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For thousands of years, man and horse have shared a special bond. Humans have had many uses of horses throughout history, from transportation, war, food, companionship, work, and sport. However, what are horses used for in today’s age?
Horses are mostly used for riding and transportation. The most common use in the western world is for pleasure riding and horse sports such as racing, jumping, and showing. However, in less economically developed regions of the world, horses are still commonly used to transports goods.
Horses have been mankind’s companions while providing us with entrainment from the exhilaration of racing to the elegance of showing.
Domestication of the Horse
Horses were first domesticated around 3500 BC, near the steppes of southern Russia and Kazakhstan. At about 2300 BC, horses were brought to the ancient Near East, and by 2000 BC, they were used to pull carts, chariots, wagons, and riding.
The domestication of horses was one of the most important discoveries by early societies, changing the dynamic of civilization. Thanks to horses, people could travel farther than they ever had before, reaching new lands and carrying large sums of supplies.
They allowed humans to hunt like never before, with speed and endurance. Trading routes expanded as people rode long distances, spreading goods from all over. Humans benefited from owning horses, and they became a symbol of prestige and importance.
Here are the 7 Uses of Horses Throughout History
For thousands of years, soldiers have ridden horses into war. Even to the end of WWII, horses were bravely charging into battlefields, pulling heavy artillery and hauling wagons full of supplies.
The use of horses in warfare led to the development of the saddle, stirrups, and even the horse collar. The invention of the saddle, followed by the stirrup’s use, gave soldiers stability and balance when riding in battle. If a soldier was struck during a battle, they were less likely to fall off due to the support of riding with stirrups.
Early War Horses
Shortly after the domestication of horses, they were introduced into war, giving soldiers a whole new advantage. Horses were first used for war throughout Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean before becoming a part of European warfare.
Pulling chariots into battle, horses gave the advantage of speed and endurance. As time went on, soldiers rode horses into battle, and they pulled supplies and equipment. With the use of horses, armies could communicate faster than ever, changing the nature of war.
War Horses in the Middle Ages
During the Middle Ages, knights would ride on their trusty steeds into battle. Wearing heavy armor, knights required a fierce and strong horse that they could trust in warfare.
There were two main war horses during the Middle Ages, destriers and chargers. Destriers were highly-trained war horses that were ridden exclusively by knights and were worth top dollar. They were always stallions, with their natural aggression stimulated to make them fierce fighters.
Chargers, on the other hand, were more commonly sought after for war horses. They were more affordable and accessible than the coveted destriers. Though they were thought to be less prestigious, they were still well trained, with all chargers being stallions.
It was not uncommon during the Middle Ages for horses to be used to only transport common soldiers to battle. Traveling hundreds of miles to reach the war, horses could transport armies much faster than they could go on foot.
In 1511, Henry II and his army traveled over 400 miles besieging the French countryside on their way to battle in six weeks, something that would not have been possible without horses.
Also, read our guide on the 7 common war horse breeds used throughout history to learn more about the horses used in war.
War Horses of the 18th and 19th Centuries
During the 18th and 19th centuries, calvaries proved to be important assets to winning battles. Mounted warfare tactics were key in many significant victories.
In the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon led his army into many battles aboard his trusty Arabian stallion, Marengo. His cavalry, oftentimes on Arabians and Barbs, proved to be highly effective against marching infantry. If a battalion was in formation, they could easily be broken up by a well-led cavalry charge.
During the American Civil War, horses were key to many victories. Horses served many jobs during the war, including battle mounts, hauling artillery and wounded soldiers, and transporting supplies.
Both sides had cavalry, with men in the Confederate army having to provide their own horses. On the other hand, the Union provided their men with horses, which on many occasions were Morgans. The strong presence of the well-trained Union cavalry was fundamental in their victory of the war.
Horse Were Widely Used in World War I & World War II
Though the invention of cars, tanks, and airplanes was huge for warfare, horses were still used in WW1 and WW2. During both wars, horses were commonly a source of transportation and were still used in the calvary.
