While there are literally hundreds of different horse breeds in existence today it is interesting to remember that they all descended from one animal; the Eohippus, who lived over 60 million years ago. The tiny Eohippus, standing at only 14 inches high, evolved through Mesohippus, Merychippus and Pliohipuus into today’s Equus. Todays Equus has got a height range of 23 inches to 21 hands (four inches equals one hand) high and has hundreds of different variations. At first, the horse was just a source of food for man. Early man soon learnt that if he could harness and use the horse’s speed then he could catch bigger prey. We can only assume that the bigger prey must have been much more appetising or the horse would not be as important as it is today. All domestic breeds can be traced, not necessarily directly, to the now extinct Tarpan as well as the Wild Mongolian horse (Przewalskii). It is also worth noting that although coloured breeds such as the Appaloosa, Palomino and Pinto are considered as being mainly American breeds they did in fact originate from Europe, Spain and Russia in particular. They started to make their way to the New World with traders and settlers after Christopher Columbus and the Conquistadors first discovered it.
Another remarkable fact is that hundreds of thousands of years ago the horse must have left its natural habitat and spread throughout the entire World. This move around the world was largely aided by man who, by this time, was using the horse to carry his worldly possessions. As the human population grew so did the need for new settlements and the horse was used to travel between these settlements. The Ice Age cut the horse off from its kin. Separated, they were able to develop and evolve differently from each other.
There are three sections into which we can and do fit all equines into; according to their temperament and ancestry.
- Hotblooded – These are breeds such as the Arab and the Akhal-Teké. They are fiery and very highly strung with a nervous energy.
- Coldblooded – They are heavy, draught breeds such as the Percheron and the Noriker. Coldblooded horses are extremely powerful, but very gentle and docile.
- Warmblooded – Warmblooded breeds have a mixture of hot and cold blood ancestry with the best of both. Breeds like the Quarter Horse and the Trakehner. Many show jumpers and competition horses are warm-blooded.
When everything is considered the horse is a remarkable, beautiful and fascinating animal, which has always been our ever faithful servant. Ready and waiting whenever needed. The horse, over the centuries, has become our best friend and is always willing to please. It is because of his close association with man that the horse is what it is today. Man’s need to better his neighbour and work harder has left us, in the twenty-first century, with a rich and varied range of horses. Whatever discipline you choose to undertake there are a number of horse breeds that are willing to help you.