Equine Domestication

Eohippus is where it all began for the equine, 58 million years ago. That is a staggering number considering man has only been in the picture for 200,000 years.

Equestrian vs. Human Timeline on Earth
Equestrian vs. Human Timeline on EarthSource: Jmillar

Eohippus was nothing like the animal we recognize as an equine today. Eohippus was the size of a dog, similar to the size of a beagle. He had five toes, small ears and weighed about 12 lbs.

Ancestors of the Modern Day Equine

Eohippus, Merychippus and Hipparion
Eohippus, Merychippus and HipparionSource: Jmillar

I find the evolution of the equine very fascinating. When humans came on the scene equine had already evolved from a beagle sized animal with several toes, to the beautiful equine we know today!

Remains of their toes.

The chestnut on an equines leg is all that is left of the toes his ancestors had! Of the four toes on the front foot, the chestnut midway up on the inside of the horses leg, is what’s left. Also, at the fetlock, on the back of the foot there is a tuft of hair, feel inside that hair for a little horn. That’s one of the other toes leftover from his ancestors!

The equine of long ago, Eiohippus, actually had five toes on the front and four toes on the rear foot! As time passed by the equine toes changes dramatically. The center toe held the majority of their weight, so the other toes began to recede. After 65 million years the toes have all receded leaving the center toe that we call a hoof.

Domesticating the equine began merely 200,000 years ago. The initial purpose of the equine for humans was sustenance. They were hunted for their meat and the milk mares could provide.

It didn’t take long for humans to figure out that an equine could be taught to carry a load. They are strong, sure-footed and compliant, all the right ingredients needed to give humans a reason to domesticate them.

Domestication involves containing the equine for easy retrieval, altering their natural instinct to comply with human desires (letting us astride) and altering their body to please a human the human eye. IE: Breeding for specific traits such as Thoroughbred horses have a heart 2 – 3 times larger the other horse breeds. And the mini horse. The mini horse is a deformation that humans enjoyed and breed back to over and over.

It was only a matter of time before humans took horses astride. To carry a human on its back a horse has to overcome his natural instinct of fight or flight.

Fight or flight – This instinct is invoked when an equine is faced with a life threatening situation. Either a scent of a predator is on the wind or a predator has been spotted in the equines general area. The first thing they do is run, because if they don’t, they will have a predator jump up onto their back and get a hold of their neck.

If an equine is not provided that first alert to danger, and the predator does get hold of it, the next option is to fight. Their hooves are strong with a fairly sharp edge to them. Their rear feet can pack a powerful protest to an attack. Equine have big, strong teeth in front that can take a large bite out of a predator. Their first choice is to run (flight) but if they must, then they will fight. This has worked very well for them for millions of years.

To be astride an equine this basic instinct must be suppressed. The predator on his back is now a human that demands compliance.

Every person takes a different approach as to how they are going to teach a horse compliance and how to suppress the basic fight or flight instinct. Some use a heavy hand to force the suppression and others take a gentle hand. Either way they complete this process. I prefer the gentle minded approach. It’s important in my training to help an equine retain his basic instinct of survival just in case the human race becomes extinct, the equine race can continue.

The eating habits of equine are very different from humans. Humans eat 3 meals a day, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Horses graze. Gracing is defined as: To eat small portions of food, as appetizers or the like, in place of a full sized meal (defined by: dictionary.reference.com).

Evolution has taught horses that grazing is the best option for them. Meandering through valleys, meadows and foothills, they graze all day, taking a nap at mid afternoon, then back to their meandering and grazing. Domestication has altered their natural desire to graze. Fed twice maybe three times a day, like a human diet, equine are not allowed to graze. Sometimes they are kept in a paddock where grass simply cannot grow or an overcrowded pasture where grass is sparse or trampled constantly.

Humans should do their best to minimize the impact on the millions of years of evolution that has kept the equine alive and thriving millions of years of evolution has done equine well, humans should not intervene on millions of years of evolution.

Four Ways Humans Can Assist Equine Evolution

No. 1

Encourage the equestrian instinct of meandering and grazing. Provide a meadow or grassy area for grazing during the day.

