Did horses come from the new world?

Over millions of years, ancient horses roamed the North American continent. Then, many, many years later, horses played an important part in laying the groundwork for the United States. Yet, horses disappeared from the continent for an unexplained cause at one point in time.

The oldest oldest-known species of the genus Equus is Equus simplicidens, also known as Hagerman horse, Hagerman zebra and American zebra, which appeared about 4 million years ago. It was discovered from present-day Florida to Idaho. It resembled the current horse in appearance, having almost the same size with comparable teeth, a long face and neck, and completely fused limb bones. These early Equus species did not remain limited to North America; they were so successful that they spread outside the continent. They began in South America and then expanded to Asia, Europe, and Africa.

But, by the conclusion of the Pleistocene epoch around 10,000 years ago, most of North America’s big animals, including Equus species, were extinct. The cause of their extinction is widely debated among the scientific community with a definitive conclusion not yet determined, but several theories exist.

Did horses come from the new world?

The fossil of Equus simplicidens may be found in the Utah Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“We know less about what caused the extinction of American horses 10,000 years ago than we do about what caused the extinction of dinosaurs 66 million years ago,” Eric Bendick, writer and producer of NATURE’s American Horses, told NATURE.

Climate change, human arrival, grassland vegetation development, or extraterrestrial influence are all conceivable causes. The end of the Pleistocene, or the last ice age, likely caused a series of major changes to the continent’s habitat and vegetation patterns. Around this period, bison populations started to expand and spread, competing with horses for food and producing a resource crisis. Fossil records from this time period show that horses’ ranges were narrowing, and horses themselves were diminishing in size, most likely due to a lack of food. Horses were put under much more strain when humans came, since evidence suggests that these early people hunted horses.

“The majority of the dispute for all of the ideas revolves around the advent of humans to North America and whether human overkill was directly responsible for their demise,” Bendick said. “If humans were the major cause of extinction, the return of Equids might be considered a “rewilding” or “reintroduction” of a native species rather than as an exotic, feral, or invasive species on the landscape.”

Bendick has experience filming a wide variety of North American wildlife from tremendous bison herds to speedy groups of pronghorn to thundering elk. Considering his knowledge, he is perplexed as to how these other ungulates survived the extinction era but horses did not.

“Horses are tremendously quick, strong, and clever creatures. They can adapt to very hard and extreme environments like as drought, cold, and heat. For all of these reasons, human hunting is unlikely to have resulted in their demise – particularly because similar game species survived. Climate change and vegetation shifts seem to be more persuasive. Nonetheless, my suspicion is that a clear reason exists. “We’ve simply not discovered it yet,” Bendick said.

According to Bendick, scientists are still studying this phenomena, and fresh research is revealing new findings in this sector.

Did horses come from the new world?

A white wild Mustang walks through a backlit field of flowers in the mountains. Montana’s Pryor Mountains. (Photo credit: Jeff Reed / The WNET Group and TMFS GmbH)

While horses in North America vanished, those that had migrated out of the continent survived and thrived. Humans in other areas of the world started to recognize the use of horses around 4,000 years after North American horses vanished. Horses began to shape human history, used for everything from hunting and agriculture to war and transportation. Humans modified horses in turn by deliberately breeding them to become bigger and quicker.

Spanish conquistadors introduced European horses to North America in the late 1400s, returning them to their natural habitat. During the time, North America was mostly covered in open grasslands, which provided an ideal home for these horses. These horses adapted swiftly to their old habitat and dispersed over the country. Around 1550, the first known feral horses escaped Mexico City, and more followed over time. Native Indians started to catch and ride horses, which spread them over the continent.

Over the five centuries since their return to North America, horses have become one of the most numerous and widespread mammals of all time. The Spanish horses were the first to spread throughout the country, earning the name Mustangs. The Morgan horse grew to prominence on the opposite side of the continent when the Mustangs went wild out West. Other breeds, such as the Appaloosa and the American Quarter Horse, gained popularity in different places. The United States presently has over a hundred recognized breeds, the world’s largest diversity of Equidae.

Further information regarding the history of horses in North America may be found in NATURE’s “American Horses,” the PBS Eons YouTube film “How Horses Took Over North America, Twice,” and Wendy Williams’ book “The Horse.”

Related Questions

  • Did horses come from the Old or New World?

    More than 20,000 years ago, during the Pleistocene (Ice Age), wild horses that developed in America traveled to the Old World, Eurasia, and Africa. More than 6,000 year ago in the Volga basin of eastern Europe horses were domesticated and in the subsequent millennia spread to other parts of Asia, Europe, and Africa.

  • When did horses come to the New World?

    During Christopher Columbus’ second journey to the Americas in 1493, Spanish horses representing E. caballus were transported back to North America, initially to the Virgin Islands; Hernán Cortés introduced them to the continental mainland in 1519.

  • Where did horses originally come from?

    Scientists found that modern horses come from central Asia, and rapidly replaced all of their relatives around 4000 years ago. Scientists have uncovered the origins of domestic horses, demonstrating how the creatures we know today came to be.

  • Is horse a new world animal?

    Horses are native to North America. Eohippus, the current horse’s progenitor, developed in North America, survived in Europe and Asia, and returned with the Spanish explorers 45 million years ago.

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