Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Equine Anatomy and Biomechanics: A Primer of Equine Engineering Part VII, Evolution Part 3


Hello again! This is Part VII of the ongoing Intermediate series about equine anatomy and biomechanics. It's by no means complete because it's meant to be a springboard for further proactive study, but it does provide some immediate, useful insights nonetheless.

In previous parts we learned some terminology, systems, and some basics about equine evolution, a subject we're continuing in this Part VII. An equine artist should be well-versed in equine evolution as a matter of course. Why? Because it lends context to our creative decisions. When we know the why of his structure, we gain a new perspective, we see The Big Picture, and that means creating work advocating for this animal becomes more the focus of our goals. For example, it makes putting that extreme, "exotic" head on our Arabian sculpture that much more difficult. It makes recreating the Big Lick impossible. It means we won't be able to put tiny hooves, light bone, and post legs onto our Quarter Horse sculpture. When we understand the nature of his structure, our desire to arbitrarily tweak it for "beauty" or modern fads becomes that much harder to do. The equine is a creature of pure function, and it's this functionality that makes him so beautiful.

For this reason, it's important that our work be a beacon for all that's good for our beloved subject. It makes our art more authoritative and more respectful, and that always results in art we can be confident in. Validated visuals have a powerful impact on the breeding shed, and our art can be a positive force in advocating for this animal. For that, it's through the understanding of his evolutionary history that we begin to see the full scope of his ongoing story.

So with all that in mind, let's explore more evolution stuff!...

More Backstory

Despite his unique design, the horse still isn't the fastest land mammal on the planet. It’s the cheetah that has that honor. By using the peculiar flexibility of his feline spine, the cheetah can infuse two suspension periods into his gallop rather than one (like the horse) thereby increasing speed. But the main difference is that the cheetah cannot sustain his speed for long—he peters out rather quickly. In contrast, the equine can maintain his speed for a very long time. That's a remarkable feat for such a large, fermentation-dependent herbivore!

As a result, a curious thing to know is that the hooves throughout Equus aren't the same. Nope! Each one is built for their specific habitat. Those equids that evolved on hard, dry ground such as asses and zebras, developed hard, thick, upright hooves, placing the inner foot structures up higher in the hoof capsule. Their soles are also thicker, tougher, and more vaulted while the frogs and lateral cartilages are larger and located further back, protecting the inner foot better under these harder conditions. In fact, though clocked at speeds of 31 mph (50 kph), the hoof of Equus asinus is designed more for sure-footedness than speed, reflecting his habitat of rugged desert regions. In fact, Equus asinus asinus takes this foot design to an extreme, making him the preferred pack animal in rocky mountainous country. Hemionids, on the other hand, evolved on the open plain like horses, and so have hooves similar to horses, yet they're still rather narrow in comparison. Even so, developing on the grassland plains, Equus caballus evolved hooves that are rounder, wider, and more sloping, with less vaulted soles, smaller frogs, and lateral cartilages. Interestingly, the extinct Quagga and the Plains zebra also share similar hoof structures to the horse. This may also explain the differences in hoof structure between today’s breeds such as between the Drafter, who developed in spongey grassland and forest, and the Arabian, who arose in the hard deserts of the Middle East.

