There was a time before our world of automobiles and other fossil-fuel-driven transports where horses were predominantly used for utility, unlike the current modern period where they are often known as symbols of wealth or used for sport. That change was slow, but a mostly horseless city of America was born out of the early 1900’s and now we see them in stables, race tracks or movies.
Let’s go way back and start from there.
While horses were often thought of as domesticated animals that started interacting with humans around 5,000 years ago, evidence in cave paintings suggest that horses probably were around way longer than that. We’re talking 25,000 years ago.
See that spotted horse over on the right? Archaeologists believed that humans (or whoever painted them) were making it up with their imagination. However, DNA analysis of 31 prehistoric horses from Siberia (as well as Eastern and Western Europe) showed that about six had a “genetic variant” akin to leopard-like spotting. These samples of remains were dated to be between 2,200 to 20,000 years old, though it is unclear why or how the spotted horses (or horse-like creature) became extinct.
And some scientists thought that the ancient folk were pulling a fast one. Sheesh.
Fast forward a few thousand years to roughly 4500 BCE - 2000 BCE, and perhaps one of the first instances of wild-horse domestication happened. Historians are stumped as to when the first horses were domesticated, but it is believed that a community of hunters known as the Botai people might have been the first group. Living in the ancient Krasnyi Yar, an area near the north of current Kazakhstan, thousands of horse bones were found at an archaeological dig site with holes in the ground suggesting some sort of fence was built.
Remember that part about ancient horses’ extinction? One theory suggests that wild horses died in Americas, and populations dwindled in western Europe due to the Ice Age. However, they were said to have thrived in eastern Europe and in Central Asia. It was there that humans and hooves really got together.
NO THAT’S NOT WHAT WE MEANT.
Well yeah, China.
Amongst all the domesticated animals, horses might have played the most significant role in China’s history, as well as the mythology of early China. They were closely linked with the dragon, and people believed that they were able to fly and bring their riders to the “home of the immortals”
Found footage of a flying horse (we kid)
It was the rich and powerful who had the ability to own horses, using them as a faster mode of transport.
Horses were domesticated and groomed as livestock together with wild animals such as elephants.
From as early as the Shang Dynasty, horses and horse-drawn vehicles like chariots were buried together with their masters so that they can continue serving them in the next life (see similarities with Egyptian mummification and burial practices yet?).
The good folks in the Western Zhou Dynasty had a different concept of horsepower than we do: they measured the strength and power of a kingdom’s military force using the number of war chariots they possessed.
We know that necessity is the mother of invention, and there is nothing as dire as war for a community to put technological advancement at the forefront of their efforts. The Chinese invented a harnessing system to fully maximise the horse’s power without affecting its breathing, enabling future developments of horse-drawn vehicles far more sophisticated than anything the West could conjure up at the time. (funny how we back away from “made in China” products now huh?).
Horse-drawn carts: commonplace.
“Dancing” dressage horses entertaining emperors: odd, weird, and evokes crazy mental images
Imagine this, with the horse dressed up… we think. Please don’t make us research on this, it’s getting weird.
An interesting group of horses known as the “Blood-Sweating Horses of the Ferghana Valley” were sometimes called the “heavenly horses” as they came from the ancient kingdom of Dayuan (modern-day Uzbekistan).
Apart from looking like a hellish-nightmare (or a cross between the Pokemon / Digimon world), legend has it that these horses were swift and powerful, whose red colour was believed to be a result of sweating blood. Some believed it was caused by a parasite (the nematode) while others think it is because of the small blood vessels that burst after intensive galloping. The blood assimilated with the sweat, thus creating a pink foam.
Of course we’ll end the Chinese segment with that marvellous red horse. It’s called the Red Army for a reason.
Hooves in Egypt
Horses (named Htr, Ssmt, or Zezemet) were introduced by Hyksos. The 13th dynasty (c.1786-1633 BCE) was the period where horses were thought to have first been introduced into Egypt. However, the Second Intermediate period was where horses would become a prominent member of Egyptian life.
In Egypt, much like China discussed earlier, the wealthy and upper-class were the ones who could afford horses and taking care of them. Thus, they were known as luxury animals. They were used as short-distance transportation, militaries and in hunting where they were fully attached to chariots.
Odd bit of history: they apparently were never (or rarely) used as agricultural activities, and riding horses would not become common until the second millennium BCE.
Due to their wealthy means, the Pharaohs seemed to have a strong connection/relationship between them and their horses. This was evident with one of them being Tutankhamun, whom have enjoyed partaking in horse-related activities such as mounting on horseback and driving his chariot. It was also connoted from a riding crop found in his tomb featuring the inscription that he came on his horse like the shining Re.
Horses were treated and monitored personally by the Pharaohs who frequented the stables. As Ramses III took great concern and care for his horses’ well-being, there was an incident whereby he have conquered the Middle Egyptian town of Shamumu after a lengthy siege and alleged the beaten prince Namlot of not feeding his horses properly. This was evident in the inscription stating “As I have lived and loved Re and breath is in my nostrils, thus my heart grows heavy seeing how these horses have been starved, which is worse than anything you have done from the evil in your heart.” - The Piankhi Stela, 23rd dynasty
How the ancient Egyptians have trained their horses remain unknown. However, it was suggested that it was a hands-on approach, evident in the statement “Horses brought from the field, they forget their mothers. Yoked they go up and down on all his majesty's errands. They become like those that bore them, that stand in the stable. They do their utmost for fear of a beating.” - Papyrus Lansing, M. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, Vol.2, p.169
Note to self: Try not to be reincarnated (like some civilisations believe) as a horse in ancient times.
Thanks for sticking around, NEIGHbour.
p.s. we were told not to add too many GIFs. I hope prof doesn't think that we're just HORSING around.