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Eohippus: Facts about The First Horse

Updated on August 2, 2017
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Angela, an animal lover, has a passion for learning and understanding God's creatures. As a born teacher she enjoys sharing her knowledge.

Fossil from a eohippus.
Fossil from a eohippus. | Source

The First Horse

the eohippus

Imagine an animal with a face like a fox, a tail like a donkey, body like a cat, and feet like a pig. That’s exactly what the first horse was like fifty two million years ago. Over millions of years, this timid small animal would change or evolve into the bold fast horses that we know today.

Horses are one of the oldest mammals. They appeared millions of years after the Dinosaur became extinct and millions of years before humans came onto the earth. The first horse called an eohippus or dawn horse more closely resembled a fox than a horse.

Instead of grazing on grass it ate berries and leaves. They couldn’t eat hay and grass, because their teeth were very small and soft. Grass is very hard to chew and requires large strong teeth to chew. If a human were to eat grass, their teeth would grind down to their gums in two years.

The eohippus did not have the traditional horse face, but looked more like that of a fox.
The eohippus did not have the traditional horse face, but looked more like that of a fox. | Source

The Eohippus only stood 10-20 inches tall, which is near the same height as a house cat. Their legs were higher in the back and shorter in the front, so when they ran they bounced like pigs. This caused them not to be very fast, so instead of running when they were scared they would hide behind trees in the dense forests where they lived. They did this to get away from large birds and crocodiles that would try to eat them.

They had padded paws with toes rather than hooves. They’re only similarity to a horse is rather than having claws, they had little “hooflets” on each toe. Four toes on their front paws, and three toes on each of their back paws.

The body was round with a short neck and a tail like a donkey. They had a small head with small eyes that could not see very far ahead of them.

It’s doubtful they were very intelligent, since they had very small brains.

Climate Changing

the horse trying to survive

The Evolution of the Horse

Eohippus - the first horse also known as the dawn horse - 50-60 million years ago; 10-20 inches high, three toes in back four toes in front

Miohippus – “middle horse” - 40-50 million years ago; size of a sheep, teeth grew bigger

Mesohippus - 26-40 million years ago; slightly bigger, outer toes much smaller, long slender trunk, eyes further back

Parahippus - 23 million years ag; side toes bared little weight, head and teeth much larger

Merichippus - 17 million years ago; 40 inches high, body proportions identical to horse today, outer toes almost disappeared, center toe almost like a hoof

Pleohippus - 15 million years ago; had only one toe like horse today

Equus – 10,000 years ago to today; 52 inches high (13 hands), large head, heavy neck, hair stood up like a shaving brush, the true horse today

The horse’s first home was in North America fifty two million years ago. Many lived on the Eastern slopes of the Rockies. Back then North America was mainly made up of jungles, marshlands, and forests.

Not only was America different, but so was the whole world. The continents used to be connected into one big continent. In the past fifty two million years, the continents have broke apart and drifted into the locations where they are now. At one time, they were all connected, and the eohippus was able to roam to Asia and Europe where they soon would call home.

The world was warm and semitropical back then. Then the world began to become very cold. This was known as the Ice Age. During the Ice Age, ice began covering much of the world. Only the areas closest to the equator were uncovered. This caused the eohippus to leave North America, where they had called home.

As the world became cooler and drier, forests began disappearing. More and more areas of grassland and open areas appeared. Since the horse was very dependent on the trees to hide from predators, the horses that were the slowest died out, while the faster ones gave birth to other fast horses.

Click thumbnail to view full-size
This is a fossil of the Miohippus that is believed to have come right after the eohippus. This is a complete fossil of the Mesohippus, which was believed to come right after the Miohippus, two after the eohippus. This is a parahippus skull, which is fourth in line after the eohippus. Merrychippus or Merichippus
This is a fossil of the Miohippus that is believed to have come right after the eohippus.
This is a fossil of the Miohippus that is believed to have come right after the eohippus. | Source
This is a complete fossil of the Mesohippus, which was believed to come right after the Miohippus, two after the eohippus.
This is a complete fossil of the Mesohippus, which was believed to come right after the Miohippus, two after the eohippus. | Source
This is a parahippus skull, which is fourth in line after the eohippus.
This is a parahippus skull, which is fourth in line after the eohippus. | Source
Merrychippus or Merichippus
Merrychippus or Merichippus | Source

A New Look

the eohippus evolving

As the climate changed, so did the horse. Horses began growing larger, with longer legs, and bigger eyes to see further. This didn’t happen immediately, but over millions of years. With each horse that was born, the biggest, and fastest lived healthier longer lives giving birth to other big, fast horses.

When horses first walked this earth, their paws were good for padding through the muddy swamps, but with the harder colder ground, they needed firmer feet. Instead of walking on their flat feet, the horse began walking on their toes, which allowed them to run faster and turn quicker.

Their side toes became less important, because they mainly walked on their middle toe. This toe became bigger forming what we know as a hoof. Eventually, these side toes disappeared all together. The only sign of them in a modern horse is at the rear of a horses ankle, which we call the hock. It looks like a big callus referred to as chestnuts.

Because of the changing world, they needed more complex brains. So as their brains became bigger, so did their heads.

