Horses vs. Camels: What Are the Differences and Their Uses?

This is about the differences between horses and camels and their different uses.

Horses and camels aren’t just different in appearance; they’re also used differently by humans.

So if you want to know all about the differences between horses and camels and their uses, then you’re in the right place.

Let’s get started!

Table of Contents

The Differences Between Horses and Camels and Their Different Uses

I can make a General in 5 minutes, but a good horse is hard to replace.

Abraham Lincoln

This quote from Lincoln testifies to the glory of horses and their service to mankind for centuries. Before the age of fighter jets or Mercedes trucks, horses served as key military equipment.

Horses are a symbol of strength, power, speed, and pride. They are one of the most loyal domesticated animals. 

Although the use and purpose of keeping horses have changed over time, today’s horses still serve humans through sports competitions, recreation, and even transportation in some developing countries. 

Silhouette of cowboys riding horses at sunset.

A horse is an entity used for expensive sports like equestrian (horse riding) shows and polo matches to the cheapest mode of transportation in poorer countries. 

On the other hand, camels are not exactly slouched in this arena. Often found in the stretches of deserts such as in the Middle East and Africa, the camel—also known as the “ship of the desert”—is well adapted to survive the harsh desert climate. Camels can perform well in places where horses may not be a great option.

In this article, we will compare how both animals are used for human purposes. But before getting too far, let’s explore some fascinating facts about both species. 

Comparative Human Uses of Horses and Camels

Both camels and horses have been used in the past for similar purposes but in different environments. 

In this section, we will be discussing the comparative efficacy of both horse and camel for different activities and services to human beings. 

#1 Riding, Racing, and Horse Shows

Black mare horse and adult man rider jumping during equestrian showjumping competition.

There are dozens of events involving horse racing worldwide, such as flat racing, harness racing, jump racing, steeplechase, and endurance riding in many regions worldwide.  

Many different equestrian sports are played worldwide under the International Federation for Equestrian Sports platform, with slight cultural modifications for different cultures. These sports include Polo, Coleo in South America, Doma Vaquera in Spain, tent-pegging in Pakistan and India, and many others. 

There are dozens of international horse shows conducted worldwide each year, such as the London International Horse Show, AQHA World Championship, and many more.  

Although less popular than horses, camel racing has also been very popular for ages. Many camel-racing events occur legally or illegally in the Middle East, UAE, Sudan, and Indian subcontinent. 

The biggest camel racing event has a trophy of 5 million Australian dollars. The Sheikh Zayed International Camel Endurance Race and Boulia Desert Sand Race are conducted in Queensland, Australia. 

Believe it or not, there are camel shows as well. One of the biggest camel shows and fairs is conducted in Rajasthan, India. 

#2 Transportation

Camel caravan going the sand dunes in the Sahara Desert.

Humans have used horses and camels almost equally and effectively for carriage and transportation. Both species have been used to carry the troops, weapons, goods for trade, and pull carts and trolleys. 

A horse can carry 20% of its body weight safely. The maximum weight a horse can carry is about 400 pounds (181 kg.). Even today, horses and mules (a cross between a mare and donkey) carry military equipment in hilly areas. 

A camel can carry more weight than a horse, up to 600 pounds (272 kg.), and is more trusted in deserts and unstable terrains. 

It can walk for longer distances without food and water and is more successful in the huge stretches of deserts in the Middle East, Africa, Pakistan, and India. So, as far as transportation is concerned, the camel is more successful in this area than the horse. 

#3 Meat

Wooden tabletop and blurred background with horse on green field.

In human history, horse meat has been used extensively for food during drought, wars, and even on cultural and religious events. Horse meat is as nutritious as beef and has a slightly sweeter taste due to the high glycogen in horse meat. 

The color of horse meat is red and contains 21% protein, 5% fat, and is higher in calories than beef—133 cal./3.5 oz. (100gm) compared to 117 cal./3.5 oz. (100 gm). The horse meat contains more iron and many other minerals but has slightly less protein than beef. 

