cause colic, or even death.

Horses are prey animals: the best defence on the steppe is to run faster and faster than your predator. Hence, they have the largest eyes of any land mammal, arranged to give them almost 360° vision. Anything unfamiliar (like a plastic bag) triggers the flight response. Also, because endurance is more important to survival than initial speed, horses’ legs became longer and more powerful, but took time and space to reach top speed. Most humans can beat a horse from a standing start over 20 yards.
In the UK and US alone, there are 10 million horses ridden for pleasure and profit, creating an industry that turns over in excess of £60 billion, a figure which outstrips the gross domestic product of most of the world’s poorer nations.

All horses get about on tip-toe.


I only have two acting styles: with and without a horse.

Many cultures still eat horse, especially Kazakhs who even eat horse rectum.

The ancient Thracians worshipped horses.

Australia’s Deadliest Creature

According to the National Coroners Information System, there were 128 animal-related deaths in Australia in 2000-06, and horses were responsible for 36 of them. Many resulted from someone colliding with a horse while driving, or falling off one while riding. A quarter of all animal-related deaths in Australia take place on the road.
The second most deadly animal in the period was the cow (20 deaths), followed by the dog (12).  Sharks killed 11, snakes eight, crocodiles or alligators four, spiders, only three.  One person was killed by a cat.


Horse manure for Telescopes

Other than fertiliser, there was a rather unexpected use for horse manure: making telescopes. The speculum (curved mirror) in an astronomical telescope needs to be made as smooth as possible to take a high polish. The astronomer William Herschel (discoverer of Uranus) cast his specula in iron, using moulds made from a loam of pounded horse dung, and this technique was used well into the 20th century (e.g. in the 100-inch Mount Wilson telescope in Los Angeles, built 1917). Another possible use involves an organism called the Hay Bacillus, found in horse and camel dung; it is said that the German Afrika Korps in the Second World War copied an Arab custom of eating fresh dung to treat dysentery.


I only know two things about the horse
And one of them is rather course. 

Up to 95% of thoroughbreds can be traced back to just one stallion, the Darley Arabian, born in 1700.

Black Beauty by Anna Sewell is described on the title page as ‘translated from the equine’.