In WW1, trucks and tanks would often break down, so horses were commonly brought in to haul equipment. Horses were also useful, as they were able to go places vehicles could not. They were a source of morale for soldiers, lifting their spirits during the hardships of wartime.
In WW2, the Polish army used a mounted infantry to defend against armies of Nazi Germany during a 1939 invasion. Both Germans and the Soviet Union maintained calvaries during the war, with the British army and American army even briefly using calvaries.
A common myth from WW2 is that the German army was mostly mechanized. However, the German army was heavily reliant on horses and used up to 2.75 million horses to transport roughly 80% of their supplies.
2. Agriculture and Work
Thanks to their power and endurance, horses have been vital in helping humans in agriculture. The invention of the collar harness was revolutionary in the world of agriculture. Even today, some farmers still use horses to work their land.
Horses were able to pull plows and other farming equipment at a rate people couldn’t achieve independently. They allowed humans to expand their endeavors in agriculture, giving people the ability to work more land. Not only did they work the land, but they also transport produce to markets.
Shortly after the domestication of horses, they were out to work in agriculture. They proved to be successful, and people bred heavier, stronger horse breeds to work the fields.
Horses were faster and more efficient than oxen, which led them to be the top choice for plowing land for hundreds of years. In 1920, there were over 25 million horses and mules in America, with most of them working on farmland.
In addition to farm work, horses have also held many other jobs. They have worked down in mines, hauling precious cargo back to the surface. Their strength and intelligence have led them to herding cattle, pulling milk trucks and fire trucks, and working as police mounts.
Perhaps the most meaningful of all, horses have given companionship to humans for thousands of years. People have kept horses as prized possessions, creating strong bonds with these extraordinary creatures.
All over the world, people have highly regarded horses for their beauty and abilities and their companionship. People have kept horses as part of their families, treating them like royalty. The ancient Bedouin tribes would even keep their Arabian horses in their tents, as they considered them their most treasured possessions.
4. Leisure and Sport
Horses have long been a symbol of wealth and power. People have kept horses as a form of leisure and sport as a way to provide entertainment.
For hundreds of years, people have bred the finest of horses to carry on champion pedigrees. Racing was one of the first ways people sought horses as a form of entertainment and sport.
Countries all over the world have raced horses in harness and under saddle. During the 1700s, under Queen Anne’s rule, horse racing became a professional sport in England.
As people rode horses for pleasure, they also had the desire to showcase their mounts’ beauty and talent. For centuries, people have brought their best horses to compete at shows. They have shown horses in a variety of different divisions to best exhibit their talents.
After domestication, horses allowed people to go where they had never gone before. Thanks to their power and stamina, people could travel much farther in a shorter amount of time.
People now had the ability to communicate and spread news like never before. With the invention of carts and wagons, people were able to move and transport supplies and their belongings.
For hundreds of years, horses were the primary form of transportation. Cities were once full of carriages and wagons, transporting people and goods across towns.
Horses were the backbone of transportation in many countries, from moving pilgrims in wagons across the American frontier to pulling European royalty in fine carriages.
Also, click the links to find out how much a horse can pull and what the biggest horse breeds are.
6.Food and Products
Though it is not a pleasant part of history, humans have been known to eat horse meat. In some cultures, eating horses is very taboo, but others consider horse meat a delicacy.
Horse meat has been consumed by people well before horses were domesticated. European and Asian countries most commonly eat it. However, controversy has long followed suit as many cultures and religions find it to be wrong.
Horse hooves have also been a source for making different products. Collagen found in hooves can be broken down to create the means necessary to produce glue and gelatin. Though not as common now, horse hooves are still found in these goods today.
Hair from tails has been used to create violin bows and paintbrushes, as the hairs are sturdy yet smooth. Horse milk is another horse product that has been a traditional beverage in Mongolia and some European countries.
7.Therapy and Support
Using horses for therapy and emotional support is relatively new in equine history. Though riding horses is considered therapeutic, the use of equine-assisted therapy as we know it today was first introduced in Scandinavia in 1946 after an outbreak of poliomyelitis.
