April 8, 2013

Who was the first human to ride a horse?

Having watched in awe as wild Przewalski's horses rampage about their huge enclosure at the San Diego Zoo, my guess would be that first person ever to ride a horse was the ancient equivalent of a skatepunk: a wiry, acrobatic youth of about 17 with more courage than sense.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but who was the first person to milk a cow and drink it?

Anononymous said...

People have been eating horses since forever.

Horse painted at cave Lascaux

OldStoneAge.Com
massive accumulation of horse bones under the escarpment

Paleoindian tool from a horse tibia
Paleoindians utilized the horse
Levy County, Florida ... mature left tibia of a medium-sized Equus

Ancient DNA shows ancient cave paintings depicted real horses

Anononymous said...

Who was the first human to ride a cow?

youtube: showjumping cow

Crawfurdmuir said...

I wouldn't doubt your guess, but consider this: Spaniards brought horses to the New World, in what is now Mexico. They set about raising them in the Spanish style, which is to say on open range. The mares foaled without human intervention, and young stock were periodically rounded up and broken to harness.

As a consequence, wild horse populations naturally established themselves and propagated as far north as the great plains of what is now the central United States. The plains Indians, who had lived for millennia without horses, had already in their turn domesticated these wild horses and had become formidable cavalrymen by the time they were first encountered by Lewis and Clark, less than 300 years after horses were introduced into North America. The pattern of life amongst the plains Indians had come in this short period to resemble that of nomadic Mongolian tribes, their remote kinsmen, who had domesticated the horse thousands of years before. Considering the antiquity of the relationship between man and horse in Asia and Europe, it is striking how quickly it developed in North America, remote from any direct Old World cultural influence.

Anonymous said...

Maybe it was during a flood or snowstorm when the horse was mired...

Or maybe humans got a baby horse and rode it when young.

SF said...

Well, maybe. Jean Auel thought it was a young woman who was able to nurture it from a very young age.

Anonymous said...

Riding horseback seems to have come quite late. The early horse armies (Egyptians, Asyrians, etc.) used chariots instead. (Which confined them to relatively flat land.)

The Persians (the same that fought the Spartans) were a big deal because they built the first army that incorporated large numbers of mounted cavalry, which they probably learned about from the Scythians. The Scythians lived migrating back and forth from about the Black Sea to the Altai mountains gold fields near the Gobi.

I'd bet a small cup of coffee that the first horses that were routinely and safely ridden had been constantly around humans and from a few days after their birth had been used as pack animals (perhaps even with no load, following their moms) and were used to following other horses in train.

Once you had chariots you could "break" young horses by tying them to the chariot (mules were broken in large numbers this way up until 50 years ago or so).

Riding probably didn't become a safely repeatable art until the invention of the bit. The bit is capable of being an extremely cruel device (its a lever connected to the reins that rotates into the tongue and/or upper mouth of a horse). The bit enable nearly the weakest human to control a horse.

Antioco Dascalon said...

Just like the Guy on a Buffalo started riding the buffalo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L55dKrjxcCY

Anonymous said...

Even if unsuccessfully, I can't imagine that horses weren't ridden the very week that they were kept as livestock.

Jermiahjohnbalaya said...

Was the horse the first animal ridden? Don't some tribes in the jungle ride elephants? Or is that just Discovery Channel theater?

Anonymous said...

It's pretty certain that horses were first yoked to wheeled vehicles before anyone ventured to ride one.
It's likely that the Aryans of Eurasia were the first to domesticate horses both as draught animals and as mounts.
Wheels have a very ancient antiquity dating back at least 5000 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Was the horse the first animal ridden? Don't some tribes in the jungle ride elephants? Or is that just Discovery Channel theater?

Indians domesticated elephants, Africans never did.

Dr Van Nostrand said...


It's pretty certain that horses were first yoked to wheeled vehicles before anyone ventured to ride one."

Hard to know for sure. Ancient Indians( from India) preferred chariots to riding which they considered rather vulgar.


