Horse owners tend to make jokes about our form of “horsepower” when we chat with non-horsey folk. Often the conversation goes like this: “I have one horsepower at the stable, and 200 horsepower in the garage…”

Well, according to a recent article published on IFLScience, one horse actually gallops faster than one horsepower.  It reveals that while estimates vary, but it’s thought a horse in full gallop could produce up to 24 horsepower with the effort.

Technically, horsepower (hp) is a unit of measurement of power used to describe the rate at which work is done. It’s calculated through the power needed to move 550 pounds one foot in one second, or by the power needs to move 33,000 pounds one foot in one minute. Historically, hp was devised by Scottish engineer James Watt in the 1770s to help sell his steam engines and wean industry off horse-driven machines.

A paper in Nature published back in 1993 by researchers Collins and Caine list data from a horse-pulling contest at the 1925 Iowa State Fair showing that peak mechanical power output of a horse is 12 – 14.9 horsepower. “This effort lasted only a matter of seconds and is probably a realistic estimate of peak performance,” they wrote.

They estimated that skeletal muscle for a horse is about 45 percent of its total mass, but they only use 30 percent of this while running. Looking at a 600-kilogram (1,322 lb) horse,  it could theoretically produce 18,000 watts of power. Since one horsepower is around 745 watts, that would be 24 horsepower.

So there you have it: horses and ponies actually are faster and more powerful than you thought. But compared to a Porsche 911, which at full tilt produces over 600 hp, our four-legged equines are a bit slower.

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