When Were Horses Domesticated?

Nokota horses are an important yet endangered breed of horses from the badlands of North Dakota
Nokota horses are an important yet endangered breed of horses from the badlands of North Dakota, Credit: Wikimedia/François Marchal

The lives of horses and humans have been interwoven for millennia. Since at least 2,000 B.C.E. horses have had a fond place within human culture, from transport and racing to warfare! While we know much about horses today, it wasn’t until recently that we figured out how these majestic beasts were tamed. 


After sifting through fossilized bones and teeth, paleontologists have worked out that horses have an ancestry that can be traced back nearly 50 million years to an animal called Hyracotherium – a hoofed, dog-sized creature. It probably wasn’t until 4 to 4.5 million years ago that there were horses in North America similar to the ones we know now!  


In their time on earth, horses have traveled all across the globe! Sometime between 35,000 and 50,000 years ago, we see a split between “wild” horses and the line that gives us the modern domestic horse. After much research comparing ancient DNA, scientists found out the horses we see today hailed from the “lower Volga–Don” region of Western Eurasia. Since then, many populations in different pockets of the world found ways to domesticate the horse and shape their evolution! 


The story of domestication is only the start of the relationship between horses and humans. Human management of horses has had huge impacts on their genome. As certain breeds are more popular than others, selection has caused a drop in the diversity of genes that different horses carry. However, we also know that specific breeds have picked up genes that generate their best-selling characteristics!

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