Horses: A Journey Through Time
In today’s world it seems almost impossible to imagine life without cars, machinery and other modern advancements; it wasn’t always like that. Since the beginning of time, horses have played a significant role in the day to day lives of humans. Roles ranging from communication and travel to horses at war and economical status.
Taking even a brief look into history across the world, you’ll find that horses appear in almost every civilization. This makes them of man’s true best friends.
So, what has their journey looked like across time? Read on for a historical look at horses across the world.
Believe it or not horses didn’t always look how they do today. A mammal of the Equidae family, the evolution of the horse occurred over a time scale of 50 million years. The very first group of wild horses were thought to originate from North America. However they didn’t look like modern horses at all. The Eohippus or ‘Dawn Horse’, was the first animal in the horse timeline. This creature stood around 10 to 20 inches tall, resembling the physique of a dog. It featured an arched back, short neck, long tail and a snout. However, evolution meant the horse changed in shape, growing taller and developing a skeleton figure that we recognize today.
Experts have found evidence of ancient horses throughout cave art as early as 30,000 years ago. It’s assumed that the ancient civilization hunted horses for meat, but there is some conflict about whether this was first done in Eurasia (Europe and Asia) or North America. However, archaeological evidence suggests that the transition from prey to pets was first introduced in Kazakhstan.
Horses at War
Across the world, horses have played a major part in war and peace. From Native American fights to World War I, horses, mules and donkeys were all relied upon to support armies in the field. Before industrialization, travel was limited. Horses were relied upon as the main mode of transport, travelling across country, pulling chariots and of course carrying soldiers to battle. Horses became an asset during war. Their strength and anatomy meant that, unlike other similar animals, horses could eat and run without having to sit down and rest.
One of the most well-known incidents of horses and war is a story from the Trojan War. The legend says that after 10 years of the Greeks failing to break into the city of Troy, Odysseus, a famous Greek general thought of a plan. The Greek army would pretend to sail home. In their wake, they’d leave a “gift” for the Trojans: a huge, beautiful wooden horse left outside the city. However, the horse was so big that it had space for soldiers to hide inside. Later that evening, the Trojans pulled the horse beyond their gates as a souvenir. And while the Trojans celebrated their supposed victory, Greek soldiers crept out of the wooden horse. The Greeks surprised the Trojans, taking over the city and ending the war. All thanks to the Trojan horse.
Horses and Agriculture
It wasn’t just in battle the horses made a big impact. In fact, some may say that horses transformed farming and agriculture. Replacing the Ox, horses became the favored choice for agricultural work due to their speed and strength. By 1920, America had more than 25,000,000 horses and mules and the majority were used in farming. The development of the harness and more advanced farming tools meant horses could be used to pull plows and cultivate larger plots of land. This resulted in better crops and improved farming efficiency.
Horses became so valuable that it wasn’t uncommon for farmers to have their horses stolen! Since they were so relied upon for transportation and farming, the more horses you had the better. In America, the Anti Horse Thief Association was created in 1854 as a way of protecting livestock and horses. It gained over 40,000 members by 1916.
Although people living in rural or underdeveloped areas still use horses for manual labor and transportation, industrialized countries now use machinery for most farming practices.
In modern society horses are seen much more as an animal to be cared for, rather than one to be used at war or in farming. Statistics show that America has by far the most horses in the world, with Texas, California and Florida having the biggest horse population. Recreational riding, at a competitive level and for leisure, is a popular activity with equestrianism (it made its debut at the 1900 Summer Olympics in Paris). The horse is considered as much as an athlete as the rider, with equestrian disciplines including dressage, jumping and eventing.
Horse riding is often considered a hobby, sport and lifestyle, with the domestication of these animals creating a deeper connection between them and us. Today they are seen as one of the most beautiful and respected animals of Earth, cherished for their skill, compassion and grace.
Interesting Facts About Horses
- Horses have the largest eyes of any land mammal
- They can sleep both lying down and standing up
- The oldest domestic horse on record was Old Billy, who died at the age of 62
- A horse’s teeth take up more room than their brain!
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