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The Story Of... Horses


Domesticated in central Asia around five thousand years ago, the horse was instrumental to the development of Eurasian civilization. Unlike most other large mammals, it was not farmed for its meat, milk or hides. Instead, the horse was harnessed solely for its incredible strength – to pull plows, vehicles, and most significantly, to carry humans themselves.

Ruler
  Horses  
Without horses, the evolution of complex European economies and trading networks would have been unthinkable. Most significantly, the horse transformed the art of war. From the earliest horse-drawn chariots of the Hittite empire, to the bareback cavalrymen of Attila the Hun, the warhorse has become synonymous with Eurasian military success.

Spanish horses were instrumental in the conquest of the New World. Neither the Aztec nor the Inca had ever seen humans riding animals before; the psychological impact of mounted troops was tremendous.

Hernan De Soto, comrade of Pizarro, famously rode his horse right into the Inca Emperor's throne room. Eyewitnesses later recalled:
"The captain advanced so close that the horse's nostrils stirred the fringe on the Inca's forehead. But the Inca remained still, he never moved."

Spanish conquistadors like de Soto were inheritors of some of the finest riding techniques in the whole of Eurasia. The jineta riding style, unique to Spanish cattle-ranchers, emphasized spontaneity, speed, balance in the saddle and maneuverability. Bull-fighting, a pastime which grew out of Spanish ranching, also helped riders and their horses improve their techniques of forceful advance and swift retreat.

The conquistadors who sailed to the New World had grown up on ranches and farms. They had ridden horses since their youth, and brought their finest animals with them. The consequences for the peoples of the New World were catastrophic.

Ruler
  Conquistadors on horseback  
On the morning of November 16, 1532, a surprise charge of just 37 Spanish horses, concealed in the Inca town of Cajamarca, unleashed an orgy of bloodshed. Europeans had known for centuries that foot soldiers stood a good chance against cavalry if they stood firm and repelled the outnumbered mounted troops. But the Inca had no experience of this, nor could they have read about others' experiences, since they were geographically isolated and had no written records from which to learn. Instead, they panicked and tried to flee, allowing the outnumbered conquistadors to run through them with great speed and efficiency.

But the great irony of the conquistadors' victory was that, until about 10,000 years ago, the horse's wild ancestor had flourished throughout the Americas. The plains of North America had in fact been the natural homeland of the Equus species, some of which migrated across a narrow land passage to the plains of central Asia.

Then, between 10,000 and 8,000 years ago, the species vanished from the Americas – it is believed, through a combination of over-hunting and climatic change. The submersion of the Bering Strait meant no subsequent, reverse migration could occur from central Asia, and the horse remained absent from the Americas until its reintroduction by Europeans.



Where to next?

Get more stories about animals including Cattle, Goats, Sheep, Pigs, Llamas, or Zebra.


 
  Variables

CROPS
- Wheat
- Rice
- Corn
- Sorghum

ANIMALS
- Cattle
- Goats
- Sheep
- Pigs
- Llamas
- Horses
- Zebra

GERMS
- Smallpox
- Malaria

TECHNOLOGY
- Steel
- Writing

GEOGRAPHY
- Latitude and Climate
- Shape of the Continents
- Cities and Civilizations


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