The story of the domestication of the horse is one of the oldest human conquests. But this animal is also the result of a long adaptation… from a much more precocious ancestor, living tens of millions of years ago.
No bigger than a dog, the Hyracotherium, a mammal that inhabited the forests of the Northern Hemisphere 65 to 40 million years ago, would be the most distant ancestor of the horse. Over time, his four fingers regressed to become a hoof, his molars became thicker, his tourniquet rose to the height of 1.50 m. And, 4 million years ago, was born the genus Equus (which today brings together horses, donkeys and zebras).
Present in Africa, Eurasia and America, the horse disappeared from the Americas during the great extinctions of the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. He returned only with the conquistadores, in the 15th century.
Long before becoming the most beautiful conquest of man, the horse was one of his favorite prey. Forty thousand years ago, his presence in the remains of game is constant, far ahead of the aurochs or deer. Palaeontologists call the paleolithic: age of the horse.
The horse is also the animal most represented in rock paintings in France and Spain, a sign of the special bond that unites him to man. The earliest record of his domestication dates from 3,500 BC, north of Kazakhstan. Archaeologists have found premolars bearing the marks left by the bit, clearly indicating a harness.
They also found traces of fat characteristic of horse milk in pottery. In other words, before making him his noblest conquest, men probably milked horses as mere cows!