Therapeutic riding was then introduced to the United States and Canada in the 1960s. Since then, it has been a way to help those with physical and mental disabilities and PTSD.
The ability of horses to help humans has led to the development of equines as support animals. In the early 2000s, miniature horses were trained as seeing-eye guides for the blind.
Minis have even recently gone on to become emotional support animals. Humans have found horses to have the physical and emotional capabilities to help us both physically and mentally.
Horses and other animals were used to pull wheeled vehicles, chariots, carts and wagons and horses were increasingly used for riding in the Near East from at least c. 2000 BC onwards. Horses were used in war, in hunting and as a means of transport.What were domesticated horses used for? ›
Genetic evidence indicates that domestication of the modern horse's ancestors likely occurred in an area known as the Volga-Don, in the Pontic–Caspian steppe region of Western Eurasia, around 2200 BCE. From there, use of horses spread across Eurasia for transportation, agricultural work, and warfare.What are 3 uses for horses? ›
In high-income countries, horses are primarily used for sport, breeding, animal assisted therapy, or as companions for leisure.What are the 4 primary uses of horses? ›
Horses are primarily used for com- panionship, racing, riding, and breeding.Why are horses important in history? ›
Horses provided the first means of fast travel. This sped up migration, trade, and communication between cultures. They helped languages and cultures spread around the world. They helped people do work, from plowing fields to hauling goods.What are horses usually used for? ›
Most domesticated horses in the world today are used to ride and to do farm or ranch work. Some horses are treated similar to pets, kept for their companionship and entertainment value. Horses are often used in police work, especially for managing crowds at large events.How are horses useful to humans? ›
Horses have been domesticated since the third millennium BCE  and have played a number of roles in their relationship with humans including war, work, transportation, sport, and companionship.What are 2 purposes of horses in early American history? ›
The horse became an integral part of the lives and culture of Native Americans, especially the Plains Indians, who viewed them as a source of wealth and used them for hunting, travel, and warfare.What were horses used for in the 1800s? ›
Horses in the 1800s were used for war, transportation, farm work, mail delivery, hunting, and sport.What were horses used for in the 1600s? ›
Horses replaced the dog as a travois puller and greatly improved success in battles, trade, and hunts, particularly bison hunts. Santa Fe became a major trading center in the 1600s.
There are more than 300 breeds of horse in the world today, developed for many different uses. Horses and humans interact in a wide variety of sport competitions and non-competitive recreational pursuits as well as in working activities such as police work, agriculture, entertainment and therapy.How were horses used in war? ›
A war horse is often thought of as a huge cavalry charger or a smart officer's mount. But during the First World War (1914-18), horses' roles were much more varied. Their contribution included carrying and pulling supplies, ammunition, artillery and even the wounded.How did the horse change history? ›
“Horses were an order of magnitude faster than many of the transport systems of prehistoric Eurasia, allowing people to travel, communicate, trade and raid across distances that would have previously been unthinkable.”What were horses used for in farming? ›
Horses could pull plows through the fields and carts to transport crops. With their assistance and the improvements made to other tools on the farm, crops had better results. Horses were the driving power in agriculture until the tractor was invented in the late 1800's.How have horses changed the world? ›
From the time they were first domesticated to the invention of the wheel, saddle, bit, and bridle; horses brought far-flung lands closer together at the speed of a gallop. Trade, agriculture, transportation, and more were expanded in new ways—all made possible by the power of the horse.What was the main use of horses until 20th century? ›
19th and 20th centuries
Horses remained the primary source of power for agriculture, mining, transport and warfare, until the arrival of the steam engine.
Horses can identify some colors; they see yellow and blue the best, but cannot recognize red. One study showed that horses could easily tell blue, yellow and green from gray, but not red. Horses also have a difficulty separating red from green, similar to humans who experience red/green color blindness.Can horses laugh? ›
Horses will raise their noses in the air and curl their upper lip towards the sky, revealing their upper teeth. The result is they look like they are having a good laugh. Actually, what they are doing is called a Flehmen response.How long are horses useful? ›
|Horse life expectancy|
|Breed||Average life expectancy|
|Wild horse||15 years|
|Domestic horse||25 to 33 years|
They were also used frequently for hunting. A more general-purpose horse was the rouncey (also rounsey), which could be kept as a riding horse or trained for war. It was commonly used by squires, men-at-arms or poorer knights. A wealthy knight would keep rounceys for his retinue.
