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History of the Horse

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The Hyksos, c. 1600 BC
The Hyksos, c. 1600 BC

Domestic horses belong to the family Equidae. Although horses appeared in Paleolithic cave art as early as 30,000 BC, these were truly wild horses and it is likely they were hunted for their skin and meat. How and when horses became domesticated is disputed but evidence suggests they were domesticated 5,000 - 6,000 years ago - which is a lot more recent than many other farm animals such as cattle and sheep.

Evidence suggests that horses were first domesticated in the Eurasian Steppes of central Russia and eastern Ukraine and there is much debate around whether they were ridden or driven first, but it is more likely the latter.

It is thought there were 4 basic groups of horses that have developed into the many breeds we have today:

1. The "warmblood" or "forest horse" is though to have evolved and contributed to the development of the warmblood horses of northern Europe as well as heavy horses such as the Ardennais.

2. The "draft" was a small, heaviset animal and it is thought to have evolved and contributed to the development of today's draft horses and even the shetland pony.

3. The "oriental" was a tall, slim, refined looking animal arising in western Asia and it is thought to have developed into the modern Arabian horse and the Akhal-Teke.

4. The "tarpan" was a sturdy, dun coloured animal that originated in northern Asia and it is thought to have developed into today's Tarpan, Przewalski's Wild Horse and the Mongolian Horse.

Throughout history and in today's society the horse has had a larger impact on civilization than any other animal. They have been used in war, work, sport, travel, entertainment, leisure and for therapeutic purposes, and there is no doubt that horses will be an important part of human society for many years to come.

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