It's likely that the Aryans of Eurasia were the first to domesticate horses both as draught animals and as mounts.
Wheels have a very ancient antiquity dating back at least 5000 years ago."

People give the Central Americans a lot of flak for not using the wheel but think about there were not a lot of animals that you could harness. You try and hitch a wagon to a jaguar!



4/9/13, 12:14 AM
Anonymous said...
Was the horse the first animal ridden?"

Koenraad Elst, interestingly a person who revered among Hindu nationalists and the European right, strongly believes in the OIT (out of India hypotheses for Aryan migration) . He says that the Greek centaur is probably a corruption of Kandahar which is the region from where the horse riding Aryans encountered the indigenous Greeks and since they were unaccustomed to the sigh of a man on a horse their first impression was a supernatural one( man horse hybrid) and the name stuck




Don't some tribes in the jungle ride elephants? Or is that just Discovery Channel theater?

Indians domesticated elephants, Africans never did."


Oh give the Africans a break, even now African elephants are really difficult to tame. They are just wilder than the Indian elephants.

Hunsdon said...

One of my peak experiences was travelling out of Ulaanbataar (which means "Red Hero" and was so dubbed after the Soviet takeover of Mongolia in 1924) to visit a national park where the Przewalski's horses were being reintroduced.

This was on a USAID subcontract to help Mongolia privatize the national cashmere company---while making sure Brother Han didn't end up with it. We wrapped our work up early and took a jaunt to this national park.

It was a couple hundred miles from Ulaanbataar, on quasi-existent roads. Only one of the other expat members of the team wanted to go, and all the Mongolian staff wanted to go, so it was just me and a gringo accountant and twelve Mongolians.

That far out, and that high up, there was pretty much no light pollution, and the night sky was almost literally stunning. We all sat in a circle drinking whiskey and talking and watching the stars.

The next day we looked in on the Przewalski's horses, out on the open range, and saw a couple of fights, a nursing mother with a young foal, and eagles hunting marmots, big fat ones. If you haven't seen an eagle strike a groundhog, well, that's something you haven't seen.

One of the drivers, whose son was working on the USAID contract, had been an embassy driver in Moscow for ten or fifteen years, and we talked about Moscow and Mongolia in our mutually imperfect Russian.

Anonymous said...

I viewed a traveling exhibit in Ottawa's anthropology museum (I forget the name, but a really excellent museum.) detailing the history of the horse from Eohippus on. The archaeological evidence suggests that horses were first domesticated as a food supply.

The rest of this is based on my unresearched recollections from various grad school courses and independent reading:

I suspect that horses were probably being ridden long before being used extensively as draft animals. It's actually a major technological feat to design a really effective harness for a horse. The chariot is an exception to the use of horse-drawn as opposed to, e.g., ox-drawn, vehicles. The chariot is really the first high tech, expensive military system. Chariots and their load were light enough that they could be horse-drawn even using horses and inefficient bridles. Horses were an essential part of the system because of their speed.

Horses didn't really come into their own as the basis for cavalry until the cevelopment of the stirrup, which allowed a mounted warrior to effectively use whatever weapons he chose. The high cantle saddle allowed the first use of heavy cavalry.

All the major advances in horse technology except the creation of an efficient horse harness for drayage, i.e.,domestication, use for riding, bridles and bits, chariots, stirrups, occurred in a region around current day Armenia and in the steppes to the east. The development of efficient horse harnesses occurred first in Europe sometime in the early middle ages.

All other peoples, including Amerindians, basically borrowed the technologies and put them to their own uses.

Bartholemew C. Winthrop III said...

"my guess would be that first person ever to ride a horse was the ancient equivalent of a skatepunk: a wiry, acrobatic youth of about 17 with more courage than sense."

Unless they tried to start taming it young so it would accept a person when it was mature. Or the guy hopped on the back of an aged horse. But yeah, in general climbing onto a wild horse for its first time is a death wish. Probably people on average were less cautious then than now, if IQs tended to be lower, so probably more skatepunk types then.

