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  • Picture a cowboy.

  • What do you see?

  • A six-gun, some leather boots, and a ten-gallon hat?

  • Great.

  • Now picture a medieval knight - tall, dashing, and wearing shining, plate-mail armor, wielding

  • a sword or a lance.

  • Perfect!

  • These two figures, while very different and hundreds of years apart, have one thing in

  • common: The horse.

  • Dogs may be man's best friend, but the horse is one of humanity's most enduring and valuable

  • colleagues.

  • But today, we're here to ask one big question: Why?

  • The horse is far from the only domesticated beast of burden humanity has made use of during

  • its time on earth, so what makes its use so widespread?

  • How come we don't use other animals - like the zebra, which is basically just a cooler-looking

  • horse, right?

  • Well, it's our job to find out.

  • We're going to take a look at why the horse has proven to be such a perfect mode of transport

  • for generations of humans, the different and sometimes incredibly strange animals people

  • have ridden throughout history, and finally, why you've never seen a knight or a cowboy

  • rolling into town on a zebra.

  • But first, let's talk about horses.

  • Even though their popular use has been supplanted by the car and the motorcycle, the horse still

  • looms large over modern culture - whether it's in the Saddle Club or Bojack Horseman.

  • Horses have been part of the human consciousness since long before we were ever riding them

  • - horses have been depicted in Paleolithic cave paintings over 30,000 years old, when

  • they were hunted for their meat across Eurasia and later North America.

  • In the following millenia, the human race largely shifted from hunting and gathering

  • to a greater focus on agriculture.

  • A number of animals - such as pigs, sheep, and cattle - became popular sources of meat,

  • milk, cheese, wool, and hide.

  • But we're not talking about eating animals here.

  • We're talking about riding them.

  • When did humans begin utilizing horses for transport?

  • Much like Borat, researchers currently believe that our story begins in the Central Asian

  • nation of Kazakhstan, several thousand years before it became Kazakhstan.

  • The initial domestication event likely took place sometime between 3,500 B.C. and 3,000

  • B.C., though of course, we're talking about a time so long ago that it predates some of

  • our more specific records.

  • The most recent studies into the subject believe that horse domestication was first achieved

  • by the Botai people who established villages in the grasslands of the region.

  • Archeologists studying the dig sites of former Botai villages discovered a huge number of

  • horse bones, as well as fragments of pottery believed to have been used for storing horse

  • milk.

  • To give you an idea of just how long ago this was, the Botai are believed to be closely

  • related to Paleolithic Hunter-Gatherers who once inhabited the area.

  • Naturally, the next logical question is: How did the Botai come up with the bright idea

  • to domesticate horses?

  • We can't know for sure, but our best guess is that the Botai likely discovered the fact

  • you can domesticate a horse during their own hunting days, before transitioning into a

  • more pastoral lifestyle, with a particular focus on - you guessed it - horses.

  • Prior to the horse domestication event, donkeys were already in popular use as beasts of burden,

  • and horses weren't all that superficially different.

  • Once the art of taming the beast was mastered - likely after a lot of trial, error, and

  • broken bones - they finally had the means to fully reshape their society.

  • Horses would go on to be used in everything from sport to warfare, and the human race

  • would never be the same again.

  • Seems pretty cut and dry, right?

  • The Botai master the art of horse domestication, and pass their knowledge all the way down

  • to modern equestrians today.

  • But sadly, history is rarely so simple and linear.

  • A Danish molecular biologist by the name of Peter de Barros Damgaard discovered that the

  • horses domesticated by the Botai aren't genetically related to the domestic horses

  • we know today.

  • There's also no real evidence that the Botai ever engaged in cultural transfer with other

  • civilizations at the time.

  • So how did the practice of domesticating horses for farming and transport catch on?

  • Much like the formation of human language and communication, recent studies into the

  • mitochondrial genomes of modern domesticated horses suggest at least eighteen different

  • points of origin in the last ten thousand years.

  • This means that a multitude of cultures across Eurasia and even Western Europe domesticated

  • horses for transport in the same few thousand years, completely independent of one another.

  • We don't have an exact answer as to how or why this happened, but it just goes to

  • show how vital our relationship with the horse has been with the development of human civilization.

  • Suddenly, distances that would have been impractical to impossible to traverse became manageable.

  • Settlements could expand, cross-cultural exchange was made possible, and exploration would reach

  • never before seen heights.

  • A number of nomadic cultures, such as the legendary Huns, would never even have come

  • to be without the domestication of the horse.

  • While it may not feel as relevant as, say, the creation of the wheel today, the domestication

  • of horses is arguably one of the most impactful innovations in human history.

  • Some even credit horse domestication with the advancement of humanity into the first

  • age of metal: The Bronze Age, with horse-based transport facilitating the trade of copper

  • and zinc.

  • This led to the creation of the chariot, revolutionizing warfare, and later the carriage, revolutionizing

  • transport and logistics.

  • Horses left an indelible mark on culture - withhorsepoweras a measure of engine and

  • motor power still being popular today.

