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December 13th marked National Day of the Horse here in the US and to mark the date, HWF is celebrating horses throughout history!

Horses in Hungary. Photo Credit: Alex Havasi

A Smaller Start

The distant relatives of the horses we know were much smaller than our contemporary equines. The history of horses dates back some 55 million years to a time when a small, multi-toed creature known as Hyracotherium (or more commonly Eohippus) walked the earth. Fossils found in North America and Europe have shown that Eohippus stood only 1 to 2 feet off of the ground and was similar in size to a baby goat. Today, we call any horse that is less than 4 feet 10 inches tall a pony. Standing at less than half of pony size, Eohippus was diminutive by comparison to the modern horse.

Courtesy of the American Museum of Natural History, New York.

How Domestication Changed the Way We Communicate Fast forward to 4000 BCE, and after millions of years of evolution, Equus caballus, the species to which modern horses belong, became domesticated by humans. Though still seen by many as a food source, by 3000 BCE domestication of the horse became widespread and fewer people were relying on the animal for meat. Over time, different breeds— like the Clydesdale, the Shire, the Suffolk, and the Belgian horse— were developed to serve as workhorses (also known as draft horses). These 1,600-pound equine are much larger than the average horse and have historically been used to pull heavy equipment, plow fields, and haul goods.

A Clydesdale horse owned and maintained by Anheuser-Busch at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, VA. Wikimedia.

At a Gallop— News from Across the Nation Today, messages can travel from one person to the next almost as fast as the speed of light. But for early humans, communication was only as fast as their feet.  The domestication of the horse signaled a major innovation in transportation and communication. Suddenly, humans who relied on walking as transport could travel long distances on horseback, bringing with them messages, goods, and knowledge from afar. The comfort of travel on horseback gave humans the opportunity to explore the expanse beyond the geographic locations of their birth and as a result, materials and culture could diffuse at a rate never seen before. During the mid-19th century, the Expansion of Western settlements prompted the need for a faster, more reliable mail delivery system. Cue the Pony Express, a 2,000-mile route from Missouri to Sacramento that covered 190 stations over a 10-day trip. Up until the completion of the transcontinental telegraph system, the pony express was thought to be the fastest way to deliver a message from one side of the US to the other.

The technological and mechanical progress of the 20th century proved to be another turning point for humans and horses. Planes, trains, and automobiles further advanced transit allowing humans to travel farther than ever before. With the invention of Henry Ford’s Model-T car, horse travel became quickly obsolete. Nowadays, there is no need for humans to rely on horses solely for transportation but there still exists a strong bond between these loyal creatures and their humans.

An Unbreakable Bond

During the recent Woolsey Fire, which burned horse ranches across Malibu and Los Angeles County, dozens of volunteers drove through blazing mountains to rescue trapped horses from the fiery inferno. Malibu resident, Rebecca Hacket, risked her life to save the animals that were confined in the blaze. This heroic rescue illuminates the love and unbreakable bond between a human and her beloved horses.

The Havasi Wilderness Foundation works to create an understanding of the need for environmental education and awareness among world citizens. It is our job to help preserve and protect our planet and all those who live here. If you would like to help support our work, please make a donation to us today.

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