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A Horse,
of Course

with Don Blazer

A Horse of Course

With the price of gasoline going up, up, up, we may have to give up our high powered chariots, and go back to riding the horse.

(It was a problem with the chariot which caused us to ride the horse is the first place.)

About 5,500 years ago man was trying to figure out what to do with horses and wheels., when va, va voooom, the chariot was invented. By 2000 B.C. the chariot-culture was zooming along and expanding. It started somewhere between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and got as far north as China. Complete chariots with spoked wheels, full sets of harness, weapons and the bones of both driver and team were found in the graves of the Shan Dynasty which dates about 1500 B.C.

Well, just when you think your chariot is rolling along smoothly, you hit a bump in the road. And that's exactly what happened.

The age of the chariot lasted a good 3,000 years, but bumps and hills started to take their toll. Chariots, you see, only operate well on flat ground. And a log or a ditch play havoc with a chariot ride. (Plus, some smart general discovered his army could easily defend against chariots by hiding behind trees or a wall.)

But the biggest problem of all, for the chariot, turned out to be the crude design of the harness the horse wore.

If the horse had to pull the buggy uphill, the harness slipped up the horse's neck and nearly choked him to death. Going downhill the harness wouldn't hold the chariot back, and the blasted thing overran the horses.

In order to survive--war was then, as now, the order of the day--man had to give up the powerless, problem-plagued chariot and start riding astride the horse.

The horseman came of age about 1000 B.C. Most men with horses became horsemen instead of chariot drivers because it was simply a better way to conquer the world.

The first great rider-warriors were the Parthians and Persians who inflicted crushing defeats on the Romans who were still riding in chariots. (The Romans finally went to riding astride, but that's another story.) These Oriental horsemen were also archers, and because they were, the horse was about to enter the most significant phase of his history--selective breeding.

Horsemen wearing armor were needed to combat the Oriental riding archers. And a horseman wearing armor needed a bigger, heavier horse. He also needed some specialized equipment.

The western world started breeding bigger horses for knights, and the Asiatic invention of the stirrup was adopted. In addition, saddles were designed with built-up cantles. Knights threw down their spears and picked up longer, heavier lances, tucked them under their arms and with the aid of the stirrup and the high-backed saddle thrust the full force of their horses into the enemy.

The combination of the heavy horse, high-backed saddles and stirrups is given credit for winning the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

To win more wars, generals found they needed more than just heavy horses; they needed horses of all kinds. Selective breeding was the answer.

The Sumpter or Capul was the first horse bred to carry packs, and later used to pull war wagons.

The Courser became the race horse and was used by speedy messengers.

The Rouncy, on which the knights rode when not in battle, became the cob, the most generally useful of all types of horse.

And there was the Palfrey of feudal times which developed a "running walk" and became the western world's general riding horse for hundreds of years.

As the horse spread around the world, selective breeding did too, accounting for all the breeds, types and training given to horses right up to the 1900's. Just after the turn of the century the automobile began to take over, and man thought he had his travel and war problems solved.

Ah, but then, history has a way of repeating itself.

Don Blazer
Visit Don Blazer's Web Site

And Read
"A Horse, Of Course"
Monthly Column
by Don Blazer

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