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It is estimated that horses were first domesticated around 3500 BC in Southern Russia. The domestication of horses is often considered one of the greatest discoveries in Ancient Human Civilisation. The history of horses goes hand in hand with our own. But just like many of our jobs have changed and evolved, so have the jobs of horses. In this post we look at some of the jobs horses used to do for us.
History of War Horses
Not long after being domesticated, horses started to be used in Asia & the Middle East. They were soon adopted by Europe. In the early days they would be pulling chariots, before being ridden by soldiers. In the Middle Ages, the roles of horses changed slightly, splitting into Destriers and Chargers. All war horses were stallions with the Destriers being the highly trained and only ridden by knights. The Chargers were still highly trained but more common and affordable.
During the 18th Century, war horses changed again, to favour cavalries. Mounted warfare became the key to winning battles. A well led cavalry charge could break up and destroy most battle formations of foot soldiers. Horses continued to be used in battle, even until the world wars. While the use of cavalries slowly faded when coming up against more firepower, they were still used to help move soldiers, machinery and supplies.
Hunting with Horses
Hunting on horseback has been well documented throughout history. Ancient stone carvings in the Middle East show horses being used in royal lion hunts. They have been used to hunt exotic prey such as bears and leopards, to deer, boar and foxes.
In the Middle Ages, hunting was seen as a way for young noble men to train and prepare for war. Sometimes they would hunt with other animals such as hounds and falcons. More extravagant hunts even used big cats.
While hunting on horseback has changed in many countries, now being banned in the UK, it still takes place as a recreational sport. Horses and hounds now chase false trails to enjoy the fun of galloping around the countryside over obstacles.
History of the Work Horse
Draught horses are widely associated with farming. They were selectively bred to replace the oxen what had been used to do the hard farm work until then. From the 1100s horses started to be used to harrow land and transporting farm goods. But it wasn’t until the 1500s that teams of horses really started to replace the Oxen. They were faster, stronger and more agile.
As technology developed, horses were slowly replaced by tractors and other farm machinery. But in recent years, horses are starting to return to work. Some small farms and vineyards are starting to use horses again in the narrow spaces a tractor might not fit. Operation Centaur uses horses to manage lots of parks in and around London to reduce pollution and disturbance.
It’s easy to forget that horses used to be the main source of transport in the UK. In 1900, nearly every vehicle on the roads in London was pulled by a horse. Whether it was taxis to transport the public or wagons to transport goods, it was most likely pulled by a horse.
In the 1400s sturdy wagons with 4 wheels were introduced in Britain, meaning heavier loads could be pulled by teams of horses, even on bad, uneven roads. In the 1660s, faster horse-drawn carriages were created, allowing faster travel without riding. Royal Mail started to use horse drawn carriages and continued to do so until 1919. In the 1950s most horse drawn vehicles had been retired with just milk and coal deliveries and rag and bone men.
Now horse drawn carriages are a luxury, often reserved for special occasions. There is also a lot of recreational sports revolving around carriage driving, one, two or larger teams of horses.
We’ve probably all seen photos or footage of the horrible working conditions miners faced working underground. But they weren’t there alone. Pit ponies were stabled underground and worked alongside the miners, transporting coal out of the mine and supplies in. These ponies lived hard lives in horrible conditions, many would only see daylight once a year.
The first pit ponies started working in the mines in 1750. Although it wasn’t common practice until young children stopped being allowed to work in mines. The last UK pit pony is recorded to have retired from the mines in 1999.