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Horse Sense Part 2


New from the American Museum of Natural History


The Origin of Horses


·        The horse evolved 55 million years ago.  A close, early relative of the horse is Hyracotherium, also known as an eohippus.  The size of a large fox, Hyracotherium stood 10 inches high at its shoulders and had four toes on its front feet and three on its back.


·        The only surviving branch of the horse family is the genus Equus, which includes zebras, asses, and donkeys along with the horse.


·        Rhinoceroses and tapirs are the horse’s closest living relatives outside the horse family.


·        As horses adapted to eating tough grasses, their teeth became tougher too.  Longer teeth evolved that could wear down without wearing out.


·        The first domesticated horses were probably kept primarily as a source of food, rather than for work or for riding.


·        During the Han dynasty, the Chinese mounted an expedition to Fergana, in present-day Uzbekistan, to acquire superior horses.  Fergana horses were famous for sweating blood—a mystery now thought to be caused by parasites under their skin.


·        Kazakh horse herders milk mares and ferment the milk to make koumiss, a mildly alcoholic drink thought to have healthful properties.


To learn more about the powerful and continuing relationship between horses and humans and to explore the origins of the horse family, extending back more than 50 million years, visit the special exhibition The Horse at the American Museum of Natural History, May 17, 2008, through January 4, 2009.  For more information, visit


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