Now For Some Mythbusting…

Equids were limited to a small size during the first part of their history, kept at about 50-110 lbs (25-50 kgms). Then during the Miocene (about 18 mya) when the grasslands began to take over, his lineages grew to 165-1102 pounds (75-500 kgms). An interesting fact is that Equus is one of the stockier and heavier versions of prehistoric Equidae. The biggest proto-horse may have been the extinct Hippidion, a Clydesdale-size early horse who lived in South America during the Ice Age (about 2 million-10, 000 years ago). But in truth, most lineages were graceful deer-like creatures relatively small in size. But it was Equus that evolved into a modest-sized animal, no taller than about 15 hands. Only with the advent of modern breeding, about the last 500 years, did horses taller or heavier than 1,100 lbs (about 500 kg) appear. In fact, the old world “Great Horse”, or Destrier, was really just a wide and stout animal, similar to a large, robust Cob. An average suit of armor was only about 70 lbs (32 kg) and people were smaller back then, requiring the animal to carry only up to approximately 300 lbs (136 kg) along with armor he might have to bear himself. So the bulk of the animal was intended more for increasing the thrusting power of the knight’s charge rather than creating a towering giant. And this “Great Horse” only appeared gigantic because people at that time were significantly smaller than they are today, in both weight and height. So, contrary to popular opinion, he wasn’t built like modern draft horses, making the image of knights riding Shire-like horses more fantasy than fact. Such huge drafters are actually a result of the modern railway rather than medieval battle. Farmers had to deliver their products to the intermittent rural rail stations for shipment in the most efficient way possible, that being with the least amount of back-and-forth trips. This meant that two enormous horses were more efficient for this purpose than four smaller ones, who at the time were the standard draft type prior to the railway. Breeding large horses also inspired “one-ups-manship” among farmers, fueling the increase in the standard size of draft horses. 

Also, the concept of “breeds" and "pure bloodlines," as we know them today, are rather contemporary notions begun by the eugenics-fixated Victorians, and so by the respective registries. In the past, the horse was a utilitarian beast. So rather than closed “purebred” bloodlines determining a “breed," or fixed points of type, horses were originally bred and grouped based on the physical qualities best suited the animal for a specific job. In fact, the original application of “type” was to discern between a riding horse, a racehorse, a carriage horse, a war horse, a workhorse, etc. or even the general region or culture a type of horse could be found. And sometimes Farmer Bob simply bred a type of horse he needed. The point is, horses were previously bred according to their purpose and not according to fixed, standardized points of type with "closed" bloodlines. Also bear in mind that modern breeding in the developed world is fed mostly by luxury money, sport, and the show ring, and often not the everyday-living uses of yesteryear, something that's particularly obvious in many halter classes with popular breeds. So it’s smart for an artist to be objective about “breeds” and “breed type” because mythologies, misinformation, and rhetoric abound that advocate ideas that can be misguided and harmful. 

The Modern Horse

At any rate, the horse evolved into an animal that ran first and asked questions later; his first instinct is "to get the heck out of Dodge" as quickly as possible. Elite racing Thoroughbreds can achieve bursts of speed for about 547 yards (500m) up to 38-46mph (61-74kph) while some racing Quarter Horses have been clocked at 50 mpg (80kph) during sprints. Yet these breeds have been artificially developed for higher speeds at shorter distances whereas Equus largely evolved for galloping longer distances at relatively high cruising speeds. Therefore, while most average horses cannot achieve these elite high speeds, they’re still quite fast and possess a high cruising speed for long distances. Their abilities are more than adequate to outrun and outlast just about any predator large enough to bring them down such as a wolf (who’s top speed is about 25-30mph [40-48kph]). Newborn foals are also able to keep up with the herd at a gallop within hours of birth because their joints are already precisely formed and they have an early ability to run. Another mechanism enabling immediate escape is the horse’s unique Stay Apparatus, which allows him to sleep while standing, but instantly take flight at the first sign of danger. Really, when it comes to a package combining speed, reaction time, strength, durability, and endurance, the horse is the finest running system today.

That means a predator’s best bet for bringing down an adult horse is an ambush, and chances of a successful one significantly increase at 50 yards (46m) or less. But horses developed a sensory system keenly designed for early detection of potential threats to provide a head start for escape. And once a horse starts running, it’s unlikely a predator can catch him. For instance, his eyes are located on the sides of his head and protrude outwards, providing him with a wide field of vision estimated at almost 350˚. He only has a narrow blind spot in front of his nose and right behind his tail, but a tiny shift of his head brings these areas into view. The horse has the largest eyes of any land mammal and a large portion of the cerebrum is dedicated to visual stimuli; it's believed that about one-third of sensory input to the brain is from the eyes, a testament to how much he depends on them peepers.

