Idaho Museum of Natural History bison sign

Clayton Koff

Staff Writer

This month, the Idaho Museum of Natural History debuts a new exhibit very close to the hearts of Idahoans.

“The Incredible Horse” highlights the importance of horses in our everyday lives, as well as their profound impact on Idaho’s history. The newest addition to the museum opens January 20 and features the entire history of the horse.

IMNH regularly works to bring things to Idahoans that they don’t usually get to see. This time, staff wanted to tell how truly incredible the horse is,” said museum director Leif Tapanila, adding that he is eager to deliver an incredible experience about the creature many take for granted today.

“The horse really should be our next step because of how much it changed people’s lives, especially here in Idaho,” he said.

After nearly two years of planning, IMNH staff were finally able to make this exhibit a reality.

The museum’s lead curator, Andy Speer, weighed in throughout the decision-making process.

“We really wanted to deliver three main things with this exhibit,” said Andy Speer, the museum’s creator. “The first is how the horse came to be, its history and extinction … how it impacted the Native Americans and humanity as a whole … and how they affect humans today.”

The exhibit will present the entire history of the horse, including several fossils of the first horses and an interactive app that will show the fossils as a fully fleshed-out animal in front of museum-goers. Various pieces of art depicting horses will be on display, such as a replica of Elligan marble that used to decorate the Parthenon in the city of Athens.

What makes this exhibit so special, according to the museum, is that horses have a long history here in Idaho.

Unbeknownst to many, the horse originated in North America, not Southeast Asia or Europe.

Stretching far in the geological record, the very first species of horses roamed between two and three million years ago and evolved from a small dog-like creature with three-toed, paw-like feet to the hooved beast we know and love today.

In 1928, a rancher in Hagerman found a skeleton of the very first species of horse.

When the Smithsonian Institution conducted an excavation of the site, they uncovered three tons of fossils.

“The Incredible Horse” will delve into this geological and evolutionary history and will cover the human history of the horse.

After humans began implementing horses in warfare, hunting and agriculture, the animal shifted from a food source to a beast of burden.

For Native American tribes, including those living in what is now Idaho, horses changed humans’ entire existence, from their hunting to their migratory habits.

Horse lovers, scientists, ranchers, historians and everyone in between will have something to be excited about with this new exhibit.

Send to Kindle


  1. How long will this exhibit be open to the public? For those not near enough to visit personally, is there a corresponding book or booklet available? I stopped by this museum a few years ago but it was closed for remodling, sadly, but I did visit the Hagerman site. There are radiocarbon dated equine fossils which span from the post-Pleistocene to around 600 YBP so I’m curious to learn if this exhibit has fixed a particular “extinction” date, and how.

  2. Maggie Frazier | January 20, 2018 at 3:09 pm |

    Well, its really nice that Idaho thinks horses are incredible AND are a native animal! BUT at this very time the BLM wants to zero out two more HAs in Idaho! It seems that there is a “reproductive viability” problem – not sure what this means exactly. Possibly they are removing them because there genetic viability is in danger? Apparently that’s the new excuse. There are not enough wild horses for genetic viability (which is true of most HAs and HMAs) so they zero them out – at the same time using this area for approximately 8,000 cattle? Must be the old “horses are destroying the range” excuse isn’t working anymore!

Comments are closed.