Author: Tricia Weldon
For more information on this
author go to: anandaranch.org
The horse as we know it today
is descended from a small,
primitive, four-toed animal.
Prehistoric horses stood only
about 4.5 feet high at the shoulder.
Approximately fifteen million generations later, Equus
evolved as the first “true horse.”
Equus migrated from North America throughout the
world. Fossil remains have been discovered in Asia,
Europe, and Africa as well as throughout North and
Historical Background of Fossils
In the 1870's, the paleontologist O.C. Marsh
published a description of newly discovered
horse fossils from North America. At the
time, very few transitional fossils were known
The sequence of horse fossils that Marsh
described was a striking example of evolution
taking place in a single lineage. Here, one could
see the fossil species quot;Eohippusquot; transformed
into an almost totally different-looking (and very
familiar) descendent, Equus
As new fossils were discovered, though, it became clear
that the old model of horse evolution was a serious
oversimplification. It was misleading to portray horse
evolution in a smooth straight line, for two reasons:
First, horse evolution didn't proceed in a straight line. We
now know of many other branches of horse evolution.
Our familiar Equus is merely one twig on a once-
flourishing bush of equine species. We only have the
illusion of straight-line evolution because Equus is the
only twig that survived.
Second, horse evolution was not smooth and gradual.
Different traits evolved at different rates, didn't always
evolve together, and occasionally reversed quot;directionquot;.
Also, horse species did not always come into being by
gradual transformation of their ancestors;
instead, sometimes new species quot;split offquot; from
ancestors and then co-existed with those ancestors for
some time. Some species arose gradually, others
Because there were no horses in the western
hemisphere when it was discovered by
Europeans, the extinction of the horse after it had
flourished there for 60 million years remains one of
the unsolved mysteries of history.
For the first time in tens of millions
of years, there were no equids in
Extinction cannot be attributed directly to the
effect of glacial cold. The horse actually
survived the ice ages, only to disappear as
the ice was retreating.
Cave paintings in Lascaux France
Keys to this unsolved mysteries may be in these Stone
Age cave paintings located in France and Spain Very
often these paintings reveal the horse as an object of prey.
These depictions may be a reflection of why he
disappeared from the New World when other grazing
animals such as the bison survived.
Man and Horse
The earliest association between man and
horse was one-sided. Man hunted and
subsisted on the flesh
The bones of 40,000
horses that existed
25,000 years ago,
found outside a rock shelter at Solutre,
France, provide evidence of the cave man’s
dependence on the horse.
Evidence for Extinction in
In the last few years, evidence found at
St. Mary’s Reservoir in southern
Alberta, Canada suggests that humans
played a significant role in the horse’s
Evidence for Extinction in
The floor of the reservoir was covered with animal tracks;
as was the remains of a prehistoric horse with several
smashed vertebrae and bones that bore evidence of
“Clovis points,” the spearheads associated with some of
the first humans to reach the continent, were also found
and dated back 11,000 years. After being analyzed the
spearheads revealed signs of the residue of horse protein;
the points had apparently been thrust into the horse.
“Environment and climate change were definitely factors in
the extinction event, but there had been numerous
instances of glaciers advancing and retreating during the
Pleistocene, and this is the only time we see a magafaunal
extinction. The arrival of humans is the only real new
factor” (Dr. Paul McNeil).
Domestication of the Horse
It is difficult to establish exact dates of domestication. Some
believe the evidence found at several sites shows equine
tooth wear that only could appear from the friction of a bit
against the molars. Sites include Dereivka, a Ukrainian
settlement site dated 4500 – 3500 B.C., and the Botai
culture, dated 3500 – 3000 B.C. in the northern steppes of
Evidence also suggests that China and Mesopotamia were
among the first civilizations involved in the domestication of
the horse between 4500 – 2500 B.C.
Harnessing the Power
When we consider the greatest
significance in building civilizations, the
horse’s harnessed power has no equal.
