Of Horse

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Are North-American Horses 'Native' or Not?
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Are North-American Horses 'Native' or Not?

Horses are mysterious, strong animals, yet have an interesting connection with humankind. Belonging to the Equus family – which also includes zebras and asses – their ancestors, the Equidae family, is where they originate from. The genus appeared, according to scientific records, 4 million years ago in North America. Therefore, their roots are here, on our continent. Canadian geographic states that this species is part of the Perissodactyls family, which also includes tapirs and rhinoceros. The reason for this is their feet, which have the very particular element of having three toes and a hoof.

Before the animal started to build itself into what we know to be the familiar, tall and heavy build of the modern horse and its closest cousins, the Equid (Equidae family) was a small, fox-like animal with four toes and lived around 55 million years ago. This species is believed to have lived on both the Eurasian and North-American continents, but fared better in the Western hemisphere, thus begetting the new species slowly but surely.

The prehistoric animal continued its evolution until 25 million years ago, when the Equinae breed appeared on the North-American continent. What made it different from its ancestors is the appearance of the hoof-like foot that made running in grasslands and meadows far easier.

The first migration to Eurasia was 2 or 3 million years ago, by crossing the Bering Detroit. Since then, horse packs have migrated back and forth between the two continents and, although several species became extinct along the way, the Equus remained alive and became what we know to be the modern horse.

According to Live Science, the last prehistoric horse in North-America died around 13,000 years ago.

E. caballus, the direct ancestor of the modern horse, is said to originate from a mix of different species that existed before him. Therefore, it did not appear at one given time, but came about through a long line of naturally-chosen breeding, becoming more distinctly a horse by around 1.7 million years ago, in North-America. It is also around this time that two of the toes disappeared, forming the foot as it is nowadays. This ancestor was found in Yukon, Canada, around 1.2 million years ago, eventually giving birth to the Equini, and ancestor of the Equus – who appeared around 8 million years ago. This is the modern horse genus. Studies prove that this species is equivalent to E. Caballus.

Although we know that the modern horse was introduced on our continent by the Spaniards – we are all too familiar with the aboriginals’ tales of extremely tall humans with four legs arriving on their lands – research supports this claim that they actually immigrated to Europe around 3 million years ago before being brought back here during the discover of the Americas. At that point, they expanded into Africa and helped create asses and zebras as we know them today in hot climates, and continued as horses in the North.

Horses that escaped from the Spaniards in the New Continent are the ones that created the ‘feral’ wild breeds of the North-American plains, where they reverted to their natural, instinctive behavior fairly quickly and easily. Therefore, the North-American label of wild horses being ‘non-native’ species is a false one. They are right at home here.


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  1. threeceltichorse
    I wrote of the evolution of Equus for a senior thesis, and I agree with you about them being right at home. I agree since I am also a decendant of a North American Indian tribe.
    1. naturegirl
      Thanks for the comment! What tribe are you from?
      1. threeceltichorse
        Micmac Eastern Canadian tribe around Quebec

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