Exhibition Highlights

The Horse explores the evolution, nature, and history of these magnificent animals and the impact they’ve made on human civilizations for millennia. To learn more, view the exhibition topics:

The Introduction

Witness a high-definition projection of a horse in motion which depicts the beauty, grace, and strength of these extraordinary animals. Shot at 1,000 frames per second and set to the sounds of thundering hoof beats and the whinnying and snorting of a herd of galloping horses, the footage highlights the horse’s nimble musculature and movement.

The Evolution of Horses

Examine the beginnings of the horse family 55 million years ago and explore the evolution of the horse. Touch skulls, teeth, and toe bones. Come face-to-face with a variety of now-extinct horse species that populated North America’s Great Plains 10 million years ago, including Dinohippus and two three-toed species, Nannippus and Hypohippus. Also, see Dinohippus and Hypohippus skulls and jawbones showing the evolution of the shape of horse teeth over time.

Horses and Hunters

Explore cave paintings depicting early interactions with horses and discover the relationship between our two species—that of hunter and prey. This section includes prehistoric stone tools and horse bones and teeth more than 17,500 years old from the famous horse-kill site of Solutré in central France. View large-scale photographs of cave paintings of horses—including one that dates back some 33,000 years.

Domesticating Horses

Explore a re-creation of the archaeological site of Krasnyi Yar in northern Kazakhstan where researchers are uncovering the remains of an ancient village. See a video interview in which Sandra Olsen, one of the site’s lead archaeologists, explains some of the many steps involved in this work. Learn how domesticating animals such as horses, cows, pigs, and dogs has actually altered the evolutionary history of these animals.


The Nature of Horses

Horses' bodies are strong, living machines that can work all day powered only by grass. Horses have both the ability to comprehend subtle commands and the motivation to obey them. Creatures of instinct, horses accept the authority of herd leaders, making them receptive to taking orders from humans as well. Delve into the many extraordinary qualities of horses that have made them so significant and useful to humans. Take a virtual peek inside a moving, life-sized horse to learn more about its uniquely adapted legs, digestive system, vision, and hearing.


How We Shaped Horses, How Horses Shaped Us

Examine how horses and humans have influenced one another over time and in a variety of ways:

  • Warfare—View battle armor to learn how horses have carried men to war throughout history. Examine the many ways people have used horses in war, including the samurai in Japan, the Spanish as they invaded South America in the 1500s, the horse-drawn chariots of Greece, the Amazon warriors, and European knights of the Middle Ages.
  • Work—Take a look at a mounted skeleton of a Shetland pony, a breed specially bred to work underground in coal mines during the 1800s. Learn how horses in the 19th century helped push Europe and the Americas into the Industrial Age
  • Spirituality and Status —Explore a hoof-shaped goblet created by the Sakha people, who toast the summer solstice with a ritual drink of fermented mare’s milk. See a terra-cotta horse from India, where village potters create massive horse figures as an offering to the god Aiyanar.
  • Trade and Transportation—Examine artifacts that demonstrate human dependence on the speed of horses. Learn about the horse’s four natural gaits—walk, trot, canter, and gallop—along with a dozen other distinct gaits in which they can be trained. Discover the story of the Pony Express, created in 1860 and lasting only a year and a half, which reduced the amount of time it took to get a letter across the United States from 25 days to 10.
  • Sport—Check out equestrian sporting equipment used in racing, polo, and other games played around the world. Equestrian sports examined include chariot races, the Afghan game buzkashi, thoroughbred races, polo, and hunting on horseback. 

An Enduring Bond

Horses are now used less for warfare, travel, and work, and more for recreation and companionship. With a total of 58.5 million horses in the world today, this bond should remain strong for many years to come.

Explore uplifting relationships between humans and horses through videos, including that of a young disabled girl's growth during therapeutic riding, the trust that develops between a mounted police officer and his horse, and a teenage cowgirl’s connection to her ranch horse. See a spectacular life-size modern horse sculpture created by artist Deborah Butterfield, who constructed the piece out of wood and cast it in bronze.