Anonymous said...

I agree with the above comment about the Aryans. The Proto-Indo-Europeans. as I prefer to call them, were the first to domesticate horses in a grand scale. It was this advancement that helped them conquer Europe and India between 2000-3000 BC. It is why all of Europe (with the exception of the Finland, Estonia, and Hungary) speaks Indo-European languages.

dearieme said...

Very possibly, Mr iSteve, but the horse had probably grown from a foal that he and his sister had adopted a while earlier.

Cail Corishev said...

Even if unsuccessfully, I can't imagine that horses weren't ridden the very week that they were kept as livestock.

Yep. If you have an animal in a pen or tied up, pretty soon a boy is going to try to ride it. How long it took for someone to succeed and come up with the equipment and techniques to make it safe and useful would be another matter.

candid_observer said...

Having just read "The Horse, The Wheel, and Language", I'm pretty sure the sequence of human-horse interaction was:

1. Wild horses hunted for food
2. Horses used as livestock for food
3. Horses ridden with various kinds of bits (evidence of bits show up in fossil teeth)
4. Horses harnessed to carts
5. Horses harnessed to chariots
6. Horses harnessed for Catherine The Great

Number 6 may be apocryphal.

But the speculation is that the horses domesticated for food became increasingly docile by selection. At some point this encouraged some brave soul to test his balls, figuratively and literally, by mounting presumably the least disagreeable candidate.

Anonymous said...

An old farrier told me the difference between shoeing a horse and shoeing a mule is, a mule can kick you in the head flatfooted. I don't think this mattered before metalled roads.

I think you can tame any animal if you start with a big herd, feed the nicest,keep killing the uppity ones.

Anonymous said...

Considering the antiquity of the relationship between man and horse in Asia and Europe, it is striking how quickly it developed in North America, remote from any direct Old World cultural influence.

You don't think they emulated the Europeans they knew, came across, or heard tell of?

deconstructingleftism said...

@Crawfurdmuir- According to T.R Fehrenbach, the American Indians didn't figure out how to tame and ride horses themselves but learned it directly from the Spanish.

Anonymous said...

Oh give the Africans a break, even now African elephants are really difficult to tame. They are just wilder than the Indian elephants.

They say the only difference is skin color.

pat said...

Humans didn't ride horses until they had bred horses big enough to be ridden. That was the biggest technology improvement that led to mounting horses. But there were others.

The great late bronze age civilizations like the Hittites and the Egyptians employed armies built around chariots. Kaddish was a chariot battle. But then in just a very short time only backward people like the British used chariots in war. The advanced Mediterranean peoples had switched to cavalry.

This BTW is just one of the many historical howlers in Ridley Scot's "Gladiator". He shows Romans fighting Carthaginians in chariots at Zama. Crazy stuff.

Probably the last major conflict where chariots were used by major powers in battle was at Gaugamela. But Darius' chariots were not decisive. Alexander's cavalry charge was.

Early horses were too small and not strong enough to be controlled from the forward position. They could only support a man's weight from over the rear legs and you couldn't control it from there.

Another factor was the rise in the use of the javelin. At the end of the Bronze Age they developed a tactic to use against chariots. A spearman, hoplite, or archer had to meet chariots standing up. It is believed that pelasts with javelins could lie on the ground and pop up to throw a javelin. The pelast would be safe from the chariot archer's bow and chariots made very big, easy targets.

So maybe riding horses instead of being pulled behind them was forced on early combatants by the javelin. To maintain the advantages of horses on the battle field you had to ride them. And to ride them you had to breed them.

Albertosaurus

DYork said...

Yeah, probably someone like Mark Marquez the new MotoGP star.

But remember the first horses ridden were no doubt little ponies.

They weren't just jumping onto adult horses. They probably jumped on the young ponies and found the ones that were the most cooperative and then bred those to get their future stock.

Bigger question is - who was the first to see some prehistoric cattle and decide that would make a good meal? Or pigs, goats etc. Hard to conceive it.

