A tiny champion-to-be? The earliest horses were a far cry from the long-legged animals in today's stables. Here is a short visual history of their humble evolutionary beginnings. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Heinrich Harder
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New research suggests that one of the earliest horses started out small—then got even smaller. As temperatures rose 55 million years ago during the ancient Eocene epoch, a North American horse species shrank from the size of a small dog to that of a house cat.
It would take millions of years and dozens of different genera until nature produced something approaching the modern horse (Equus ferus). The leggy show-jumper and powerful rodeo steed are of course products of modern breeding on top of eons of evolution. But the road to the arena and racetrack had humble beginnings.