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Desert Diary


Most of the evolutionary history of horses took place in North America—from the Dawn Horse of the Eocene Epoch, little larger than a dog, to the modern one-toed horses instantly recognizable to all. Several kinds of horses, all different from today's species, survived until the end of the Ice Ages, some 10,000 years ago. Arguments rage fast and furious as to why they became extinct—overkill by Paleoindians, climatic change, or a combination of both.

Regardless, the magnificent animals who called the New World home for millions of years disappeared forever. Where, then, did the wild horses of today come from? Simply put, European adventurers and settlers brought horses to the New World some 500 years ago. Horses that escaped or were "liberated" by Native Americans found conditions ideal. They quickly expanded their range through the grasslands of North America.

Perhaps the true romance is not the image of herds of mustangs roaming wild, but of the return home after the long absence.
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Listen to the Audio (mp3 format) as recorded by KTEP, Public Radio for the Southwest.


Contributor: Arthur H. Harris, Laboratory for Environmental Biology, University of Texas at El Paso.

Desert Diary is a joint production of the Centennial Museum and KTEP National Public Radio at the University of Texas at El Paso.



MacFadden, B. J. 1992. Fossil Horses: Systematics, paleobiology, and evolution of the Family Equidae. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 369 pp.

Web Resources

Buffalo Bill Historical Center.