E is for Equus

As well as being an equestrian devotee I am passionate about the whole animal kingdom and this led me to study Zoology at Manchester University after school. Needless to say I enjoyed every second of my studies and wherever possible I tried to relate my learning to horses. This led me to study the evolution of horses and I thought that you might like to share some of the information that I gleaned. The obvious place to start would be the Zoological classification of the horse so here goes.
Classification in Zoological terms starts with a very large group and then gradually becomes more specific as we attempt to identify each animal more individually.

The Latin name for the horse is Equus Ferus Caballus and they are part of the Kingdom known as Animalia. This is one of the 5 ‘super’ groups that are used to classify all living things. The next classification terms to help divide up ‘Animalia’ is called Phylum and horses are part of the group Chordata, which basically classifies them as having a backbone. The class of animal with a backbone that they belong to is Mammalia, distinguishing them as mammals and the order is perissodactyla which is the further classification for a mammal with an odd number of toes – the horse has one toe- his hoof. Getting more specific still he is in the family Equidae which includes horses, donkeys and zebras and last but not least his genus is Equus.

It is important in Zoology to be able to classify or group animals, by recognizing that animals have many similarities for example regarding the structure of their skeleton or the way in which they breed, gives us the clues we need to improve our understanding of evolution.

The first example of a ‘horse like’ ancestor has been identified as approximately 55 million years old. It was the size of a small dog and lived in the damp forests of the Eocene age. Interestingly horses share a common ancestry with both tapirs and rhinos but whereas tapirs and rhinos continued to be adapted towards life in damp areas the horses’ evolution adapted it to life on drier grassy plains. As they flourished in their new habitat they grew in numbers and became a prey target, thus needing to develop ‘speed’ in order to escape potential predators. Their limbs became longer and as they diet changed from forest foliage to grasses their teeth became larger.

It is thought that the modern day horse evolved from three primitive ancestors in Eurasia by the end of the last Ice Age, roughly 10,000 years ago.

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