If you’re interested in the early history of horses, in this article we answer some of the questions you may have about horse evolution. Studying the evolution of horses can offer a fascinating insight into these wonderful animals, as the guide below reveals.
Evolution of the Horse – Key Details
• The horse has evolved significantly since its early origins nearly 55 million years ago. Back then, the horse was a small, multi-toed creature – substantially different in appearance to the large, hooved version of the species in the modern day.
• It is believed that horses began to be domesticated in 4000BCE. However, domestication of the animal did not become widespread until around 3000BCE.
• The oldest known breed of wild horse is the Przewalski's horse, and is to this day considered the only remaining breed of horse that is truly ‘wild’. The breed is now extremely rare, and can be found in their natural habitat in Mongolia. Perhaps significantly, their appearance is strikingly different to a standard breed of horse, with a shorter height and legs and a tale that is longer than many domesticated counterparts.
• Interestingly, horses belong to the Perissodactyla family, which means they are distantly related to animals such as the tapir and the rhinoceros. Originally, it seems these animals were bred to live in tropical forests, gradually evolving over time to flourish in even the harshest of climates.
• Finally, studies show that the teeth of horses have changed significantly over the centuries. Horses originally feasted on foliage, bur over time the equine diet shifted towards grasses, building up durability in the teeth, a trait that lasts to this day. Horse evolution studies also suggest that horses became more athletic over time as they needed to outrun predators on exposed steppes and plains.