Cart 0

No products

Total shipping  To be determined

0,00 € Total

Check out

Continue shopping Proceed to checkout

Przewalski’s horse – wild primitive horse

Published: 2023-11-20 14:16:19 Categories: Guides Rss feed

Przewalski’s horse (Equus ferus przewalski) is a primitive horse breed that wandered the Asian steppes. The wild horse retained many characteristics of its ancestors. Distrustful, skittish, vigilant – this animal does not resemble the modern horse known today.

Wild Mongolian horses – the history of discovery

The name of the Przewalski’s horse comes from Mikołaj M. Przewalski who was an officer in the tsarist army and described the animals in 1878 during his exploration of Asia. The breed is also known as Mongolian wild horse, Dzungarian horse, and takhi. These horses were considered descendants of the post-glacial pony type 2, which was fully adapted to living in the steppe and desert. These ponies were bulky and stronger than the type 1 ponies and were capable of surviving in times of scarce food as well as harsh climate conditions. These animals made excellent use of forage, and their steep shoulder and sloping croup allowed them to move freely at the walk and trot over precarious, slippery terrain. The latest research showed that Przewalski’s horses descend from a type of horse domesticated around 4,000 B.C. by the Botai – a group of hunter-gatherers who lived in Central Asia (northern Kazakhstan). Despite the fact that these horses were the first ever domesticated breed, they are the only cousin of modern horses. Przewalski’s horse was a lineage that returned to herd life in the wild. Tarpan – a cousin of Przewalski’s horse, lived in the European forests. Unfortunately, this breed was not so lucky, as the last Tarpans went extinct at the beginning of the 1980s, on the steppes of modern Ukraine.

Przewalski’s horse – history of the breed on the verge of extinction

The always elusive and shy Mongolian wild horse was relatively unknown even in its motherland up until its discovery at the end of the 19th century. Unfortunately, this led to the breed's popularity among Western trophy hunters and interested zoologists. During the trips made to Asia at the beginning of the 20th century, numerous hunting activities were taking place; many of the horses were also transported to Europe, where they were bred in zoos. By the end of the 1950s, there were only 12 wild horses left in Asia, and in 1969 there were no Mongolian wild horses that lived in their natural habitat. Luckily the extensive work of the Prague Zoo, the breed was saved, and the number raised from 12 to 134 horses in only six years. In 1990 there were already 961 Przewalski’s horses living in captivity and ecologists started to think about reintroducing the breed back into the wild. From 1992 to 2004, thanks to the cooperation between the Prague Zoo and other zoological foundations, the horses were released back into their natural habitat in China and Mongolia. These horses were constantly monitored and even given extra help in hard times, but at the same time, zoologists allowed the herd to grow as wild horses should. It was especially important since the genetic pool was limited to the 12 rescued horses at the end of the 1950s. Even these days to diversify and strengthen the genetic pool, people use various techniques. Two of the most important techniques are the frequent releasing of new horses bred from captive ones, and minimal interference of human activity into the herd. In other words, people let the natural selection do its work.

Wild horses

These days, those horses live in Central Asian steppes in herds that consist of 6-16 horses. There are two different types of herds:

  • Family herd (harem) that consists of one stallion and mares with foals (up until sexual maturity – that is around 2 or 3 years old),
  • Herd of bachelor’s that consists of stallions that are either too young or too old to acquire control over their harem.

When stallions are old enough to fight with the lead stallion, they are expelled from the harem. Then they join a bachelor herd until they successfully fight over their own harem. When mares reach sexual maturity, they can leave the harem and join a different one. All herds graze on the diverse native vegetation, while during long and harsh winters, the horses use their hard hooves to dig under the snow in search of grass. It is estimated that nowadays there are around 1500 Przewalski’s horses (most of them live in the wild). These days, the breeding of Przewalski’s horse is conducted in zoos all over the world. The Bohemian Zoo in Prague takes care of the studbook of this breed. In Poland, you can visit a Mongolian wild horse at zoos in Warsaw and Cracow. Przewalski’s horse is characterized by its massive head with a strong jaw, small eyes, and ears, as well as an erect mane without a fringe. These horses also have a low, stocky, and short neck, just as short shoulders, straight withers, straight back, and sloping croup. The tail of these horses is set low with spar hair at the top. Przewalski’s horse also has a slim and not deep body, even though the last ribs are quite well contoured.

The Mongolian wild horse has strong legs with sturdy joints, scarce feathering, and hard hooves (designed for difficult terrain). They commonly have a cow-hocked posture. This wild horse also has a characteristic feature – a primitive marking stripe that runs from the mane up to the tail.

Coat colour: Dun and other variations of this coat, the coat around the muzzle is nearly white.

Height: 130-145 cm.

Horses that live in captivity differ from those that live in the wild.

Wild horses:

  • Are smaller than most domesticated horses, stockier, and more muscular,
  • Have heightened senses and higher resistance,
  • Are dark dun with light belly and muzzle, the coat on the neck, back, and legs have a gradient colour that goes from beige to reddish brown.

The Mongolian Wild horse in modern times

These horses’ temperament still does not resemble domesticated horses. They still are reluctant to humans — distrustful, shy, timid, and difficult. They do not have a natural need to bond with humans, people do not make them feel safe (rather the opposite is true). The most similar domesticated breed of horses is undoubtedly Polish konik and fiords – due to their primitive features such as two-colored main (in fiords the mane is cut short to make it erect), back stripe, big head, as well as the stocky and small body. Another Polish breed that has some anatomical similarities to Przewalski’s horse is Hucul pony.


Przewalski’s horse breed was nearly eradicated due to human activity. Thanks to the immense efforts from the Prague Zoo and other international organizations, after around twenty years, the breed was reintroduced back into its natural habitat. The breed nearly met the same fate as its cousin breed – the wild Tarpan. Przewalski’s horses are adapted to cold weather, long walks over rough terrain, and a sparse diet - enjoy incredible health and resilience that puts today's domestic horse to shame.

Related posts