Horses have been a part of human history from the very beginning. They have witnessed wars between countries and bled for kings and queens to whom they meant little. Horses allowed us to get from one place to another in a time when cars and trains were no more than science fiction. Today we have machines and are no longer dependent on horses in our work. They are more like pets than anything else and although some people eat horse meat, most of us associate the majestic creatures with horseback riding and idyllic country-living. But it wasn't always like that. Horses have had more jobs than any other animal and their lives keep on changing course.
Hunter-gatherers: When horses were unemployed
In the early days, human-beings ran around chasing whatever they could find - nothing was off-limits in the quest to survive. It wasn't until people figured out how to cultivate crops that they gained an interest in horses. Before that, wild horses were potential preys just like anything else, free spirits at one with nature. Well, that was before humans figured out that they could employ them against their will. As a result, there are hardly any wild horses left in today's world, only the Central Asian Przewalski's horses are truly wild since they do no decent from any domesticated breeds.
Into the battlefield: War horses
It didn't take long for humans to figure out that they had to use their brains rather than their bodies in order to survive. After realising the limitations of their own two feet, they starting riding horses which allowed them to conquer and dominate their surroundings.
The more successful war horses were found in Mongolia, a country that won the Asian Empire on horseback - quite an achievement. Unlike other warriors, the Mongolians each maintained 2-3 horses, so that they could travel at faster speed and change horse whenever it needed rest. This method was one of the keys to their success and eased the workload for the horses.
In Europe, horses had a slightly different war experience. While the Mongolian horses were light and fast, the Europeans placed emphasis on weight and armor, especially in France where cavalry horses were favoured. In fact, soldiers and horses were so heavily armed that falling to the ground could mean instant death due to their heavy gear.
Later on, horses were used to carry heavy guns and canons, transporting things to the battlefield. A dangerous job only the lucky horses survived.
International mailmen: A new job opening
Before the invention of vehicles mail deliveries were tricky business - and without a horse the letters didn't go far. Riders delivered bundles of letters from one town to another and for many years this was the primary method of receiving news from the outside world. So horses got to see quite a few places! Even ponies got to be a part of the action when their popularity rose in America in the 1800s.
Farming and agriculture: The dray horses
Ploughing and farming the land was no easy task in the old days, so 'horse power' was crucial. Dray horses were big fellows, strong and patient, which made them ideal for farming in the pre-industrialised age, a time in which you had no modern equipment to rely on.
Suffolk Punch is a well-known breed developed in the 16th century, heavy and strong, ideal for physical work. Today the huge creatures have retired and get to enjoy the spotlight instead regularly featured in old breweries for their historic entertainment value.
Horse drawn carriage: A career as taxi drivers begins
Horse drawn wagons and carriages have been around for thousands of years, but for a while the handy invention seemed to have disappeared for good. Bad roads and poverty made a horse carriage tricky business, but in the renaissance something happens. A more modern version of the horse drawn carriage appears in Hungary and its popularity spreads rapidly throughout the continent. The 1600s horses were working as a kind of taxi drivers, transporting people around by carriage in the big cities of Europe for anyone lucky enough to have money to pay.
The industrial age: Their time is not over yet
The industrial revolution often make people think of factories, emerging railways and steam trains and while this is true, horses were still kind of in the picture. Dray horses were important, even after railways and machinery took off, as they were carrying heavy loads for little money. They pulled coal barges, one of the main ingredients used to feed the industrial machines in order to insure their continual growth - a growth that would eventually make horses insignificant for factories and farms.
Get sporty: Horses in sport competitions
It's not all work and no fun. Since the very beginning, horses have participated in sport competitions around the world. In the middle ages, the knight's tournaments allowed kings and wealthy land owners to show off and it quickly became a huge theatrical sport event with horses dressed up in flashy armor - even back in the Roman Empire days horses were important in sport. Today Equestrian Sports are still popular and at the Olympics and some places the horses become stars. If they win many medals the four-legged creatures can quickly rise to stardom, a situation that could create jealous riders.
Horses as actors: Fun or brutal?
Since the beginning of the film industry, horses have taken part in entertainment around the world. However, the treatment of the four-legged actors has long been debated with incidents of cruelty reported in Hollywood on more than one occasion. There are even businesses out there specialising in training horses for stunts and battles. But is it all bad? As a part of a film set horses get the chance to go back to the early days when they were on the battlefield among gunpowder and cannons, a job that can be exhausting but exciting for some. Nevertheless, 'horse actors' continue to be a debated issue.
Horses as psychologists
Well, it might come as a surprise, but today horses can add a new job function to their growing CVs: Therapists. In recent years, equine therapy has gained popularity. Horses are believed to help people with disabilities and emotional issues as horses and humans can benefit from being around each other. Some people feel calmer around animals and form a connection to them. Horses also have a special ability to read our body language and respond to it accordingly, so if you turn up with a stubborn attitude you might have a hard time. A change of attitude can be the only solution.
Are you keen to learn more about horses, you certainly have many options! Why not explore how horses can be used in therapy for disabled people in Venezuela? Or get into the wild heart of South Africa where you can practice your horseback riding skills in amazing scenery.
Check out Frontier's blog 'Into the Wild' where you can read more articles like this!
By Caroline Edwards