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Horses with dog faces


Horses with dog faces are an odd but real breed that just might be for you.

Photo courtesy of the Royal Horse Society.

Photo courtesy of the Royal Horse Society.

Horses with dog faces are an odd but real breed that just might be for you.

If you've seen horses with dog-like facial features, you probably wondered if they were the product of a secret breeding program or just a genetic quirk.

But the truth is, horse-dog hybrids have a long history — dating back to the ancient Greeks. And as more humans have settled into equestrian culture and the world's equine population has grown to more than 8 billion head, it's more common than ever to encounter them.

What Is a Horse-Dog Cross?

While there is no official classification for horses that are genetically engineered to look like dogs, experts in the equine-dog subculture commonly call them a horse-dog cross.

According to the American Horse Breeders Association, a horse-dog cross is a crossbreeding where the sire is a horse and the dam is a dog. "The most common form of crossbreeding," AHBA says, "is where the sire is a dog." (Note that a mule is a cross between a horse and a donkey.)

To produce a horse-dog cross, a breeder would choose a dog to be the dam, usually a mongrel. The dog would produce pups, and they would be separated and sold to different breeders who would use them as sires. The dog would be bred to different horses — either purebred or mules — depending on the purpose of the cross.

There's evidence that the Greeks developed horses with dog faces as far back as 4500 B.C., a fact that is reflected in many modern horse breeds and has continued into the equine-dog era. But it's probably because the Romans were looking at the odd-looking dogs that are called Roman Shepherds that the practice became widespread, according to the American Horse Association.

"It's almost an ancient tradition, and has probably been passed on through the centuries," sd Karen Bowers, who owns a mare named Lulu, which has a long coat and a nose reminiscent of a Pekingese. "The Romans really loved their dogs — and had them as family pets."

Why Do Horses Have Dog Faces?

While most breeds of horse look completely different from the breeds of dogs, horses with a dog-like face are an anomaly among the horse world. Their genetic make-up is very different from the rest of the horse, which has resulted in physical abnormalities like oversize ears and a horse nose.

"There are a lot of myths about them," sd the Royal Horse Society (RHS), which tracks the horse population and the development of the horse industry. "They have been bred to be different."

Horses with dog faces were developed as a cross to increase stamina — as a work horse — and that meant they had to be able to stay up longer. The problem is that the nose on most horses is too small to accommodate the nostrils of a larger dog.

"A smaller nose allows more oxygen through, and the horse can actually keep up with the dog," sd RHS spokesman Paul Fennell.

The combination of smaller nostrils and a horse nose actually made them better suited to work as a long-distance carriage horse or as a family pet, as most have a gentle nature, he sd.

As the British equestrian culture moved from the countryside to the city, the demand for horses that could do long hours without stopping increased, and so did the demand for horses that could endure longer rides.

That's why there are breeds like the Shetland Pony and Exmoor Pony, which have large noses, which are more than twice as wide as the rest of their nose. The Welsh Pony breeds have a huge face, a long nose, a wide mouth and tiny nostrils. And the Arabian horse has very wide nostrils and a long face.

"They all have very different faces to the normal horse," Fennell sd.

There's also been a rise in people breeding horses to look like dogs. "The reason is, we like the dog face," he sd. "It's one of the most unique features in the horse. So people see that and think 'Oh, I've got to have that!' But it's not natural."

So How Do You Know?

One of the biggest clues to whether a horse is a dog-like cross is the length of its nose and the width of its mouth. If you're in doubt, you can always ask the horse's owner.

"It's very unusual," Fennell sd. "If someone tells you that, chances are it's not."

In addition, there is a stigma attached to horses with dog faces.

"Most horse lovers aren't very interested in them," Fennell sd. "The people who own them tend to be a bit odd."

In the United States, Fennell sd, the practice is still rare — it's more common among hobbyists in countries like Australia and Canada, where it has a long history and is still a big industry.

"People want to try to make their horses as beautiful as possible," he sd. "People get quite attached to their horses — it's kind of the same sort of thing as people having a 'fur baby.' It's just a bit unusual."

But while most horse lovers steer clear of them, there are horse owners who love the horse-dog cross.

"I know a lot of breeders that breed for them," Bowers sd. "They have big ears and a long face. They're just gorgeous animals."

The horses have a softer side, too.

"It's like the mule," Bowers sd. "They're really easy to trn. They're always nice to have around. They're just happy to be around."

The Horse-Dog Market

As the horse population continues to increase and


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