There are some cultural and religious promotions as well as hurdles in regards to consuming horse meat. In countries like Pakistan, India, and Afghanistan, horse meat is not consumed except illegally. 

However, China is the largest producer of horse meat, followed by central Asia and other countries. Horse meat can be difficult to chew, especially in the case of meat from older horses. 

Over 1 million horses are slaughtered each year for meat, and most of them include ex-racehorses, sick or injured horses, and older horses. 

Camel meat has been extensively used throughout history. With a good moisture content of 76-78%, a protein value of 19% (in some references 23%), fat percentage of 2.9-3%, and a high concentration of minerals and vitamins, camel meat is very popular in many communities around the world. 

Some cultures in Africa mix camel blood with milk to create a drink that is a good source of minerals and vitamin D. Kenya is the largest camel meat producer globally, followed by Somalia and Saudi Arabia. Approximately 3.3 million camels and camelids are slaughtered each year for their meat.  

#4 Milk

Man milking a camel.

In terms of milk, camel milk is more popular than horse milk. The composition of camel’s milk resembles humans concerning total solid contents. The comparison between horse, camel, and human breast milk is listed in the table. 

Nutrients/MineralsMare (Female Horse) MilkCamel MilkHuman Breast Milk
Fat1.2%3.5%3.64-7.1%
Protein2.14%3.1%1.4%
Lactose6.3%4.4%6.7-7.2%
Casein (gram/kg)10 gram3.7 gram
Calcium (mg/100ml)102 mg114 mg30 mg
Magnesium (mg/100 ml9 mg10.5 mg3 mg

Horse milk has many health benefits due to its low fat percentage. As a result, it is highly valued for addressing skin-related problems and is used in many beauty products. However, the mare’s milk yield is quite low, 2.9-4 gal. (11-15 liter per day). 

On the other hand, camel milk is of great value, especially in the dry and harsh conditions of the desert. A camel can produce up to 9 gal. (30 liters) of milk per day and is efficient in the deserts where food and water are extremely scarce. Moreover, camel milk has more minerals and vitamins in its milk. 

As a bonus, camel milk is good for people with lactose intolerance (inability to digest lactose in the milk) due to its low lactose percentage. Both horse and camel milk do not convert well into cheese; yet, some cheese products are available. So, in terms of meat and milk, the camel fairs far better than a horse. 

#5 Beauty Products and Soaps

Handmade milk soap on top of wooden table.

Both horse and camel milk are used in formulations in beauty products such as soap, face cream, and dozens of other products. 

Horse milk is more prevalent in this regard because camel milk is mostly consumed for drinking. After all, it is an important source of milk in remote areas of the desert where it is difficult to store and transport other types of raw milk. 

#6 Hair

Camel hair fiber for knitting.

Horses have fine, silky, long hair over the head, mane, and tail. These long hairs are used in various ways to make useful products such as paintbrushes, wigs, bracelets, strings of musical instruments, and a good extender of silk fabric by mixing horsehair with silk threads. 

However, if you need blankets, rugs, tents, and warm clothes of the highest quality, camel hair is the best choice and wool and mohair. Camel hair, when blended with wool, produces high-quality, warm clothes. The hair of the Bactrian camel is of better quality and quantity in this regard. 

#7 Leather

Male cobbler working with leather textile.

Horse leather is smooth and makes quality shoes, furniture upholstery, and other leather products. It also has good patterns on it, which enhances its aesthetic appeal. 

Camel leather has 10 times more fibers per square cm (roughly a half-inch) than horse leather and is hard, strong, and tough. Although it is not very smooth, it has no match in durability.  

The bottom line is that both camels and horses have been created by nature for specific purposes, and both are important to humans. 

Although much of their former labor has been superseded by machineries such as trucks and cars, we cannot deny the importance of both species, especially when it comes to milk, meat, and other raw products. 

