The short answer is that there is no real consensus about this, but some people insist on the claim that horses are the fastest and have done so since the 16th century! (The truth is more obscure. For a fascinating account of the debate over this, see The Horse of Your Dreams by George Buehler and William H. Henson, in Horse Racing Magazine.)
The best evidence that horse speed is a highly elusive phenomenon comes from the observation that horses run faster when compared to those of humans. In an experiment reported in the American Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers in California found that the rate of stride length for two male horses was about 30% faster compared to the human, a result that is considered to reflect a biological advantage. Furthermore, the researchers observed that the speed of stride for both horses was comparable to that of humans who have a similar average stride length.
It turns out that this “speed advantage” of 30% is not so apparent when compared to humans, who generally have a stride length that is roughly the same as that of the horses. Instead, humans stand about 5% shorter than horses, and that is consistent with the fact that humans do not run as fast at the trot as people do at the trot. While the horse’s stride length is clearly about 30% faster than the trot, the human’s does not. A shorter length equals more of the force on the trot being applied to the front hoof, which does reduce the speed at which the human’s gallop.
In a study of horses, the researchers observed speed differences in the trot and trot-out. They discovered that horses did run faster in the trot than at the trot-out. They were about 1/8th the speed of a person who trotted out. While that is not a huge difference, it is important for two reasons. First, it means that, on average, humans can trot about 1/16th of a mile (0.8 m) faster, whereas horses can run the same as a person trot-out. This would correspond approximately to an additional stride length of about 1.6 m.
Second, the study confirms that speed is an acquired property, not a biological characteristic. Horses and people who run faster than the average often do so because of practice and training. By running faster than people, they train and practice more efficiently for those times when they can run faster, thus improving their speed and possibly improving their skill. This
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