Domestic horse Equus caballus f caballus

The horse was the last of the five most common livestock animals to be domesticated. After a short period when it was used only as a source of meat, it became established as a perfect means of transport until the recent past.

The history of the wild horse in Europe and Asia from the end of the Pleistocene until its domestication in perhaps 4000 to 3000 B.C. is poorly understood. According to prevailing opinion, wild horses during the domestication belonged to two species. These were the Przewalski horse (E. przewalskii) from semidesertic central Asia and the tarpan horse (E. caballus, syn. E. ferus) with two subspecies, the forest tarpan (E. c. silvestris) and the steppe tarpan (E. c. ferus), which lived in an area ranging from western Europe to the Ukrainian steppes. The two species are the only ancestors of all recent breeds of domestic horse. The last tarpan was exterminated in 1879 in the Ukraine and the Przewalski horse was no longer found in the wild as of 1960, surviving only in zoos. However, its breeding is so successful now that the process of its reintroduction has started in Mongolia.

Image Farmer Plowing With Draft Horse
Draft horses have made it possible for farmers to plow much larger fields. (Photo by Animals Animals ┬ęCharles Palek. Reproduced by permission.)

It is assumed that the area of steppes between the Dnieper and the Volga Rivers is the oldest domesticating center for horses. The region was populated by a culture called the Sredni Stog in the years 4000 to 3400 B.C. The horses were bred doubtless not only for meat but also for riding. It is also assumed that, in the same period, horses were domesticated by other people who lived in the steppe corridor of Eurasia from southeast Europe to Mongolia. From the second millenium B.C., the combative tribes of nomadic Skyt, Kimmer, Hun, and Mongol started out from Asian steppes in regular intervals on the backs of their hardy and tough ponies to the west, east, and south and, until the fifteenth century, propagated not only terror and dread but also the fame and genes of their horses. In ancient civilizations, horses were first considered "luxury goods." However, they spread very quickly and at the turning point of the second and first millenium B.C. they we're a common phenomenon. During the first millenium B.C., horses were also commonly used for farming, transportation, and sport.

After almost 6,000 years of human service, the appearance and many features of the horse have changed, though less than that of other domestic animals. The first primitive horse breeds developed naturally with the influence of different climate, food, and prevailing working usage. Today there are more than 200 breeds of horses, in a range of different sizes. The smallest horse is the Falabella, at 28 in. (71 cm) high and with a weight of 44 lb (20 kg), and the largest is the Percheron, which is 6 ft (1.8 m) and 2,600 lb (1,180 kg). All the breeds have unique performance, working abilities, and stamina. In the sixteenth century, horses went back to the American continent, where they had lived more than 10,000 years ago. Most of them ran wild and constituted large feral populations of mustangs (North America) and cimmarons (South America). Correspondingly, the same situation occurred later in Australia, where feral brumbies live today.

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