The Horse

With its excellent anatomy adapted for running, a great ability to differentiate between different tastes, a unique capability to sleep while standing, and good cognitive abilities and curiosity, the horse was domesticated by humans around 6,000 years ago. 

Beautiful wild horses grazing in the sunlit meadow.

Horses belong to the Equidae family, one of the three surviving families of the order Perissodactyla, along with rhinoceros and tapirs.

Habitat of Horses

After being domesticated, horses can live almost anywhere with the assistance of humans who provide them food, shelter, and water. But in the wild, horses prefer open plains and live near freshwater. 

Wild horses living in the Lower Salt River Area of the Sonoran Desert, Arizona.

Horses can spend 15-17 hours a day grazing in open pastures. 

Appearance of Horses

The height of horses is determined by the wither height, which is measured from the ground to the horse’s wither or shoulder. 

Although the height could be measured using a standard unit, it is instead described in terms of “hands” (1 hand= 4 in./10.1 cm.). 

Horses range in height from 14.2-18 hands, with a few breeds exceeding that. Light and large riding horses have approximately 14-16 hands and 15.2-17 hands, respectively. 

Ponies have a size of fewer than 14.2 hands. However, the new classification system doesn’t give much importance to size but rather focuses on breed and pedigree. 

A band of wild horses galloping in the field.

Horses coats appear in a large variety of colors, such as dark red, bay, black, yellow, chestnut, brown, silver, gray, white, dun, buckskin, palomino, pinto, and many more. There are two primary colors in dark horses; red or black. 

Other colors are the variation caused by the presence or absence of different genes. White horses have pink skin and white coats that appear due to genetic variations. Gray color can appear in dark horses due to progressive de-pigmentation of hair due to old age. 

Horses have a thick growth of hair called a mane on the top of the neck and head. They have 36-44 teeth. Canine teeth are absent in mares. The average life span in horses is 25-30 years.  

Diet of Horses

Horses are herbivores meaning they feed on plant materials such as grasses, shrubs, and small plants in the wild. Domesticated horses eat various food from grasses, hay, and fruits, to grains, concentrate (mix of grains, cereals, and minerals), and, of course, salt. 

One of the most important things about horses is that they have a long and sensitive digestive tract, including 70 feet (21 meters) of the small intestine and 22 feet (6.7 meters) of the large intestine. 

Brown horses eating grass in stable.

Horses are not ruminants like cattle but have a simple stomach like us. Their small stomach cannot store a large quantity of feed, and therefore they need to eat frequently in small volumes. 

Moreover, horses have to eat a large quantity of fiber to move the food through their long alimentary canal. So, excessive focus on concentrate feeding can lead to constipation and colic (severe abdominal pain). 

A horse eats dry matter (feed contents other than water) approximately 1-3% of its body weight, 50% of which should consist of grasses or hay. An adult horse drinks 5-10 gal. (19-38 liters) of fresh water in a day.

Breeding of Horses

Horses’ breeding happens seasonally during the long or summer days because a mare (a female horse) does not have a breeding cycle (estrous cycle) during the short days of winter. 

The estrous cycle in the mares is about 21 (19-22) days. During this time, it becomes receptive to a stallion for about 5-7 days of the cycle, in a period known as estrus. 

A couple horse in the field.

If a foal is conceived, the gestation period is about 340 (320-370) days. Therefore, breeding during the spring and summer is an adaptation to avoid foaling, that is, giving birth to a baby horse, during the winter, when the foal’s chances at survival are more precarious. 

However, by manipulating the light in breeding farms, the estrous cycle can be induced in mares artificially, even in winter. So it is possible to have mares foal in winter. 

This has some advantages because of age determination used in horse racing, with the key date being on January 1, or in a few instances, August 1. For racing, this is the beginning of the year to determine the horse’s age regardless of the actual birth date. 

Behavior of Horses

In terms of instinctive behavior, the domesticated horses are no different from their wild ancestors. They are prey animals in the wild and most prey animals flee (and are adapted to flee) at the sight of a predator. 

