No animal has done more for the advancement of humankind than the horse. That said, it’s hard to imagine ever using the horse as a source of food. But of course, that’s how the man-horse relationship began.
The history books contain many references to the horse as prey some 50,000 years ago, when Cro-Magnon man had to hunt for his food. Seems that no one knows for sure just when or how the horse first became a helper to man. But many have reasoned that when early Cro-Magnon man needed to move his encampments from place to place, he started using the more docile horses as pack animals. So that would mark the beginnings of horse domestication.
Historians also believe that as man progressed from hunter to farmer, he continued using horses for food but also as helpers for herding. This would have brought about the need to jump on the horse’s back and follow along behind the herd. And that would mark the beginnings of the horse as a means of transportation for humans.
Recent archeological excavations in the Ukraine unearthed horses’ teeth and evidence of the first "bridle." These findings have brought the experts to conclude that the beginnings of horseback riding began with the nomadic tribes of what is now Eastern Europe, in about 4000 BC. However, riding wouldn’t really catch on until long after the invention of the wheel and the preferred use of horses as draft animals.
It is believed that the horse’s domestication as a draft animal began sometime between 3000 and 2000 BC. Faster than the oxen and equids that had first been used to pull wheeled vehicles, the horse soon took over and this spawned the ever-improving development of yokes, breast straps, collars, bits and bridles.
Inevitably the horse was to become a major tool of warfare. Around 1350 BC the Hittite king Suppililiuma decided to go to war against the Mitannians, bought large numbers of horses, and engaged the services of a Mitannian horsemaster named Kikkuli. After defecting from the Mitanni, Kikkuli turned the king’s horses into war machines that were ridden into battle until the king’s militia had totally destroyed the Mitanni.
Now the bonding of man and horse had truly begun. Still, horseback riding was not for the elite, much less the general populace. For hundreds of years, horses were bred to be warhorses. But when Xenophon wrote "The Art of Horsemanship" in around 400 BC, the time was approaching when people would ride horses for more than herding, hunting and fighting.
Although America’s wild horses had been tamed by the Indians, it is said that the Spanish explorers brought the first domesticated horses to North America in 1519 AD.
By the early 1700s, Rhode Island had become America’s principal horse breeding state. Horses became the primary means of transportation, soon carrying riders on their backs and pulling people and materials in wheeled vehicles across the vastness of the New World.
By the 1800s the horse was a necessity of urban and rural life. The horse helped us build cities, farm the land, fight wars and settle a continent. No animal has done more for humankind.
Contributed By: Elizabeth Miller