Since ancient times, horses have served as both a mode of transportation and a source of companionship for humans. Since horses are so common and can be seen in huge numbers practically anywhere, it looks as though they have always been with us.
It wasn’t always like this; for a long time, the beginnings of horses and the moment and place of their domestication were shrouded in mystery. Horses have steadily been used for various purposes since the invention and broad acceptance of mechanization, including pleasure riding and sports, so it’s simple to overlook how grateful we are that this lowly animal was domesticated.
Before the development of the steam train, and very soon after, the vehicle, horses were the sole means of long-distance, reasonably fast travel. The domestication of the horse is strongly related to the development of civilization as we know it since they were a crucial component of both battle and hunting.
Here, we examine the history of how and when humans first tamed these lovely animals, as well as the origins of horses.
Where did Horses Come From?
One of the most well-liked domesticated animals in the world today, horses may be found in virtually every nation. In certain nations, they serve as means of transportation, amusement, companionship, and even the provision of meat and milk. Although horses are currently found all throughout the world, where did they come from centuries ago?
Where are horses from originally? Eohippus, the earliest known progenitor of the modern horse, is thought to have arisen in North America around 60 million years ago, according to fossil evidence.
Equus, the modern horse that we are familiar with, eventually descended from Eohippus. Despite having roamed North America for millions of years, horses vanished from the continent some 11,000 years ago, only to be brought back by Spanish explorers and European immigrants later.
Unbeknownst to you, the first horse resembled a domestic cat in size. So how did the horse develop into a half-ton, ground-covering fighting machine utilized for countless years? To learn more, keep reading!
What is a wild horse and where did they come from?
Back in the day, horses were all wild creatures. Around the planet, they roamed the great grasslands in big herds or bands. Originating in North America, early horses are also known as dawn horses.
They belonged to the same group of prairie animals as the American Camel, Saber Tooth Tiger, and Wooly Mammoth. Only one creature from that era is still living today: the American Horse. Early horses crossed land bridges to other continents, including Spain and Portugal, where they evolved into the modern-day equine/equus that we are familiar with today. The Iberian Horse is the name given to this breed of horse.
The morning horses’ population declined as a result of the change in North America’s climate, and many of them moved to the warmer coasts. The early horse was domesticated more than 4,000 years ago in the Black Sea area. The horse was domesticated, and this revolutionized the history of combat, travel, and global discovery.
In order to seek for gold in the New World of the Americas, the Conquistadors brought swift, powerful, and hardworking work horses from Spain and Portugal. These animals transported the explorers through the jungles and through the deserts. Spanish immigrants in New Mexico grew their hardy miniature horses on cattle and sheep farms in the 1600s.
Some ranch horses got away and went into the woods. These horses, whose original American lineages were mingled with those of Spain and Portugal, lived in the woods and with Native Americans.
Probably from the Spanish term mesteno, which means stray or free-running animal, the free-running horses were given the name “mustangs.” Indian Ponies from Choctaw
Some of the Spanish horses that had escaped roamed freely on the wide plains. Other horse and pony breeds, including draft horse breeds like Percheron, Belgian, and Clydesdale, as well as saddle horses like Morgans, escaped or were let loose to join the wild herds later when more people moved across the plains.
Even the mixed-breed horses were referred to as mustangs, even though the majority of the wild horse herds no longer consisted entirely of pure Spanish horses. In the middle of the nineteenth century, millions of wild mustangs roamed freely throughout the country. Due to the challenging environment of the wild horse ranges, they became powerful, tiny horses with the ability to survive on their own.
Free-roaming horses and burros were made illegal on public lands by a federal statute that was approved in 1971. The Bureau of Land Management was entrusted with the responsibility of looking after and managing the wild horse herds on federal land.
On private ranches, government lands, wildlife refuges, Native American reservations, and horse sanctuaries, roughly 50,000 wild horses are still roaming free today. Wild horses have to work hard to live in almost all of the ranges’ rocky and arid settings.
As the legal system fights over the legality of the restriction on the killing of wild horses, the fate of wild horses on federal areas is now in flux.
When were horses first domesticated?
Horse domestication’s exact beginning has long been debated, and the greatest evidence available to experts was archeological and DNA data that pointed to the Eurasian Steppe, which includes Kazakhstan, southwest Russia, and Ukraine. However, there were several unanswered questions in the hypothesis, so researchers turned to genetic analysis to finally close the loopholes.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered that domestic horses most likely originated in the Eurasian Steppe and crossed with wild mares as they moved throughout Europe and Asia by analyzing a genetic database made up of the genomes of more than 300 horses collected from this region.
The majority of specialists concur that horses were probably originally domesticated as a source of meat and milk before being used for riding a short time later.
The study found that horses appeared to have been gradually domesticated in different regions of Asia and Europe, with the integration of distinct wild horse species into domestic herds most likely occurring for breeding purposes.
The discovery clarified what had perplexed experts in the past: By include wild horses in breeding, the mystery was partly answered. DNA data revealed that horses were domesticated several times in various locations around the same time.
When were the first horses ridden?
Horses were first tamed for their meat and milk, probably to help with farm chores, and they were also utilized for riding. Any culture would greatly benefit from having an animal that could be utilized for food, milk, transportation, and riding, thus it’s understandable why horses were eventually tamed.
According to the aforementioned study, domestication of horses began about 5,500 years ago, which is over 1,000 years earlier than previously thought and around 2,000 years earlier than Europe. Researchers discovered evidence of horse milk as far back as 5,500 years ago after examining ancient ceramic shards.
Intriguingly, researchers discovered signs of thong bridle usage in the space between a horse’s lower jaw teeth. This demonstrates that following domestication, horses were rapidly employed for more than just food; they were also ridden.
