We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.
Advertiser Disclosure
Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.
How We Make Money
We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently of our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

Have Horses Always Been Large Animals?

Everyone's heard about the terrifying giant insects and birds of the prehistoric era, but not every species lived so large in the long ago. The earliest known horses, for example, stood nowhere near as tall as those we know today. Fossils from the early Eocene Epoch, which took place between 33.9 million and 56 million years ago, are evidence that the first known horse reached only about 20 inches (50.8 cm) in height, at most. Known commonly as Eohippus, or the "dawn horse," the hoofed mammal lived in North America and Europe but looked considerably different from the noble steeds we recognize today. In fact, it wasn't until more recent fossils were uncovered that the link was made certain. Over time, paleontologists were able to sketch the changes that horses have undergone over the past 50 million years or so. They grew taller, with larger brains, longer legs, and bigger muzzles. They also lost some hoof mass along the way, and their teeth became better equipped for eating grain.

To get a clear idea of the remarkable growth of the horse, one need only look at the Shire horse, which would make those first horses quiver. The largest horse breed in the world, the Shire weighs up to 2,400 pounds (1100 kg) and stands 6 feet (1.8 m) tall, on average.

Horse sense:

  • A horse's teeth take up more space in its head than its brain does.
  • Horses often look like they are laughing, but they are actually testing the air to determine whether a smell is good or bad.
  • Most horses live between 25 and 33 years, but an English horse known as Old Billy died in 1822 at the record age of 62.
Discussion Comments
WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGeek, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.