Horses made human history
History can be divided into three stages – pre-horse, horse, and post-horse. So suggested the eminent German historian Reinhart Koselleck in 2007. Professor Koselleck was impressed by the crucial role that horses played in many civilisations and he argued that they deserve more attention from historians.
A number of historians have taken up Koselleck’s suggestion and write that agriculture, transport, commerce, communication and worldchanging battles could not have happened without the horse.
The invention of the bit, reins and saddle – about 4000 years ago – and the invention of chariots about 2500 years ago widened the use and versatility of horses.
Genghis Khan’s all-terrain, all-weather, goodmileage little horses enabled him to establish his empire and maintain a postal relay network stretching from China to Europe. Some think the Mongols invented stirrups, enabling their bowmen to shoot more accurately while galloping.
Some historians say the invention of the stirrup was as important as the invention of the wheel or the printing press.
Great cavalry battles have changed the history of China, Asia, Arabia, Europe and even America. Think of the famous battles of Hastings, Crecy, Agincourt, Bannockburn and Waterloo, all of which turned to some extent on the role of cavalry.
The biggest cavalry charge of all time occurred at Vienna in 1683 when 23,000 mounted Christians defeated a vast army of Ottoman riders (many on camels).
In earlier days only royalty, aristocrats and the wealthy owned horses, sometimes in large numbers. In 1789, for example, Louis XVI housed more than 2000 horses in his Versailles stables.
By the end of the 19th century, London had 11,000 horse-drawn cabs and huge numbers of horse-drawn buses and trams. New York had 100,000 horses. In 1894 London’s crowded streets were said to be drowning in horse manure and littered with rotting horse carcasses.
In 1953, as a Wellington milkman with a horse and cart, I saw the twilight years of the equine era.
A year or two later, my horse Captain was led off to the Ngauranga freezing works. Sad.
Today the motor vehicle rules and the horse has been demoted to sport, leisure and parades.
Great cavalry battles have changed the history of China, Asia, Arabia, Europe and even America.