As for smell, the advantage is gaining information about something that’s hidden while also enabling communication or identification in a herd setting. Regarding the equine, many estimates have been made with inconclusive results. Suffice to say, his sense of smell is much more sensitive and perhaps operates on different levels than human abilities. While his head elongated for the battery of grinding teeth, it also resulted in a large surface area for the nasal cavity to detect smells. It’s actually been suggested that if his sensory mucous membrane in this long nasal cavity were spread out, it would cover his entire body surface. The horse also has a specialized smelling organ called The Organ of Jacobsen (or Vomeronasal organ), also present in some predators like lions (but not in humans), which some believe enables the horse to identify pheromones. This organ is also well-known in lizards and snakes who use their tongues to carry scents into their mouths. Therefore some assert that the behavior known as “flehmen," exhibited by both genders, may actually be an analysis of scent in which the lip-curl allows air to be sucked closely into the mouth and nostrils and across the Jacobson’s Organ. Indeed, many horses express the “flehmen” when they’ve encountered unfamiliar or pungent smells. And, since it’s often seen during sexual behavior, it’s also been hypothesized that it may help to detect pheromones. The “flehmen” may allow a precise analysis of territorial marking such as with dung piles left by breeding stallions as well. The “flehmen” response is also seen in other Perissodactyla, as well as in Artiodactyla, and even felines. 

The sense of taste, also called the gustatory sense, is closely linked to smell. While the horse’s sense of taste is largely unknown, it’s believed to be quite good and, paired with smell, his taste can detect certain toxic plants or tainted water. Indeed, some domestic horses pluck out those parts of the hay that are spoiled, eating only those parts still edible with great precision. Horses cannot vomit, so he needs to be cautious about what he ingests. Also, those who know horses know they do prefer certain foods or treats, and often have favorites they seem to truly enjoy.

Like humans, horses have binaural hearing, in which the ears (pinnae) detect sound concurrently. However, it’s clear that horses have a keener sense of hearing and a recent study indicated that horses hear sounds up to 2.73 miles away (4,400 meters). Humans can hear sounds in about the 20 Hz to 20 kHz range, being most sensitive to the 1kHz to 3 kHz limit. In comparison, studies have shown that horses hear in the 55 Hz to 33.5 kHz range, being most sensitive from 1 to 16 kHz. This means that horses can hear higher and lower frequencies than people and seem to be particularly good at locating low frequency sound. Recent research has even implied that, like elephants, horses may also communicate with frequencies outside of human hearing. Humans have only three ear muscles, all of which are vestigial, while horses have eight, moving each mobile ear (which can swivel up to 180˚) to quickly target and track sound. This is probably why their ears are so busy. 

Also, while humans have flat ears, horses have cup-like ears, which trap sound and flood it into the inner ear, allowing him to capture sounds humans may miss. Where the horse’s ears are pointing is a good indication of what the horse is focused on. And when a sound occurs, his ears automatically react to home in on it, in what’s referred to as the “Preyer Reflex," which improves the horse’s chances for survival. On the open plain, the only noises present, other than those created by the weather or the herd, could be stalking predators, and the horse only has to approximate the location of the sound in order to run in the opposite direction. If the sound is suspicious, he’ll orient his head and eyes to attempt to see the threat, while also freezing his body, probably scent the wind and also stop any chewing (to hear better). Hey may even briefly spook, only to spin around and assume the same behavior a bit farther away. If he decides the sound is coming from something genuinely threatening…VROOM, as they say. So a horse’s ability to target a snapping twig or panting predator would have meant the difference between escape and becoming somebody’s dinner. Stallions may also react more aggressively to sound since they’re inclined to be the protectors of their herd.

Horses can also loose their hearing with age, like us, with the high frequencies being the first to be lost then gradually working down the sound range. While hearing loss generally starts in the horse at about age five, it’s not usually obvious until the horse is around fifteen. However, since he has such a broader range of hearing, he can loose more of it without significant problems.

