Equine Evolution – The History of the Horse and Pony

55 million years ago there was a little creature called Hyracotherium, it is said to have been the size of a terrier and throughout time it evolved into the horse.

Many today disagree as to the accuracy of the depicted evolution of the horse. This due to the missing time frames and shortage of fossils in those periods, those same people claim that the transfer from 3 toes to one toe is degeneration and not evolution.

Your opinions may be swayed but fact is, we have horses, and they came from somewhere. So we went to find out just how the modern horse or pony came to be.

About 5 million years ago (okay give or take a few hundred thousand years. hey what’s a hundred thousand years in terms of evolution) The species Equus evolved from a relative known as Dinohippus.

Equus were about the size of a donkey with a donkey like head medium length ears, it had stripes like a zebra, with short upright shoulders and short stiff manes and tails, (well you get the idea). Although various strains existed many became extinct.

The Equus was eventually left with twelve different species, these made up four distinctive groups. These groups diverged across the world with the exception of Antarctica, Australia and New Zealand (There were no fossil records ever found)

The group of Equus we are interested in is the Equus Caballus, or modern horse. This group consisted of four horse-subtypes that are considered as being the forefathers of all breeds found today.

These four horse types, whom all were pony types, are:

The Forest Horse: a heavy built solid type of pony with a big heavy head. They were found mostly in northern Europe. These ponies stood at about 14.2hh, and were very resistant to the colder, wet climates. These ponies were lighter in colour often being dun or yellow with dorsal stripes. The Tarpin was the last true forest horse, and was last recorded alive in 1919. Since then there has been an ongoing drive to preserve and restore the features of the Tarpin to a recognized breed. Ponies are selectively bred for their features and stripes on the legs.

Current breeds today that are direct descendants, or representatives of the type include the Halflinger. Norwegian Fjord, Noriker, Finnish, Hucul, Konik, Sorraia, and Highland ponies. The Palomino, Appaloosa and Pinto colour genes derive from this group.

The Platue Horse: These were small ponies standing between 12-12.2hh. They originated in Siberia, Northern Asia and Europe. And were the less common than the Steppe group. They were hardy ponies that could withstand the cold temperatures of Europe and the ice lands. The Przewalski belongs to this group. Similar in size and build as today’s Icelandic, Exmoor and Dartmoor ponies. They were solid in colour. The Dale, New Forest Ponies, Latvian, Dulmen, Spiti and Bali are good examples of breeds that resemble and or descend from these ponies.

The Tundra: Although it had little input in today’s breeds, the Tundra was a hardy horse capable of surviving harsh to cold weathers. Lighter in build than the previous two this the third type of horse was a lankier and taller horse, measuring at about 14.3hh it was lighter and faster than the preceding two with a long neck and ears, it tended to be slab sided with a gooserump and course features. Its closest breed representative or descendant is the Jaf, Tchenarani, Darashomi and Iomud

The Steppe Horse: A finer pony overall with a lighter build, it stood at about 12hh, and was found in Asia and North Africa. It was most refined type of the four. A hardy horse capable of withstanding the demands of the desert, with refinement of bone and features, fine body hair with a long silky mane and tail, they were renowned for their beauty even back then. You guessed it was the forefathers of the Arabian.

Horses other than the Arabian that descends from the Steppe are the Turkoman, Karabair, and the Caspian

The Forest Horse: is the forefather of all Coldblooded horses

Crossing the Steppe and Plattue resulted in the “hotblooded” horses and ponies. Examples are the Welsh ponies, Thoroughbreds, Lippizanner, and the Dole.

The Steppe being the forefather of the oriental breeds. (The Arabian)

Selective breeding in nature (survival of the fittest) of these four groups with some human intervention later, along with specialized feeds has resulted in the three main types we see today.

Today regardless of breed horses are divided into three main types again, with a fourth slowly emerging. These are:

The Pony

Regardless of their breed or breeding. A pony used to be considered as a horse measuring 14.2hh and under. Today the registration of ponies is accepted in competition as a horse measuring under 15hh in height.

The Light Horse

The Arabian regardless of its size falls into this category as do the Thoroughbred and most older hotblooded and warmblooded horses The category is often referred to as hotbloods as it contains all the spirited and refined horses.

The Draft Horse

These are the cold-blooded horses that are larger, slower and very powerful.

And lately The Warmblood

This is the result of crossing the hot and coldblooded horses. Warmblood breeding programs are very controlled, especially the German programs, where attention is paid to temperament, conformation and performance. No lesser-deemed stallion would remain intact long enough to cover a mare and reproduce, this is why the German Warmbloods are considered today as the ultimate sports horses.

And there in a nutshell you have the evolution of your horse, so which category did he or she derive from?

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