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Humans and horses, an intertwined history

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Horses have played an integral part within human history. Present since at least 30,000 BCE where they were first immortalized in cave art, horses have had a strong relationship with humans and have been present throughout every major development that has marked our species. Initially hunted for meat by early humans, they eventually became domesticated, whilst there are conflicting accounts as to who, how, or when the exact shift from food source to asset occurred, historians believe this happened between 3,500 and 2,000 BCE.

Depiction of horses pulling a chariot, art
Depiction of horses pulling a chariot, art.

From then on, horses were used as a form of transport, agricultural work and warfare. Horses quickly spread across the world as civilisations grew and recognized their use for development. As humans took over breeding of selected breeds for different roles within our society, horses became a staple of everyday life and were a respected part of it. From drawing the chariots of powerful figures to ploughing the farmer’s field, horses were truly omnipresent.

belgian horses are still used to work the fields
Belgian horses are still used to work the fields

As humans progressed and developed, so did horses, so close our two species were intermingled. Horses became a sign of power and wealth during Medieval times, a knight’s horse being valued more highly than a serf. They helped push mankind to new frontiers, as the colonization of the Americas by European armies and settlers were made a lot easier thanks to them. From there they powered industry and transport, and became a fine tuned instrument of war during the 18th and 19th century.

Mongolia, horse used in battlefield demonstration
Mongolia, horses used in battlefield demonstration*

As mechanization and rapid industrialization began to make strides during the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century, horses became less and less used, but were still seen as a symbol of power, used more in the fields and as military showpiece more so than anything else. The advent of World War 1 saw the last major use of cavalry in combat, with progress in technology and combat styles proving to overmatch what was once seen as a feared charge. However, we’d have to wait until World War 2 for the last major charges in recorded history, with the 1939 Polish charge against German tank divisions and the 1942 Russian charge against fortified German positions to demonstrate how obsolete they had become.

My pet horse
My pet horse, modern times…

In modern times horses enjoy a much more leisurely life than their ancestors in not so much of a dissimilar way we do. Usually seen at equestrian sporting events such as show jumping and races, or as a pet, horses are able to appreciate thousands of years’ worth of development and modernization that they helped achieve with us.

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