Przewalski’s Horse

Known as the Mongolian wild horse or Takhi, Przewalski’s horse is the last wild horse species alive. Native to Central Asia and the Gobi Desert, this animal has never been domesticated. It is rare and endangered; in fact, they were once extinct in the wild. The last Mongolian Przewalski’s horses were seen in 1966 but were reintroduced into their natural habitat several years after.

 

Every Przewalski horse presently living is descended from 9 of 13 horses captured in 1945. Two of these animals were hybrids—one sired from a wild horse stallion and domestic mare, the other from a wild stallion and a tarpan mare. These 13 horses were descended, in turn, from approximately 15 animals captured around 1900. A cooperative venture between the Zoological Society of London and Mongolian scientists resulted in the successful reintroduction of these horses from zoos into their natural habitat in Mongolia. Currently, there are around 300 Przewalski’s horses in the wild.

 

The native population declined in the 20th century due to a combination of factors. Copetition with livestock, hunting, capture of foals for zoological collections, military activities, and unusually harsh winters are considered to be the primary reasons for the Przewalski’s horse population decline.

 

This horse, when compared to domesticated horses, is short and stocky. Their typical height ranges between 12 and 14 hands—around 48-56 inches, and they can be around 7 feet in length. Their coat is generally dun with pangaré features and can vary from dark brown around the mane to a yellowish-white belly. While other horse species have 64 chromosomes, the Przewalski’s horse has 66.

 

The Domestic Feral Horse

Though unknown to many (including horse enthusiasts!), there is a difference between wild horses and feral populations. The term “wild horse” is meant to describe horses that have never been domesticated—such as the endangered Przewalski’s Horse. This is the last remaining true wild horse in the world; all others have been driven to extinction.

 

Therefore, a feral horse is considered to be domesticated, in a sense, because its ancestors have been domesticated. Though some populations of feral horses are managed as wildlife, the term “wild horse” is a misnomer. Feral horses are descended from domestic horses that escaped or were deliberately released into the wild.

 

As a result of its existence in nature, feral horse behavior has shifted over time; they more closely resemble the behavior of wild horses. They live in groups called bands, herds, harems, or mobs, and are often led by a dominant mare. The rest of the band is composed of additional mares, their foals, and immature horses of both sexes.

 

Like with most wild herds, band makeup shifts over time as young animals are driven out or welcomed in. Within a closed ecosystem, however, the ability to maintain genetic diversity necessitates a large group size—the minimum size for a sustainable, free-roaming horse population is between 150 to 200 animals.

 

These domestic feral horses were likely introduced by the Conquistadors in the 15th century AD; some horses escaped and formed the feral herds we now know as mustangs. Australia has the largest population of feral horses in the world—with an excess of 400,000 feral animals, it is not hard to spot one or a group cantering together. Though unusually controversial (livestock producers are often at odds with horse enthusiasts about habitat impact), the domestic feral horse populations will, likely, continue to thrive.

 

Evolution of the Horse

The horse has evolved over the course of 45 to 55 million years—from small, multi-toed creatures into the large, single-toed animal we know and love. Humans began to domesticate horses around 4000 BC, and their domestication became widespread a thousand years later—around 3000 BC. The earliest archaeological evidence for this domestication comes from sites in Ukraine and Kazakhstan, but there is a sharp increase in horse domestication in Europe some two thousand years later.

 

The horse’s natural anatomy drove its domestication—their bodies enable them to make use of speed to escape predators, and they have a well-developed sense of balance and a strong fight-or-flight response. Horses, historically and in modern times, have been used for leisure activities, sports, and for working purposes.

 

Moreover, their natural disposition and speed made horses an apt choice in warfare. In fact, they have been utilized in war for most of recorded history. The first archaeological evidence of this dates to between 4000 and 3000 BC, and their use in war was widespread by the end of the Bronze Age. They continue to be used in battle—most notably by the Janjaweed militias in the war in Darfur.

 

Horse breeds are loosely divided into three categories. These groups are based primarily on general temperament: “hot bloods” are considered to be fast, enduring, and spirited, “cold bloods” are suitable for slow or heavy work, and “warmbloods” are most suited for riding purposes. Horse use, over thousands of years, has driven breed development.

 

Horses require a lot of maintenance and care. Routine hoof care and vaccinations should be administered, and dental examinations are essential. Regular groom is helpful for maintaining good skin health, and they require daily exercise. Caring for a horse is a massive undertaking, but it is well-worth it!