Even today we
of the automobile in
terms of horsepower.
Early Cart Horses
The prevailing view among paleo-historians is that
the first horses to be tamed were hitched to carts before
being mounted. They base their conclusions on skeletal
remains, which indicate that Bronze Age horses were
only about the size of large ponies, about 14 hands (56quot;)
at the shoulder.
There were four primeval types of horses which
were domesticated at different times and places.
Pony I developed in Northwest Europe. He was
approximately 12 hands tall, had very thick skin, was
brown or bay in color, and was quot;waterproofquot;. His direct
descendant is the Shetland Pony.
Pony II developed in North Eurasia. He was heavier in
build than Pony I and was quot;frostproofquot;. He was dun or
cream color and had the dorsal stripe and bars on the
legs associated with the quot;dun factorquot;.
He was the forefather of Przewalski's
Horse III developed in central Asia and west into Europe.
He had a long, narrow, Roman head, a long neck, long
ears, slab sides and a sparse tail and mane. He was
quot;drought proofquot;. He was the forefather of the Andalusian.
Horse IV developed in the western area of Asia. He was
about 12 hands, was quot;heat proofquot; and provided the
quot;qualityquot; in today's breeds - he was fineboned, had a
high-set tail and abundant mane and tail. He was the
forefather of the Arabian.
The Mounted Steed
The first record of riding came from Persia
in the third millennium B.C. By 1580 B.C.
this trend had spread to Egypt, and 250
years later it was found in Greece. In fact,
the first horse training book, the Kikkuli
Text, was written in 1360 B.C.
The Horse in the East
By the Han dynasty (475-221 BC)
Mounted cavalry had become the
dominate military use of the horse.
The Chinese produced three of the
most significant inventions in
The breast-strap harnesses
The horse collar
The Chinese harnessing system was the first to effectively
utilize the horse’s power without hampering its ability to
breathe. This piece of equipment allowed for the
development of shafted horse-drawn vehicles which were
far more advanced and efficient than those of their
counterparts in the West.
The invention of the stirrup allowed
mounted cavalry for the first time to have a
secure platform when they fought.
The Classical Horse
The horse inspired such awe in ancient man that he
included him in his mythology.
Apollo’s Chariot drawn by his four fiery horses, pulled the sun across the sky. Apollo
granted the son one wish, he wanted to go across the sky in father’s chariot. Apollo tried
to dissuade his son, but at last Apollo agreed. At first everything went smoothly, Phaeton
managed the horses. But then he was scared of the height, he lost control of the horses.
The chariot dropped too low and the Sun nearly burnt the Earth. To save it, Zeus struck
the boy with a thunderbolt.
Pegasus: The winged horse, born from the blood of the
Gorgon Medusa when she was slain by Perseus
The Centaur: A magnificent creature who had a body which was
half horse and half man. He was renowned for both extreme
physical strength and great wisdom.
The Classical Horse
The Trojan Horse: The Greeks left
the huge wooden horse behind
when they retreated from the siege
of the walls of Troy. Rejoicing at
the war’s apparent end, the Trojans
brought the wooden horse within the walls of the
city. That night the Greek warriors within the
horse’s belly crept out and opened the gates to
renewed attack, and the great Illiam/Troy fell to
the Greek army.
Xenophon: 427-355 BC was a soldier, mercenary and
Athenian student of Socrates. He is known for his writings
on the history of his own times, the sayings of Socrates, and
a fully preserved manual on the horsemanship.
On the Art of Horsemanship comes to us from 360 BC, the
work of the Athenian cavalryman Xenophon. It is the oldest
known text on horseback riding still in existence, and the first
work known to emphasize training techniques that account
for the state of the horse's psyche as well as
his body. The work is divided into eleven
chapters, and deals with the purchase, care
and training of horses. It also deals, to some
extent, with the construction of stables and
the equipment needed for several aspects
On the Art of Horsemanship
In examining his body, we say
you must first look at his feet.
