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The History of Horses

Horses as a species originated over a million years ago in North America. There is evidence that they evolved from a small woodland animal and became a plains animal as they evolved into larger animals. Is it any wonder that horses like to eat woody shrubs and bark of trees as well as grass.

Between 11,000 and 70,000 years ago there appeared land bridges connecting the Americas to Asia across the Bering Strait. Horses roamed across the land bridge to Asia and then spread on to Europe and Africa. Ancient people probably followed the herd animals across the land bridge into the Americas where there had been no people.

Ancient people used horses as food. In Europe there is evidence they would drive the herds to a bluff and force them off the cliff to their death.

Horses became extinct in the Americas about 10,000 years ago at the end of the ice age about the same time that humans populated the Americas.

People started using horses for other than food about 4000 BC in Asia. I would imagine that they probably killed and ate the wild mare then raised the foal as a pet. They probably nursed a sick foal to health and by the time it was well it was tame. (Like I did when I was a kid.) The shape of a horse's back is just begging for a human to straddle it. So riding a horse had to be the first use of the horse for something besides food. They say horses were too small to ride at that time but a kid could ride a small one.

People are so quick to latch on to new ideas that it would not take long for the idea of horseback riding to spread. Then about 2000 BC there is evidence that horses were used to pull chariots. The earliest known written treatise on handling chariot horses is dated about 1350 BC by a Hittite warrior. The Greek Xenophon wrote about horse training about 400 BC.

So horses have been important to people for thousands of years. Horses have been used for transportation, to pull plows, haul timber, lift loads, herd cattle, and in warfare. Their hair has been used to make ropes, thread, and nets. Their hide has many uses. And mare's milk has been used as food. Horses have helped to advance civilization by opening up trade with distant lands and aiding in the spread of ideas.

Thousands of years of many different armies on horseback led to the distribution of many different breeds of horses all over the European, North African and Asian area. About 1200 AD Genghis Khan conquered the largest ever contiguous area in Asia, the Mid east and Russia by leading an army of horsemen. When his horse was spooked Genghis Khan fell off and died. Well isn't that the way it goes with horses. The Muslims conquered areas in Europe and Africa on horseback.

In 1494 Columbus began importing horses into the Americas. And all the conquering nations that came to the Americas brought horses on their ships. Many horses that had been imported from Spain and other nations ran wild and become large herds. In North America the Plains Indians acquired horses from the wild herds, in trade with the colonizing nations and as spoils of war. The Plains Indians horse culture flourished from 1640 to 1880.

Horses have been important to many people. Queen Elizabeth I spent most of her time riding horses. In the 1800's horses were the power behind newly invented machines. Horsepower is still a measure of the power of machines that don't use horses. But in 1908 Henry Ford's Model T replaced the horse for transportation.

So horses are no longer a necessity. From 1828 to 1850 40,000 horses were killed by sheep ranchers and cattlemen in California. In WWI over a million horses died in war worldwide. That was the last time horses were used extensively in war.

Now the closest most people get to horses is at the movies.

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