When you see a horse on television stand on its back legs and paw the air with its hooves, would you believe that the horse's ancestors had paws like a dog? If you had been here around 50 million years ago, you could have seen this animal that looked a lot like a dog, was the size of a spaniel and was known as Eohippus. Over time, the horse left those early forests and its paws turned into little hooves that could move easily over grasslands and hard rocks. Many more changes occurred as over time it changed into the horse that scientists today call Equus caballus.
Do you ever look at your cousins and think that they don't look like you at all? One of the horse's relatives is a manatee, an animal that looks like a walrus and lives in the ocean! A rhinoceros is more like a horse than the hippopotamus, whose name means “water horse.” Can you think of other animals that aren't what they seem to be? Even though a panda looks like one, it is not a bear, and many people don't believe a penguin is a bird! Have you ever seen a picture of a platypus? It has a bill like a duck, a tail like a paddle, and webbed feet with claws on them. It lays eggs and nurses its young like a mother horse does!
Words to Know
Your ancestors are the people who came before you in your family, like your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents. A horse's ancestor is the Eohippus.
Following the Trail
Many people believe the first horses horse originated in the Rocky Mountains of the United States. Many ancient horse fossils (animal bones that have turned into stone) have been found from Florida to California and also in other parts of the world. Almost 8,000 years ago, horses disappeared in North America and were not seen again until explorers from Europe brought them back to their original home on their journeys. Some scientists believe glaciers moving down from the North Pole forced the horses to look for better places to live.
Some of the horses traveled by land down into South America while others trotted over the land bridge that linked North America to Asia. These horses spread all over Europe, Africa, and Asia and became the ancestors of the wild horses that roamed these continents.
For fun, you and a few of your friends can try to find your way around to several flags hidden in your yard by using clues. You will want to have an adult make up four clues for each team and hide four flags (one color for each team) in the four places. Then each team gets the four clues in a mixed up order and the first team to return with all four flags of their team's color wins.
Mixing it up on the Trail
You can make trail mix using one cup of each of the following things: raisins, peanuts, coated candies, and marshmallows. Or you can mix it up a little by adding things like granola, chocolate chips, popcorn, cereal, butterscotch chips, and candy corn. Then, all that is left to do is place it in a plastic bag or container.
Words to Know
Eohippus was believed to be the first real horse. Fossils from this very small skeleton were found over a hundred years ago and are believed to be around 50 million years old.
Horses in Caves
Imagine you are exploring a cave in Europe and when you look up you see the walls are covered with paintings of horses. Once one cave filled with paintings of horses was found, cave paintings of other horses were discovered. People living in the caves made these paintings, which didn't look anything like stick horses. The horses in their art closely resembled the types of horses that still roam the countryside today. Scientists had known there were many types of wild horses living in different parts of Europe thousands of years ago from the fossils they had found, but now because of the cave paintings, they had even more proof the horses had existed. Scientists are uncertain if the pictures were painted to show the caveman's admiration for the horse's beauty or to record how successful their hunting had been that day.
You can try your hand at painting or drawing horses and see if they if they resemble the paintings in the caves. There are several books that show what kinds of horses there are. Then, ask an adult if you can use poster paint or chalk to draw on the sidewalk. If you make a picture that you really like, see if you can paint a second copy of it on paper or have someone take a picture of it and then hang it in your room. Be daring! Your paintings don't have to look like actual horses. Maybe you can develop a new kind of horse. Try mixing stripes with polka dots or make a horse with a tail like a bunny or even a horse with horns!