Before the commencement of the Christian era Rome, which had become "mistress of the world", extended her conquests in Asia and in Africa, and ultimately reached the shores of Great Britain. The landing of Caesar was hotly opposed by the Britons with a strong force of cavalry, which they furiously drove between the ranks of the enemy, discharging their darts, as they rushed along, with such dexterity as to inflict considerable loss on the invaders. In his account of the invasion of Britain, Csesar writes: "When they engaged the horse they left their chariots to fight on foot, their charioteers in the meantime retiring and placing themselves so that their masters, if overpowered by numbers, might readily find them and have an easy retreat. By this manner of fighting, they had both the speed of the horse and the steadiness of the foot, and they were by daily practice so expert that they could stop their horses on a steep descent, though in full career, turn them in a narrow compass, run along the pole, sit upon the yoke, and from thence, with incredible quickness, return to their chariots." This is the first historical account we have of the existence of horses in Britain. Whether these animals were indigenous to the soil, or whether they were descendants of horses imported by other nations, such as the Phoenicians who, it is said, traded with the Britons as early as the Trojan war. cannot be ascertained. Neither are we able to discover their exact type; we only know that they were small. As the horse-shoes found in Roman and in Saxon tumuli were only of a size sufficient to fit small hoofs, and as the size of the shoe indicates to a great extent the size of the animal whose foot during life it had protected, it is reasonable to assume that the original breeds of British horses were small. In all northern countries of Europe the indigenous equine races have always been represented by diminutive breeds of ponies. The domestication of the horse has led to his improvement, and the knowledge of man has assisted in securing his progressive development, especially by judicious crossing and by the careful selection of parents. During the time the Romans were extending their conquests in Britain distinct evidence is afforded, not only of the vast number of horses that existed in the country, but also of the large importation of them by the Romans. When in 54 B.C. Caesar landed a second time in England, he brought with him 20,000 foot and a very powerful body of cavalry, with which he defeated the petty prince Cadwallon in every action. So numerous were the horses of the Britons, however, that their leader was able to bring 4000 chariots to impede the Roman advance. The imported Roman horses no doubt were of a mixed breed, whose ancestral line of descent during centuries had been improved by careful supervision; consequently these animals, being much larger than the native ponies, would be capable by intercourse between them of producing "fresh crosses of good blood" in which both great quality and size might be anticipated. During the 400 years the Roman sway continued, horses from the Continent were constantly landed on our shores, and British ponies were also transported to Rome. Subsequent to the departure of the Romans from Britain the invasions of other nations led to the further introduction of foreign horses. Saxon and Danish horses found their way into this country, and thus laid the foundation for the production of improved breeds. Little specific mention is made of the British horse until 631, when Bede informs us that the prelates, who had previously performed their journeys on foot, at this date rode on horseback, and always used mares instead of horses as a mark of humility.
When Judith, the daughter of Charles the Bald, king of France, came to this country on her marriage with Ethelwolf, we learn she was attended by numerous horsemen who rode "magnificent Spanish horses"; but it is not until the reign of Alfred the Great, the fourth son of Ethelwolf, that we obtain any distinct information that horses received especial care, or that their propagation was intelligently supervised. This prince was well qualified to inaugurate this important business, as he had visited Rome, where he met many learned churchmen and others, from whom he received not only his early lessons in religion and in secular matters, but also in equestrian exercises, in which the patrician Roman youth took a great delight. This youthful visit to Rome placed him in a position to make constant observations, and particularly concerning the various breeds of horses, from among which those most conspicuous for their beauty and other qualifications could be selected. There is no doubt the pastimes indulged in by the Romans did not escape the notice of Alfred, and when he arrived at man's estate he was possessed of such knowledge as enabled him to inaugurate a system of horse- breeding, and assisted him in making selections from among those foreign horses which he had admired on the Continent, with a view to mate them with the indigenous breeds of Britain. Alfred was not only a large, importer of horses, but also imposed laws calculated to operate in improving indigenous breeds; and in order to ensure that his mandates should be thoroughly carried into effect he appointed a stud - groom or master of the horse, who received the title of Horse Thane. The duty of this officer was to superintend the breeding, training, and management in health and in disease of the royal horses. During this reign horses both foreign and native were bought and sold, but it was not until Athelstane ascended the throne, 925 a.d., that horse-dealing became a vast commercial pursuit. Laws were enacted designed to regulate the price and otherwise to protect purchasers against fraud. If