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


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.


Restoration by Heinrich Harder.

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

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