Horses and the Progress of Man

Horses and Man

Horses have made tremendous contributions to the civilization of man.

In looking at humankind, where we came from, where we are, and where we are going, horses have always been a primary fixture in the progress of man.

Man’s relationship with horses has always been an especially close one from the dawn of history through modern times.

Horses became an indispensable partner to man, on the farm, in their travels, and in war, and as companion animals. The daily activities of people, for thousands of years, included horses. Today, people who live in or near metropolitan cities don’t have horses as companion animals.

Although the affection people feel towards horses is felt among many, they are not part of most people’s daily lifestyle in modern times.

Horses are thought to be one of the last species to be domesticated by people. It is believed that the horse domestication is related to the agricultural lifestyle early man settled into. When man learned how to mount horses, these animals helped us travel faster and further than people could ever travel before.

Horses and History

Horses have been a part of the most historic moments in history.
Horses have been a part of the most historic moments in history. | Source

Dogs Were the First Animals Domesticated by Humans

Dogs were the first animals domesticated by humans. The horse was a little tougher, its speed, power, strength, and wild nature took longer for man to tame. Once domesticated, the horse became an integral part of man’s evolution, progress, and opportunities for change.

The first domesticated horses were about the size of a pony. The range of horses we have now is due in large part to human breeding.

The donkey, which a relative of a horse was domesticated about 3000 years ago in Mesopotamia.

The domestication of horses is very significant to these ancient societies. Their social and economic impact would further the development of communications, food production, travel, trade and war.

Through breeding, we have created hundreds of different breeds of horses to make them fit our needs for speed, for strength, for endurance, for work, for play, for war. In these same ways horses have helped man progress in ways we never could have without these animals and their influence on society.

Horses and Evolution

Horses were not always the size they are now.
Horses were not always the size they are now. | Source

Evolution of Horses

Equines first evolved on the North American continent, but became extinct as human beings started to evolve. The only horses that survived from the original horses lived in Central Asia. When early man arrived in Central Asia, about 100,000 BC, horses were hunted for their meat, their skins to make leather clothes, for tents and for tools.

Approximately 4000 BC, man began to domesticate the horse, and started to use them to transport their supplies. These early horses were too small to carry people, but as horses began to be bred bigger, people began to ride them.

Mankind’s relationship with horses began about 50,000 years ago. During the era of Cro Magnon man, horses were a valuable source of food. As humans became more nomadic, horses helped man travel further with their belongings.


The Invention of the Chariot

In 3500 B.C., the Mesopotamians invented the chariot, a two wheeled cart, which was the original horse drawn vehicle. The original wheels were wooden three pieces forming a wooden circle. Eventually spokes were cut out of the circles and the carriages moved easier and faster, which helped expand territories and empires.

The Indo-Europeans brought horses to Greece about 2100 BC.

Genghis Khan started an early version of the Pony Express as a way to communicate in his large Mongol Empire in the 1200s. The riders rode about 150 miles.

Horses arrived back in North America from the Spanish explorers in the early 1500s. The horse became an important factor in the settling of North America.

As cities began to grow and populate, horses delivered milk, ice, food, and products, which were brought from the outskirts of the city to the city dwellers. Horses were also the source of transportation for people going place to place.

From the 1700s to the 1900s, horse drawn vehicles played a key role in the fast changing transportation system that connected the rural and urban areas of the United States. This helped spur wealth across the United States.


Horses and the Progress of Cities

However, as cities developed, the progress that horses brought, also brought difficulties. The amount of horse drawn traffic on the city streets made it unsafe for pedestrians and carriage rides. The clatter of the horse shoes, and the noise of the wagon wheels disturbed the city dwellers. Congestion was a big problem and horse manure became difficult to remove promptly from the street. Horse abuse and overworking these animals caused the ASPCA to be developed in 1866.

In 1872, a horse influenza, known as The Great Epizootic Epidemic, wiped out nearly 5% of the urban Northeast horse population. Today there is a vaccine for this. But in 1872, America was brought to a standstill as this horse dependent nation could not deliver food, pull their firefighting carts, or travel by their usual means of horse drawn transportation. Wars in the west were fought by foot, when horses were previously used in battle. Men were forced to haul coal by hand to the railroads, nearly all business came to a stop from this historic animal epidemic.

By the end of the 1800s, the congestion of the horses on the city streets brought about the invention of the stop sign, the yield sign, the crosswalk, the stop light, traffic circles, pedestrian islands, the one way street, taxi stands, rules for driving on the road, and making it law to drive on the right side of the road. As the invention of the automobile began to take hold, the horse problems began to disappear. By 1912, there were more cars on the road than horses on the streets of New York.


