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Welcome to the Equestrian Outreach Horse History Page

Cave Drawing Image PlaceholderHumans and Horse in History (Click Here to See A Timeline)

Human Horse - Overview
Humans and horses share a long and special history. It's been suggested that man has relied on horses for transportation since 4000-3500 BCE; that is over 6,000 years! Only recently; have we stopped relying on them as our main mode of transportation.


Equidae (Taxonomic name for family of horses and related animals) – Horses Evolve: The earliest ancestors of the modern horse were tiny compared only 0.4 meters or 15 inches. They walked on 3 spread-out toes, an accommodation to life spent walking on the soft, moist grounds of primeval forests. As grass species began to appear and flourish, the Equids' diets shifted from foliage to grasses, requiring larger more durable teeth. During this period a dryer climate caused a decline of forests and replaced with plains or steppes. Without the dense cover of the forests; early Equids needed greater speeds in order to outrun predators. This was attained through the lengthening of limbs which gave them speed and the lifting of some toes from the ground in such a way that the weight of the body was gradually placed on one of the longest toes, the third; this gave them traction.
EohippisEohippus  / Hyracotherium (Dawn Horse): Around 50 million years Ago (Ma) in the Early Eocene, the first in the line of proto–horses emerges in the form of very un-horse like creature about the size of a fox (0.4m / 15”) Because of confusion and similarity in physiology with an unrelated specie  Eohippus was improperly named Hyracotherium ("hyrax-like beast") and is now more commonly known as Eohippus which means “Dawn Horse”. In the Late Eocene (35 Ma) Mesohippus replaces Eohippus  / Hyracotherium.
MesohippisMesohippus (Middle Horse): In the late Eocene and the early stages of the Oligocene epoch (32 to 24 Ma), the climate of North America became drier replacing the forests with flatlands. This allowed the earliest grasses to both predominate and evolve into heartier and more diverse types of grasses and various kinds of brush. In some areas these plains were covered in sand, creating the type of environment resembling the present-day prairies. In response to the changing environment, the then-living species of Equidae also began to adapt. In the late Eocene Epoch, they began developing tougher teeth and becoming slightly larger (0.6m / 1' 10") and leggier, allowing for faster running speeds in open areas, thus for evading predators in non-wooded areas.
merychippusMerychippus (Proto-Horse): Merychippus (Ruminant Horse) appeared in the middle of the Miocene Epoch (15 Ma). It had three toes on each foot and is the first horse known to have grazed. Its name means "ruminant horse", but it is not now thought that Merychippus ruminated. Merychippus lived in herds. It was about 1 m (10 h) tall; making it the tallest proto-horse to then have existed. The muzzle was longer, the jaw deeper, and the eyes wider apart than any other horse-like animal to date. The brain was also much larger, making it smarter and more agile. Merychippus was the first equine to have the distinctive head of today's horses.The foot was fully supported by ligaments, and the middle toe developed into a true hoof, one without a pad on the bottom.
pliohippusPliohippus (Final Link?): Pliohippus is an extinct genus of Equidae (the scientific name for the Equine family). Pliohippus arose in the late Miocene Epoch (8 to 12 Ma), it stood almost as tall as Equus (about 1.25 m / 4’ 2”) and it was similar in appearance to Equus, but still had two long extra toes on both sides of each hoof. Although Pliohippus still had vestigial toes; externally they were barely visible as callused stubs. The long and slim limbs of Pliohippus reveal a well adapted and sure footed plains / steppe animal. Although this genus shares most of the final adaptations of the modern horse, it is felt that this animal did not have direct lineage.
EquusModern Horse - Equus Emerges: From cave paintings it is believed that the Equid from which modern horses are derived resemble the modern Przewalski Horse. The large strong heads and erect manes depicted in these paintings bear a striking resemblance to this modern breed. Tarpans are also believed to be phenol typically close to the wild horse at the time of its original domestication. There are a number of hypotheses on many of the key issues regarding the domestication of the horse. Although horses appeared in Paleolithic cave art as early as 30,000 BP (Before Present Era – about 32,000 years ago), these were truly wild horses and were probably hunted for meat.
How and when horses became domesticated.
The date of the domestication of the horse depends to some degree upon the definition of "domestication." Some zoologists define "domestication" as human control over breeding, which can be detected in ancient skeletal samples by changes in the size and variability of ancient horse populations. Other researchers look at broader evidence, including skeletal and dental evidence of working activity; weapons, art, and spiritual artifacts; and lifestyle patterns of human cultures. There is also evidence that horses were kept as meat animals prior to being trained as working animals.

