Eohippus: the First Horse?
The First Horse
Imagine an animal with a face like a fox, a tail like a donkey, a body like a cat, and feet like a pig, and you will have envisioned an eohippus. Some scientists believe this to be the first horse that supposedly lived fifty-two million years ago, which is how it got the name dawn horse. Although the dawn horse resembled a fox more than a horse, still, many scientists believe that this fox-like creature eventually evolved into what we know as horses.
Instead of grazing on grass, it ate berries and leaves. They couldn’t eat hay and grass, because their teeth were tiny and soft. The grass is tough 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 Structure of an Eohippus
Although commonly referred to as the eohippus, which means the dawn horse, it is more appropriately called the Hyracotherium. Othniel Marsh, an American paleontologist, discovered the fossils of this creature and named it eohippus due to its similarities to the horse. Although the eohippus was very similar if not identical to a creature British paleontologist Richard Own discovered that he named hyracotherium. After many years, it was found to be the same species, and they went with the earlier name.
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. Their legs 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. Their 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 tiny brains.
Its original habitat was in North America. Many lived on the Eastern slopes of the Rockies. North America is believed to have been made up of jungles, marshlands, and forests when the dawn horse lived here. There also has been evidence they lived in Asia and Europe. The fossils found there are dated earlier than those found in North America, so some believe that they migrated to Europe and Asia while the continents were still connected.
They became extinct due to the forests disappearing due to the world's natural cooling. As more areas of grassland and open areas appeared, they had fewer trees to hide from predators, and they slowly died off.
The Evolution of the Horse Per Some Evolutionists
Eohippus - at one time believed to be the first horse and named 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; the 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 ago; 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 virtually like a hoof
Pleohippus - 15 million years ago; had only one toe like a horse today
Equus – 10,000 years ago to today; 52 inches high (13 hands), large head, substantial neck, the hair stood up like a shaving brush, the actual horse today
The Evolving Horse
Although as science has developed, beliefs around the Hyracotherium or Eohippus being the first horse is now debated even amongst those who are evolutionists, although it is clear that they are related to some degree.
Some evolutionists believe that the eohippus is the earliest form that horses took, which is why they support the title of being the "dawn horse." Although beliefs are slowly shifting, the animal began growing more substantial, with longer legs and bigger eyes to see further. Faster animals survived as more grasslands appeared, which promoted this new evolved change. 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. It is believed instead of walking on their flat feet; the horse began walking on their toes, which allowed them to run faster and turn quicker.
The side toes of the eohippus are believed to have become less critical because they mainly walked on their middle toe. This toe became bigger, forming what we know as a hoof. Eventually, these side toes disappeared altogether. Evolutionists believe that the hock, located on the rear of a horse's ankle, is the only evidence of that side toe. It looks like a big callus referred to as chestnuts.
Their diet is believed to have evolved due to fewer berries being available. Those most equipped to eat grass, which was plentiful, survived longer, continuing the evolution into a horse. The horse’s teeth became more prominent and stronger so that they could chew on the tough grass.
Evolution of the Horse
The Forging Friendship Between Man and Horse
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 the war, they would pull the chariots and carry the soldiers in all of their armor.
Years later, in Rome, they would do Chariot racing.
Though the favorite use of a horse is as a friend, many owners treat their horses as a member of the family.
Horses have become instrumental 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.
- 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