Animal Biology: What did the first horse look like? Hint: It’s not what you might expect!

Eohippus

Restoration by Charles Knight.

Is it a deer? A goat? An odd-shaped, hump-less camel?

No, dear reader, the above image is of the first ever equine; the eohippus.

Not quite what you expected? Me either. But you had to admit, even though the first horse didn’t even come close to the awe-inspiring beauty of the modern equine … the eohippus is still pretty cute.

What we know about the first horse

Intel on the first horse is pretty slim pickings, but here’s what we do know:

  • The first horse was a small, dog-sized creature and stood about 60 cms high.
  • It hung out in the forest.
  • It had four hoofed toes on its front feet.
  • There were three hoofed toes on each of its hind feet.
  • A skeleton of the Eohippus validus was discovered in England in 1841 by Richard Owen.
  • Its name translates to mean “dawn horse” from the Greek ηώς (eōs, “dawn”) and ιππος (hippos, “horse”).
  • It roamed around Asia, Europe and North America over 50 million years ago.
  • It ate shoots and leaves … seriously.

Besides that (and given it walked the earth a long, long time ago), accurate information is hard to come by. But as it was a plant-eater, we can assume it was a peaceful animal more prone to flight than fight. And if the deer-like spots on its coat are correct, then it was pretty good at hiding too.

Hyracotherium_Eohippus_hharder

Restoration by Heinrich Harder.

And as far as prehistoric creatures go, it was pretty darn adorable, don’t you think?

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