In the beginning
The horse belongs to the taxonomic family Equidae and is one of two extant subspecies of Equus ferus, or wild horse.
The first horse, Hyracotherium (Eohippus), appeared in the Eocene. It is the earliest member of the family equidae, which includes all extinct horses and the modern genus Equus.
The wild horse is a species of the genus Equus, which includes as subspecies the modern domesticated horse as well as the endangered Przewalski’s horse.
Dinosaurs had only been extinct about ten million years when the Eocene began.
Many groups of “modern” animals made their first appearance in the Eocene. These include the first members of the orders of elephants, bats, whales, even-toed hooved animals (artiodactyls) and the odd-toed perissodactyls.
Living during the Eocene era approximately 55 to 58 million years ago, Eohippus, the “dawn horse” or more correctly called Hyracotherium, is the most ancient ancestor of today’s horse.
Hyracotherium, or eohippus (dawn horse) as the scientists named it, first appeared on earth as a small, timid creature no bigger than a dog.
The horse evolved over the past 45 to 55 million years, from a small multi-toed creature, Eohippus, into the large, single-toed animal of today.
See Britannica.com for more on Eophippus, the dawn horse.
Humans began domesticating horses around 4000 BC, and their domestication is believed to have been widespread by 3000 BC.
Horses in the subspecies caballus are domesticated, although some domesticated populations live in the wild as feral horses. These feral populations are not true wild horses, as this term is used to describe horses that have never been domesticated.
Diversity of today
There are more than 300 breeds of horse in the world today, developed for many different uses.
There is an extensive, specialized vocabulary used to describe equine-related concepts, covering everything from anatomy to life stages, size, colors, markings, breeds, locomotion and behavior.
Horse breeds are loosely divided into three categories based on general temperament: spirited “hot bloods” with speed and endurance; “cold bloods”, such as draft horses and some ponies, suitable for slow, heavy work; and “warmbloods”, developed from crosses between hot bloods and cold bloods, often focusing on creating breeds for specific riding purposes, particularly in Europe.
Adapted to run
Horses are adapted to run, allowing them to quickly escape predators, and possess an excellent sense of balance and a strong fight-or-flight response.
Related to their need to flee from predators in the wild, horses developed an unusual trait — horses are able to sleep both standing up and lying down.
Female horses, called mares, carry their young for approximately eleven months and a young horse, called a foal, can stand and run shortly following birth.
Regardless of a horse or pony’s actual birth date, for most competition purposes a year is added to his age each January 1 of each year in the Northern Hemisphere and each August 1 in the Southern Hemisphere.
Depending on breed, management and environment, the modern domestic horse has a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years. Uncommonly, a few animals live into their 40s and, occasionally, beyond.
The oldest verifiable record was “Old Billy“, a 19th-century horse who lived to the age of 62.
In modern times, Sugar Puff (1951 to 2007), listed in the Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest living pony, died at age 56. The 10hh Shetland-Exmoor gelding was euthanized at his home in West Sussex in England following “complicated problems” with his health.
Lifespan: 25 – 30 years; Speed: 55 mph (Maximum, Sprint); Family: Equidae; Kingdom: Animalia; Order: Perissodactyla.*
• Extant: Still in existence; surviving.
• Perissodactyla: Odd-toed ungulates, mammals which constitute the taxonomic order, who have reduced the weight-bearing toes to three or one of the five original toes. The non-weight-bearing toes are either present, absent, vestigial, or positioned posteriorly.
• Taxonomic: Concerned with the classification of things, especially organisms.
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Official Blog of The Fund for Horses