Without doubt the ass, an inferior member of the equine family, was domesticated long before the horse. It is believed that the horse was unknown to the Israelites until they sojourned in Egypt, and presumably up to that time it had not been domesticated. It is impossible to determine the place of its origin. It is enough to say that the horse is first spoken of as a domesticated animal during the famine in Egypt, when it is stated that Joseph exchanged corn for horses about 1712 B. C. In 1898 B. C, Abimelech gave many and valuable presents to Abraham, such as oxen, sheep, man-servants and maid-servants, she-asses and he-asses, but no mention is made of horses, and, as horses became the most common and valued presents during the sixteenth century B. C, it is be-lieved that the horse had not yet been brought under the dominion of man anterior to the beginning of the eighteenth century B. C. As soon as they were domesticated they became common in the most civilized countries, such as Media and Persia. Assyria at an early date employed large numbers of horses in the cavalry division of the army. Some were also harnessed to war-chariots. That branch of the service which required horses was usually more effective than the infantry, as compared with modern times.
It is probable that the horse, when first domesticated, was not used to any great extent as a burden-bearer or for tilling the soil. His chief uses in ancient times appear to have been for display and war. Horse-racing early became popular. From the standpoint of the uses to which horses were largely put, it appears that long before the Christian era the "points" of the war-horse had been carefully studied and were well understood. I quote Xenophon's description of a good horse of his time,1 with instructions to the purchaser. Note how carefully each point is set forth and how accurate the reasoning when applied to the brave, broad-breasted war-horse.
He says, "We will write how one may be the least deceived in the purchase of horses. It is evident, then, that of the unbroken colt one must judge by the bodily construction: since, if he have never been backed, he will afford no very clear evidence of his spirit. Of his body, then, we say that it is necessary to first examine the feet; for, as in a house, it matters not how fine may be the superstructure, if there be no sufficient foundations, so in a war-horse there is no utility, no, not if he have all the other points perfect, but be badly footed. But in examining the feet it is befitting first to look to the horny portion of the hoofs, for those horses which have the hoof thick are far superior in their feet to those which have it thin. Nor will it be well if one fail, next, to observe whether the hoofs be upright, both before and behind, or low and flat to the ground; for high hoofs keep the frog at a distance from the earth, while the flat hoofs tread with equal pressure on the soft and hard parts of the foot, as is the case with bandylegged men. And Simon justly observes that well-footed horses can be known by the sound of their tramp, for the hollow hoof rings like a cymbal, when it strikes the solid earth. But, having begun from below, let us ascend to the other parts of the body. "It is needful, then, that the parts above the hoofs and below the fetlocks - the pasterns - be not too erect, like those of the goat; for legs of this kind, being stiff and inflexible, are apt to jar the rider, and are more liable to inflammation. The bones must not, however, be too low and springy, for in that case the fetlocks are liable to be abraded and wounded, if the horse be galloped over clods or stones. The bones of the shanks should be thick, for these are the columns which support the body; but they should not have the veins and flesh thick, likewise. For, if they have, when the horse shall be galloped in difficult ground they will necessarily be filled with blood, and will become varicose, so that the shanks will be thickened, and the skin be distended and relax from the bone; and, when this is the case, it often follows, that the back sinew gives way and renders the horse lame. But if the horse, when in action, bends his knees flexibly at a walk, you may judge that he will have his legs flexible when in full career; for all horses, as they increase in years, increase in the flexibility of the knee. And flexible goers are esteemed highly, and with justice; for such horses are much less liable to blunder or to stumble than those which have rigid, unbending joints. But if the arms, below the shoulder blades, be thick and muscular, they appear stronger and handsomer, as is the case also with a man. The breast also should be broad, as well for beauty as for strength, and because it causes a handsomer action of the forelegs, which do not then interfere, but are carried wide apart.1 "And, again, the neck ought not to be set on, like that of a boar, horizontally from the chest; but, like that of a game cock, should be upright towards the crest, and slack towards the flexure; and the head being long, should have a small and narrow jaw bone, so that the neck shall be in front of the rider and that the eye shall look down at what is before the feet. A horse thus made will be the least likely to run violently away, even if he be very high-spirited, for horses do net attempt to run away by bringing in, but by thrusting out, their heads and necks. It is also very necessary to observe whether the mouth be fine or hard on both sides, or on one or the other. For horses which have not both jaws equally sensitive are likely to be hard-mouthed on one side or the other. And it is better that a horse should have prominent than hollow eyes, for such a one will see to a greater distance. And widely open nostrils are far better for respiration than narrow, and they give the horse a fiercer aspect; for when one stallion is enraged against another, or if he become angry while ridden, he expands his nostrils to their full width. And the loftier the crest, and the smaller the ears, the more horse-like and handsome is the head rendered; while lofty withers give the rider a surer seat and produce a firmer adhesion between the body and shoulders. A double loin is also softer to sit upon, and pleasanter to look upon, than if it be single; and a deep side, rounded toward the belly, renders the horse easier to sit, and stronger, and more easy to be kept in condition; and the shorter and broader the loin, the more easily will the horse raise his fore-quarters, and collect his hind-quarters under him, in going. These points, moreover, cause the belly to appear the smaller; which, if it be large, at once injures the appearance of the animal and renders him weaker, and less manageable. The quarters should be broad and fleshly, in order to correspond with the sides and chest, and, should they be entirely firm and solid, they will be lighter in the gallop, and the horse would be the speedier. But if he should have his buttocks separated under the tail by a broad line, he will bring his hind legs under him, with a wider space between them; and so doing he will have a prouder and stronger gait and action, and will, in all respects, be the better on them. A proof of which is to be had in men, who, when they desire to raise anything from the ground, attempt it by straddling their legs, not by bringing them close together. Stallions should not have the tetes large, and this ought not to be overlooked in foals.
1 Xenophon, born 434 B. C.
1 Evidently this does not describe a trotter.
"To conclude, in regard to the lower joints, of the shanks, namely, and the fetlocks and the hoofs, behind, I have the same remarks to make, and no others, than those which I have made above."
Little is known of the early history of the horse in England. It is believed, however, that the native horses (early introduced) were greatly benefited by crosses with the cavalry-horses of the Roman garrisons. During the Norman Conquest heavy cavalry-horses were introduced. These horses constituted the most rapid and efficient force of the army. A heavy horse was needed to carry the great weight of arms and armor in addition to the rider. For hundreds of years after the Conquest two distinct kinds of horses were imported, the heavy horse of Flanders and the light but more active horse of Spain and the Orient.
The earliest suggestion that horses were used in agriculture is said to be derived from a piece of Bayeux tapestry, where a horse is represented as drawing a harrow. This, however, must have been an exceptional case, for we know that oxen were used until a comparatively late time, and that in Wales a law existed forbidding horses to be used for plowing.1
It will not be necessary for our purpose to give here the history of the horse previous to his introduction into England and France for the purposes of agriculture and road work, except so far as it may be necessary to understand the causes which have produced the various breeds and varieties, and their distinctive characteristics.