Horses for courses
What do you know about the history of the horse and its relationship with humans?
If you attended the Coquetdale U3A (University of the Third Age) open meeting on May 16, at the Jubilee Hall, Rothbury, you would know much more.
Guest speaker Dr John Cox gave a wide ranging talk, starting with cave sculptures of horses carved into the rock some 15,000 years ago. When illuminated by naked flame, rather than torch or floodlight, these images appear animated and could be said to be the first examples of movies.
The Holocene age is the period from about 11,700 years ago to the present – the period from the last Ice Age. In addition to talking about humans and their relationship with equidae (horses, donkeys, asses, zebras, etc), Dr Cox gave a fascinating, informative and enlightening overview of archaeology, climate change, the history of farming, metallurgy, human migration and settlement, and the spread of language.
The natural habitat of the wild horse was the Steppes of Central Asia. It was here, some 5,000 years ago, where humans first captured, tamed and bred the horse. The original purpose, as with cattle, was to acquire a reliable source of meat, and subsequently milk – mares were milked.
But then, in a crucial development, tribesmen discovered that they had at their disposal a means of transport and burden. The use of the bit enabled horses to be controlled, but stirrups were not introduced until about 400AD.
Horses were the fastest means of land transport and were used as weapons of war. It can be argued that the domestication of the horse aided the spread of people, language, goods and ideas, but also increased conflict.
Many of the wild breeds of horse, ass and zebra have become extinct due to human hunting, and those surviving are at risk and are much reduced in number and restricted to smaller geographical areas. Some wild breeds introduced into ‘unnatural’ areas are considered invasive and a problem as they damage habitat and threaten other species.
Dr Cox finished with the question “should wild horses be protected as attractive wild animals that display strength and beauty, or should they be curbed because they are a problem to humans?”
Alternatively, could the horse ask the same question of humans? Are humans invasive and destructive and in need of restriction? Given humanity’s impact on the Earth’s atmosphere, oceans and wildlife, are we now living in the ‘Anthropocene’ era?
For more information about Coquetdale U3A please see the website u3asites.org.uk/coquetdale or contact secretary Sue Winlow on 01669 621650.