How and why did horse domestication become a thing? Was it before or after people learned to ride them? And most specifically how did humans decide that was a thing/point of travel/ good idea?



I’ve searched in this forum and really couldn’t pinpoint an answer. My gut tells me it might have been a side thought after being able to farm and harvest crops, or maybe even domesticate smaller animals. But from what I picture in movies and tv shows, it seems like we were riding horses before any kind of domestication. I greatly appreciate any foresight into this, or sources I can look up to read into further. TIA so much for your insight and time!

In: Biology

Domestication tends to change the way an animal looked originally, so sometimes the original purpose for domestication is not immediately clear by looking at the finished product. (Think: wolves vs corgi)

Pretty much the opposite transformation happened to a horse. The original model was about the size and stature of a small pig. About as graceful, too. And they had half-stripes.

They were domesticated for probably the same reason sheep and goats were, around the same era, by nomadic tribes. But somewhere along the line, they got bred bigger. Stronger. Able to carry stuff.

Then someone invented the wheel and everything changed. Horses suddenly had something to pull. They needed to be bigger. Stronger.

Then they got big enough to *ride* and the game changed again. Now they needed to be faster. And that’s about when you start to see a horse as we know it for real. And that was around 5500BC

Take a read, {{Who Ate the First Oyster?: The Extraordinary People Behind the Greatest Firsts in History}} It discusses the domestication of animals amongst many other firsts.

Way, way back in the day (about 5,000 BC), before people started living in one place, horses were domesticated as a way to travel. The tribes were nomadic, there weren’t civilizations that stayed in one place, so being able to travel to places with more food options and migrate during the aftermath of the ice age when the planet was changing was a huge advantage.

Bonus: the Indo-Europeans were one group to domesticate equines and allowed them to spread around Europe. Most European languages, including English, are descendants of that group. Check out “The History of English” podcast for a very entertaining rabbit hole about this.

On a side note, plant and animal domestication is probably a lot older than you think. We domesticated dogs about 15k years BCE and cattle 10k. Evidence of horse domestication is relatively recent at 5K or later.