Of all the animals that humans have domesticated over the millennia, there are two with which humans form the closest bonds; dogs and horses. Dogs are perhaps not a surprising alliance. Like us, they form tightly bonded family units and are apex predators.
Horses, however, are herding prey animals. In fact, for the first several thousand years of coexistence with humans, horses were prey only. Then something truly surprising happened— somehow, a wild horse was tamed and it was discovered that it would allow itself to be ridden. It was as startling and unlikely an association as if a lion and a gazelle had discovered that there could be far more to their relationship than “eat and be eaten.”
Once that very first, likely very short ride was taken, the fates of Homo Sapiens and Equus Caballus were entwined together forever. That first human-equine friendship, and every bond between horseman and steed since, has been a true meeting of vastly different minds and a triumph of compromise, affection, and understanding.
It is a common saying that “history was written on the back of a horse” and it is very true. It is conjectured that, without the ability to cover great distances on horseback, humanity would have remained clustered about waterways and shorelines. Civilization and human society would have developed in ways unimaginable to us.
As much as the horse has given us as a beast of burden, it has given far more as a companion. In domesticating the horse to be a willing partner with humanity, not only the horses experienced deep and lasting change; most humans have an almost instinctive attraction to horses. The beauty and grace of horses is appreciated by those who have never sat on a saddle.
Even very young children feel this affinity. It’s the rare little girl who doesn’t go through a “horse-crazy” stage, and most little boys still pretend to ride mighty steeds when they play “cowboy.” Cartoons, posters, stuffed animals, models and books featuring horses are perennial hot-sellers for children and teens.
Adults are not immune either. Major motion pictures featuring a horse as the hero always draw large audiences of all ages. Every museum and gallery will feature at least a few pieces of art celebrating the horse.
A reliable estimate of domesticated horses in the US is around 7 million. Perhaps the greatest testament to humanity’s loving bond with the horse is this: in this modern age when horses are no longer needed for practical purposes, they thrive as companions and as partners in a huge number of sports. Working with horses teaches lessons that make us better human beings.