Horses had their beginning over 55 million years ago when they roamed North America. With changing climatic conditions, new species continually evolved. About 3 million years ago they moved into the other continents. However, horses became extinct about 10 thousand years ago in North and South America – although no one is really quite sure why. It has been suggested that the death of this species was mostly due to climate change, disease, and being hunted by humans. It wasn’t until 1519, following the Spanish invasion of the Americas by Christopher Columbus, that horses returned to their land of origin.
Of all the horse species that roamed the earth only Equus survived, and is the ancestor of all horses today.
Prehistoric evidence shows that the horse-human relationship began in Ice Age Europe, where man was predator and horses were hunted for food. However ancient images on cave walls have led us to believe that horses also played a spiritual role in human society. Images of horses and other animals are thought to represent spirit helpers. Of all the age-old depictions found, horses are by far the most abundant. Some of hieroglyphs date back as far as 35,000 years ago, reminders of the bond between horse and man that continues to evolve and thrive.
Domestication of the horse is a key landmark in history and helped shape the world we live in today. It is believed that horses were domesticated about 5,500 years ago, initially for food and milk. Archeological evidence shows that the art of riding and harnessing horses was developed by 1500 BC. The ways we have fought wars, traveled, played, and explored have all been profoundly shaped by our use of horses.
In the 1950’s Liz Hartel of Denmark gave birth to therapeutic riding as we know it today. In the early 1990’s Linda Kohanov began exploring the horse-human connection and her work provided insight into the transformative healing power of horses. Today there are different types of Equine Facilitated Wellness – all focusing on the horse-human connection – including coaching and spiritual awareness, health and well-being, working with people with physical and mental challenges as well as personal development and leadership training.
From a food source, to a way of transportation, to healers and guides, horses have been present with humans helping them throughout history.