The Horse Latitudes are located between latitudes 30 and 35 north and south of the equator. The region lies in an area where there is a ridge of high pressure that circles the Earth. Warm, dry, and sunny conditions over the oceans creates Earth's major deserts that are not in the polar regions.
The ridge of high pressure is also called a subtropical high and is one of several regions where high atmospheric pressures occur over the oceans. The subtropical latitudes are located both north and south of the equator in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres of
Wind currents on Earth, USGS
Sailing ships in these latitudes
The area between these latitudes has little precipitation. It has variable winds. Sailing ships sometimes while traveling to distant shores would have the winds die down and the area would be calm for days before the winds increased.
Desert formation on Earth
These warm dry conditions lead to many well known deserts. In the Northern Hemisphere deserts that lie in this subtropical high included the Sahara Desert in Africa and the southwestern deserts of the United States and Mexico. The Atacama Desert, the Kalahari Desert and the Australian Desert are all located in the southern Horse Latitudes.
Two explanations for the name
There are two explanations of how these areas were named. This first explanation is well documented. Sailors would receive an advance in pay before they stated on a long voyage which was spent quickly leaving the sailors without money for several months while aboard ship.
Sailors work off debt
When the sailors had worked long enough to again earn enough to be paid they would parade around the deck with a straw-stuffed effigy of a horse. After the parade the sailors would throw the straw horse overboard.
Second explanation about horses
The second explanation is not well documented. The Horse Latitudes got their name from the time when Spaniards carried horses aboard their ships when they were sailing to the colonies in the West Indies. The sailing ships sometimes became becalmed and the ships ran out of water before reaching land. The dead and dying horses were thrown overboard.
Check out Myrna Martin's award winning textbooks, e-books, videos and rock sets. The Kids Fun Science Bookstore covers a wide range of earth science topics. Click here to browse.