Attempts to date domestication by genetic study or analysis of physical remains rests on the assumption that there was a separation of the genotype or phenotype of domesticated and the wild populations. Such a separation appears to have taken place, but dates based on such methods can only produce an estimate of the latest possible date for domestication without excluding the possibility of an unknown period of earlier gene-flow between wild and domestic populations (which will occur naturally as long as the domesticated population is kept within the habitat of the wild population). Further, all modern horse populations retain the ability to revert to a feral state, and all feral horses are of domestic types; that is, they descend from ancestors that escaped from captivity.

Early Domestication
Whether one adopts the narrower zoological definition of domestication or the broader cultural definition that rests on an array of zoological and archaeological evidence affects the time frame chosen for domestication of the horse. The first attempts at the domestication of modern wild horses were probably in the steppes of central Asia between 3000 and 4000 BP (about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago). These first animals were kept for meat and milk. As early man became more mobile undoubtedly horses began to be used as pack animals. The date of 4000 BC is based on evidence that includes the appearance of dental pathologies associated with biting, changes in butchering practices, changes in human economies and settlement patterns, the depiction of horses as symbols of power in artifacts, and the appearance of horse bones in human graves. On the other hand, measurable changes in size and increases in variability associated with domestication occurred later, about 2500-2000 BP 4,000 to 4,500 years ago), as seen in horse remains found at the site of Csepel -Haros in Hungary, a settlement of the Bell Beaker culture.

Regardless of the specific date of domestication, use of horses spread rapidly across Eurasia for transportation, agricultural work and warfare. Possibly as early as 3500-3000 BP 5,000 to 5,500 years ago), and certainly during the period 2500-2000 BP (4,000 to 4,500 years ago), human reliance on domesticated horses spread across Eurasia for transportation and warfare. Horses and mules in agriculture used a breastplate type harness or a yoke more suitable for oxen, which was not as efficient at utilizing the full strength of the animals as the later-invented padded horse collar that arose several millennia later in Western Europe.

Early Equine Utilization: Oxen were being used in the Middle East approximately between 3000 and 4000 BP (about 5,000 to 6,000 years ago) for plowing. Initially animals were used on sleds. The sleds were eventually mounted on rollers, with the final evolution of wheels. Halfway through the 3rd millennium BP there is archeological evidence that wheeled vehicles drawn by Equud (horses), generally Onagers or ass hybrids, were being used in warfare. As horses from the north became more numerous the carts evolved into the familiar two-wheeled chariot with spoked wheels. Due to his greater speed the horse rapidly replaced other Equid as harness animals. The clearest evidence of early use of the horse as a means of transport is from chariot burials dated 2000 BP (about 4,000 years ago). However, an increasing amount of evidence supports the hypothesis that horses were domesticated in the Eurasian Steppes (Dereivka located in the Ukraine) approximately 3500-4000 BP
Horses in the Bronze Age: By the Bronze Age (2500 BP to 1200 BP aprox.) Horses were widely distributed on the Eurasian Continent and were being used domestically in farming and driving carts. There is a great deal of evidence that horses were being ridden on a regular basis.
Horses in a Warfare – Historic Arms Race
Arguably human technology developed in no small part as a result of warfare. The first use of horses in warfare occurred over 5000 years ago. The earliest evidence of horses being used in warfare dates from Eurasia between 4000 and 3000 BP. A Sumerian illustration of warfare from 2500 BP (4,500 years ago) depicts some type of equine pulling wagons.
Horse Driven Chariots – A Quantum Technological Leap:
By 1600 BP (3,600 years ago), improved harness and chariot designs created an early Bronze Age Strategic Arms Race. Advantages created in technological improvements made chariot warfare common throughout the Ancient Near East, and the earliest written training manual for war horses was a guide for training chariot horses written about 1350 BP (3,350 years ago).
Chariots Replaced by Cavalry: However during this period riding horses became the leading edge of Bronze Age military technology. As formal cavalry tactics replaced the chariot, so did new training methods, and by 360 BP (2,370 years ago), the Greek cavalry officer Xenophon had written an extensive treatise on horsemanship. The effectiveness of horses in battle was also revolutionized by improvements in technology, including the invention of the saddle, the stirrup, and later, the horse collar.
Horses in Nomadic Warfare: Horses were well suited to the warfare tactics of the nomadic cultures from the steppes of Central Asia. Several East Asian cultures made extensive use of cavalry and chariots. Muslim warriors relied upon light cavalry in their campaigns throughout North Africa, Asia, and Europe beginning in the 7th and 8th centuries.
Horses in Middle Ages Warfare: Europeans used several types of war horses in the Middle Ages, and the best-known heavy cavalry warrior of the period was the armored knight. In the middle and late middle ages these knights rode war horses shroded in armor fefered to as barding.

