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History and Domestication of the Horse

By: April Metroulas

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Dogs and horses are man's two best friends. But while the dog was the first animal domesticated by early humans, the horse was the last. This was because the horse's virtues – speed, power and stamina – made him a tough animal to get close to.

However, once domesticated, the horse has had a decisive influence on the history of humankind.

Early humans and horses first met some 50,000 years ago, but at the time they were used as a source of food. Archeological evidence shows that Cro-Magnons learned to herd the horses into a natural cul-de-sac to make them easier to hunt.
By 9000 BC, the practice of animal husbandry had begun in parts of present-day Iraq. Cattle were kept as livestock because they were more tractable and easier to handle, providing labor, skins and food.

Horses do not appear to have been domesticated until 5,000 or 6,000 years ago. This was a process that began at different stages all over the world. However, no one knows exactly when the first person decided that riding a horse was better than walking. According to the informative Encyclopedia of the Horse (by Elwyn Hartley Edwards: DK Publishing: 1994), horse riding may have begun by chance when someone climbed on top of an older, calm mare.

However it began, the advantages of riding soon became obvious. Relatively long distances became more manageable, herding livestock and warding off predators became more efficient, etc. It didn't take long for these early riders to begin to develop the principles of horsemanship.

It also didn't take long before horses were pressed for service in war. China saw the first domestication of the horse around 2300 BC during the period of the Lungshan. War chariots drawn by horses were introduced to China in the midst of the Shang Dynasty, around 1450 BC.
In the Near East, roughly around 1500 BC, all metal bits were first utilized. Light chariots were being increasingly employed for warfare purposes, which called for stronger more durable control system for the assembly of horses.

Roughly around 1340 BC, a man named Kikkuli began a horse-training establishment. Kikkuli was the horse manager for the Hittite king Suppililuma. As a result of his methods, the Hittites developed into an impressive authority, in turn strengthening the bond between man and his horse.

Xenophon, a Greek who lived from 430 BC to 335 BC wrote the earliest recorded guidebook on the riding horse. "The Art Of Horsemanship" began a long and magnificent relationship between man and horse.

The Roman army was primarily a cavalry-operated power. Used in conjunction with foot soldiers, cavalry tactics would persist for thousands of years, until the mechanization of war made the horse all but obsolete.

The Middle Ages began with the collapse of the Roman Empire and lasted over 700 years. The horse became the primary vehicle for warfare and hunting, as this was a time of religious wars and barbarian assault. Travel at this time was dangerous as roads were in disrepair and relations between kingdoms were strained. During this time, horses were bred to meet the necessities of the Mounted Knight. The great war-horses, called destriers, were developed during this time. Over the next several hundred years, horses were bred and used for these purposes.

In the early 1700s, Rhode Island served as America's primary horse breeding region. Before roads were built to join the towns in America, horses served as the primary mode of transportation. Horses were an important part of the migration west, pulling man and his supplies across the large expanse of land. In the 1800s, the horse was the vital ingredient in urban life. He pulled cabs and carriages allowing man to travel quickly around town.

Today, horses are used for many purposes. Mostly used for pleasure, there are still some areas of the world that employ horses for work. The horse has seen man through many changes along the way, and has remained a loyal worker and companion.

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