His sense of touch is apparent from his predisposition to seek physical contact from his herd mates, observed as rubbing, caresses, scratching, social grooming, etc. Horses also prefer to be similarly touched by people rather than being patted or slapped since these don’t mimic how horses actually touch each other. He’s also sensitive to the feather-touch of flies and quick to use his “fly shaker” muscles or tail to deftly remove them. Moreover, his eyes and muzzle are quite sensitive, having a higher concentration of receptors. Similarly, his facial whiskers, with follicles surrounded by nerve endings, are longer and more prolific on his muzzle and eyes, also constituting a sense of sorts. Indeed, there are more nerve endings in his muzzle than in our fingertips.

Horse’s react very emotionally to sensory stimuli, typically with fear if the flight response is triggered. In fact, horses have a remarkably short reaction time to stimuli and usually by the time the horse has reacted, spooked and calmed down, people are still trying to figure out what happened! However, though some horses are very reactive, some are far less so, often referred to as “bombproof." While some of this might be genetic, much of it is how well the horse was schooled to help him respond to the expectations imposed on him. Also, how thoughtful a person reacts to a horse helps to positively shape his responses.

So when a horse behaves in ways that seem mysterious, unreasonable, or bizarre to us, he’s actually being biologically sensible. Really, he’s simply perceiving things that are beyond our ability to sense and which millions of years of evolution compel him to act upon. So because humans and horses evolved according to very different criteria, to us much of his behavior can be bewildering or alarming. Yet to him, how much of what we do is bewildering and alarming to him? Remember that nothing about our human impositions were things he was evolved to deal withit's an alien landscape with alien expectations to him. For example, nothing in his biological past prepared him for a stable door, a bucket, or a plastic bag. So we must always remember that his natural behavior makes perfect sense to him and, therefore, should be respected. This means that we must “go to where he is” in order for him “to come to us." In other words, we must first adopt his point of view for him to work with us at full potential. Horses exist in a kind of constant existential fear unless they're compassionately taught how to deal with every strange aspect and imposition of the human world, from their point of view. We simply can’t take it for granted that he understands what a fence is or how to interact with a gate, trailer, wash-rack, screaming children, or even buzzing clippers. Especially a prey animal designed for instant, fearful flight. This is not only an important insight for horsepeople, but even for artists if we wish to express positive images. Truly, in order to be a responsible equine artist, we must first be a responsible horseperson.

Anyway, to create another survival advantage, Equus became a very social animal, forming groups for security and comfort. For example, a sentry is often posted as the rest of the herd dozes off. And because most predators tend to hunt in the morning, in twilight or at night, groups tend to be restless and more bunched up at these times in contrast to a more restful mid-day demeanor, when predators usually nap. So under natural conditions, a horse will always seek out other horses, yet he can bond well to other species too, including people. But this is why if he’s scared or anxious, he’ll usually gather close to his buddies, including humans, for comfort. So while some individuals are solitary, most are highly social and live in “harem groups” or “breeding bands,” or "bachelor herds" of ten individuals or less, but may occasionally number over twenty. The advantage here is mutual protection or aid with offspring. 

Young males are driven off, or other stallions steal young females during skirmishes, which mediates inbreeding. The band is the most stable social unit and made up of adult mares and their foals (up to 2-3 years), protected by a mature stallion. A hierarchical “pecking order” exists within the band, so there's a tendency for a horse to seek a leader or become one (which is one of the reasons why the relationship between horse and human can often go awry). However, there are exceptions. Nonetheless, this hierarchal rank is important in horse life and achieved through aggressive behavior such as threatening displays or gestures that may include shoving, kicking, biting and body language. Despite sex, age, size and tenure, however, generally the most aggressive or “bossy” animals achieve a higher position. However, knowledge about the terrain or where to find adequate forage and water can also contribute to the hierarchal position. By simply taking the initiative, boldly leading, can improve an individual's hierarchical status, too.

Rank can influence a horse’s access to reproduction rights and even to resources. Yet despite the seeming discord, horses are very gregarious and enjoy each other’s company, forming very strong bonds. Play and mutual grooming are popular pastimes. Mutual grooming is also an important bonding activity and some suggest that dorsal stripes, shoulder and hip crosses may have evolved as focus points for this social grooming. Curious thought, eh? 

