Last modified on September 7th, 2020 at 5:40 am

The Evolution of Domestic Horses

Ever since we were little, the idea of having a pony as a pet was a dream come true. Horses are mesmerizing creatures. When you ride with them the sense of control and strength you feel is just unmatched.

The types of horses we see today are a result of an evolution dating back to 3,000 BCE. Fascinating isn’t it? This isn’t all; there are many things such as what horses can eat, their body, use, etc. that have changed over the years. So, we have good news for the budding paleontologists out there! You can grab up your gear as you in for a fun ride.

Background of Horse Domestication

Evolution is a very long process. It takes decades of the trial and error method to finally find a purpose of a thing or a being and the same goes for horses. The first traces of horses were seen in 30,000 BCE in the Paleolithic cave art. These were wild horses which were hunted for meat.

Then around 2000 BCE, they were used as a means of transport as chariot burials. The first evidence of domestication of horses was observed in the Eurasian steppes in approximately 3500 BCE.

Man riding chariot with horse

The exact period of the domestication of horses depends on the definition of “domestication”. Different zoologists have given a different definition of domestication. According to some zoologists, it is the human control over the breeding of the horses. It can be found in the skeletal samples of the ancient times of the horse populations.

Also, various other investigators defined domestication with the help of working activity, weapons, dental evidence, spiritual artifacts, and art. Some researchers believe that domestication includes physiological changes associated with selectively bred in captivity which cannot be called out as “tamed.”

Types of Evidence for the Origin of the Horse Domestication

The origin of horse domestication started decades ago. However, our observation of it was not always direct.  To understand the concept better the evidence are divided into two types. They are direct and indirect evidence.

1. Direct Evidence

This evidence consists of the artistic, textual and funerary evidence which we could see directly through paintings and carvings on walls. Through these pieces of evidence, we were sure that the horses were used for riding and traction purposes.

People had found out a way to tame the wild horses and domesticate them for their use. The exact period of the domestication of the horse is very unclear as there is no direct evidence to support this.

2. Indirect Evidence

Indirect evidence of horse domestication is obtained from the characteristics of bones and artifacts. This also includes the evidence derived from various analytical methods such as population structuring, relative proportions, archaeological deposits, bit wear analysis, etc.

There is indirect evidence which signals the period of the origin of the horse domestication, but cannot directly pinpoint an exact time period.

Methods of Horse Domestication

Many species had died out during the last ice age, and it was questioned how some horses managed to survive. The extinction of the mammoth had some effect on the horse populations too. It is believed that the domestication of horses had saved the species from extinction.

There were two methods by which horses were domesticated. One method starts with individual goals being kept as pets and the adult horses were slaughtered for meat. The other method involved using the horses for riding and other traction purposes where it was important to teach animal welfare in schools.

Latest Clues Presented in 2012

There are some new clues which have shown the origin of horse domestication which was presented in 2012 by a team of scientists from the University of Cambridge. For this research, the DNA sample of more than 300 animals across Europe and Asia was used.

This data helped the scientists to determine the period of horse domestication, and the archaeological evidence suggests that the domestication had started approximately 6000 years and it was widespread in Eurasia where the local breeders introduced them to the wild horse’s gene pool.

After this research, we get an idea of the period and the place where domestication had started and how it slowly evolved into what we see today.

As we can see the process of evolution hasn’t stopped and day by day new research is conducted which shows new theories. The phases of the domestication of the horses have intrigued me and lead to the fact that everything we see today is a result of a very long evolution process. The exact period of the origin of the domestication remains a mystery.

Julie Adams

I have been a nature enthusiast since I was a small girl. My background is in online marketing and website development. It only makes sense to merge my love for nature with my skills in online marketing to help spread awareness, and appreciation for Our Beautiful Planet.