If no grazing area is available, simulate the grazing pattern. Offer one quarter flake of hay several times a day, instead of the usual twice a day. This form of feeding allows the equine to have a portion of hay available all day. Space the feedings apart so the equine can move about to the different areas where the hay is.

They want to graze. If set out to pasture there isn’t one (healthy) horse that wouldn’t let down his head to graze. A well adjusted equine is provided grazing opportunities as often as possible, daily grazing is where his evolution has brought him.

When humans are no longer on this earth, nobody is going to bring hay to the horses. Grazing is a very important instinct they need to retain while we continue to domesticate them.

When an equine is healthy, and allowed to exercise as his evolution has dictated, there is no need to alter his hoof. Trimming, shoeing, wedging, is all unnecessary for the equine. These practices only hinder their natural evolution.

No. 2

If the hoof develops a split a temporary shoe will aide the healing process, but to shoe an equine all the time hinders the hooves naturally strength and ability to evolve as needed. In thirty years I have had one trim performed. At horse shows I have witnessed humans having the heel of the hoof trimmed severely low just so the equine would measure shorter allowing the human to enter the equine in a different division to earn a ribbon. I’m sure the equine appreciated that. When the equine is exercised, as he should be, the hoof naturally trims itself. For the past 65 million years nobody trimmed their hooves and look at what a beautiful job evolution has done.

No. 3

Stallions are just like any other horse in the fact that they need companionship. If you want them to be happy and healthy. Many stallions are kept in a separate secluded paddock for fear they will break out if they see a mare. This is a lonely, anxiety provoking lifestyle for a stallion. It can easily be remedied by having a mare share his paddock. A sterile mare works best. You would be surprised to witness how calm and well adjusted a stallion can be when he has a herd mate living with him!

No. 4

An equine doesn’t need a blanket, they already have one on, thank you very much! Evolution has provided the perfect solution to a changing climate. During summer months the coat of the equine is thin, allowing for protection of the underlying skin, yet not thick enough to cause a great deal of over heating. When colder weather sets in the equine grows a thick, whooly, warm coat. In our quest to domesticate the equine their natural whooly coat is so discouraged by humans. Sheltering an equine indoors with heat or putting a blanket on them, when it is cold outside, only inhibits their natural coat!! If this warm coat is discouraged, what will keep them warm if man is not there to provide shelter and a blanket? Nothing, they will become extinct in their first winter! If not absolutely necessary don’t discourage their winter coat from growing.

Domesticating the equine does not mean we need to alter their natural evolution. All too often humans put their own feelings into the equine that do not naturally belong to them. For example:

  • Thinking that a horse is cold, and putting a blanket on them.
  • Thinking they need shoes or a trim when, if left to their own devices, they will trim themselves.

One last thought, our training techniques:

  • Domesticating involves training, of course, but using a heavy hand to demand compliance that we can be astride an equine, drives out their basic instinct of fight or flight when something is on its back. A kinder hand where the equine is shown, “I’m human, I’m not going to kill you.” will have a less damaging effect on their evolution.

If we humans continue in our downward spiral of evolution we will become extinct soon. There is no reason to take the equine with us in our extinction. Allow them to evolve as they have over millions of years by reducing human intervention while domesticating them.

Have you ever drove through the countryside on a cold, rainy day and studied the equine in the pasture. What you will observe is the equine will be grouped together, side by side, this is for their protection and to create warmth. They will have their rear ends pointing toward the wind, if there is no wind they will have their rear pointed against the slant of the rain and their head will be lowered toward the ground, this stance protects their eyes and ears from the rain and/wind pummeling them. More than likely they will be standing in the rain, sleet or snow. Occasionally, but not often, they will be under a man made shelter. Instead of thinking to yourself, “Look at the stupid horses standing in the rain when there’s a shelter right there.” Try on a different view, “Look at how smart those horses are standing in the weather. They aren’t relying on human intervention for protection from the elements.”

If humans become extinct, the equine, and hopefully other critters,will be the ones left to continue on with their evolution. If humans don’t make equine dependent upon them by interfering they stand a chance of continuing in their evolution for another million years.

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