By 1900, most farmers used draft horses for hard labor. The 1,800 pound animals plowed the fields for corn and oats, planted the crops, cultivated the fields, brought in the hay crop, pulled wagons of field corn, hauled manure. Farms would not have been as successful without the aid of the horses.Can horses vomit? ›
While most mammals are able to vomit, rodents aren't the only exception. Horses don't throw up either. The reasons they can't are related to their physiology and anatomy as well.What were horses used for in China? ›
Horses were introduced from the West, disturbing warfare, and forcing local warring States to adopt new military practices such as chariots and cavalry. The strategic role of horses in large amounts for military defense against steppes invasions is well documented.What was the use of horses in WW1? ›
During the First World War (1914-18), horses were needed to perform cavalry roles, but were also vital for moving supplies, equipment, guns and ammunition. The requisition, transportation and care of these animals was therefore of huge importance.What were horses mostly used for during WW1? ›
Horses were used for reconnaissance and for carrying messengers as well as for pulling artillery, ambulances, and supply wagons. The presence of horses often increased morale among the soldiers at the front, but the animals contributed to disease and poor sanitation in camps, caused by their manure and carcasses.Were horses used in battle? ›
Horses were probably first used to pull chariots in battle starting around 1500 BC. But it wasn't until around 900 BC that warriors themselves commonly fought on horseback. Among the first mounted archers and fighters were the Scythians, a group of nomadic Asian warriors who often raided the ancient Greeks.How did horses Help in ww2? ›
Horses carried soldiers on patrol missions in Europe and into battle in the Philippines. Mules, trained in the United States and shipped by the thousands into war zones, contributed their strength and sweat to the fight. Their backs bore the food, weapons, and sometimes the men of entire infantry units.How did horses help the military? ›
Horses have served in nearly every capacity during war, including transportation, reconnaissance missions, cavalry charges, packing supplies, and communications. In addition to boosting morale and courage of troops, these powerful animals even became weapons when taught to kick, strike and bite.How did horses change history? ›
“Horses were an order of magnitude faster than many of the transport systems of prehistoric Eurasia, allowing people to travel, communicate, trade and raid across distances that would have previously been unthinkable.”What did they use horses for in the Middle Ages? ›
A variety of work horses were used throughout the Middle Ages. The pack horse (or "sumpter horse") carried equipment and belongings. Common riding horses, often called "hackneys", could be used as pack horses. Cart horses pulled wagons for trading and freight haulage, on farms, or as part of a military campaign.
Domestication of horses fundamentally transformed long-range mobility and warfare1. However, modern domesticated breeds do not descend from the earliest domestic horse lineage associated with archaeological evidence of bridling, milking and corralling2,3,4 at Botai, Central Asia around 3500 bc3.What were 3 trends in horse evolution? ›
The line leading from Eohippus to the modern horse exhibits the following evolutionary trends: increase in size, reduction in the number of hooves, loss of the footpads, lengthening of the legs, fusion of the independent bones of the lower legs, elongation of the muzzle, increase in the size and complexity of the brain ...What were horses used for in ancient Egypt? ›
In general Egyptians did not ride on horses but used them for chariots. Two horses are the rule. Horseshoes were not used. Egyptian horses, which were probably almost identical to those in the Near East, are rather small by comparison with modern horses, and attested in different colours (brown, reddish etc.).How are horses helpful to humans? ›
In fact, an emerging body of scientific evidence indicates that interacting with horses improves health and well-being and can help people with numerous physical and mental health conditions, from children living with motor disabilities to adults grappling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).What were horses used for in the 1920s? ›
Horses were the driving power in agriculture until the tractor was invented in the late 1800's. In 1920, more than 25 million horses and mules were working the fields.