Although it is very difficult to pin the history of horses and horse riding on a single civilization, early pieces of evidence suggest that horse riding began in Central Asia 500 years before the Copper Age. In early times, horses were wild untamed animals. But on the day when the first human jumped onto the back of a horse and observed the world from that height, the timeline of horseback riding history was changed forever. Humans and horses have a long, intertwined history, yet no one can truly ascertain when and where horses were first tamed and ridden.
Thanks to the evolution of modern technology, our messages can travel close to the speed of light, i.e nearly 186,000 miles per second. In consideration of how messages were delivered in times past, the carrier of such a message would have to travel on foot, and even if he was a good walker/runner, he could only cover a short distance in a long time. The fastest marathoners (whose event is named for the legend of the messenger who ran from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC to announce a Greek military victory over the Persians) cover 26 miles (or 42 kilometers) in just over two hours. Despite such effort, even the fastest human runner would be totally exhausted.
The domestication of the horse signaled a major innovaƭon in transport and communication. It ushered in a new era where humans could travel farther than they used to and carry much more weight with them. People who could ride on horses also carried messages, increasing collective learning as information changed hands. There was a significant increase in the rate at which humans could travel in relation to that of a horse’s walk, trot, or gallop, at a range of about 6 kilometers per hour to about 89 kilometers per hour (the record gallop speed over short distances).
What made horses so fast? What was the relationship between the speed of horses and humans’ energy boost? What informed the choices of humans to choose the horse as a method of transport?
To answer these quesƭons, we must first look back to how the horse evolved.
History of Horses – Where Did Horses Come From?
The history of the horse dates as far back as 50 million years, to a small animal named Hyracotherium which lived in North America. Fossils of Eohippus, as the first horses were known, showed the mammal to be an herbivore smaller than a dog. Migration of horses back to North America did not take place up until the fifteenth century A.D. But we also do know that the first horses had toes, not hooves, and looked nothing like the horses of today.
They were much smaller and ate leaves. The effect of changes in vegetations from swamplands to dry savannahs caused the horse to evolve from a creature with multiple toes to one with a single toe, which later became a hoof and which is better adapted to roaming dry land. Pliocene epoch created Pliohippus, the first single-toed horse.
The horse, Pliohippus( as it was known) served as a prototype for our own Equus, the modern horse. He possessed a hoof with sprung ligaments and longer legs with flexing ligaments, which gave way to a running action similar to that of the modern horse.
How Did Horse Riding Start?
Horse riding history and its timeline usually dates as far back to central Asia about five centuries or so before the appearance of cavalry in armies of the Middle East around 1000 B.C. However, new pieces of evidence suggested ( based on dental wear caused by a bit in a prehistoric horse ) that riding began much earlier.
Prehistoric people began to tame horses in the Copper Age 6000 years ago. When horses were fully domesticated for the first time, it signaled a major innovation in transportation and communication. Before 4000 B.C. horses were wild and lived through the vast plains of grasslands in Eastern Europe and Asia. Fossils of horses recovered from prehistoric sites in Europe suggests that they might have been used as wild game, as domesticated sources of meat and as mounts. Despite these new discoveries, the horses were too small to actually carry people.
Eventually, they were bred to larger sizes but it took a lot of time. At some point, humans began to see horses as more than just a source of food. It is most likely that humans used horses to pull a plow and later to pull the wheeled vehicles, such as chariots before humans learned to ride them. Although it is fair to say that farmers didn’t usually use horses for plowing in the ancient times because they usually used oxen instead, or simply turned over the soil by hand; horses were too expensive to acquire.
The period from 4000 to 3000 B.C. is considered the true age of the domestication of the horse. It is widely believed that humans started the practice of domestication on the steppes, north of the Black Sea. New discoveries of warriors who mounted horses found in China supports the theory that horses were extensively ridden for the first time around 4000 B.C.
No good harness arrangement for horses was invented until around 200 B.C. when it was initially discovered in China. It is widely believed that the horse was first harnessed in the Near East around 2000 B.C. New discoveries suggested that man’s early interactions with the horse came mostly in the form of tapestries, relief pottery, and other works of art.
According to Xenophon (430–355 B.C.), a Greek historian: “If one induces the horse to assume that carriage which it would adopt of its own accord when displaying its beauty, it would suffice to say that the horse was a joyous and magnificent beast, proud and remarkable for having been ridden.”
Up until the fifteenth C.E., horses were typically revered to do agricultural work. They were rather, hitched up with oxen yokes, but the design cut off the horse’s wind. Metal snaffle bits were perfected to take the place of nose rings, which was used to control the animal. About this time in China, horses were already used to pull chariots.
Early pieces of evidence suggested that the first documented records of horse training, conditioning, and caretaking dates back to around 1350 B.C. They were written by a man named Kikkuli. Kikkuli was a Mittani, an Aryan group with cultural ties to India. Tablets that have been found show Kikkuli’s instructions to the Hittite rulers prescribing care of harness racing horses.
The Hittites, who clearly gained their equestrian knowledge from other peoples, were credited with the development of the Arabian horse and were noted for their highly mobile equestrian troops.
A New Development
In all these developments the horse played a critical role, as it would continue to do in human civilizations for the next 5000 years. But it is now clear that it took a very long time for the custom of riding to spread southward into the Middle East. When horses did appear around 2000 C.E., they were used in a role previously played by donkeys as draft animals attached to battle carts.
The superior size and speed of horses and perhaps new control methods based on the bit contributed to the development of the war chariot in 1800 B.C. Deep into the last phase of the last centuries B.C., horseback riding had not only been successfully mastered but had become somewhat of a common sport. Warriors of the Scythian empire,(which records suggested that they had the first geldings ever known (castrated stallions) and whose wealth was measured in horses, were skilled in the art of battle on horseback.
It was also a commonplace belief among them that their wealth followed them to the afterworld, and so many artifacts were found in their burial grounds. Sometimes hundreds of horses were found buried with them.
Beginning in the 17th century, Native Americans that dwelled on the border of Mexico began to use horses, as did American settlers who lived at that time to the West. In addition, these natives used horses as a means of exchange between other tribes, which allowed the horse to move across the rest of the western part of the Americas.
The horse was long ridden and domesticated and in turn, became a crucial member of civilization in other parts of the world long before it reappeared in North America. Spanish explorers and their expeditions are generally credited with this reappearance. They brought along with them some livestock, including horses, to the New World for their settlements. The explorer, Ponce de Leon is thought to be responsible for bringing Andalusian-bred stock into what is now known as Florida.
Horse Riding Styles
The old practice of riding on horseback has contributed a lot to the current styles of horse riding, namely, the Western and the English riding styles. The most important tenents of both styles are very similar to each other; only the purpose and equipment are different.
It is widely regarded that the Western style of riding originated in the mid-1600s, in northern Mexico and the southwestern United States. Under this practice, the cowboy and cowgirl ride horses for work purposes such as to tend and rope cattle. Thus, the rider wears clothes meant for protection, like long-sleeve shirts, hats, and boots( hence the name). Saddles with deep seats, very different from the ones used in the English style, are used in Western-style riding.
Horse riding changed the art of warfare, message delivery, farming, and even was used to measure wealth as people who had a great number of these beautiful creatures were considered very wealthy. Even in the advent of modern technology now, horse riding is still considered a very beautiful sport, and one accorded great respect, and would always be a source of great amusement for the mind that likes adventure.