In England's King; Henry the VIII had all horses which were less than 15 hands in height destroyed. The reason: he felt they ate too much in proportion to the amount of work they performed. He may have also been interested in improving the shortage of large war horses. This is probably how the Shire horse got its start.
Middle Age Horse Types: Record keeping in the 13th century was not very good and few pedigrees were recorded and horses were classified by physical type or use. Thus, many terms for Horses in the Middle Ages did not describe breeds as we know them today, but rather described appearance or purpose.
European Middle Age Horse Types Included:
Charger Horse: (Middle Ages) Medieval war horses were classified in three types: Destriers, Coursers and Rounceys. These three types of horses were often referred to generically as chargers. (Images courtecy of Wickipedia)
Courser Horse: (Middle Ages) A courser is a swift and strong horse, frequently used during the Middle Ages as a warhorse. It was ridden by knights and men-at-arms.
Destrier Horse or "Great Horse": (Middle Ages) The Destrier is the best-known war horse of the medieval era. It carried knights in battles, tournaments, and jousts. It was described by contemporary sources as the Great Horse, due to its size and reputation. The term destrier is derived from the Vulgar Latin dextarius, meaning "right-sided" (the same root as our modern dexterous and dexterity). This may refer to the fact that it was led by the squire at the knight's right side (or led by the right hand) or to the horse's pacing (leading with the right). While highly prized by knights and men-at-arms, the destrier was actually not very common. Most knights and mounted men-at-arms rode other war horses, such as coursers and rounceys. These three types of horses were often referred to generically as chargers.
Irish Hobby Horse (See Asturian Below): The Irish Hobby is an extinct breed of horse native to the British Isles that developed prior to the 13th Century and is now linked with the Asturian Horse (Below). The breed provided foundation bloodlines for several modern horse breeds, including breeds as diverse as the Connemara pony and the Irish Draught. Mares of Irish Hobby breeding may have been among the native horse breeds of the British Isles that provided foundation stock for the Thoroughbred. There is ample evidence that the Irish Hobby was imported into and used in England and Scotland for various activities, including racing. This quick and agile horse was also popular for skirmishing, and was often ridden by light cavalry known as Hobelars. Hobbies were used successfully by both sides during the Wars of Scottish Independence, with Edward I of England trying to gain advantage by preventing Irish exports of the horses to Scotland. Robert Bruce employed the Irish Hobby for his guerilla warfare and mounted raids, covering 60 to 70 miles a day.

Asturian Horse: Also known as the Asturcon, this breed originated in Northern Spain. It is used for riding and packing and stands 11.2 to 12.2 hh (Hands High - one hand equals 4inches / 10.16 cm) Centuries ago the existence of a small horse breed originating in the northwest of Spain was recorded. The Romans referred to these horses as asturcons and thought well of them - and they were popular with the French during the Middle Ages. Pliny (23-79 A.D.) described them as a small breed that did not trot, but moved in an easy gait by alternately moving both legs on one side.
The ambling gait was natural for this small horse, and done in such a way that it gave a comfortable ride. As a result, they become popular as ladies' mounts. Known as palfreys in England, they were called haubini in France, a word that later became hobbye and eventually hobby horse. Much of this blood was taken to Ireland, where the "Irish Hobby" was greatly admired.
It is thought by some that the Astrurian developed as a cross between the Garrano pony of northern Portugal and Spain - a direct descendant of the Celtic pony - and the Sorraia, the original saddle horse of Iberia, which gave the breed its calm temperament. Some other blood must have been present in the Astrurian's lineage, however, because the ambling gait is not present in either the Sorraia or Garrano. Suspected by the author is a strong and more direct link to the ancient Celtic pony, of which some strains at least must have been amblers. There is a narrow but clear trail of ambling horses to be found in Turkey, China, Mongolia, and Siberia, tracing the route of the prehistoric horse to the now submerged land-bridge at the Bering Straits.
Living in a feral state for the most part, under difficult conditions, the breed was facing extinction. The predominant colors for the Asturian is black or bay with no white markings.
The Asturian has a small although sometimes rather heavy head, with a straight profile, small ears, and large eyes; the neck is long and quite thin with a flowing mane; the withers are moderately high; the back straight and strong; the croup is sloping with a low tail-set; the shoulder is well sloped. The feet of this pony are well shaped and very tough.

Asturian information provided courtesy of University of Oklohoma
Asturian Photos provided courtesy of ACPRA (Asociacion de criadores de poneys de raza Asturcon) Pol. Asipo C/B Parcela 51-4., 33428.


