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Domestication of Horses

The Relationship Between Horses and Humans

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Domestication of horses
Photo © Thomas Northcut / Getty Images

Domestication is the process by which humans take wild species and acclimatize them to breeding and surviving in captivity. In many cases, domesticated animals serve some purpose for humans (food source, labor, companionship). The process of domestication results in physiological and genetic changes in the organisms over generations. Domestication differs from taming in that tamed animals are born in the wild while domesticated animals are bred in captivity.

When & Where Were Horses Domesticated?

The history of horses in human culture can be traced back as far as 30,000 BC, when horses were depicted in Paleolithic cave paintings. The horses in the paintings resembled wild animals and it is thought that true domestication of horses did not occur for tens of thousands of years to come. It is thought that the horses depicted in the Paleolithic cave paintings were hunted for their meat by humans.

There are several theories as to when and where domestication of the horse occurred. Some theories estimate that domestication occurred at about 2000 BC while other theories place domestication as early as 4500 BC.

Evidence from mitochondrial DNA studies suggests that the domestication of horses occurred in multiple locations and at various times. It is generally thought that Central Asia is among the sites that domestication occurred, with sites in Ukraine and Kazakhstan providing archeological evidence.

What Role Did the First Domesticated Horses Play?

Throughout history, horses have been used for riding and for pulling carriages, chariots, plows, and carts. They played a significant roll in warfare by carrying soldiers into battle. Because the first domesticated horses are thought to have been quite small, it is more likely that they were used to pull carts than for riding.

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