City Parks are Developed

The wealthy would take casual rides in the newly designed city parks
The wealthy would take casual rides in the newly designed city parks | Source

Horses Help the Development of Urban Parks

During the mid 1800s, industrialization changed the landscape of many areas of the nation. By the late 1800s, a parks were created to serve the recreational needs of the wealthy people who profited from the industrial revolution. The urban and suburban parks were designed for leisurely carriage rides, which helped promote the growth of the suburbs. Central Park in New York City, became the prototype for carriage rides. Carriage rides became a status symbol for the wealthy upper class. People were judged by their mode of transportation. At a glance people could rank people by the their horse and carriage.

By the 1870s horse drawn carriages started to be made in mass production, making it more affordable and widely available to more of the population. As prices for carriages became lower, and as roads improved, more people became mobile. By the late 1800s, the buggy was the most popular vehicle in the U.S. By the beginning of the 1900s, buggies were in mass production and were sold for about $20. The average non farm employee earned about $483 a year in 1900.


Horse Drawn Carts

Horse drawn carts helped people travel faster and further.
Horse drawn carts helped people travel faster and further. | Source

Horse Drawn Carriages

By 1900, there were 21 million horses in the U.S. and only about 4,000 cars. By 1915, automobiles overtook the carriage industry. Although in 1935, there were still about 3,000 buggies being manufactured in the U.S. each year for rural areas. Today, the Amish still make their own carriages for their communities.

Deliveries for milk, ice, wood, coal and other necessities were delivered by horse drawn wagons. Some places continued dairy deliveries into the 1920s by horse drawn vehicles.

The carriage era lasted from the late 1600s until the early 1900s, about 300 years. It was mainly the wealthy who could afford to own and maintain their horse drawn vehicles. The United States was such a young country, horse drawn vehicles were only in existence for about 60 years, from 1850 to 1910. The primitive roads made carriages with wheels difficult to drive on. As roads became smoother, automobiles were being invented.


Horses and Transportation

Specialized horse drawn vehicles became a key factor in the changing and growing transportation system that connected urban areas to rural America from the end of the 1700s into the 1900s.

It was often difficult to maneuver horse drawn carriages on the undeveloped roads of America. An initiative began to pave the roads, and turnpikes were developed to speed travel from place to place.

As the industrial revolution helped the expansion of cities and produced more wealth, city parks came about as leisurely places for the upper class to ride in horse drawn carriages. Central Park in Manhattan became the prototype for urban parks around the country.

The popularity of horse drawn vehicles began to decline in the late 1800s, as people transitioned to motorized streetcars and automobiles. It was a gradual change that occurred from the late 1890s into the 1920s, when carriages and cars shared the same city streets.


Horse Drawn Carriages and the Cities

The Omnibus carried many people at once and is the early version of today's buses.
The Omnibus carried many people at once and is the early version of today's buses. | Source

Pony Express and Telegraph Lines

The Pony Express was not needed once telegraph lines were installed.
The Pony Express was not needed once telegraph lines were installed. | Source

Pony Express to Horses of Today

The legendary Pony Express (which used horses, not ponies), helped speed the communication between the east and west coast as the threat of the Civil War became imminent.

Today, horses are used mainly for recreation, horse racing, horseback riding and in Equine Therapy to help debilitated people. In studies such as The Washington University Research Team, in 2008, the rhythmic movement of horses offered therapeutic benefits to children with disabilities. Horses are also used in talk therapy as a counseling tool, and in rehabilitative therapy for physical ailments.


Since the horse was domesticated thousands and thousands of years ago, man has created over 200 different breeds. We have bred horses to suit our needs from the farmland, to the battlefield to the racetrack. Horses have been a part of history and helped shaped mankind’s imprint on the planet. Horses are truly man’s companion, man’s inspiration, and man’s progress.


Horses and the Progress of Man

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4 comments

Richard-Bivins profile image

Richard-Bivins 22 months ago from Charleston, SC

Nice lesson here. I do believe that the domestication of horses began as a means to easily harvest their meat. I know it sounds terrible but to my knowledge, the US and the UK are the only countries that have laws against eating horse meat. Ironically, the US is the largest exporter of horses to be slaughtered for their meat.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 22 months ago Author

Hi Richard,

Thanks for sharing your knowledge. I didn't know the US is the largest exporter. Personally, I would rather not think about them as food, which is why I only touched on the topic ever so briefly. I do appreciate you stopping by and commenting.


CatherineGiordano profile image

CatherineGiordano 22 months ago from Orlando Florida

I did not know that horses nearly went extinct so many times. In addition to being magnificent animals, horses were most likely crucial to the development of civilization as you point out. Voted up.


toknowinfo profile image

toknowinfo 22 months ago Author

Hi Catherine, It is very interesting to realize how integral horses have been to humankind. The more I learn about horses, the more interesting they are. I started writing a few hubs about horses and their senses and one topic leads to writing about another. Thanks for the votes up and for sharing your thoughts.

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