For, just as a house is bound
to be worthless less if the
foundations are unsound,
however well the upper parts
may look, so a war-horse will
be quite useless, even though
all his other points are good, if
he has bad feet; for in that
case he will be unable to use
any of his good points.
If anything worries him. Let the groom be
under orders also to lead him through
crowds, and accustom him to all sorts of
sights and all sorts of noises. If the colt shies
at any of them, he must teach him, by
quieting him and without impatience, that
there is nothing to be afraid of.
The one best rule and practice in dealing with a horse is never
to approach him in anger; for anger is a reckless thing, so that it
often makes a man do what he must regret. Moreover, when
the horse is shy of anything and will not come near it, you
should teach him that there is nothing to be afraid of, either with
the help of a plucky horse--which is the surest way--or else by
touching the object that looks alarming yourself, and gently
leading the horse up to it. To force him with blows only
increases his terror; for when horses feel pain in such a
predicament, they think that this too is caused by the thing at
which they shy.
From 336 to 323 BC, Alexander the Great
arguably was the most successful military
commander in world history, conquering most of
the known world before his death.
Alexander and Bucephalus
There are few legends that
capture man’s love of the horse
as Alexander the Great and his
beloved Bucephalus. Son to
King Philip of Macedonia,
Alexander was tutored by
Aristotle in academic matters
and studied horsemanship with
his father. At the tender age of twelve, Alexander bonded
with Bucephalus and was credited with being the horse’s
only rider. Inspired by his equestrian abilities, Alexander
set out to conquer the world astride the mighty horse.
Bucephalus carried the young ruler from Greece to Egypt
to India. When Bucephalus died, Alexander honored the
horse by naming a city in central Asia after him.
The Roman Race Horse
The Circus Maximus: Latin for largest arena . Built during the
second century BC. At one-third of a mile long and 150 yards
wide, the Circus Maximus allegedly held 250,000 people. Julius
Caesar expanded the Circus around 50 BC. The remains
suggest that there may have only been 150,000 seats there;
people came from all over the empire to watch these
races, sometimes over great distances Similar to modern
harness racing, there were usually twelve races with four
THE MIDDLE AGES, 600 A.D.
The fall of the Roman Empire began the Middle Ages
which lasted some seven hundred years. The early
portion of this period is sometimes called the Dark Ages
since the glories of the former Roman Empire virtually
vanished. These were times of religious wars and
The horse became largely a vehicle for battle or the hunt
since the Roman roads, which had previously united
Europe, fell in disrepair. Travel from one area to another
was dangerous due to the hostile relations between
kingdoms. For the most part, chariots fell from use and
the wagon remained a farm vehicle. Despite a decline in
the quality of technological innovation in many spheres
of life, the Middle Ages saw the horse adapted to new
roles in such diverse areas as warfare and agriculture
In the Middle Ages, Horses were
specially bred to meet the requirements
of warfare and chivalry and the needs of
the mounted knight
It is commonly believed that the great
war-horses, were developed during the Middle Ages to
support the great weight of the armored knight. Actually,
the real reason large horses were useful was because
their weight gave greater force to the impact of the
knight's lance, both in warfare and in the tournament.
The war-horse was sometimes shod with sharp nail
heads protruding so that he could trample foot-soldiers in
his path. He was a very potent weapon, and yet his
descendants are the mild mannered and docile work
horses of today who put their strength to less brutal use.
From War to Sport
Many sports have historically prepared the individual both
physically and emotionally for battle. In the Middle Ages, the
quot;tournamentquot; became the most popular form of recreation for
knights all over Europe. The events of the tournament kept the
knight in condition for the role he played in warfare. The
tournament lasted well after the heavily armored knight became
tactically obsolete and remained a sport in which nobility, valor,
and grandeur were a continuing reality.
Renaissance literally means quot;re-birth.quot; Between 1450 and
1650, re-birth represented a renewed interest in the laws of
man's world and the universe.
