range of wild horses in a meadow

Can you believe that the history of horses dates back to nearly 50 million years ago? These intelligent and majestic animals provide joy and purpose for many people around the world – from their cuteness to the ability to form meaningful connections with humans, it’s hard to think of a world without them.

The History of Horses: Where Did They Come From?

Horses have existed on Earth as far back as 45-55 million years ago. They originally evolved in North America, then expanded their population globally. The original horses in North America went extinct about 10,000 years ago after they dispersed –  it was not until roughly 6,000 years ago that they were starting to be domesticated by humans.

The history of feral mustang horses you see roaming the USA today may be surprising: they are descendants of domesticated Spanish horses, brought here by explorers and colonists around the 16th century. They aren’t considered “wild” because they were domesticated before being brought to the United States. 

According to the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), all domestic horses (feral and living with humans) belong to one species: Equus caballus.The beginning of horse history with humans started in Central Asia – where they were most likely first domesticated. It was also possible that other populations around the world were doing the same thing at the same time.

What Did the First Horses Look Like?

The history of horses starts small…literally. The Eohippus, or “dawn horse” was the first ancestral horse, and was about the size of a fox. It had a smaller head and arched back, and was honestly pretty dang cute if you ask me (see here). The Eohippus and its evolved relatives eventually went extinct. 

The horses we know today branch from the Miohippus, which had adapted teeth to eat grass (which was widespread in North America).

Why Were Horses Domesticated In the First Place?

Initially, horses were considered a valuable resource and were kept for their milk and meat, according to Oklahoma State University. People on the Asian Steppes greatly benefitted from keeping horses around, and even drank fermented mare’s milk when they wanted to party (people still consume this alcoholic beverage today – I think I’ll pass…).

How Did Horses Get to Their Role In the Human World?

Horses are herd animals that follow the lead (dominant) horse(s) in their group. When humans noticed that horses respected them and took commands when in captivity, everything changed. People found new uses for horses such as transportation, racing, training, and companionship. This was only the beginning!

Why Are There So Many Different Types Of Horse Breeds?

Because of the diverse DNA found in the first horses, it is believed that there were many different horses spanning the globe. From this diverse gene pool, humans learned to selectively breed horses to get more desirable behavior and appearances. There are over 350 different breeds of horses today.

The history of horses that we see today is 50 million years in the making – pretty amazing, right? Who knew that your type of teeth could be the deciding factor in whether or not your species could survive. If you have any questions regarding horses or how to keep your horse happy and healthy, contact BRD Vet Rx today.

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