Recent research, however, suggests the picture is not so simple. Evidence of the second and fourth digits of the horse’s foot are still visible, greatly reduced and incorporated into the dominant digit as though giving us the permanent middle-finger. But a team of researchers in America have been taking a closer look at horse limbs. They believe they can still find the remnants of the inner and outermost digits incorporated into the scant second and fourth digits. This gives palaeontologists and evolutionary biologists a new perspective on the mechanisms that allow animals to reduce their digits and limbs. It also reminds us that even when we think we understand something completely, it pays to look twice.
The horse is worth ongoing research not just because it is an evolutionary and biological marvel, but also because it’s an anthropological one. “Domestication of horses revolutionised human history,” says Professor Ludovic Orlando from the Natural History Museum of Denmark. “With horses, we travelled way faster, and could transport goods, people, germs and culture at unprecedented speed.
“In short, horse domestication is a turning point in history.”