Creating the "Perfect" Horse


In this lesson, students use a problem-based approach to explore the possibility that the qualities of different horse breeds — strength, speed, agility, stamina, beauty, intelligence, disposition — could be incorporated to create the “perfect horse,” one that would excel in all the activities and competitions involving horse and rider. Students watch Horse and Rider, and working in teams, conduct an investigation of the horse, its biology, domestication, the attributes of different breeds, their uses, and history. 

Subject: Language Arts, Science, Social Studies
Grade Level: 9-12 


Students will be able to:

  • Recognize and describe the unique relationship between horse and rider, and the reasons why different horse breeds were developed.
  • Perform online research to learn about horse biology and behavior, the different breeds of horses, where they are found, their attributes and how and why they were developed.
  • Analyze findings from the research to determine how it is possible to produce an all-purpose horse and whether it is possible or impractical. 
  • Present findings in a display presentation to the class.
  • Present their positions in a position paper.



Life Sciences

Standard 4, Level IV, Benchmark 3
Knows that new heritable characteristics can only result from new combinations of existing genes or from mutations of genes in an organism’s sex cells; other changes in an organism cannot be passed on

Standard 7, Level IV, Benchmark 1
Knows that heritable characteristics, which can be biochemical and anatomical, largely determine what capabilities an organism will have, how it will behave, and how likely it is to survive and reproduce


Standard 1, Level IV, Benchmark 2
Drafting and Revising: Uses a variety of strategies to draft and revise written work (e.g., highlights individual voice; rethinks content, organization, and style; checks accuracy and depth of information; redrafts for readability and needs of readers; reviews writing to ensure that content and linguistic structures are consistent with purpose)

Standard 4, Level II, Benchmark 4
Uses electronic media to gather information (e.g., databases, Internet, CD-ROM, television shows, cassette recordings, videos, pull-down menus, word searches)

Standard 4, Level IV, Benchmark 3
Uses a variety of primary sources to gather information for research topics 

Thinking and Reasoning

Standard 3, Level IV, Benchmark 1
Uses a comparison table to compare multiple items on multiple abstract characteristics




Computer Resources

  • Modem: 56.6 Kbps or faster
  • Browser: Netscape Navigator 4.0 or above or Internet Explorer 4.0 or above
  • Macintosh computer: System 8.1 or above and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • Personal computer: (Pentium II 350 MHz or Celeron 600 MHz) running Windows 95 or higher and at least 32 MB of RAM
  • Large screen display monitor (optional)

Specific Software Needed 

Bookmarked Sites 

Wild Horses: An American Romance 
This site explores the evolution of the horse, how humans came into relationship with it, and the dilemma of preserving wild horses in the American West.

Wild Horses of Mongolia: The Spirit of Mongolia 
Julia Roberts tours Mongolia and learns about a nomadic culture in which horses play a central role.

Horses: Horsepower 
This site, a companion to the HORSES episode of NATURE, reviews the history of the usage of the horse in human civilization.

The Haynet: Breeds and Associations
This page has a list of many horse breeds with links to breed associations.

Breeds of Livestock: Horse Breeds 
This site describes the major breeds of horses and features links to different breed organizations.

The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy: Horses 
The American Livestock Breeds Conservancy is an organization dedicated to preserving rare and endangered livestock breeds. Their site includes detailed descriptions of horse breeds and their status.

International Museum of the Horse 
This site has a long list of links and online exhibits on horse history.

This is a site for young people that has useful information on horses.

National Show Horse Registry 
This is a resource on the lineage and characteristics of the national show horse, with a list of breed standards. The information from this site can be used to demonstrate how a perfect horse may not satisfy everyone.

National Horsetraders 
This site has many links to breeders, trainers, and ranches. Before you start the lesson, use this site to locate breeders who would be willing to communicate with your students while they research. Then, provide contact information to students.


