Where Did Wild Horses Originate?


Curious about the origins of wild horses? Picture North America, where the dawn horse once roamed alongside the American Camel, Saber-Tooth Tiger, and Woolly Mammoth.

Today, the American Horse stands as the sole survivor from that era. As we fast-forward, pockets of feral horses dot places like Bosnia, Croatia, New Zealand, Portugal, and barrier islands—a testament to their enduring spirit.

Join me in unraveling the captivating history of these untamed beings, tracing hoofprints across time and diverse landscapes. Let the adventure begin! 

The Dawn Horse in North America

As a horse researcher, one of the most interesting parts of wild horse history I’ve uncovered involves the very earliest species known as the “dawn horse”.

This original wild equine inhabited the grassy plains and forests of North America approximately 50 million years ago during the Eocene epoch.

Standing about the size of a small dog, dawn horses were adapted for browsing amongst the foliage and outrunning predators on the open fields.

They shared the landscape with other pioneering creatures like the primitive American Camel and saber-toothed cat.

Perhaps most notably, the dawn horse evolved alongside the mighty wooly mammoth, standing shoulder to shoulder with one of the most iconic ice age animals.

For roughly 50 million years, these dawn horses and their descendants continuously inhabited North America, grazing the vast interior and helping shape the ecology of the Americas.

Survival of the American Horse:

Around 11,000 years ago at the end of the Pleistocene, many horse and mammoth species unfortunately did not withstand the climatic changes accompanying the close of the last ice age. However, one courageous equine managed to endure through this turbulent period – the sturdy American horse.

With its strong constitution and social herd behaviors, the American wild horse was one of the few mega fauna adapted enough to survive the extinction event unleashed by rapidly warming temperatures.

While their distantly related cousins in other regions of the world disappeared entirely, the American horses remained resilient, becoming the lone surviving branch from their prehistoric ancestral tree on the continent they originated from many millions of years prior.

Migration and Isolation

After most of its fellow North American horses did not make it through the last ice age, the remaining American wild horses faced an epic journey. Around 12,000 years ago as seas rose, small groups made a momentous migration across the newly flooded Bering Land Bridge into Northeast Asia.

From there, they spread further south and west into Europe. Over thousands of years, natural barriers like coastlines and mountain ranges isolated fragmented populations on places like Portugal’s Atlantic islands.

Others thrived in the misty highlands of Scotland. More recently in the 19th century, Spanish horses brought to New Zealand by European settlers went feral, spawning herds in the South Island wilderness.

As a horse researcher, it’s inspiring to see how these descendants of native North American equines still endure in scattered locations worldwide.

Modern Horse Research

As a horse lover ever since childhood, I’ve dedicated my career to unearthing new insights into equine origins and lineages through rigorous scientific study. Piecing together clues from the fossil record, genetics, and archaeological findings has allowed me to tell a more complete narrative of where our modern wild horses all began.

Sharing this history with other horse enthusiasts gives me such joy, as it helps foster greater appreciation for these noble creatures.

Simply knowing wild horses originated over 50 million years ago on the plains of North America, long before human civilization, instills a profound sense of connection to the land and generations of mustangs that have thrived upon it since the dawn of equus.

That’s what inspires me each day in my research – shedding light on horses’ incredible legacy and bringing their story to life for others.


In concluding this article on the fascinating origins of wild horses, I hope I have been able to effectively convey their truly epic evolutionary tale through my many years spent researching equine history.

Starting with the very first dawn horses that emerged in North America over 50 million years ago, it has been an incredible journey to trace how their descendants spread worldwide and established isolated feral herds persisting to this day.

Whether they are called mustangs, ponies, or something else – all modern wild horses, no matter where they are found on earth, can ultimately trace their lineage back to those tenacious American horses that survived the last ice age while others vanished.

As a lifelong horse student, sharing this impressive story of survival and migration across eons has been deeply rewarding. Thank you for learning with me about these amazing ancestral equines.


I am Asad Khan, a passionate writer, author, and avid researcher deeply immersed in the fascinating world of horses. My journey with these majestic creatures started at a young age, sparking a lifelong commitment to understanding and sharing their unique stories. At FastStationery.com, I bring my personal experiences and extensive knowledge to life, crafting articles that not only educate but also captivate fellow equine enthusiasts. My work explores various dimensions of equine care, behavior, and history, reflecting my dedication to the equestrian world. Through my writings, I aim to connect with readers, offering insights and guidance drawn from my personal journey with these extraordinary animals. Join me in exploring the rich tapestry of the equine world, where every article is a step closer to understanding the beauty and complexity of horses.

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