Back to Nature (Published on - Aug. 4, 2005)
Wild horses – the spirit of America
Photo by Rick Tremmel
At the Seminole Agricultural Farm a horse enjoys quietly grazing being outdoors.
Horses are prey and human is the predator. Man remains the only real enemy to the horse and because of this, somewhere, not so deeply, buried in the horse’s instincts remains that memory.

Primitive man 3,000 years ago observed horses as food, and used the horse as a beast of burden. Today horse meat (and by-products) is sold on the open market. With the recent beef scare the demand for horse meat has increased in European countries.

Recipes abound on the Internet on how to cook horsemeat and prepare horsemeat pies. Government agencies regularly issue permits to capture and slaughter wild horses and burros in regions around the United States, while rescue organizations work tirelessly to save them.

Many people think that the Spanish originally brought horses to North America. What they don’t know is evidence of the first known horse on earth, the Hyracotherium, or eohippus “Dawn Horse” survived to the end of the Eocene epoch right here in North America. Domestic horses from the Old World ran wild and became plentiful after being reintroduced by man in North and South America.

About 8,000 years ago, Equus became extinct in the New World and was not to return until the Spanish brought horses to the Western Hemisphere in the 1400s.

Hyracotherium (eohippus) (Dawn Horse) – 60 Million Years Ago
Mesohippus – 40 Million Years Ago
Merychippus – 25 Million Years Ago
Pliohippus – 10 Million Years Ago

The Progressive Merychippus led to modern day horses, as we know them, Equus. The Equus was quite small, a mere 10 inches high comparing to the average house cat of 8 or 9 pounds. Species in this genus lived from 11 million to 18 million years ago.

Merychippus represents a milestone in the evolution of horses. Though it retained the primitive character of three toes, it looked like a modern horse. Merychippus had a long face. Its long legs allowed it to escape from predators and migrate long distances to feed. It had high-crowned cheek teeth, making it the first known grazing horse and the ancestor of all later horse lineages. (Merychippus Florida Museum of Natural History, 10 July, 2005

The Pliohippus spread into South America, as well as Asia, Europe, and Africa. In the last 2 million years, Pleistocene and present, Equus Przewalski emerged as the large, magnificent creature we admire today.

Though Equus arose in North America, they ranged from Alaska to the Strait of Magellan while enormous herds roamed in Europe, Asia and Africa during the Pleistocene epoch. Equus is the only surviving genus in the once diverse family of horses which was domesticated about 3,000 years ago.

Species of Equus lived from 5 million years ago until the present. For reasons that aren’t clear, they died out in North and South America, then in Europe remaining only in Africa and Asia. Today’s survivors include the African Ass and three species of Zebras, the Asiatic onager, and other species that may survive only in zoos. (“The Fossil Book”, Fenton, pg. 419).

No matter how far we believe we have come in the domestication of horses, horses still respond with the ancient flight from trouble response to humans. Bolt, run and ask questions later. Perhaps it is this same lack of trust and this inability to completely domesticate the horse that endears horses to us.

Although we’re enraptured while viewing a film of wolves running free, we probably wouldn’t have this same attachment to a pack of domesticated poodles or pit bulls running with abandon in the forest. And yet, the image of horses running along a beach, prairie or pastoral field is one of pure freedom and inspiration.

Horses seem naturally wild.

In 2004 U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Montana) slipped into the 3,300-page federal budget a rider that opened the door to the slaughter of thousands of wild horses.

“I think what we should do is put some language in this thing that allows the BLM to sell excess wild horses,” Burns said. “I’d prefer to sell ’em to whomever. Maybe some of them will end up going to slaughter.” -- Sen. Conrad Burns, (4/30/04, Billings Gazette).

After it was discovered that the sales of horsemeat went up 41 percent, the House voted to reinstate the ban. Currently laws inadequately protect horses. The Courier Journal of Louisville, Ky., recently reported, “There are only 27,000 wild horses and 4,000 wild burros on government land in Western states. Allowing the sale of these animals could endanger the species.”

Other resources state that there are less than 40,000 wild horses left in North America. The American Humane Society issued this update: “On January 25, 2004, a bill was introduced by U.S. Representatives Nick J. Rahall (D-WV) and Ed Whitfield (R-KY) that, if passed, would bring back the original ban on the sale and slaughter of wild horses and burros put into place more than 30 years ago.

“This bill would once again prevent wild horses and burros from being sold and slaughtered for human consumption abroad, in countries such as Germany and Japan. Please urge your U.S. representatives to protect these living symbols of the American West by cosponsoring H.R. 297, the “Rahall-Whitfield Bill.”

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