Students will need the following supplies:


  • Computers with Internet access
  • Pens, pencils, and other writing tools
  • Graphic organizers for collecting and organizing research
  • Presentation board

Teachers will need the following:


  • Television and VCR
  • The video of the episode Horse and Rider from the series NATURE.
  • Chart paper



Introductory Activity 
(one to two class periods)

1. Write the following descriptions based on information from the Thirteen/WNET New York program HORSE AND RIDER on a sheet of chart paper and display it in front of the classroom. DON’T reveal the name of the animal:

  • A creature of flight — its main defense, but it is also brave 
  • A herd animal, it performs best when it’s with others of its kind
  • Works in partnership with man and they form a two-person herd
  • Often, the animal is the leader in the partnership
  • It is intelligent and curious
  • It is a high performance animal
  • It is strong, but sometimes prone to injury

Ask the students “What is this mystery animal”? Give the students the opportunity to guess. If they need further help, ask them these questions:

  • What would we consider to be “high performance” in an animal? 
  • Which domesticated animal forms a true working partnership with humans, rather than a dominant-submissive relationship? How can something lead as well as be a partner?
  • How can an animal be strong, but prone to injury at the same time? Would human athletes fit that description?

2. Once students have determined that the animal in question is a horse, ask them to tell the class what they know about horses — what they’ve read, seen or heard. Students may have had some personal experience with horses, and a few might be experienced riders. Have the students describe what they think the horse was like before they were domesticated and how and why humans first came to ride them. Have them list all the uses of horses by humans and why they are especially suited for these uses. Ask them whether all horses are the same or whether they are different depending on their uses. They might know of some famous examples — the giant Clydesdale horses, thoroughbreds, show horses, polo ponies. Suggest to the class some of the activities horses are used for, and ask them to describe the kinds of horses they think might be involved in those activities, whether by name or by description.

Learning Activities 

Activity 1: 
(one class period)

1. Elicit from the class the qualities of the horse that have made its partnership with humans unique in the natural world. How did those qualities evolve? Did they evolve naturally, or were they bred into them? The horse brings to the partnership traits which it acquired when it evolved as a herd animal on the plains, pursued by predators — intelligence, speed, strength, stamina and cooperative behavior, as well as a wariness and sensitivity. Over time, humans learned to work with these traits. Societies developed different breeds or varieties of horses for different uses, each one having special qualities to perform its task.

As a motivational activity, show photographs, stories, art and video from the following sites:

International Museum of the Horse — The Legacy of the Horse

Horses — Horsepower

Wild Horses of Mongolia — The Spirit of Mongolia 
Click on the video clip.

2. Ask the students again to list all the different activities involving horse and rider that they can think of. Next to each particular activity, have them list the particular traits the horse must have in order to be successful in each activity. Include types such as racehorse, show horse, workhorse, sport competition horse (polo, cutting horse, rodeo), categories they will see in the program. Then ask them to list what traits the successful rider must have for each. Discuss with students afterward if there are similarities and differences between the traits valued in the different activities. Pose the problem to the students: Is it possible to produce the “perfect horse,” one that would possess all the traits that riders value, and excel in all the activities requiring horse and rider? Tell them that they will conduct research to solve this problem and then present their “perfect horses” to the rest of the class. 

Activity 2: 
(five class periods) 

1. Tell students that they are going to watch a video entitled Horse and Rider from Thirteen’s NATURE series. Explain that in the program, they will learn about three competitive activities involving horse and rider: cutting horse, dressage, and polo. If necessary, explain the three different horse-related activities they will see. Have the students make up a table. One column lists the horse activity. The second column is entitled “Horse Qualities,” in which students list the traits that the horse should possess for that particular activity. The third column should be entitled “Rider Qualities” and list how the rider should approach the particular tasks. Encourage students to discuss similarities and differences between the different sports and how this might be reflected in the horses and the riders. Would each be very different? Would one type be very similar to another? Would the riders have very different or similar philosophies about their relationships with their horses? Before watching the video, the students divide up into teams of 4 and decide which aspect of horsemanship they are interested in — racing, sport competition, show horse or work horse, or any category that may have come up in the previous activities. Each student will decide which area interests them most and will research the types of horses and their histories. Students then watch the program while taking notes in the Horse and Rider Organizer.

