Dogs and humans have always had a symbiotic relationship. Humans and dogs are both omnivores, meaning that it’s not unnatural for humans and dogs to work together since both have an analogous diet and at the dawn of early human, both humans and wild dogs had roughly equivalent social structures. This made both species a natural fit and as such this ‘man’s best friend’ accolade has rung true for the entirety of human history. Horses, however, are different. Horses are equally social animals, but live in herds, quite unlike humans and dogs. As herbivores they scare easily and as flight animals, they sleep in short bursts on and off throughout the day and night, unlike humans who tend to be awake in the day and sleep at night. Despite all these differences humans and horses have lived side-by-side for millennia.
Unfortunately, we are not certain how, where, or even how many times, wild horses were domesticated. We do know that the earliest horses were domesticated as many as 5000 years ago, and finding evidence of the first domesticated horse is nearly impossible. One theory states that horses were domesticated some 5000 to 6000 years ago and all domesticated horses originated from this first domestication event. Although disputed by a great many people who are of the opinion that horses were domesticated the world over and at various points in time, this is the most widely accepted belief to date. The first evidence for domesticated horses (or horse ancestors) comes, unsurprisingly, from Kazakhstan, a country with a long history of mounted culture and where the horse is a prized symbol of the country’s nations’ long history.
What we do know however, is that regardless of when the horse was domesticated it has been an integral part of human history across Eurasia and Africa.
By the time of the ancient civilisations of the Persians, Greeks, and Romans, horse racing had already been long established. And from ancient horse races to those of today, placing bets has been a major part of being a spectator at such events.
However, the origins of equestrian sport were less benign than a day fast-paced fun. These high-speed races—the quickest mankind ever travelled until the invention of the internal combustion engine—were designed and held so that people, mostly men, could hone their riding skills so that in times of war they would not be entirely inexperienced. This martial element of horse riding continued right up until the 20th century when cavalry was still a crucial part of the military apparatus. Thankfully, today we ride horses for sure pleasure of it.
But whenever we get in the saddle we’re embracing a long and ancient tradition of the human experience. While dog may still be man’s best friend, it’s the horse more so than the dog that changed the way humans lived.