Grace, beauty, strength, and perceptive abilities are just a few of the admirable qualities that have tied us to horses for thousands of years. Even today, without horses playing much a role in our work lives (unless used for hobbies, sport, and therapy), horses still hold the key to the hearts of millions of hominids the world over.
It’s hard to imagine how long horses have been here in North America, evolving over 40 to 50 million years ago. Surviving well with huge predators such as Sabre-toothed Tigers, horses are fast, have a great sense of balance, and have highly perceptive fight or flight responses. Horses then became a casualty in the Pleistocene extinctions about 11,000 years ago. They disappeared with many large herbivores and predators likely because of a combination of climate change and the introduction of humans to the continent. Before their demise, many left the continent through the Bering Strait, a narrow land bridge, which is now ocean, between what is modern day Alaska and Siberia.
‘Horse Power’ helped clear away the trees from the majority of NA in the 1800s.
In Asia and Europe horses then prospered and proliferated. People gained much from capturing and using horses to their advantage. First domesticated about 4,000 years ago, our ancestors kept horses to drink their milk and feed their families, similar to how we use cattle today. From the wild species, people artificially selected horses through captive breeding to create what we now know is about 300 different breeds of horse. Only one horse species is left in the wild – the Przewalski Horse. It walks the tight rope of extinction, with small numbers only remaining in Mongolia, all coming from 15 descendants caught from the wild in the year 1900.
Horses in Wortley Village (London), Ontario, Canada. East Coves Pond featured. Circa 1885 by Judy Porchuk.
Horses doing what horses do well; flee!
It wasn’t until about 1910 that cars become more numerous than horses in some major cities like New York. Horses then took a back seat in the carriage of industrialization. Never fading too far, horses have remained a mainstay on our rural landscape and continue to be raced, shown, written about, filmed and more recently, are used in therapeutic settings for those recovering from many conditions, including stress and other traumas.