Who first thought of horse breeding? Who was the first person
to decide that it was time for humans to give horses a hand
in reproducing - a figure of speech that may seem all too
apt to those who know a few things about the digital-stimulation
techniques used in modern horse-breeding?
As with so many details of history, we'll probably never know;
human and horse history entwine at a point too far back from
us for us to point it out with any accuracy. Breeding may
begin as far back as 4500 BCE; evidence from around that period
suggests the beginning of horse domestication in the Eurasian
steppes of 4000 BCE.
In that rough, cold, open environment (centered on what is
now Ukraine), archaeologists find evidence of the use of bits
in the 6000-year-old remains of horse teeth. (Other evidence
from this era and area includes the appearance of horse bones
in human graves - apparently cowboys weren't the first to
insist on being buried with their loyal steeds.)
But we don't find much direct evidence of horse breeding (as
opposed to possible domestication) until much later, with
the rise of the Bedouin culture of the Middle East. Before
they began issuing written documentations of horse pedigree,
around 1330 CE, they transmitted such information via oral
tradition - for how long we don't know, but possibly for thousands
of years. Farther east we have the Akhal-Teke of West-Central
Asia, who bred horses for war and racing, as did Mongolian
nomads from time immemorial.
Cultures bred - and breed - horses for a variety of purposes,
and breed them, accordingly, for a variety of qualities: speed
(for messaging or racing), size (for mining), heft (for plowing
and wagon-pulling), smoothness of stride (for riding). In
medieval-era Muslim countries, war horses were bred for speed
and agility, which allowed for a more flexible army; Europeans,
who'd bred their steeds by contrast for the greatest possible
size (so they could carry armor long distances, and so they
could power devastating lance thrusts). When the two cultures
clashed - for example, during the Crusades - the lumbering
brutes of the European armies found themselves outflanked
and outmaneuvered, like Hummers beset by armored motorcycles.
The Europeans, learning from their mistakes, bred a new kind
of horse - a sampler-platter of both species' strengths, bred
from captured Arabian horses to combine nimbleness with strength.
(One of the horse strains resulting from this early genetic
experimentation was the Courser, a predecessor to the Thoroughbred.)
Leave it to the nobility to make a fashion out of what was
a matter of life or death to others: European elites of the
Renaissance period bred special horses designed to do warhorse's
military maneuvers with a maximum of picturesque grace. The
development of gunpowder also changed the way horses were
bred during this period, increasing the need for quicker,
more Arabian-style war horses to enable the brave cavalry
of lionhearted England to shoot, run, and hide.
The reintroduction of horse racing to England - banned by
Cromwell after the Puritan rebellion of the 1640s, and restored,
along with the monarchy, in 1660 - led to the development
of the Thoroughbred horse, descended from three strains of
Arabian stallion, around 1700.
In the new century, an important one for the history of horse
racing and race horse breeding, an English nobleman named
James Burnett (Lord Monboddo) worked out one of the first
treatises on the theory of horse breeding, an enquiry which
led him to consider the evolution of species more broadly.
The development of this field of science gave European biology
a shot in the arm - and, alas, encouraged also the development
of specious racial and hereditarian theories, which did nothing
to advance science but quite a bit to give racists and snobs
an excuse for their prejudices. (Think of the population theorist
and Darwin influence T.R. Malthus, with his desire that "inferior"
poor people starve so that they might be prevented from breeding.)
People, unlike racehorses, can't be bred for perfection, as
such modern boondoggles as the Nobel Prize Sperm Bank have
made clear. (Even with racehorses, it's never been an exact
Over the next two centuries, a need for carriage horses drove
the breeding of warm blood horses - adaptable, smooth-riding
horses who continue to dominate today's show-jumping arenas.
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