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When Laid-Back, Strong-Backed Horses Lead the Way

In my psychological drama, “Cold Welcome,” Cody is tormented by hidden demons from his past. Only by exposing and confronting those demons might he head in the direction of a significant transformation and possible redemption. Surprisingly, horseback riding shifts him in the direction he needs, becoming indispensable to his life’s journey.

Horse and rider

Just as horses play such a significant role in Cody’s life, domesticated horses have played an essential role in human life throughout much of human history. Horses have been employed for millennia variously in agriculture, warfare, police work, transportation, and recreation. People had owned and benefited from goats, sheep, and other cattle for thousands of years before the horse was finally tamed. However, it was domestication of the horse that set civilization galloping forward.

Until recently, knowledge of exactly when and where this domestication happened was unknown. Finally, on October 20, 2021, a major scientific study, headed by Ludovic Orlando, a molecular archaeologist of the French National Center for Anthropobiology & Genomics, solved the mystery. Based on rigorous DNA analysis, scientists discovered that the ancestors of modern horses were initially domesticated in the Bronze Age, about 4,200 years ago, in the steppes of the Black Sea area. Herders in the Don-Volga region had hit upon a method to increase the local horse reproductive pool, selecting for specific traits that could be reproduced in successive equine generations. The specific genes associated with these traits are linked to docility and to a stronger backbone. These cooperative horses could be connected to wagons hauling goods. Between 4,000 and 3,600 years ago, these horses spread rapidly across Europe and Asia. The Sintashta culture, in a region that is today between southern Russia and northern Kazakhstan, played a significant role in this spread. They developed early spoked-wheel chariots, which would have a transformative impact on warfare and transportation.

William Taylor, assistant professor and curator of archaeology at the University of Colorado Museum of Natural History, co-authored Orlando’s study. He remarked:

Horse domestication was an absolute lightning strike in human history, leading to incredible, widespread, and lasting social transformation all across the ancient world. Horses were an order of magnitude faster than . . . the transport systems of prehistoric Eurasia, allowing people to travel, communicate, trade, and raid across distances that would have previously been unthinkable.

And, as Orlando commented, “Horses can probably be considered as one of the animals that most impacted human history.”

Nearly everywhere domesticated horses were introduced, they soon reshaped human societies. Horses became the essential animal of farmers, kings, and warriors across diverse landscapes and climates. As Indo-European and Eurasian people were migrating across Asia, it appears that they traveled with their horses to new regions like India, China, and the Near East. People in these new locales welcomed the migrants with their amazing horses—animals that could now be used for a range of reasons, notably agriculture, transportation, and warfare.

Later, innovations such as the stirrup, saddle, and harness would allow riders enhanced safety and the comfort required for long-distance riding. Soldiers could now ride without the need for chariots. Saddles were initially developed about 800 BCE; they were simple cloth pads placed on horses’ backs. Later innovations, like the leather saddle, significantly enhanced a rider’s ease and comfort. Apparently, the first useful stirrup showed up around 200-300 CE, probably invented in Asia. This innovation was momentous, as it enabled riders to remain on their horses over rough terrain and fast movement. The girth was an important development along with the saddle, as the girth holds the saddle in place. Originally made of cloth or hide, girths were later made from a variety of different materials designed for specific riding needs.

The storied saddle has evolved over time to become the versatile, indispensable piece of riding equipment in use today, providing comfort for both horse and rider. A rider’s concern for the needs and comfort of their horse is indicative of the special horse-human connection.


1. Cavaletti Collection, West Midlands, UK

2. “What has Been the Role of Horses in Human Societies,” Daily History. org

3. Amber Dance, “When Did Humans Domesticate the Horse?” Knowable Magazine, reprinted in Smithsonian Magazine, May 19, 2022

4. Ashley Strickland, “The Moment Domesticated Horses Changed the Course of Human History is now Revealed,” October 22, 2021, CNN

5. “Horse,” Wikipedia