2. After viewing the program, the students will return to the table they made up and compare/contrast the requirements they listed with those they heard about or observed in the film. Were there more or fewer similarities among the requirements than they expected? Were some requirements promoted at the expense of others? Did the horses look different? Was the approach of the riders/trainers similar, different, or about the same? In their research, each student should learn about horses in general and about the different horse breeds from different perspectives — biological, historical, cultural, economic, geographical. They should note the strengths and weaknesses of each breed, and should keep in mind the question posed as they do their research. They should use the Horse Breed Facts Organizer to assist them. The following sites will be useful in their research:

As part of the investigation, have teams (not individual students) contact horse breeders by email to get firsthand, primary source information on what breeding, developing, and promoting different kinds of horses involves. Lists of breeders can be found through and through links provided in the other listed Web sites. Contact a few breeders yourself (in advance) and ask them whether students may email them questions; then, provide students with the breeders’ contact information. 

Allow time for students in each team to share what they learned with the rest of the team. Circulate among the teams, listening to each team’s conversation. Make sure that all students are contributing to the discussion, and encourage students to listen carefully as their teammates describe the different features and backgrounds of their horses. After they pool their research, encourage students to think about how 1) what they learned about the horse’s physical features, behavior, and other characteristics and 2) the ways in which they are used by humans would make it easier or more difficult to bring these different features to a single breed of horse. Use these questions to get them started:

  • How easy or difficult would it be to bring the different horses together in a ranch operation?
  • Does selective breeding always bring about the desired results?
  • Would all the different users of horses readily accept an all-purpose horse? Some might have strict requirements about the horse’s background.

Have the students use The Perfect Horse Organizer to pool their ideas.


Culminating Activities/Assessment:

Activity 1: 
(two class periods) 

1. Teams prepare their presentations, using their research to describe which horses they would use to create the perfect horse. Students then create a graphic, artistic flowchart on presentation board with charts, photos of the different breeds of horses, an illustration of the perfect horse, background descriptions, and distinguishing characteristics; they should also include a description of what would be involved in bringing the different breeds together. Students who are familiar with digital imaging software such as Photoshop may want to produce a digital image of the perfect horse, created by digitally blending features from the selected horses.

2. Each team then gives a presentation of their perfect horse, walking the class through their flowchart and explaining how they came to their conclusions. Allow time after each presentation for question/answer sessions, during which teams can further explain and defend their work. When all the presentations are complete, the issue of whether a perfect horse is possible or worthwhile to develop may be also discussed.

Activity 2: 
(two class periods) 

1. Continue the discussion about whether creating a perfect horse is possible and worthwhile. Invite students to reconsider how they would go about creating the perfect horse and whether this is a worthwhile endeavor. Acknowledge that it is okay if students’ initial thoughts have changed.

2. For homework, instruct students to write a position paper explaining and defending their point of view. The paper should clearly state a position and be supported by factual details from their research.


Extension Activities

  • Take a class poll to find out whether it is worthwhile to create the perfect horse or if the task is too difficult. Chart the findings in a bar graph.
  • Create a large life-size drawing or painting of the perfect horse, displaying the characters which it acquired from the different breeds and with bubble notes indicating the benefits that these traits bring.
  • Create a poster of a favorite kind of horse; include photos and stories about its history and the culture that produced it.
  • Write the story starter “If I owned a horse … ” on the chalkboard. Invite students to use what they learned to create a story or a poem.
  • Visit a horse ranch and talk to the trainers about their horses and how they work with them.
  • Explore how genetic engineering, as it is being used to alter domesticated plants and animals, might be applicable in producing the perfect horse
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  • Viviene DeOkoro

    I haven’t used this lesson plan system as yet; but have chosen it over/ from others I have perused so far, because of its logical, sensible, yet exciting approach. I live and teach gifted children in urban Jamaica, where the horse is certainly not a part of our everyday experience and culture. The horse however is our school animal/mascot; because it symbolized among other things: a teacher, hard work, freedom, beauty, and strength
    Your approach, spans the gammot of age ranges, diversity, abilities and interests. I also see where I can employ this across or curriculum offerings and I am very anxious to begin using it. Thanks for publishing excellence .

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