Jennet (sometimes called Spanish Jennet Horse): A Jennet or Spanish Jennet was a small Spanish horse. It was noted for a smooth naturally ambling gait, compact and well-muscled build, and a good disposition. The jennet was an ideal light riding horse, and as such spread across Europe and provided some of the foundation bloodstock for several horse breeds in the Americas.
Palfrey Horse: A Palfrey is a type of horse highly valued as a riding horse in the Middle Ages. It is not a breed. The word "palfrey" is cognate with the German word for horse (of any type), "Pferd". Both descend from Latin "paraveredus", meaning a post horse or courier horse. The German term for a palfrey, meanwhile, is Zelter, which literally means "ambler" and is cognate with the Icelandic tölt.
Rouncey Horse: (Middle Ages) The term rouncey (also spelt rouncy or rounsey) was used during the Middle Ages to refer to an ordinary, all-purpose horse. They were used for riding, but could also be trained for war. It was not unknown for them to be used as pack horses.
Eurasian Middle Age Horse Types Included:
Basuto Pony (Also spelled Basotho Pony): The Basuto is a pony breed from Lesotho and South Africa. Imported by 17th century Dutch settlers and improved with Arab horse blood. The Basuto is considered a small horse, since it possesses horse-like characteristics, such as an exceptionally long stride. Basutos have a rather heavy head, a long neck and long, straight back, a straight shoulder, and a muscular, sloping croup. They have very tough legs and sound, very hard hooves. They can be up to 14.2 hands high (56.8 inches or ~142cm), but rarely taller. Basutos can be chestnut, brown, bay, gray or black, and have white markings. They are usually surefooted, fast, and fearless.
Batak Pony: The Batak Pony is a pony breed from Indonesia. Originating in Central Sumatra, it is thought to have descended from Mongolian Horse and Arabian blood, and has continually been infused with additional Arabian blood to improve its quality. The Batak is selectively bred by the Indonesians, and is often used to upgrade the quality the horses and ponies on nearby islands.
Bhutia Pony: Or Indian Country bred which is the common name for the inter-bred mixture of Bhutia Ponies, Spiti Ponies and Tibetan Ponies. These animals have been interbred for years so that many of the individual characteristics of the Bhutia and Spiti have been lost, and they now are categorized as "Indian Country Bred". They originated in the Himalayan region of India, and are now found in the Buhtan, Sikkim and Darjeeling regions of India. Suited to mountainous climate and terrain, they are not as able to endure humidity and heat. Lack of nutritious grasses generally affects the growth and development of the ponies, although they have become incredibly tough and self-sufficient, requiring little fodder. The conformation of these ponies is usually not superior. They have a large head and pronounced jaw, short neck, low withers, sloping quarters, and deep chest. The shoulder is a bit straight and upright, the legs, although short, are very strong.
Bhutia-type ponies range in height from 12-13.2 hh, and are usually gray in color, although a few are chestnut or roan. Spiti-type ponies usually never get taller than 12 hh, and they are usually gray or dun in color, although they may be any solid color. The ponies are kept mainly for work, mainly as pack ponies and sometimes for riding, to which their stamina and endurance serves them well. They generally have a willing and quiet temperament.
Boer Pony: The Boer Pony is a calm, tough pony originating from South Africa. This pony stands between 13.3 and 15.3 hands high, and can be black, brown, bay, chestnut, grey, roan, dun or palomino. It is often capable of five gaits: walk, trot, canter, slow gait and rack. The Boer Pony has similar origins to the Basuto pony, both having developed from the Cape Horse in the 19th century. During that time, however, the Boer Pony was also influenced by imported stock, such as Flemish, Hackney and Cleveland Bay horses. The Boer Pony did not have to survive such rough conditions as the Basuto pony did, and has consequently become a larger, better-developed animal. In the Boer wars, its great mobility and toughness helped the Boers move around and hold out against the British Empire for three years.
Bosnian Pony: The Bosnian Pony is a member of the group of horses known as the Balkan breeds, and is thought to be descended from a cross between the Tarpan and the Asian Wild Horse. The Bosnian Pony bears many similarities to both the Hucul and the Konik breeds of pony, and the triad is generally known collectively as the Balkan breeds. The breeds are all considered ancient, and the Bosnian Pony is thought to have developed through a cross between the Tarpan and the Asian Wild Horse, also known as the Przewalski horse. It is thought that there were infusions of oriental stock by the Turks during the Ottoman Empire, after which more Tarpan blood was added to make the modern Bosnian Pony breed.
Horses in Early Modern Warfare: With the decline of the knight and rise of gunpowder in warfare, light cavalry again rose to prominence, used in both European warfare and in the conquest of the Americas. In the Americas, the use of horses and development of mounted warfare tactics were learned by several tribes of indigenous people and in turn, highly mobile horse regiments were critical in the American Civil War. Horse cavalry began to be phased out after World War I in favor of tank warfare, though a few horse cavalry units were still used into World War II. By the end of World War II, horses were seldom seen in battle, but were still used extensively for the transport of troops and supplies. Today, formal horse cavalry units have almost disappeared, although horses are still seen in use by organized armed fighters in Third World countries. Many nations still maintain small units of mounted riders for patrol and reconnaissance, and military horse units are also used for ceremonial and educational purposes. Horses are also used for historical reenactment of battles, law enforcement, and in equestrian competitions derived from the riding and training skills once used by the military.