- Published: 01 February 2010
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Glenn Crump age 10, of Houston, Texas, for his question;
When did the first horse appear in America?
The story of the horse begin long ago when the Rockies were but half grown. The Gulf of Mexico slopped over the land as far north as Illinois, where the old Mississippi flowed down to meet it. The climate was gentle and summery way up to Alaska. Forests and grassy glades covered what is now our western prairies. Palms and ginkgos grew in what is now Oregon and alligators basked in the rivers of the northwest. Figs, beeches, chestnuts and magnolias flourished far north in Alaska.
This summery paradise was 50 million years afro. The Eocene Period was just beginning. It was the first paragraph of the present chapter of earth's history ‑ the Cenozoic Era. Flowers were developing and bright insects were everywhere. The skies were full of birds, much like the birds of today. Lizards were still common but the giant dinosaurs had gone. The furry, four footed mammals had arrived and spent some ten million years improving themselves.
Among these struggling mammals of 50 million years ago was the horse. We call him Eohippus, which means the Dawn Horse. He was no bigger than a spaniel and he fed in the grassy glades across the western slopes and plains. Eohippus was a little beauty, with arched back and. flowing tresses. But his soft teeth could chow only tender grass and he had no hoofs. His feet ended in little toes four on each front foot, three on each hind foot.
Even then the horse was a friendly creature. He roamed in herds, ever alert for the meat‑eating, foxes and wild dogs. Through countless generations, the meat‑eaters developed speed ‑ and so did the horse. Only the speedy horse survived to produce children. Through millions of years of this natural selection, the horse developed to outwit his enemies and survive.
He grew big as a collie dog and stood tiptoe on one toe of each foot, ready for a fast get‑away. In time, the unused toes faded away and the single toes became hoofs. Meantime, Nature had added another enemy in the form of changing climate the tender grasses perished and their place is taken by touch prairie plants. The: horse had to develop a stronger set of teeth to cope with this hardship and he did it.
During the; millions of years of growing up, some of the horses trotted over land bridges to Europe and Asia. The American horse was grown and ready to meet man, his friend and master, some ten million years ago. Instead, tragedy struck at him again. We do not know for sure what happened to the sturdy follow who had coped with millions of years of change. But the horse perished entirely from his native land.
The Indians here knew nothing of the horse until the Spaniards brought him from the Old World. The Spanish horse was descended from those ancient immigrants who trotted from continent to continent. He was at long last returning to his cradle land. For it was in America that the horse got his start in life and overcame his hardships to become the noble creature he is today. The first horse was here, part and parcel of the American scene, some 50 million years ago.