Throughout Human history, people have tried to domesticate almost every known species. They (we) have only succeeded with a handful.
Most animal species lack the "hard-wiring" in their brains and nervous systems to become domesticated, despite humans' best efforts.
What do these successfully-domesticated species have in common?
They are social animals, living in organized groups with leadership
They are versatile, able to adapt to a variety of habitats, climates and foodstuffs
Even using that criteria, many animals, such as the deer, wolf, or
bison, have never made the leap to full domestication, despite many
attempts by people throughout history. The horse was able to be domesticated because of its innate hard-wiring to accept leadership, to live in a social unit, as well as its ability to adapt to a wide range of climatic and ecological conditions.
The horse was
originally hunted as a food source. It became valued for other purposes than a food source due to its size, non-predatory nature (it's very important for your
working partner not think of you as dinner), plus its unique digestive system, that allows it to eat fibrous foods and still "eat and run" (unlike the ruminants, who must stop everything to take time to chew their cud).
Horses have anatomical features that people have been able to use to their advantage, such as the naturally occurring gap between front and back teeth, allowing placement of a bit for communication and direction, as well as a broad back that is strong enough to support human weight.
Their digestive system allows them to derive nutrition from poor-quality grasses and forage that other animals cannot digest. Ruminants can also digest fiber, but ruminants must stop, sit, and chew their cuds for hours in order to do break down the fiber.
Horses can eat and run, which became useful to people who used horses for transportation.
The horse, along with the cat, goldfish, and perhaps the pig and parrot, is one of an even smaller handful of species that can survive in either domestic and wild situations. It can live happily dependent upon human care, or it can sometimes shrug us off and live on its own in the wild.
Horses are versatile, able to adapt to a wide variety of terrain and climatic conditions.
Horses are generalists, which makes them able to survive in changing conditions. Although strict vegetarians, they can eat a wide variety of plants, and their ability to derive nourishment from even rough, poor-quality fibrous foods such as desert grasses
and brush gives them an edge when things get tough. They can also thrive in a wide range of climate types, from hot dry desert to cold, wet Northern climates.
Luckily for us, before their extinction in North America, horses emigrated across the Bering Land Bridge into Asia, and from there they spread across Asia, Europe, and Northern Africa.
For many pre-historic people throughout Asia, Europe and Northern Africa, horses were first a prey species hunted for meat. Somewhere along the line a wide-ranging variety of human cultures in various parts of the world and different time periods discovered that the horse had talents and usefulness far beyond "what's for dinner", and the horse became one of the most valuable of all species.
Selective breeding for different needs and climates resulted
in the range of breeds, types, sizes, and specializations we see today.
PAGES IN WILD HORSE (MUSTANG) HISTORY SECTION:
Return to America
Return to the Wild
Mid-1800's to 1970
The Creation of the BLM Wild Horse & Burro
Program Wild Horses & Burros in
the 21st Century
Alternative Histories Our