Skip to the content


The First Horses
The Przewalskii and Tarpan Horses

The Przewalskii Horse
The Przewalskii, or Asiatic wild horse (Equus przewalskiii), was only discovered in the 19th century. In 1879, the Russian Captain, Nikolai Mikailovich Przewalskii sighted the horse as he traveled through the remote valleys of Mongolia. The modern Przewalskii horse resembles the now extinct Tarpan, or European wild horse (Equus ferus), whose ancestors were captured so vividly in the cave paintings in France and Spain between c. 31,000 and c. 17,000 BCE. The Przewalskii horse was once believed to be a direct ancestor of all living breeds. DNA testing, however, has revealed chromosomal differences between Przewalskiis and modern horses (Equus caballus) indicating that the title of prime progenitor more likely belongs to the European based Tarpan. Przewalskiis typically stands 12 to 14 hands high and have a dun (yellowish) coloring. It has a light colored muzzle, a short, upstanding mane, a dark dorsal streak along its back, as well as dark legs. In its native Mongolia it feeds on tamarisk, feather grass, and the white roots of rhubarb. The Przewalskii horse was once threatened with extinction. The former Soviet Union had established a refuge for the horse in the late 1970s to insure both its continued existence and its freedom. During the 1990s, Przewalskiis were successfully returned to preserves in their native Mongolia. Although held in captivity in many zoos around the world, the Przewalskii horse has never been effectively tamed, and in fact can be vicious if threatened. In Mongolia, they are known as the Taki, Tachi, Takh or Tag.
For more information see the site of the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalskii Horse, (

The Tarpan Horse
The Tarpan, or European wild horse (Equus ferus), is now considered the most likely candidate to the title of ancestor to all modern horses. The last wild Tarpan died in captivity in 1917 or 1918. The last of the feral herds were killed in the mid-19th century by farmers tired of the wild horses stealing their domestic mares and eating their crops. Tarpans once ranged from northern Germany, though Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, and western Russia. They were said to look very much like the Przewalskii, except for a grayer coat. After extinction, efforts were made to recreate the breed, and while the modern Tarpan bears a close physical resemblance to its ancient ancestor, it can no longer be considered pure.