Are Horses Native To America?

Are Horses Native To America?
Are Horses Native To America?

It was an old belief that horses arrived in North America from Spain in the 16th century. But this belief is untrue as new fossils of horses are discovered on American soil, proving that horses were native to North America. This article will describe the details of horses native to America and the evidence.

Many solid proofs tell us that horses are native to North America. For instance, the discovery of a horse skull in Yukon territory is one of them. This skull indicates that the caballine, a prehistoric breed of horses, crossed the Bering Land Bridge into Eurasia around 1 million years ago.

Horses are native to North America, which is proved through the discovered fossils, which are almost forty-five million years old. The ancient remains of the horse ancestor named Eohippus indicate this possibility. This exploration gave birth to another theory that horses originated from North America, survived and traveled to Europe and Asia, and then returned to America along with the Spanish travelers. 

How Did The Native Americans Get Horses?

The events of recent discoveries compel us to believe that horses were present in North America right before the arrival of the Spanish conquers. Moreover, in North America, the discovery of horse remains from several archaeological sites also confirmed the presence of horses from the pre-Columbian period. 

For instance, about 30 horses’ skeletal remains are at one such location, central California. According to these discoveries, horses lived in North America for a very long time before Columbus set foot on the continent.

The present population of horses is around 19.5 million in North America, thus contributing a significant role in past and present American history. The presence of huge numbers of horses in America is approximately one-third of the global horse population. 

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Breeds Of Horses Found In North America

In North America, the first horse evolved around 60 million years ago. These horses were not very tall but had a deer-like height and were four-legged creatures. By this time, the horses start gaining mass and becoming larger. In the late Pleistocene era, the horses become larger enough that qualify to resemble modern-day horses. 

There are numerous explanations for why horses have changed over time. According to one basis, horses developed larger to help them survive colder climates. But another theory suggests that natural selection and environmental adaption caused horses to grow.


Eohippus is also known as the dawn horse in the history of America, as it evolved around 60 million years ago. This horse breed is the forefather of all the modern horses we see today. In addition, Eohippus also has the crown of being the ancestor of ancient and prehistoric horse breeds such as Epihippus and Merychippus.

In the beginning, the Eohippus was not a tall horse like in modern times. It only sized 13 inches, and its back resembled a deer’s. It also possessed working toes, four on the front and three on the hind feet.

Scientists discovered this great ancient horse’s fossils in America’s Nebraska and Wyoming regions. Still, the researchers are digging into the history of this historic animal’s habitat and living environment. 


This breed is another tremendous ancient horse that has recently caught researchers’ attention, and it was a miniature horse that size just like a dog. This horse had some unique features that we can also see in the modern horse, the hooves. They help the horse to travel longer distances without being tired. 

Historically, Epihippus is around 38 million years older. The horse possesses stronger teeth to grind the food, a more muscular body, and some alterations in the feet. The spread of horses in North America and Europe is due to this fantastic ancient breed. 

A visualization of Breeds Of Horses Found In North America
A visualization of Breeds Of Horses Found In North America


In the line of historic breeds, Merychippus is one of them. We do not know much about this landmark breed except for the presence of three bones found in the legs of modern-day horses. This ancient dog found a few complete skeletons, which is quite unfortunate for the researchers. 

The first appearance of this horse was around 17 million years ago, and it had a height of just ten hands. Hyracotherium, a former equine species, gave rise to Merychippus.In addition, the horse had longer legs and stronger hooves that aided it in better running. 


This ancient and historic horse breed lived in North America around 13.5 million years ago. We can say that Dinohippus indeed resembled a modern-day horse. The foot anatomy, dentition, and skull of Dinohippus are remarkably similar to those of modern horses. Dinohippus developed into the genus Equus, which includes the species of horse we know today.

Dinohippus are the first horses to develop a one-toe and more extended stay mechanism. This mechanism allows the horses to stay longer without exhausting their energy. 


Equus has a size of almost 13 hands tall, and it is the most appropriate resemblance to modern-day horses. This ancient horse breed is around 1-4 million years older. Researchers have discovered its fossils on every continent except Australia and Antarctica. 

According to available data, Equus traveled to Asia one million years ago. About 11,000 years ago, they were extinct in North America, yet they continued to exist on other Continents and reemerged on their original continent many years later.

Equus possessed all the features of a modern horse. For instance, it had a single toe on each foot, indicating that horses had every little current detail millions of years ago without undergoing significant change. 

Extinction of Horses from North America

In the wake of the discoveries of fossils of horses in North America suggest that horses were native to America. Still, the exact cause of their extinction is unknown to many scientists. However, they believed that overkilling by humans, climatic changes, and the spread of infectious diseases were prime causes of the disappearance of horses from North America. 

Return of Horse To North America

After getting disappeared from the mainland, the horse made a huge comeback. Christopher Columbus said horses were first brought to North America in 1493. The horses, though, he left behind in the Virgin Islands. The Spanish explorer Cortez was the first person to reintroduce horses to the continent.

Return of Horse To North America
Return of Horse To North America

Europen settlers are also responsible for bringing back the horses of various breeds, including the larger ones, for farming and mating with more miniature horses. Therefore, the United States has seen a tremendous increase in the horse population by 20 million. 

In the new mainland, the horses happily lived and thrived and were involved in various activities such as transportation, ranch work, hauling freight, and farming. The strong retuning of horses in America led to many activities like horse racing and establishing regular horse breeding farms. 

When did humans start riding horses?

According to research by the University of Exeter in 2009, Horses have been used for at least 5,500 years, the earliest time they have been found as evidence of being ridden. It also revealed that the area of Kazakhstan had been a potential origin place for horse riding.

Archeologists recently uncovered evidence suggesting horses were selectively bred for milk and possibly ridden. The team also confirmed the bit of damage caused by horses being harnessed or bridled.

Final Thoughts

The discovery of fossils from various regions indicates the existence of horses in Northern American territory millions of years ago. We can clearly say that horses were native to America and transported to Europe and other regions. After their extinction from the American mainland due to unclear reasons, they were brought back by Spanish travelers, European settlers, and Christopher Columbus, who made a greater contribution. 


why was the horse important to native Americans?

In many Native American cultures, horses were a sign of good fortune. Horses could be used as a form of currency, they could be used in more practical ways such as hunting, and they were also sometimes believed to have magical powers.

When was the horse first discovered?

There are several theories about when and how the horse was discovered. One theory states that the first horses were domesticated in Central Asia around 3,000 BCE. Another theory states that they were domesticated in North America about 6,000 BCE. However, there is no concrete evidence to support any of these theories.

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