Eohippus: Facts about the First Horse
The First Horse
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 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. 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 very small brains.
The Evolution of the Horse Per Evolutionists
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; 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 almost 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, heavy neck, the 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 broken 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.
The Evolving Horse
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 altogether. 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 fewer 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 are 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
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 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.
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- Schafer, Susan Perfect Pets: Horses. Benchmark Books: Marshall Cavendish, New York; 2003.
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- Werber, Toni. The World of Horses. Copper Beech Books: Brookfield, Connecticutt: 2002.
© 2010 Angela Michelle Schultz