Horses also live in herds with specific hierarchies. They perform many cognitive functions daily, such as food selection and identification of herd members. In addition, horses tend to be curious and will explore things.

One thing of paramount importance for any horse is its temperament. This will depend upon how its mother treated it when it was a foal. 

Wild horses running in desert of Utah.

During the early hours of its life, a mare will keep other members of the herd away from the foal because, during this period, the behavior and activity of the mother are imprinted into the foal’s mind. 

Horses have three main types of temperament:

  • Hot-blooded (racing horses) 
  • Cold-blooded (draft horses) 
  • Warm-blooded (these are riding horses produced by crossbreeding the other two categories)

The Camel

With the ability to withstand dehydration up to 30% of their body weight, to tolerate a wide temperature range from 93-120 F (34 C to 49 C), and to drink 40 gal. (151 liters) of water in one go, the dromedary camel (Camelus dromedarius) is one of the most resilient and hardened animals adapted to the desert environment. 

Camels walking through a desert at Liwa Oasis in Abu Dhabi.

The dromedary camel constitutes about 94% of the genus Camelus, also known as camelids. The other 6% consists of Bactrian camel (Camelus bactrianus) and new world camels such as the Llama, Alpaca, and Guanaco. 

For the sake of convenience, we will talk about dromedary camels only in this article. These are the camels with a single hump. A hump is a pile of fatty tissue on the back of a camel. 

Habitat of Camels

Camels live in and are well adapted to life in a desert environment. They have large feet for stable footing on the sand. Their large eyelashes protect them against blowing sand. 

They can shut their nostrils in case of sand storms and can withstand dehydration up to 30% of their body weight. They can survive without food and water for days. 

Camels in the desert.

But, when they can eat and drink, they can consume a large quantity of food and water (up to 53 gal. or 200 liters) when available. They have thick pads on their chest and knees so that they can sit on hot sand. 

Appearance of Camels

A dromedary camel is the tallest of all camelids, with a shoulder height of approximately 5.6-6.6 ft. (1.7-2 meters). This camel is characterized by a single hump that is higher than its long curved neck.  

A herd of wild camels in the desert.

Their fur coat is light to dark brown, which turns darker during the hotter months of the year. They have wide feet for a firm grip on slippery sand and long legs to stand far away from the hot sand of the desert. Camels have 34 permanent teeth.

The other types of camelids are smaller in size. And only the Bactrian camel has a double hump. 

Diet of Camels

A camel’s digestive system is different from other ruminants. It is a pseudo-ruminant (false ruminant). 

A herd of camels eating Acacia tree leaves in Kajiado County Kenya.

The stomach of camels is not divided into 4 compartments, like a cow, but has 3 parts that are not clearly separated from each other.

Still, the camel is adapted to eat various foods such as grasses, foliage, thorny bushes, trees, and vines. They have hard structures in their mouth that help them to chew thorns and hard bushes. 

Camel Breeding

Camels are atypical seasonal breeders and reach sexual maturity late. Male camels expose their soft palate and develop a red swelling at the side of their mouth called dulla. They also exhibit aggression to prove dominance over other males. 

Camels are the only four-legged mammals that mate in a sitting position. The male forces the female to sit and then restrains her using his front leg. The mating occurs in a sitting position for 7-35 minutes. 

 The herd of camels at a farm in Qatar.

They sometimes require assistance. Dromedaries are induced ovulators, meaning that ovulation, when an egg is released from the follicle of the ovary, is caused by the male penis during copulation. The gestation period in camels is about 15 months. 

Behavior of Camels

Camels also live in groups called herds. These groups are dominated by males. Although they were domesticated about 5,000 years ago and have lived peacefully in humans populations, camels are extremely revengeful and never forget an incident that brought harm to them. 

They have excellent memories and can remember the paths in the desert even after sand storms.

