It’s hard to imagine that the creatures you see galloping gaily around a muddy field once stood only fourteen inches high and weighed twelve pounds. It would probably have been much been easier to mince down the tiny, dog-like Eohippas into a Findus lasagne. But lo, evolution happened and over time horses lost a few toes and grew some durable teeth for chowing down on grass and foliage. Oh, and they got big.
There is no doubt that horses have proved pretty indispensable to the human race for donkeys years (sorry, terrible joke!). The phrase ‘a dog is a man’s best friend’ can also be applied to the horse; they have transported us, died for us in battle and even won Olympic Gold medals. The Roman Emperor, Caligula was pretty taken by his horse, Incitatus; he even built him his own house…!
Talking about the love between man and beast, I reckon the story of Alexander The Great and his horse pal Bucephalus was the original Bromance. After taming him at his father’s court, drawing gasps of disbelief, Alexander and Bucephalus conquered much of the known-world together butt to saddle. When his beloved steed was stolen, Alexander threatened to kill the thieves and their families unless they retuned good old Bucephalus to him safe and sound. When Bucephalas died, he was buried with full military honours, and a new city was named Bucephala in his memory.
The Battle of Issus Mosaic: Alexander the Great on his horse Bucephalus (left) charging towards a rather scared-looking King Darius III of Persia (on the chariot).
From conquering ancient lands to fighting in modern wars; horses have been fundamental to human success. It is estimated that eight million horses died, on all sides, during the First World War. In fact, the British Government recruited almost a million horses from the backyards and fields of our great nation to pull carts, transport troops and to bring ammunition to the front line. For an animal with an acute sense of smell and a generally nervous demeanor, imagine how overwhelming the battlefield would have been for these brave animals. Hats off!
War horses in action during WWI
As a kid I used to ride horses, and I always thought to myself, “how crap would it be to have to ride side-saddle?”. For hundreds of years, it was frowned upon for women to ride legs akimbo. The whole affair with the side-saddle began with Princess Anne of Bohemia, when in 1382 she travelled across Europe to wed King Richard II. To ‘protect the royal hymen’ she was made to sit on a chair like device that was thoroughly padded, and rest her feet on a wooden plank which hung along the left side of her horse. For hundreds of years, riding side-saddle was associated with lady-like behaviour, and it was considered improper to ride like a man.
Now, your average horse lives between 20-30 years (unless Tesco have anything to do with it), but imagine the hours of cart-pulling, neighing and hay-munching Old Billy put in over his 62 years! As a working-horse, Old Billy drew barges for the Mersey & Irwell Navigation Company in Lancashire, proving the theory that exercise is the key to long life! Billy lost his job due to the onset of the Industrial Revolution, where the invention of motorised boats and railways rendered barge-horses obsolete. Poor Old Billy!
Billy certainly put in the leg work!