IUCN threat status:

Endangered (EN)

Brief Summary

Read full entry

The tarpan or Eurasian wild horse, Equus caballus ferus or E. ferus, is an extinct wild horse related to the common domestic horse (E. caballus caballus) that roamed from southern France and Spain to central Russia, in steppe and forest environments.  They stood approximately 140-145 centimetres (55-57 inches) tall at the shoulders, had a partly falling mane, a mouse-grey (grullo) coat color, dark legs and primitive markings, including a dorsal stripe and shoulder stripes.  Smith (1866) described tarpans as mule-like, and making stronger sounds than domestic horses (Mass 2000-2013; Wikipedia 2014).

The name “tarpan” is Turkic for “wild horse,” and is distinguished from the feral horse (called Takja or Muzin).  In modern use, the term has been loosely used to refer to the pre-domesticated ancestor of the modern horse, Equus ferus; to the pre-domestic subspecies believed to have lived into the historic era, Equus caballus ferus; and nonspecifically to all European primitive or "wild" horses in general (Wikipedia 2014).  Other common synonyms for tarpans are Equus ferus ferus and E. c. gmelini.

Beginning in the 1930s, several attempts were made to genetically reconstruct horses that looked like tarpans through selective breeding, called “breeding back” by advocates.  The breeds that resulted include the Heck horse, the Hegardt or Stroebel's horse, and a derivation of the Konik breed, all of which have a primitive appearance, particularly in having the grullo coat color.  Some of these horses are now commercially promoted as "tarpans," although researchers discourage this use of the word, which they believe should only applied to the ancient E. caballus ferus (Castelli 2012).

Tarpans became extinct starting in Southern Europe, as a result of human hunting and a range decreasing in size with the increasing civilization of the Eurasian continent.  They were persecuted because they caused damage to hay storages, often took domestic mares from pastures and because interbreeding with wild horses was an economic loss for farmers since the foals of such matings were intractable.   Tarpans survived the longest in the southern parts of the Russian steppe.  By 1880, when most “Tarpans” may have become hybrids, wild horses were very rare.  In 1879 the last scientifically confirmed individual was killed.  After that, only dubious sightings were documented.  As the tarpan horse died out in the wild between 1875 and 1890, the last considered-wild mare was accidentally killed during an attempt at capture.  The last captive individual believed to be a tarpan died in 1909 in a Russian zoo (Wikipedia 2014).


Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 (CC BY 3.0)

© Dana Campbell

Supplier: Dana Campbell

Belongs to 1 community


EOL content is automatically assembled from many different content providers. As a result, from time to time you may find pages on EOL that are confusing.

To request an improvement, please leave a comment on the page. Thank you!