Monday, September 29, 2008

Horse History 101

When I was 8 my 15-year-old sister and her friend made a bet on my ability to read and pronounce the word "eohippus". She might have lost her $2 if I had been less horse crazy as child, but she surrendered her winnings to me after I read it, pronounced it and defined it.

Jumping ahead some 44,990,000 years I want to talk about the four forefathers of the modern horse. Tonka's admirers often comment that it seems maladapted for a horse not to be able to eat grass, but it makes sense when you consider their domestic history.

Pony I: Developed in the cool, wet climes of northwestern Europe where vegetation is short, hardy and not accustomed to sunlight. Accordingly, these horses were small, hardy and shaggy. Their closest living relative is the modern Shetland pony.

Pony II: Developed on the cool, arid steppe between Hungary and Mongolia, which is dominated by short, dry grasses and small shrubs. These horses were larger than Pony I and more resistant to extreme cold. Their closest living relative (though endangered) is Przewalski's Horse (and they were the source of today's dun colouration).

Horse III: Developed in the warm, semideserts of central Asia and eastern Europe where the vegetation is sparse and dry. These drought-proof horses were larger and longer than Pony II, and much less hairy. Their closest living relative is the modern Andalusian horse.

Horse IV: Developed in the hot deserts of western Asia where any vegetation is sparse. They were smaller than Horse III -- fine-boned, thin-skinned and fleet-footed. Their closest living relative is the Caspian Pony, rediscovered in northern Iran during the 1960s. Modern Arabians are also descendant from Horse IV.

People may associate horses with the lush grassy plains of North America (the ancestral home of cows), but their diet should be much less rich if evolutionary factors are considered. I am really glad that most modern horses are able to digest what we are able to feed them, but I am not surprised that so many suffer from nutritional regimes so far removed from their historical diets.


Brandy said...


And Eohippus ate marshy plants as it tried to hide in the ferns...

Tried explaining to hubby about horses not chewing cud like cattle, and WHY. Some things don't interest the city boys, LOL!

It does make you wonder, when Arabians were being developed in the Saharan region, just what DID they eat? Whatever the camels and goats ate, I would suppose... sparse native grasses? Oasis plants? Certainly not alfalfa cubes!

How many can I remember... Eohippus, Merychippus, ummm... something-ippus, Equus? LOL

allhorsestuff said...

Hi there!
Thanks for that history there!
Yea, my sissy was telling me aboutthe dry, kinda strawish grass called "Bunch grass" that the desert horses had to eat that we almost have gotten rid had all nutrients the horse needed.
Have fun horsin! se ya around!

Brandy said...

PS - Great, now I want a Caspian! (do you think one would be strong enough to lug my 200 pounds around?) Although at one site they had a Caspian - Akhal-Teke cross, VERY stylish, and a bit bigger and maybe sturdier!

I think the only horse rarer than the Caspian would have to be the Camarillo White Horse. A specific horse breed found ONLY in the small town of Camarillo, California. They're VERY white horses, not albino at all. Last I heard, there was maybe 200 or so. But they are very nice horses, nice action and BIG. It's just - they're white...

Brandy said...

Oh, my bad, there are FIFTEEN of these horses left!

They are actually the newest breed recognized, developed from a foundation stallion in the 1920's!

Makes you wonder, a true breed, or a color anomaly? What makes it a breed? Wouldn't it be a difference in build that breeds true continually? It seems the Camarillos don't always throw another white...

But they are an interesting little group!

The Scottish Fold and American Curl cats only started in the 70's and 80's, but there are thousands of those now!

dp said...

I'm not really sure how horse breeds are defined. For purebred dogs and cats you need to be able to demonstrate that breeding like-to-like produces like in terms of physical similarity (colour, conformation...). There seems to be much greater variation between horses of the same breed but maybe the variation appears bigger because the animals themselves are bigger. I really don't know.

Anyhow, I don't think that a Caspian would suit you as a riding horse -- they seem to be about 12hh. Thanks for the information on the Camarillo -- I had never heard of them before.