But maybe meat eating is such an unbroken chain back to the Australopithecines that no humans had to make that mental leap. They already knew.

kgry said...

Crawfurdmuir said...

I wouldn't doubt your guess, but consider this: Spaniards brought horses to the New World, in what is now Mexico.


But those were merely feral horses of firmly domesticated ancestry. Riding something like a Przewalski's horse is a much tougher proposition.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, but who was the first person to milk a cow and drink it?

Exactly.

And what did his wife say when she caught him under the cow?

Luke Lea said...

Weren't the first horses ridden much smaller than what we think of a horse today?

According to Wikipedia the earliest bridle, the hackamore, was bitless:

The first hackamore was probably a piece of rope placed around the nose or head of a horse not long after domestication, perhaps as early as 4,000 B.C.

So maybe the idea of putting a rope around the head of a not-fully-grown horse that was quite small to begin with was not such a wild idea, though I bet it was a bored teenager who tried it first.

For what it is worth, again from Wikipedia:

"The exact origins of the breed are hard to determine. Horseback riding has been documented with the nomads of the central Asian steppes since 2000 BC. Tests have shown, that among all horse breeds, Mongol horses feature the largest genetic variety, followed by the Tuwinian horses. This indicates that it is a very archaic breed suffering little human induced selection. The data also indicate that many other breeds descend from the Mongol horses."

Straying from the topic, several thousand years later we find Genghis Kahn and company still riding very small horses using bitless bridles, apparently, though they did have pommeless (sp?) saddles with primitive stirrups (you can see images on the internet).

How did they conquer most of Eurasia in just a couple of years? Well, they had several tens of thousands of horsemen advancing over the plain in a single rank tens of miles wide, each rider with four or five spare horses in tow. They rode twenty-four hours a day, drinking blood from the necks of the horses as they went along.

Thus,even if a city had sentries posted at several days distance to warn of approaching armies he would be overtaken by the advancing forces before he could get back home. Every attack was a surprise attack, the sudden appearance out of nowhere of a rapidly advancing line of armed cavalry that stretched across the horizon. It didn't help that the Mongols were excellent archers who could shoot rapidly and with accuracy from their saddles at full gallup. It was the original blitzkrieg, getting there the firstest with the mostest.

Now, I'm not an expert (!) so maybe I got some of these details wrong and this is not the full story in any case. But that was the general idea.

Geoff Matthews said...

Dr Van Nostrand,

Llama's and Alpacas were domesticated (or inherited them)by the Incas.
Granted, they don't lend themselves to pulling a cart, but there were reports of using them as plow animals in the 1600's.

Hallie Scott Kline said...

Speaking of the earliest “riders” – what about the theory about Neandertals and their injuries—supposedly similar to those of rodeo riders? It’s been suggested—as I recall—more than one brave Neandertal might have jumped atop a shaggy animal, clinging to it and stabbing it with his spear.

Anonymous said...

Considering the antiquity of the relationship between man and horse in Asia and Europe, it is striking how quickly it developed in North America, remote from any direct Old World cultural influence.


Presumably the Indians knew that the Spanish rode horses, so I would not say "remote from any direct Old World cultural influence".

Anonymous said...

Oh give the Africans a break, even now African elephants are really difficult to tame. They are just wilder than the Indian elephants.

Perhaps Indian elephants started off much wilder than today? Indian elephants are descended from generations of domesticated elephants, tractability presumably being a desired trait. Perhaps if Africans had started trying that whole domestication routine then African elephants would now be somewhat less wild?

This is bit like Diamond's 'White folks just got lucky (over and over) theory'.

Anonymous said...

"They rode twenty-four hours a day, drinking blood from the necks of the horses as they went along. "

In addition I understand that almost all horses in a Mongol army were mares, so they could also drink milk. Milk and blood, breakfast of champions!

Anonymous said...

In Arabian legends its prophet Ismael (Samuel) btw riding horses started in Arabian lands and till now Arabian horses are the best and the prettiest