Where Did Horses Originate? What The Evidence Says

Last Updated on March 2, 2022 by Allison Price


Horses are one the most beloved domesticated animals worldwide and can be found in nearly every country. Horses are used for entertainment, companionship and transportation. Some countries even allow them to be milked and fed meat. They can be found all over the globe, but where did they come from so many years ago?

Origin of horses? Eohippus is the earliest known ancestor for modern horses. Fossil evidence suggests that this species was first discovered in North America 60 million years ago. Equus is the name we now know as the horse of today. Eohippus evolved eventually into Equus. Although the horse was a common animal in North America, it died out 11,000 years ago. It was reintroduced by European settlers and Spanish explorers.

Horses Originate

Did you know that the first horse was only about the same size as a cat? How did the horse grow into a ground-covering animal that could cover thousands of acres for thousands of years? Continue reading to find out more.

The History of the Horse

Eohippusis the oldest ancestor to the horse. However, you wouldn’t recognize it as such if it were present today.


Orohippus evolved 45-50 million years ago from Eohippus – similar in appearance but slightly larger to allow it to feed on harder grasses and plants.


Epihippus was born around 35-40 million years ago. Epihippus stood taller than any of its predecessors at 4-5 hands. Epihippus had a large middle foot, which is the first sign of modern horse hoofs.


17 million years ago Merychippus arrived on the scene. At 8 hands tall, it was the tallest of all the horses. It had a longer neck, wider eyes, and a bigger brain. Merychippus is the place where we can see a frame that is more like our modern horse. Although it had three toes, there was an evolutionary leap between Epihippus & Merychippus.


Between 5-13million years ago Dinohippus evolved from Merychippus. It was approximately 13 hands tall. Between 5-13 million years ago, a href=”https://equineguelph.ca/learn_objects/evolutiontimeline/dinohippus.html”>i>Dinohippus evolved from?i>Merychippus and stood around 13 hands high.


We have Equus. This is the modern horse we all know. Equus evolved from Dinohippus1-4million years ago and maintained its ancestor’s 13-hand height. We have all the horse breeds that we know today because of this horse.

The evolution of the horse occurred in North America and they remained there until about 11,000 years ago.

What happened to North American horses?

Fossil evidence suggests that horses first traveled between North America, Asia, and North America around 1,000,000 years ago. There is also a sea connecting the two continents. You might have learned from geography and history that the continents were different thousands of years ago. It is believed that Asia was connected to North America by the Bering Land Bridge. This stretch of land ran from Alaska to Siberia. The Bering Land Bridge was a land of meadows, plains and pastures. It would have been an oasis for hungry horses.

Horses would move with the seasons between the continents to find food, as many other animals do. Horses stopped returning to North America in the most likely scenario. The Bering Land Bridge was believed to have disappeared as the sea level rose after the Ice Age, when the ice started melting. These horses may have been in Asia at the time and could not return to North America.

My article Is the Horse Native to North America? explains more about the history and evolution of the horse. The Evidence.

The Horse Returns to His Country Of Origin

Today, North American horses account for about a third the world’s horse population. Although we know that horses disappeared from North America around 11,000 years ago they are still very popular on the continent. When did they return to their homeland?

Christopher Columbus’ Horses

Christopher Columbus brought horses back to North America in 1493. The Catholic king sent a letter to Columbus advising him to bring 20 “fighting horses” along with 5 “dobladuras,” which are “replacement horses”. However, Christopher Columbus’s horses did not reach the United States.

Hernan Cortes’ Horses

Twenty-five years after Columbus brought horses to North America with him, Hernan Cortes, a Spanish explorer brought 16 Iberian horses from Spain to the United States. He officially brought them back to their homeland. Iberian horses include breeds that originate from the Iberian Peninsula, such as the Lusitano and Andalusian horse breeds.

These horses were kept for transportation, work and breeding. The lineage of the wild mustangs that are found today in the Western United States is thought to have come from Cortes’ 16 Iberians.

What was the first domestication of horses?

Scientific evidence suggests that horses were domesticated in steppe lands north and west of the Black Sea around 6,000 years ago. This area was rich in grasslands, which were shared by Russia, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. It is not clear if horses were domesticated in other areas at this time, since it is hard to tell with horse DNA.

Horses were originally domesticated to be livestock for meat and milk. It is only English-speaking countries that are against horse meat. Some countries in Canada, Mexico, Asia and Europe eat horse meat frequently.

It is hard to tell the difference between horse DNA. Therefore, it is unlikely that it will be possible to determine if horses were domesticated in Eurasia at the same time. However, this is unlikely as horses have populated nearly every continent by this point.

Horses roaming today

Today, horses are found in almost every country. There are only two countries that have reported horses today – Rwanda and St. Helena. Guam and Grenada also have very low numbers of horses (only 20 and 30, respectively, according the 2006 Global Horse Population Report from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization). You may recall that Christopher Columbus brought horses from Grenada to the Virgin Islands. Perhaps the population has never recovered.

With approximately 9.5 million horses, the United States is the leader in horse ownership. The countries with the highest horse population are not only the United States, but also Brazil, Argentina and Colombia.

The highest concentrations of horses in America are found in Texas and California.

Today’s Feral Horses

True wild horses are not possible, as all horses that live in the wild today were domesticated horses. Feral horses are therefore all horses found in the wild today.

North American Feral Horses

The mustangs are North America’s most famous feral horse. Mustangs are found throughout the Western United States. They are managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Many wonderful companions and horses were once wild mustangs.

Although mustangs dominate the feral horse scene in America, they aren’t the only ones. You will find Chincoteague ponies at the coast of Maryland and Virginia, friendly Grayson Highlands ponies on Virginia’s Appalachian Trail, and Banker horses in North Carolina’s marshes.

Other Feral Horse Populations

In many countries, there are also feral horses. In Australia’s Northern Territory, Queensland and Tasmania, you will find large numbers of Brumby horses. In Australia’s Northern Territory and Queensland, you will find herds of Brumbies.

In Poland’s nature preserves, you can also find Konik herds. Konik horses are primitive looking due to their dorsal stripes, dun coloring and dorsal stripes.

Wild horses can be found in England, Namibia, Japan and the French mountains and seaside.

Horses Around The World

Although horses were born in the United States, their migration patterns enabled them to be introduced into other parts of the world. There are currently 60 million horses worldwide. This number is growing every year.

Allison Price
Allison Price

I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!