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Evolution of the Hoof

A RECENT STUDY ANALYZES THE ADVANTAGE OF A SINGLE HOOF OVER THE MULTIPLE TOES OF EARLY HORSES

The earliest horses were tiny woodland creatures, the size of a housecat or small dog. They had a springy back and (usually) four toes in the front and three toes in the back. Over millions of years, as the horse grew in power and strength, those toes slowly disappeared, leaving one middle digit—the hoof.

Today, only the one-toed horse remains. It’s likely that the question of how the hoof evolved has plagued scientists since the moment the i rst fossil of a threetoed horse was found. Most agree that the hoof was an adaptation that promoted survival by allowing horses greater speed in order to evade predators. It makes sense: non-aggressive, herbivorous animals make ideal prey.

But a recent study published in Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution begs to differ. After looking long and hard at fossil records and prior research, the authors say that though horses are able to pick up speed when needed, their physiology tells a different story: Horses, they posit, are more suited to trotting—not in retreat—but in pursuit of food.

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Horse Illustrated July 2019, Living Legend : America's Mustang, 20 ways to Go Green At the Barn, And More....