ok I debated a bit as to how to approach this one because I actually didn’t have a lot of base knowledge on this so I had to look a lot up and I don’t really want to have to parrot a bunch of stuff I just read. So INSTEAD I will just try to give a short overview and some sources. (I say short but i am physically incapable of not writing novels so we will see)
Actually I’m hoping an anthrozoologist or a horse person will read this and add more or correct me on some points :D
Firstly, you are correct, there are no ‘true’ wild horses today aside from Przewalski’s horse, which is not a direct ancestor of today’s domesticated horses. In fact, it is more of a distant cousin. The wild horses we see running around in the West and various other places are actually feral domesticated horses.
CLICK CUT FOR WHERE HORSES EVEN CAME FROM
ok but first a picture of a Przewalski’s horse cause honestly what a handsome critter look at that hott mohawk and partial neckbeard
no legit i love the way it looks goddd damn also here is a Tarpan, another species of wild horse from eastern Europe/Asia that sadly is extinct :((((((
look at that cute and little and aww :(
ok but even though neither of these are the DIRECT ancestor of the domestic horse we can look at them and envision a bit of what it could have looked like: small, fuzzy, short muzzle… ok i know there are better terms horse people help me out. And cave paintings seem to confirm this.
(i can’t get over the fact that this is 15,000 year old french cave art hot dang)
ahh and there are some that speculate that both species contributed to the domestic horse bloodline at some point. AND REALLY WHO’S TO SAY.
Actually back in the DAY there used to be a whole hot slew of horse species all over the place, but the vast majority of them seem to have died out by the Pleistocene. So actually there were indigenous wild horses living in the Americas WITH ancient humans. But those died out and were never domesticated (again, the wild ones we see today are actually feral!). The ancestor of the domestic horse was another Eurasian species.
The existence of the die-out actually leads to an interesting theory that by domesticating the domestic horse ancestor humans actually saved the species. Pretty cool there is also evidence to suggest that humans hunted the wild ancestor to extinction in the fIRST place so there you go, typical humans. Anyway humans were hunting horses and eating them a lot which makes it really hard to pinpoint the exact moment someone said “no. not eat. grip with thighs.”
The estimates for this range from like 2000 BCE to 4000 BCE to 50000 BCE (WHOA CALM DOWN THERE) but I lean towards 4000 BCE myself b/c of genetic evidence and you all know how I feel about genetics.
OKAY SO DOMESTICATION. Which fricker had the idea of stealing a goddamn animal that runs fast and kicks hard and climbing up on its back and thinking everything was going to turn out okay really which idiot did that. Although really that’s not the only reasons horses could have been initially domesticated, cause it also could have been due to a) meat and b) driving, i.e. cart-pulling. MY GUESS would be meat and also milk because freakin europeans and their desire to milk things ugh (ok the actual domestication probably was in Asia shh i just had to make a european joke)
However people with experience breeding and maintaining wild Equids point out that you REALLY cannot just take and raise a baby equid from birth away from its parents. They need to have correct social behavior modeled for them (unlike the doge, which actually had very similar social behaviors to humans, horses act pretty different, and they have more complex social lives than goats or sheep). So theories go that the first horses were captured when they were older and tamed. The fact that they would have had a hard time breeding them makes it really hard to say that domestication was purely a human-driven thing. Instead we get my favorite theory…
(sing it to yourself in a similar tune as ‘priceline negotiation’)
basically it seems like the first horses would have been attracted to human settlements because a) humans were starting to make fields of nice tasty food that was just sitting out there hot dang and b) big predators didn’t fuq around with early humans and stayed away and c) horses are intelligent and pretty curious animals. And the humans were probably cool with it cause they could go out and like spear a horse for breakfast.
So at some point someone decided to ride/drive one, and with the horses’ flight distance already reduced (refer to my cat post for an explanation of what flight distance is) the horses were more amenable to this than a purely wild animal would have been.
now there’s a lot more info available in terms of what archaeological evidence their is to suggest driving or riving like bit wear or carriages or whatnot but that is a field i don’t know much about so ask an anthropologist yeaaaaaaaa
but basically the reason anthropologists think horses were more suited to being domesticated for riding than other animals is that they had (and have) a gap in their teeth called a diastema where you can easily just shlip in a bit so that they can then be directed by turning their heads. (stirrups came a LOT later but fuq can you imagine how riding must have been without stirrups dang)
I wish I knew more about horse behavior so I could talk about that in terms of how it changed cause it must be really freakin interesting. And it’s hard to compare it to the wild ancestor obvious because they are like…. dead.
The only thing I really know about horses in terms of how their behavior has changed from domestication (aside from the obvious assumptions that they have reduced adrenaline, smaller brain size, heightened social tolerance, possibly neotenic traits- any horse people have examples of these?) is that they are able to read human pointing gestures quite well.
Now the whole pointing theory is a bit shaky these days especially with Wynne et. al proving that wolves can perform well given the right amount of training but we won’t go into that whole ruckus until the dog post. THE POINT IS horses are at the very least much more attuned to human social cues than a average wild animal might be. (i don’t believe i mentioned this last time but cats are also very good at reading human pointing gestures too)
So yeah that about sums up my knowledge on horses. In closing I would just like to say that FUCK THIS TURNED INTO A WHOLE ESSAY DIDN’T IT
GOD DAMMIT I’M SO MAD I WORKED ON THIS FOR HOURS I H8 YOU ALL
Sources and more info
Genetic evidence for the ancestor of the domestic horse (apparently, there were a few domestic males that mated with lots and lots of wild ladies along the way)
Overview of horse domestication
HORSES CAN UNDERSTAND POINTING TOO HAHA FUCK YOU DR. PRICE*
*dr. price is a professor i had once who insisted that only dogs could read human pointing gestures and shot me down in a class discussion well the jokes on you dr. price i am a semi-successful internet blogger and you are an acclaimed ornithologist. wait
**oh god please never let him find this he already got mad at me once for saying hedgehogs weren’t rodents and swore at me in an email
***i’d just like to take a moment and point out this quote from the pointing paper though:
"On some occasions, horses attempted to attack the experimenter when failing, which is also an indication for frustration."
WHAT THE HECK HORSES
also i love when things like this are summed up in dry scientific talk “on some occasions, a man’s arm was broken in several places and he shat blood for 8 days.”
idk that’s it go on now i’m waiting for the flood of horse asks (I REALLY DON’T KNOW THAT MUCH ABOUT HORSES GUYS)