An entertaining gallop through horse history

A new exhibition at the British Museum charts how man mastered the horse and transformed society.

Tom Bailey

Topics Culture

The British Museum currently features an exhibition charting the history of horses from their domestication by ancient man to their modern-day use as racehorses. Entitled The Horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot, the exhibition focuses largely on the Arabian breed of horse and its introduction to Europe in the early modern age.

Horses were first domesticated in the grasslands of Eurasia, in an area that is now part of Kazakhstan. Prior to this domestication, donkeys and asses were mostly used to pull either two- or four-wheeled vehicles such as chariots or cards. Although these animals were fast, they were hard to control, and rather ineffective in combat.

At some point around 2000 BC, domesticated horses were introduced into the Middle East. Horses proved faster, stronger and of a better temperament than donkeys and asses. As a result they were much more effective and easier to control, for both labour and warfare use. The changes that resulted from the use of this new beast were revolutionary, and swept away pre-horse society…

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