a horse were destroyed or lost through negligence, the owner was entitled to "thirty shillings compensation, for a mare or colt, twenty shillings, for an untrained mare, sixty pence, for a mule or an ass, twelve shillings". Athelstane was a large importer of foreign horses, but he would not allow English horses to leave the country, proving that at this early date the value of British breeds was recognized, and therefore their exportation was prohibited by law. The importation of Continental horses was encouraged, and nothing gave Athelstane so much pleasure as the receipt of presents in the shape of horses. We read: "Sundry princes sought his alliance and friendship, and sent him rich presents, the finest horses, with golden furniture," etc. These are said to have been " running horses", probably nags of moderate size, adapted for purposes of display, of hunting, and of chariot-racing, which sports represented the pastimes of this period. Athelstane evidently highly valued these presents, for in his will he enumerates and makes a disposition of them: "Those given me by Thur-brand, together with those given me by Liefbrand," etc. During this reign it is evident that numerous horses existed in Great Britain, and that intelligent measures had been adopted to cause their propagation and their improvement, and to prevent any decrease in their number; moreover, the law prohibiting their exportation was rigorously enforced. During the following reigns it was the function of the horse thane to superintend the cultivation and the propagation of horses. When William the Conqueror landed on British territory he brought with him from Normandy a large army, consisting of archers, light and heavy armed infantry and cavalry, and the superiority of the Norman horse no doubt largely contributed to William's victory at the battle of Hastings. The history of this memorable event shows us that the Norman horses landed on these shores remained permanently in this country, and contributed to the increase of British stock and to the improvement of the native breeds. William, at the battle of Hastings, rode a Spanish charger, and the Bayeux tapestry depicts some of the equine types that were imported on this occasion; all the boats of the invading army are full of horses. " Every knight has a small pony, on which he rides without armour, whilst the great war-horse is led by a squire." Thus history records certain exact equine types that were landed on these shores by William. His charger, most likely, was a Spanish jennet, and the cavalry on both sides were small, even those that were yoked to the chariots; but the great horse upon which the knight entered the combat made his first appearance on the British coast at Hastings. From this importation the tournament horse arose, and, centuries after, the heavy cart-horse. The great horse was strictly a war-horse, and was used also for parade and for display, but light horses were employed in the chase. The Conqueror, who was devoted to this pastime, laid many villages waste in order to secure large open plains for his favourite pursuit of hunting, and no doubt the chase was the cradle in which the future racer was primarily nursed. At this period Roger de Belesme, Earl of Shrewsbury, in order to improve the existing type of horse then in the country, introduced Spanish stallions into his Welsh estate of Powisland. The excellent qualifications of these animals are recorded by Giraldus Cambrensis, and their praises are celebrated by the poet Drayton. The Norman nobles who settled in England distributed both large and small horses throughout their newly acquired possessions, and during the Plantagenet dynasty horses from the East and from Lombardy were landed on these shores. Beranger describes these horses as being adapted " for war purposes and exhibition of public assemblies, of which horses are always an essential and ornamental part". As yet horses had not been attached to the plough, oxen having been employed in the art of husbandry, and even up to a very recent period the horse had been exempted from this service. At the time of the Norman Conquest the horse had been employed in agricultural labour, however, as the Bayeux tapestry gives a picture of a man driving a horse drawing a harrow. In the reign of Henry I two horses of Barbary were imported into this country, one being presented to the king and the other to the church of St. Andrews, by Alexander the First of Scotland. This is the first notice we have of Oriental horses having been imported into Great Britain. Youatt says that some authors have asserted that from these two horses sprung the English thoroughbred a statement which he thinks " is devoid of foundation". This may or may not be the case, but if they were Barbs or Arabians they certainly were of the right breed from which race - horses could be produced since it is from such stock that Eclipse and Flying Childers descended. Fitz-Stephen, who lived during Henry II's reign, gives a description of the public exhibition of horses; how at Smithfield (planus campus) they were paraded for sale. "Every Friday, except some festival intervene, there is a fine sight of horses brought to be sold. Many of the city come to buy or look on, to wit, barons, knights, earls, and citizens. It is a pleasant thing to behold the horses there, all gay and sleek, moving up and down, some on the amble and some on the trot, which latter pace, although rougher to the rider, is better suited to men who bear arms. There are yet colts, ignorant of the bridle, which prance and bound and give early signs of spirit and courage; there are also managed war - horses, of elegant shape, full of fire, and giving every evidence of a generous and noble temper; horses also for the cart, dray, and plough are to be found here."