There were less berries in the cold to eat, but plenty of grass. The horse’s teeth became bigger and stronger, so that they could chew on the tough grass.

The horse began living all over the world, though did not yet come back to North America. Some of these horses that traveled to Africa became zebras. Those that traveled to Normandy where there is pastures, the horses became slender and tall. Those that lived in cold weather, their fur became thick. Some remained smaller, though bigger than the eohippus; these we call ponies. Others became donkeys.

In the sixteenth century, the horse made its way back to North America, when Spanish conquistadors brought them while exploring.

Evolution of the Horse

Source

A Horse and Its Man

man discovers the usefulness and beauty of a horse, a friendship is formed

A Horse and Its Man: man discovers the usefulness and beauty of a horse, a friendship is formed

Horses are known for their great friendship. Many people value their horses like family. Though we didn’t always.

When man came on earth, many years after the eohippus, they first thought of horses as food. They drank their milk and ate their meat. They would make clothing out of their hide and tools out of their bones.

It didn’t take long for humans to realize that horses were more useful alive than dead. They began using horses to plow farms. During war, they would pull the chariots and carry the soldiers in all of their armor.

Years later, in Rome, they would do Chariot racing. Today, horses are still used in races.

Though the favorite use of a horse is as a friend. Many owners treat their horses like a member of the family.

Horses have become very useful workers and loyal friends. Many years before humans came onto the earth, the horse was much smaller, slower, and less wise. To survive, the horse evolved over millions of years and adapted to its new surroundings. Now there are over 300 breeds of horses and ponies.

Book About Horses

Bibliography

A Celebration of the Horse. Motiere: Paris; 2000.

Crowell, Ann. Dawn Horse To Derby Winner. Praeger Publishers. New York, New York. 1973.

Davidson, Margaret. Seven True Horse Stories. Hastings House:  New York, New York;   1979.

McBane, Susan.  How Your Horse Works.David and Charles Book: United Kingdom:       2002.

Schafer, Susan Perfect Pets: Horses. Benchmark Books: Marshall Cavendish, New York;  2003.

Turner, Alan. National Geographic: Prehistoric Mammals. Firecrest Book Limited:           Washington DC: 2004.

Werber, Toni. The World of Horses. Copper Beech Books: Brookfield, Connecticutt:         2002.

© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz

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    • profile image

      Elizabeth 8 months ago

      I love horses!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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      megan nielson 13 months ago

      this was super helpful. had to do a history project and i wanted to do the Eohippus 'cause i have always loved horse i own 10 and have competed all my life. so thank you SOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO much!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      ad 2 years ago

      thanks

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      loolo 2 years ago

      I swear I looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooveeeeeeeeeee horses s much I feel like I have a connection with them

    • profile image

      Michael 3 years ago

      Thanks a bunch!

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      kat 4 years ago

      its very nice

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      joe 4 years ago

      thanks sooo much totally needed this info!!!

    • angela_michelle profile image
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      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      I am envious!

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      amber 5 years ago

      i love horses to and have 8 of them.

    • angela_michelle profile image
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      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      Thank you.

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      memow 5 years ago

      I loved it my love. It was wonderful.

    • angela_michelle profile image
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      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      Well sweetie, you are going to find that you know a lot of things others don't, and others know a lot of things you don't. That's why it is nice to share.

    • angela_michelle profile image
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      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      I'm glad your enjoyed it. :)

    • angela_michelle profile image
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      Angela Michelle Schultz 5 years ago from United States

      On my older articles, my sources are at the bottom, now they don't allow you to format your articles that way, but I feel like it is more appealing to read when the sources are at the bottom!

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      kennedy shostak 5 years ago

      im in second grade and even i know that the eohippus lived 85 million years ago

    • profile image

      Flickr 5 years ago

      Very informational, thanks for sharing. Very informational.

    • profile image

      Kat 5 years ago

      Hi, very interesting. What are your sources? My hubby wrote "The Soul of a Horse, Life Lessons From the Herd?" and found the same date of origin, but I don't think he had the detail about what the horse originally looked like. I started reading this article after fining your very helpful article on Henry James.

    • angela_michelle profile image
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      Angela Michelle Schultz 6 years ago from United States

      Thank you for the nice compliment. :)

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      Abiandkatie. 6 years ago

      amazing, just amazing.

    • angela_michelle profile image
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      Angela Michelle Schultz 7 years ago from United States

      Thank you! I'm completely fascinated by old bones and the history behind them.

    • Michael Shane profile image

      Michael Shane 7 years ago from Gadsden, Alabama

      Wonderful & informative hub!

    • angela_michelle profile image
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      Angela Michelle Schultz 7 years ago from United States

      Michael Jay, thank you! I found this very interesting myself, that's why I ended up doing some research. There was so much more I could have added, but I was afraid I'd start boring people! LOL

    • angela_michelle profile image
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      Angela Michelle Schultz 7 years ago from United States

      Habee, thanks!

    • Michael Jay profile image

      Michael Jay 7 years ago

      Wow! Your hub is great! This is very interesting. Thanks for sharing this.

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 7 years ago from Georgia

      Wonderful hub! You know I love horses!