The Evolution of Horses

27 Feb, 2020 590 Animals (Zoology)

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss the origins of horses, from their dog sized ancestors to their proliferation in the New World until hunted to extinction, their domestication in Asia and their development since. The genetics of the modern horse are the most studied of any animal, after humans, yet it is still uncertain why they only have one toe on each foot when their wider family had more, or whether speed or stamina has been more important in their evolution. What is clear, though, is that when humans first chose to ride horses, as well as eat them, the future of both species changed immeasurably.

Play on BBC Sounds website


  • Alan Outram No other episodes
    Professor of Archaeological Science at the University of Exeter
  • Christine Janis No other episodes
    Honorary Professor in Palaeobiology at the University of Bristol and Professor Emerita in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Brown University
  • John Hutchinson No other episodes
    Professor in Evolutionary Biomechanics at the Royal Veterinary College

Reading list

  • The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World
    David W. Anthony (Princeton University Press, 2010) Google Books →
  • Equine Locomotion
    Willem Back and Hilary Clayton (Saunders Ltd, 2013) Google Books →
  • The Nature of Horses: Their Evolution, Intelligence and Behaviour
    Stephen Budiansky (W&N, 2009) Google Books →
  • The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey through Human History
    Susanna Forrest (Atlantic Books, 2017) Google Books →
  • The Rise of Horses: 55 Million Years of Evolution
    Jens Franzen (trans. Kirsten M. Brown) (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010) Google Books →
  • The Horse in Human History
    Pita Kelekna (Cambridge University Press, 2009) Google Books →
  • Fossil Horses: Systematics, Paleobiology, and Evolution of the Family Equidae
    Bruce J. MacFadden (Cambridge University Press, 1992) Google Books →
  • Horse Nations: The Worldwide Impact of the Horse on Indigenous Societies Post-1492
    Peter Mitchell (Oxford University Press, 2015) Google Books →
  • Subsistence and Society in Prehistory: New Directions in Economic Archaeology
    Alan K. Outram and Amy Bogaard (Cambridge University Press, 2019) Google Books →
  • Icons of Evolution: An Encyclopedia of People, Evidence and Controversies
    Brian Regal (ed.) (Greenwood, 2007) Google Books →
  • The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion
    Wendy Williams (Scientific American, 2016) Google Books →

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Hello (First sentence from this episode) Hello. The ancestors of horses were as diverse as antelopes are today, roaming in North America for tens of millions of years until becoming wholly extinct there.