The original horse bore little resemblance to the horses of today. Beginning as a small animal with multiple toes, over time horses evolved into the large single-toed, or hooved, animals that we recognize today. The modern horse began to be domesticated more than 6000 years ago. Throughout written history horses have played key roles in transportation, war, and in agriculture. Without horses, the world might look very different today.

Perfecting the Flight Response

Horses are synonymous with speed and power, but it was not always that way. Although early adaptations were quick of foot, they were small and not truly designed to run for hours at a gallop, like the modern variety can. Horses slowly developed the ability to run fast and far through necessity. An herbivore with no natural defenses, horses perfected flight as their primary response to threats. Their legs grew longer and stronger and their toes evolved to accommodate running for long distances over uneven terrain. Eventually a single toe formed into the hooves that are familiar today. The need for flight at the first sign of danger became so strong that horses developed the ability to sleep standing up, giving themselves an extra split second to flee if danger was near.

The Rise of Modern Horses

Once horses began to be domesticated they became much larger due to being continuously bred for more strength and stamina. This process is still happening today and can be seen in the stud practices of racing stables across the world. In this way horses continue to become larger, faster, and stronger with each generation. The sophistication of this selective breeding has a positive impact on increasing longevity as well. Today’s horses can live in excess of thirty years, decades longer than their ancient predecessors.

Inspiring Athleticism

Although horses naturally evolved to increase speed and strength to escape predators, domestication has helped horses become the magnificent animals we see today. A rare combination of beauty and power, horses continue to awe and inspire with their raw athleticism.