Age of Domestication
Humans probably first valued the horse as a source of a food long before they were ridden. The period from 4000 to 3000 B.C. is considered the true age of the domestication of the horse. Domestication is believed to have first taken place on the steppes north of the Black Sea. Evidence of mounted warriors found in China supports the theory that horses were extensively ridden for the first time around 4000 B.C.
The horse was thought to be first harnessed in the Near East around 2000 B.C. Evidence of man's early interactions with the horse comes mostly in the form of tapestries, relief pottery, and other works of art depicting battle scenes and exemplifying the human reverence for the horse's beauty.
According to Xenophon (430–355 B.C.), a Greek soldier and historian who advocated humane horsemanship in the earliest known book on the subject, On Horsemanship: “If one induces the horse to assume that carriage which it would adopt of its own accord when displaying its beauty, then, one directs the horse to appear joyous and magnificent, proud and remarkable for having been ridden.”
Until 1500 B.C., horses were typically too revered to do lowly agricultural work. Initially, they were hitched up with oxen yokes, but the design cut off the horse's wind. A padded collar was designed to better suit the horse. Metal snaffle bits were perfected to take the place of nose rings, which were used to control the animal. In China, horses were used to pull chariots by this time.
The first records of systematic training, conditioning, and caretaking of horses date back to around 1350 b.c. They were written by a man named Kikkuli. Kikkuli was a Mittani, an Aryan group with cultural ties to India. Tablets that have been found show Kikkuli's instructions to the Hittite rulers prescribing care of harness racing horses. The Hittites, although they clearly gained their equestrian knowledge from other peoples, were credited with the development of the Arabian horse and were noted for their highly mobile equestrian troops.
In 1994, Dr. David Anthony and Dorcas Brown founded the Institute for Ancient Equestrian Studies in the Department of Anthropology at Hartwick College in Oneonta, New York. The institute, which is dedicated to archaeological research concerning the origins of horseback riding and the impact of riding on human society, is affiliated with the Institute for the History and Archaeology of the Volga in Samara, Russia. Both institutes can be found online at
By well into the last centuries B.C., horseback riding not only had been mastered but had become common. Scythian warriors, who had the first recorded geldings (castrated stallions) and whose wealth was measured in horses, were skilled in the art of battle on horseback. Since they believed that their wealth followed them to the afterworld, many artifacts were found in their burial grounds. Sometimes hundreds of horses were found buried with them.
In 1879 Marcelino de Sautuola, a Spanish engineer who was also a serious amateur archaeologist, was exploring a cave with his daughter in the mountains of France when his five-year-old daughter noticed on the cave ceiling drawings that included horses. Studies of these drawings in the nowfamous Altamira cave have determined that they are from a period between 30,000 and 10,000 years ago. Such discoveries help us better understand the shared history of horses and humans.
Przewalskii's horse was discovered in the remote regions of Mongolia around 1879 by the Russian explorer Nikolai Mikhailovich Przewalskii. It is believed to be the closest ancestor to the ancient horse in existence. Described as being around twelve hands, with a stocky body and short legs, it is currently believed to be extinct in the wild and to exist only in captivity, although it remains a truly wild horse that has never been thoroughly domesticated.