Regardless, horses are emotional creatures who wear their emotions on their proverbial sleeve. They possess a language that’s diverse, nuanced, and complex involving vocalizations (such as whinnies, snorts, blowing, squealing, nickers, sighs, roaring, grunts etc.), scent, touch, hearing, and body language. This makes group dynamics a rather complex and nuanced interaction of social graces, strong friendships, partnerships, alliances, and power struggles that can confuse us if we aren't "listening." 

Nevertheless, usually an older, mature mare, who possesses the learned wisdom to help keep the herd healthy and safe, leads the band and determines daily travels and movement. The stallion typically protects the rear of the band while the lead mare directs the movements, with mares following her in hierarchal order. Stallions have been known to aggressively attack predators or threats and can show concern for the comfort and safety of the individuals in his harem. However, when a new stallion takes over a harem, it has been reported that he may kill the defeated stallion’s foals to remove them from his new band. Yet, bands having more than one mature stallion have been reported, working together to protect and maintain the harem. But it’s the dominant stallion who does most, if not all, of the breeding. But despite the role of the stallion, the band’s stability rests on the relationships between the mares, which are very close-knit and enduring.

Another other type of group is the bachelor band, comprised of harem-less stallions. Also, bands of juveniles of 2-3 years, of both sexes, can exist as well. A local population of bands is referred to as a herd, which may form during migrations. Herds may possess an inter-herd hierarchy that determines access to limited resources. Daily diurnal or nocturnal migrations for forage and fresh water are typical along with seasonal migrations. Truly, equines move a lot in their daily goings on. Though horses may eat other types of forage, they primarily consume grasses, low forage plants, and other high fiber, low-quality vegetation.

Mares are seasonally polyestrous and usually come into season in early spring or eleven days after birth. However, under natural conditions, mares are usually biannual in their pregnancies. Gestation averages about 332-342 days and normally produces one foal (twins are sometimes born, though rarely). Newborns are fully functional and can stand within an hour, usually within the first twenty minutes, and can gallop with the herd within a few hours. They continue nursing for about eight months, but begin to nibble grasses within a few weeks. Both mares and stallions become sexually mature at about two to three years. However, environmental conditions are a strong influence on a young mare’s ability to conceive, and she often won’t breed until she’s older or in a stable band. Likewise, a stallion has to earn a harem, which usually doesn’t happen until he’s about five to seven years old. In the wild, the lifespan is about twenty years while in captivity he can live as long as fifty years, though the average is about thirty-two.

It should be noted that body language is so developed in horses that they have an uncanny ability to pick up even the most subtle or most unconscious body signals, even including those from people! At the turn of the century in Berlin, a rather famous example was Hans von Osten, otherwise known as “Clever Hans," who was renown for apparently solving complex mathematical equations. However, it was discovered that Hans didn’t actually know mathematics, but he did know body language, the unspoken language of horses. He had learned to key onto a person’s involuntary physical responses and quickly became able to perceive even the most subtle tensing and relaxing of muscles in anticipation of a correct answer. So Hans would simply keep tapping his hoof until an unconscious cue from the human observer that indicated to stop at the right answer. He was particularly keyed onto Wilhelm von Osten, his owner, resulting in answers of surprising consistency, but did reasonably well even with other people. But if the person providing the unconscious cues didn’t know the answer, neither did Hans.

All this makes one wonder just what we’re unconsciously telling horses with our bodies, smells, touches, and sounds at any given moment! It’s known that a person’s emotional state can dramatically affect a horse, for better or worse, and why compassion, patience, calmness, consistency, and softness are so important to practice with horses. Since humans become part of the herd, in a sense, horses may look to people for appropriate reactions or responses to a situation, so it’s important for people to be aware of what they’re “telling” a horse at any given moment, particularly during a scary moment.

