The common history of humans working with horses dates at about 3500 B.C.; the archaeological vestiges show that horses were used in warfare. Over time, though, horses have been gradually used in working, sports and leisure activities. But it’s not the same type of horse that has been the companion of humans for all these different purposes, but numerous breeds have been created, by artificial selection methods, in order to cater for each of these separate activities.
While careful breeding is not something practiced exclusively by modern man, the old Bedouins making a real art of it in their attempts at obtaining pure bloodlines, it has become sophisticated enough for us being able to count about 300 different breeds these days. A refined horse like the Andalusian was created for riding and dressage purposes, while a large draft horse like the Clydesdale was created for heavy agricultural work and pulling equally heavy wagons. As such, various equestrian apparels have been designed (horse riding boots included) to meet the demands of specific uses of horses. While for dressage, for instance, the rider may need stiff dress boots, some mounted patrols, which should do some jumping, might prefer field boots, for their lacing at the ankle, which allows more flexibility.
Whereas horses are no longer used in combat, other than for ceremonial purposes, they are still used for working. In the US cattle farms, horses are needed to lead cattle on rugged ground, while in poor countries around 100,000 horses, mules and donkeys are still being used for farming. On the other hand, their use is more environmentally friendly than using some agricultural machinery running on fossil fuels; and for logging for one, they are far superior when it comes to the protection of soil and of trees for that matter.
But nowadays they are rather popular as companions of humans in sporting competitions. While in medieval times, horse shows were a common sight at fairs, horse racing these days is a major sport, watched by millions of people worldwide, and the subject matter of a whole industry due to the gambling around it. Dressage, show jumping, rodeos or fox hunting are also quite popular occasions for the animal and the rider to show their skills and their collaboration. Besides, in the UK at least, horses are still used as a means of transport for royalty or various VIPs to cultural events, for reasons related to both grandeur and tradition. As for television and films, they are indispensable, whether for large-scale battle scenes such as the one in ‘Chimes at Midnight’, for reviving historical settings like in any western movie, or for poignant metaphors like in ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ Well, it’s hard to list all the uses they still have, but it’s worth mentioning their latest one in hippo-therapy.
Besides their uses when alive and kicking, for their skills, there are many related products they help humans with, such as mare’s milk and horse meat for food consumption, horsehide for gloves, riding boots or jackets or tail hair for bows of musical instruments. Of course, in recognition of their usefulness for humans, the latter provide them with food and shelter, medical care and grooming. While only a few horses are pets, they are tamed animals and, as such, cannot exist autonomously, naturally, except for the only one wild species left, namely the Przewalski’s Horse.
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