Horses made hu­man his­tory

The Southland Times - - News - Bob Brockie Re­tired bi­ol­o­gist

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.

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