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The Horse in Human History

by Pita Kelekna; Cambridge University Press. Softcover, 460pp. RRP $NZ54.95. ISBN: 978 00521 73629 9.

August 13, 2010

Horses and humans have a very long history - longer than most can imagine. The influence of the horse through the ages is probably now one of the most underestimated factors involved in the advancement of civilisation.

This in-depth study of horse and human interaction begins back at the earliest evidence of the domestication of equus, and follows through to the horseman from the steppes and Genghis Khan and to further migrations and conquests of Indo-European areas and Asia. Then the book takes us on a journey to Europe and its equestrian history, and then on to the Arabian conquests and the Turkics.

As the author says, "only about 6000 years ago did the world's brainiest biped team up with the world's fastest quadraped".

How else did the likes of metallurgy, plants, inventions, language, writing systems and warfare spread? How were civilisations conquered?

While these things would have eventually found their way around the planet, riders on horseback and wagon horses certainly sped up the process.

The development and design of chariots and wagons will be of interest to those who favour horse-drawn pursuits. Discussion of the evolution of the stirrup is another interesting aside, as is what was probably the first hoof boot, the hipposandal, which appeared in Roman times. It was "a smooth iron plate bent over to form loops at each end that were secured by leather straps". Shoes, sometimes silver, were later nailed on, and "a superior horseshoe providing far better grip on the hoof finally appeared around the ninth century AD".

Even some of the clothing worn today by non equestrians originated from that created by horseback warriors. Steppe pants, jackets and boots are worn by both men and women.

Such is the author's depth of knowledge on the topic of horse and human interaction, she has to be one of the foremost authorities on the subject. While perhaps not for the casual two-page-a-night reader, it is a must-have addition to the library of anyone interested in equine history. It is a great companion for Ann Hyland's The Horse in the Ancient World.

Excerpt from the book (PDF)



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