The horse was once again imported to North America in the 1400s, and because it was fully domesticated, much more docile, and simple to handle, American Indians adopted the usage of horses immediately away, benefiting from acquiring animals that had previously been carefully bred for riding.
Why did horses die out in the Americas?
Bison most likely consumed the vegetation that horses need when they crossed the Atlantic from Central Asia around 10,000 BC. Around 5600 BC, North American horses were probably hunted to extinction.
The horses who traveled to Central Asia are the ancestors of all modern horses. While there, they consumed the lush grass as well as the local apples and carrots, which is why horses still adore these foods.
Migration To Eurasia And Extinction In The Americas
The Hagerman horse and other animals thrived in North America, and some of them may have traveled across the Bering land bridge into Eurasia about 2-3 million years ago.
Since then, it is believed that members of the Equus genus have repeatedly traveled between North America and Eurasia.
Prior to animals migrating from Eurasia to repopulate the region, populations in North America are also estimated to have gone extinct multiple times.
If Equus had not spread into Eurasia after the genus’ last extinction in North America, which is thought to have happened between 13,000 and 11,000 years ago, the genus would have gone extinct entirely.
Horses and wagons in Europe
With the aid of their horses, some Indo-Europeans conquered territory after leaving Central Asia and settling in various regions of Asia and Europe.
Around 2100 BC, when the Indo-Europeans arrived in Greece, the horse made its first appearance there. Around 1900 BC, also most likely concurrent with the arrival of the Indo-Europeans, horses make their first appearance at Troy.
The Hyksos, or Amorites, invaded Egypt about 1700 BC, bringing with them the horse and chariot for the first time. The Amorites had been studying the Indo-European Hittites at the time. Long after the Pyramids, in the Second Intermediate Period, was when something occurred.
When (And Why) Horses Left North America
Horses departed North America for good approximately 11,000 years ago, according to fossil evidence, and they first started moving between North America and Asia around 1 million years ago. Given that there is a sea between the two continents, you might be asking how they were able to do it.
If you’ve studied geography and history, you may be aware that the continents didn’t always resemble what they do now. An area of land known as the Bering Land Bridge, which stretched from Alaska to Siberia, is thought to have once united Asia and North America.
In other words, the Bering Land Bridge would have been a lush refuge for horses in need of food.
Like many animals do today, it is thought that horses would move between the two continents with the seasons in search of food. Horses becoming stranded is the most likely explanation for why they stopped returning to North America.
It is thought that the Bering Land Bridge vanished underwater when the sea level rose following the Ice Age as the ice started to melt. It’s possible that these horses were in Asia at the time of the incident and unable to get back to North America.
The Evolution Of Horse Ancestors In North America – The Earliest Beginnings
The subject of whether horses originated in the Americas is more complicated and difficult than it first appears, although it is evident that the progenitors of modern horses developed in North America.
The only extant genus of the wider family of mammals known as the Equidae is Equus, which includes modern horses, donkeys, and zebras.
Over the course of millions of years of development, several other genera (the plural form of “genus”) of Equidae developed and vanished, but at the present time, Equus is the only genus that endures.
The eohippus is a species that is among the first representatives of the Equidae family and a distant progenitor of modern horses, donkeys, and zebras.
Its name translates to “dawn horse,” and early Eocene sediments, mostly in Wyoming’s Wind River Basin, are where researchers have discovered this extinct ancestor of modern horses. It originally emerged approximately 52 million years ago.
Eohippus, however, would not have resembled modern horses in any significant way. Although it had rudimentary hooves beginning to form, it was only about the size of a fox and had toes on all four feet.
Eohippus likely lived in woods and fed on soft leaves and fruit. It already had certain traits for speed, such having lengthy legs compared to the size of its body.
When did people first hunt horses?
A million years ago, when the earliest humans entered Central Asia, they also consumed apples. When the first modern humans appeared, in the area of 100,000 years ago, they killed horses for their flesh and particularly for their skins, which could be used to manufacture leather for clothing, tents, and tools.
Domestication And Return To The Americas
The modern horse, Equus ferus caballus, a species that is descended from animals that crossed the Bering land bridge, was most likely domesticated in Central Asia before 3500 BCE, according to the most commonly accepted version of the legend.
From that point on, domesticated horses quickly expanded over the Eurasian continent, playing a significant part in many different cultures.
Later, Spanish explorers took horses with them when they arrived in the Americas.
In 1493, on his second journey, Columbus transported the first Spanish horses to the Virgin Islands. From 1519 on, they were also carried to the American mainland.
It’s believed that some of those horses were either kidnapped or managed to get away, and these stray horses then spread to other regions of North America. The majority of today’s American mustang herds are made up of these animals’ ancestors.
What Are Horses Descended From?
It’s interesting to note that, compared to other animals, the horse’s evolutionary history is better understood by paleontologists today. Our knowledge of the earliest known horses dates back 55 million years, at which time they still lived in forests rather than grasslands.
The ancestor of all horses is the Eohippus, a little forest-dwelling herbivore. The Tarpan, a Eurasian wild horse, is thought to be the ancestor of modern domesticated horses.
Horses and rhinos and tapirs are all members of the odd-toed ungulate family. Their last common ancestor, the Cambaytherium, is thought to have lived on Earth about 54.5 million years ago. But with the Eohippus, horses separated from their relatives to become a separate species.
The forerunners of horses trekked through a substantial sheet of ice to enter Eurasia across the Bering Strait. Several subspecies emerged on the new continent, notably the Eurasian wild horse or Tarpan (Equus ferus ferus). All current-day horses are believed to have descended from this species.
The Tarpan lived a very lengthy life given its evolutionary background. Though many think it wasn’t a real Tarpan, the last specimen perished in a Russian zoo in 1909.