Are horses native to America: Know the origins and history

Horses are an eminent symbol of the foundation of the United Nations’s culture. We can understand the origin story of the horses after compiling it with a series of events that took place on the continent of North America. This relationship of horse history with America has remained complicated. The question arises- Are horses native to America?

History of Horses in North America: Facts and Myths

Was there any existence of horses in North America millions of years ago? They say it was European horses that still prevail in present America. Let’s peek into the scientific outlook and story of the origin of horses under the genus ‘Equus’.

Fossil research suggests the presence of primitive ancient horses in North America. The oldest known species under the genus Equus appeared nearly 4 billion years ago. Researchers named this oldest found species as Equus simplicidens.

Many would say they are mere folklores. In the present time, we can find the shreds of evidence from Florida to Idaho, United States.

This ancient species is also called as Hagerman horse and American Zebra. They looked similar to modern horses, resembling similar facial features, teeth structure, height, neck, and limb bones.

Originating in North America, this horse species migrated to other continents too, hence increasing the evolving patterns.

It is proved by scientists that horses originally evolved in America. But there is a twist in this story plot.

These native relatives of the horse vanished thousands of years ago.

 How were the new generation of horses introduced in North America?

When Were Horses Introduced to North America?

It was the end of the Pleistocene era and the time of the inexplicable extinction of most of the large mammals, including awful Equus simplicidens. The cause of this mass extinction that happened 8,000- 10,000 years before remains debated.

America’s continent isn’t native to present-day horses because they evolved after being introduced by the Europeans. But before the introduction by the European horses, America has their native equine species. The environment of America was always favorable for accommodating the equines.

Christopher Columbus, on his second voyage to America, bought present horses from his ancestors. They represented Equus caballus. These Spanish horses first landed in the Virgin Islands of North America. Later, in 1519, Hernan Cortes expanded them to the mainland of the continent.

It has been five centuries since the return of present-day horses to North America and now they’ve become one of the most successful, thriving mammals. 

They introduced the Spanish horses to expand on the Virgin Islands which slowly migrated to the mainland. These horses came to be known as the Mustangs.

Mustangs are widely present in the wild in the West America. The Morgan horses flourished on the other side of the continent.

In other communities, breeds like the American Quarter Horse, and Appaloosa also gained popularity.

The popularity and wide acceptance of horses in the United States. America has the largest Equidae variety in the world with more than a hundred registered horse breeds.


Q1. Are Horses native to North America?

Ans- European horses are the ancestors of the horse species found in the present American continent. In the 1400s, Spanish conquistadors introduced the equine species representing E. caballus to the island, which later evolved in the grasslands of North America.

Q 2. Where are horses originally from?

Ans- The fossils of ancestors of modern horses which resemble them in height, teeth structure, and limb bones are Eohippus evolved in North America. In the Pliocene era, Hagerman's horse evolved in the North American continent and later migrated to Europe, Asia, and other continents.

Q 3. When did horses arrive in America?

Ans- Some theories define climate change as the reason behind the mass extinction of the Equus species. They reintroduced horses in America in the colonial era of Europeans. Horses came along with the Columbus to America in the 1400s.


Since the re-introduction of horses to North America, they have become many and the most widespread mammal of all time. Horses are useful in agriculture, transport, leisure, and sports, which led to the wide acceptance of this ‘versatile’ mammal over the continent.

Before European horses, America had its native horse species that roamed out of the American continent to spread to other parts of the world.

Ancient horses under the genus Equus went extinct thousands of years of ago in North America. The story changed with the introduction of Spanish horses in the 15th and 16th centuries by Columbus. Later, they reached Mexico and beyond.

The fact is horses find their place in modern civilization because of their utility and they thrived because of the befitting climate.


Dr Akanksha Agnihotri is another animal lover like you cum veterinarian by profession. She has earned her B.V.Sc & AH from COVS & AH, Jabalpur, India. She has a knack for befriending animals/pets and treating them compassionately. She believes...