Above all, the horse is by no means stupid, despite what some may claim. When we believe he's dim-witted, it simply means we've failed to comprehend him. He’s actually quite intelligent and a quick learner who can exploit many types of learning strategies. He would have to be, wouldn't he? In order to prevail in our confusing world, he has to quickly make sense of what we want from him. In this aspect, the horse does a lot of "filling in" for us, whether we know it or not. In fact, a newborn foal is neurologically mature, unlike many other species, and has full capacity to learn within minutes of birth, and indeed, the first few days of a foal’s life are a critical learning period. The horse’s memory is infamous and he appears to never forget a lesson learned, good or bad. But happily for us, most horses have a forgiving nature! 


Any number of other animals could have just as easily been domesticated for horse-like work. Think about it, what would oxen or elk look like today if they had been selectively bred for centuries for “rideable” characteristics? And humans have actually domesticated other rideable animals such as camels, reindeer, yaks, oxen, elephants, and various other critters. And, really, many of these other animals, particularly cattle, camels, and oxen (especially buffalo), are far better weight-bearers than horses, having far more rigid and straighter spinal columns.

During the beginnings of domestication, one wonders what these early horses looked like…were they close to the type of the Takh? Remember that centuries of selective breeding formed the modern horse into a more “rideable” animal, with high withers, longer legs, longer, arched neck, and proportional differences. But the Takh is quite different in both physique and temperament, so how prone were early humans to domesticating such an animal? Or perhaps these early horses weren’t Takh-like at all, and more Tarpan-like? Or something else? Then again, the Mongolian horsepeople of today still ride ponies that are rather Takh-like in build, too.  

Horses are a diverse bunch…a Falabella, an Akhal-Teke, an Arabian, and a Breton couldn’t be more dissimilar in conformation. This variation is a result of decades, sometimes centuries, of selective breeding for desirable attributes. But years of artificial selection have actually narrowed the genepool for many domestic lineages, some alarmingly so, a worrisome prospect for long-term sustainability of many populations. Yet domestic horses are a strange case. Recent studies have implied that the genetic diversity in the domesticated horse is uniquely extensive, suggesting that multiple episodes of domestication took place from genetically diverse populations. In other words, there’s a good chance that many genetically diverse horses, from many locations, from many genepools, at different times, were used to form the modern breeds today. Also, since relatively few mutations are present in the genetic material of domestic horses, it appears that most of his maternal genetic diversity was infused into the stock early at the time of domestication. Conservatively, it’s been hypothesized then that a minimum of seventy-seven wild mares are necessary to explain the present genetic diversity in the domestic horse, but actually that number was probably far higher. New research has also identified seventeen rather distinctive lineages, some of them showing a pronounced geographical link. This begs the question: Did domestication occur independently by different human societies in different locations, or was there a single moment of domestication that spread as a new technology? This issue is still being debated. Research is also being done on the paternal genes in the domestic horse. If early people bred horses like today, they used a few choice stallions to cover a number of mares, therefore the Y chromosome diversity of the domestic horse should be much less than the maternal DNA.

Generally, it’s believed horses were first used as food. This made sense in prehistoric times since horse’s meat and milk are uncommonly high in vitamins, minerals, and amino-acids important to the growth and health of the nervous and vascular systems in humans. But in terms of using the horse as a partner, the when, where, and by whom this first happened is still unknown. However, it’s believed to have first happened for milk, then meat, and then perhaps for hauling, with riding probably coming a bit later. In regards to that, it’s theorized that horses may have been favored for this because they’re not only faster, but also because they have cecal digestion which releases them from the hours of restful cud-chewing typical of ruminants. 

Nevertheless, the current belief is that horses were first domesticated during the Neolithic, Eneolithic, or Early Bronze Age, with the first domestic horses originating in the western part of the Eurasian steppes of modern-day Ukraine, southwest Russia, and west Kazakhstan, mixing with local wild herds as they spread across Asia and Europe. Current research also suggests that the wild ancestor of the domestic horse, Equus ferus, expanded out of East Asia about 160,000 years ago. Indeed, equine head carvings in antler and ivory, carbon-dated to 14,000-9,500 BC, have been found in caves in Germany, France, and Spain with what appear to be halters. In this instance, horses may have been used as pack animals, perhaps to haul mammoth meat and other materials. It’s ironic that an animal proven to be so instrumental in the shaping of human civilization could have such a fog surrounding his domestication.