Leonardo Da Vinci Draws the Horse, 1452-1519: Da Vinci's
art ranks at the very top of the long list of Renaissance masters.
Of particular interest to those studying the history of the horse
are his drawings of the horse's anatomy. Leonardo studied the
horse's skeletal and muscular systems, as
well as its motion, with both insight and
The Spanish Riding School
The mere mention of the Spanish Riding School brings to mind
elegant white horses performing at majestic heights. Today, just
as when the school was founded centuries ago, the art of
training and exhibiting schooled horses is carried on with
rigorous disciplined finesse.
Why is the School Called quot;Spanishquot; but Located in
In 1580, the Archduke Charles organized the royal stud at
Lipissa, and there he bred horses acquired from Spain to
Arabian, Barb and Andalusian mares from Naples. The horses
which resulted from careful breeding were named Lipizzaner
after the stud. These became the horses exclusively used in the
Austrian court, and the horses' Spanish
ancestry gave the school its name.
RETURN TO THE NEW WORLD
The Spanish Return Equus to its Prehistoric Home
The first horses to reach the North American
continent were the mounts of the Spanish
conquistadores. However, it is a myth that the vast
Mustang herds that roamed the West by the 1880s
were strays from the expeditions of Cortez 1519,
Coronado 1540 or DeSoto 1541.
Spanish missions that followed the explorers into
the Rio Grande Valley in the early 1600s brought
The century from 1650 to 1750 was a period during which the
Spanish horses were dispersed over the plains, and among the
Indians a great “horse culture” developed.
These horses came from a
series of Franciscan missions
that were established in the
They provided a Spanish base in the
native herds that were later used to
breed the Quarter Horse, American
Saddle Horse and the Tennessee
The Palouse River country of the
northwestern United States has given its name
to this breed.
The name Appaloosa derived from the slurring
of “ A Palouse.”
Because of their colorful markings the Nez
Perce bred the Appaloosa. The breed
nearly disappeared after the surrender of
Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce to the
United States Army in the Bear Paw
Mountains of Montana in 1877.
The Calvary Horse
Comanche, The Only Survivor
After the Battle of the Little Big Horn, a
horse was found in a thicket with seven
arrows in his body. The horse, named
Comanche, was a gelding ridden by
Captain Keogh, one of Custer's officers.
The horse's wounds were treated and he
was carefully loaded onto a riverboat.
Comanche was sent back to Fort Lincoln
in the Dakota Territory, where he was
given great attention until he recovered.
The Seventh Cavalry's commanding
officer insisted that Comanche be saddled
for all engagements and official occasions,
but he could never be ridden again.
Comanche became a national celebrity.
On his death, his obituary appeared in
newspapers throughout the country.
Comanche was taxidermied after his
death, and is now exhibited at the
Museum of Kansas University.
P ONY EXPRESS, 1860 TO 1862
Rapid Western growth demanded a fast and reliable postal
system. In 1860, the Pony Express was created to carry letters
over a route of 1,966 miles between St. Joseph, Missouri, and
Sacramento, California. The average total trip took 10 days.
The riders carried only saddlebags containing mail and
sidearms to fight off the Indians. A one-half ounce letter cost $5
to send by the Pony Express, and a mailbag would therefore be
worth $3,200 in postal fees.
At relay stations located every
25 miles, the rider picked up a
fresh horse. After only two
years, the Pony Express was
replaced by the telegraph and
the railroad. In spite of its brief
existence, the Pony Express
played a flamboyant and
significant role in the opening of
the American West.
The Horse in America Today
Comprehensive study reveals horse industry
has a nearly $40 billion impact on the US
(6/29/2005) by American Horse Council
The horse industry in the United States
contributes $39 billion in direct economic
impact to the US economy and supports 1.4
million jobs on a full-time basis, according to a
new study released today by the American
Horse Council (AHC). When indirect and
induced spending are included, the industry's
economic impact reaches $102 billion. The
study also estimates the horse population in this
country has reached 9.2 million