Horsin’ Around 9-7-09
Fort Collins, Colo.
Last time we talked about the evolution of the horse and the many changes that took place to develop into what we now see. About 7 million years ago the first monodactyl equine appeared that scientist call the Pliohippus. This was an animal with an elongated spine causing a forward shift of the center of gravity and restriction of joint movement to one direction (forward or reverse). However, the two smaller side toes were beginning to retreat up the leg. In the modern horse, evidence of these toes is still present as splint bones on either side of the cannon bones.
Pliohippus was about 44 inches high in the withers – the size of a small pony. Pliohippus and it’s cousins were fleet and nomadic. They possessed great stamina and were able to wander far from water to graze.
Roughly 2.5 million years ago the horse appeared in much of its present form. Along with the greater height – about 53-inches at the withers – and more complicated tooth structure, the Equus Caballus were not too much different from its immediate ancestors. This animal migrated via ever changing land and ice bridges between continents due to the dramatic climatic changes.
The fact that Equus met man is evident by early cave paintings. Its thought that many tribes of man followed the horse as a source of food. Eventually man began to use the horse for work purposes which produced the differences in type, from the Shetland to Shire that we see today.
Since the extinction of the Tarpan horse at the end of the 19th Century, there has been only one herd of truly wild, unmodified horse left today – the Equus Przewalskii. I had the chance to see this rare breed while in Germany in 1980. I was not too impressed at the time, however further study has excited me. Now I need to go through my slides to look at them again.
For unknown reasons the horse became extinct in North and South America some 8,000 years ago. Even though devastating diseases and mass migrations played some role, the horse has survived many of these in the past. However the history of man’s attempt to tame and gentle the horse is lost in time. Early documentation of the Chinese, Mongolians or Scythians indicate they were the first to domesticate the horse rather than manage herds for food.
Chinese chariots dating back to 3500 B.C. have been unearthed, never the less it can not be proven if breaking to drive or ride was the first. It was the use of the horse in warfare which led to the first studies of equitation. The first written studies of equitation were by Federico Grisone of Italy in 1550 A.D.
Undoubtedly, the successful use of the horse in war led to the first serious studies of equitation. Population of the New World with horses started with Columbus’ voyage to the West Indies in 1943.
* Note: The information in this article is based on information from the text book “Horses: A Practical and Scientific Approach” written by Melvin Bradley.
Prior to his retirement, Roger Thompson was a CHA certified instructor of advanced Western horsemanship and beginning English riding.
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