Since domestication, feral herds have roamed, being descended from domestic stock. So these populations aren’t “wild," but simply feral domestic horses. Truly, it’s important to understand the significant difference between “wild” and “feral." Despite their untamed nature, feral horses are far more tractable owing to their heritage of domestication. Any of the feral horses can be captured and trained with relative ease. But in contrast, the Takh, a true wild horse, is notoriously dangerous due to his aggressive, untrusting, and virtually untrainable nature. The Takh is also far tougher physically that feral horses, being culled by nature and not by man. 

Australia currently has the largest population of feral horses, or “Brumbies” (the Austrailian term for their feral horses). Other feral horse populations include the Camargue horses of the marshy Rhone River delta of southern France, feral herds in Sweden’s tundra and forests, semi-feral ponies on the British Isles (the best known being the New Forest and Exmoor ponies), the feral ponies of Assateague island and, of course, the American Mustang (“mustang” is derived from the Spanish word for “wild," "mesteƱo"). But feral populations exist all over the world.

Sadly, the true wild horses haven’t fared as well as the feral herds. Of the three groups who existed, only one has prevailed to modern day. Equus caballus sylvaticus, the forest horse of central Europe, went extinct in the Middle Ages as his habitat was destroyed by agriculture. His blood may still exist in the Konik, a domestic pony bred in eastern Poland. Equus caballus gmelini, the Tarpan, lived on the steppes of southern Russia, but went extinct by human pressures and dilution with domestic stock. The last known genuine Tarpan died in southern Ukraine in 1879 and the last captive animal died in the Moscow Zoo a few years later. Today, the Takh is the only true wild horse left in the world. Believed never to have been domesticated, he formerly roamed the steppes of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Sinkiang, perhaps southern Siberia, but went extinct in the wild from over-hunting and human pressures. However, a number of Takh lived in captivity since the late 19th and 20th centuries, becoming the genepool for the approximate 660 in captivity. While there have been two reintroductions, seemingly successful, the Takh isn’t out of the fire yet, being classified as Endangered by the IUCN on Appendix 1 of CITES. An important note is that equids are considered a “flagship species." They’re instrumental in the conservation of biodiversity in their native habitats by impacting the flora in ways necessary for the native fauna to thrive. Therefore, if equids slip into oblivion, the future of other species becomes questionable as well.

It’s been a long, chaotic history, but it was this type of environment that shaped him into the animal we know today, an archaic relic in the modern age. It’s strange that this unusual mammal would shape the advancement of the newest mammal yet, us. Indeed, life as we know it today wouldn’t exist without the essential contributions, and the many sacrifices, of this fascinating and ancient animal. 

Conclusion to Part VII, Evolution Part III

You may be asking yourself, "What the heck did all of that have to do with equine realism?!" And that's a fair question. It's not necessarily obvious. This is just the tip of the iceberg, too! But what all this information does is to provide perspective. To offer a backstory that helps to put him into better context for our creative decisions. It's so easy to regard this animal within the parameters of our short lifetimes, but his experience spans the millennia and he exists within a very different reality bubble than we do. Unless we know his backstory and his biology, we're going to miss much about this animal that could inform our work.

Above all, we can't forget that he's not "just a horse," but an autonomous individual existing in a parallel reality, and that deserves respect and thoughtful reflection. This gracious creature puts up with a lot from us, and much of it is bewildering to him. Indeed, he must wonder why he must trot and canter in so many circles! We owe a lot to his generous nature.

So while we're mulling over all this, prepare for Part VIII, the head. Yes, we're finally getting to the body parts! Until next time then...to know the horse is to love the horse!

"What an artist learns matters little. What he himself discovers has a real worth for him, and gives him the necessary incitement to work."
~ Emil Nolde

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