Differences Between Horses and Camels

Although we have already discussed some comparisons between these two animals above, let’s explore some additional differences in more detail below.  

#1 Speed

Black and white wild horses running free, dusts floating in the air.

Horses sprint faster than camels, with a maximum speed of 55 mph (88 kph) compared to 44.4 mph (65 kph) of camels. The average speed of horses is 25-30 mph (40-48 kph). For a camel, its average speed is12-12.4 mph (19-20 kph).  

The lower speed of camels is due to their heavy bodies and fat tissue deposits in their hump. 

In addition, a camel eats and drinks in bulk when available, which further reduces the speed compared to a horse, which can only ingest small quantities of food and water because of its smaller stomach. 

#2 Digestion

Beautiful pair of camels with their mouths full of hay.

Horses are simple stomach animals with fermentation abilities in their large intestine, while camels are pseudo-ruminants and ferment their food in their ruminant-like stomach. 

The gases produced during the fermentation process are released from the anus of a horse. On the other hand, Camels release gases, or eructate (a.k.a. belch), through their mouth. This is why horses fart, but camels don’t. 

#3 Tolerance to the Harsh Desert Climate

A long camel train caravan in the desert.

A man can sweat while just thinking about the heat, sand, and scarcity of water in a desert where a camel not only survives but is well adapted to that climate. For example, a camel can tolerate a temperature as high as 122 F (50 C) easily, whereas a horse would die quickly. 

This ability of camel to withstand high temperatures and dehydration is due to many reasons. 

  • Its thick coat and skin provide buffering against harsh conditions. 
  • Its kidneys are highly adapted to save water because it has a larger medullary (inner) region. 
  • A camel’s nostrils can absorb exhaled water vapors. 
  • It’s long legs and thick pads at key points on the body provide a buffer against the hot sand. 
  • They have a special network of blood vessels called rete mirabile to protect their brains during periods of extremely high temperatures. 
  • They can store large quantities of water and food in their bodies. 

Horses just don’t have such special mechanisms for thermoregulation. 

#4 Spitting

Camel with saliva in its mouth.

Seeing a camel spit is fascinating. They bring their stomach contents and saliva up and spit it out as a sign of annoyance and avoid being approached by anyone or anything. 

Horses don’t spit. 

#6 Eyelashes and the Third Eyelid

Beautiful camel head against the clear blue sky.

Being native to the desert, Camels have special mechanisms to avoid sand, such as extremely long eyelashes and a third eyelid that they can pull down to protect their eyes during sand storms. 

Horses don’t have these. 

#7 Sleeping Habit

Mare sleeping on ground near shelter in paddock in spring daytime.

Both horses and camels sleep, but camels can sleep while standing like horses and while sitting. 

Horses cannot sit and only sleep while standing or lying down.   

#8 Life Span

Silhouette of camels in the desert on a sunset background.

Camels live longer than horses. They have an average life span of 40-50 years, while horses live for 25-30 years. In addition, camels reach sexual maturity later than horses and have longer gestation periods.

#9 Structure of the Foot

Horse legs and hooves in the stable.

Camel’s foot is different from that of the horse. Camel is a digitigrades animal, which means it walks on its toes, and its heel never touches the ground. It is an even-toed animal that walks on two digits like dogs and cats. 

On the other hand, the horse is truly ungulate, meaning the distal bones are organized in the form of a hoof. They are also odd-toed animals. 

#10 Number and Structure of Mammary Glands and Teats

Newborn camel calf suckling on its mother.

Horses have two mammary glands with two teats, one attached to each gland.  

A female camel (camel cow) has four teats attached to four quarters of its udder.

#11 The Direction of Penis and Urination

Male camel standing in the desert, showing its behind.

The penis of the horse is directed cranially (towards the head).

A camel’s penis in a non-erected state is directed caudally (towards the tail) because of the long, muscular, cone-shaped prepuce (covering of penis), which means the camel urinates caudally.