  • Horses are fast, strong, large, intelligent, and - after proper training - loyal.

  • You can see why, prior to the invention of non-living modes of transport, horses were

  • the steed of choice for millenia.

  • But of course, you can't truly identify the best until you've tried the rest.

  • And believe us, humanity has absolutely tried the rest.

  • While horses have been a perennial favorite, different cultures have adopted and experimented

  • with riding a number of animals - to varying degrees of success.

  • Before we move onto our main question here, why we don't ride zebras like we ride horses,

  • let's take a look at some of the other creatures humanity has attempted to stick a saddle on.

  • As we mentioned before, the domesticated mule and donkey actually predate the horse.

  • While their use as a riding animal is less widespread than a horse, they do remain useful

  • to this day - from their usage as beasts of burden in developing countries, to providing

  • novelty donkey rides for children in the West.

  • Perhaps the most famous use of the donkey as a riding animal is present in the Bible

  • story of the birth of Jesus Christ, where they ride into Bethlehem on an ass.

  • Of course, donkeys are smaller and weaker than horses, so they don't have quite the

  • same wide variety of applications.

  • In countries like Tibet, Nepal, and Mongolia, the domestic Yak has been ridden for thousands

  • of years.

  • They're tough, durable animals that suit the rugged and mountainous landscapes of these

  • regions far better than the horse, both for riding and as beasts of burden.

  • In Tibet and Karakorum, yaks are also a pivotal element of a number of popular sports.

  • Yak racing, for example, involves riders jockeying yaks around a track, much like standard horse

  • racing in the West.

  • Yaks are also ridden while playing Yak Polo, which is - as you can probably guess - like

  • regular polo except with yaks instead of horses.

  • There's even the popular tourist activity of yak skiing in India, where yaks pull skiers

  • along frosty slopes.

  • Of course, while yaks may be the perfect mount for rugged, mountainous environments, they're

  • not quite as suited to arid desert climates.

  • The camel, on the other hand, is perfect.

  • These animals followed a very similar trajectory to the horse - they were initially hunted

  • for their meat before being domesticated several thousand years ago, at which point they became

  • a staple of transport in the deserts of Central and East Asia, Australia, North Africa, and

  • the Middle East.

  • The more common variety is the Dromedary or Arabian Camel, present in the hot, dry climates

  • of the Middle East and Australia.

  • It can be identified by its lean appearance and single hump.

  • Compared to the less common Asian Bactrian Camel, which has a fluffier appearance and

  • two humps.

  • Much like horses, camels have an impressive legacy of military service.

  • Militaries have employed camel cavalries for thousands of years, dating back to at least

  • 1200 BC, and this has continued through to today.

  • The Indian Border Security Force employed the use of camels all the way up until 2012

  • before being replaced by ATVs.

  • But camels and horses are far from the only animal humans have ridden into battle.

  • The largest living land mammal, the elephant, has also been a fixture of warfare for thousands

  • of years, and this makes total sense when you think about it.

  • They're huge, intelligent, and have the advantage of tusks and a prehensile trunk.

  • They're more dangerous than any of the other animals discussed here.

  • Because of their immense size, war elephants could support fighting platforms which held

  • multiple archers or javelin throwers.

  • Before the use of these war elephants was outmoded by the introduction of cannons, they

  • were employed by everyone from the Ancient Indians to the Ancient Romans.

  • One particularly famous instance was the group of war elephants led by Carthaginian general

  • Hannibal Barca over the Alps in order to lay siege to Italy.

  • The big downside of using elephants in war was their tendency to get spooked, no matter

  • how trained.

  • And a spooked war elephant was just as liable to cause devastating damage to your own forces

  • as it was to the enemy.

  • Ultimately, it was probably best just to stick to horses.

  • Before we address our final question - why we can't ride those awesome, stripy zebras

  • like we can ride normal horses - let's take a look at some of the other animals you can

  • ride, even if riding them was never widely adopted.

  • Firstly, ostriches - the only bird you can ride.

  • Some countries provide novelty ostrich rides for tourists, but these feisty creatures are

  • far too erratic and volatile for any kind of practical use, other than a feathered bucking

  • bronco.

  • But there are even wilder steeds than this out there for brave - and let's be honest,

  • wealthy - tourists.

  • If you plan on taking a vacation to scenic Vietnam, you may be able to grease a few palms

  • and get a ride on a local water buffalo.

  • If Kenya is your destination of choice and you have some small children with you, you

  • can visit the Mount Kenya Wildlife Conservancy.

  • There, your child can have a short ride on the resident Aldabra Giant Tortoise, known

  • as Speedy.

  • Just don't expect to get anywhere fast, for obvious reasons.

  • And finally, let's take a look at the question that started this whole thing: If riding horses

  • basically gave us the human society we have today, how come we can't ride zebras?

  • After all, aren't they just a more cool-looking horse?

  • Why do people keep laughing at all my zebra-riding dreams?

  • So, in the past, there have been practical reasons to want to domesticate zebras.

  • During the British occupation of several African nations during the 19th Century, they realized

  • their imported horses were susceptible to local diseases, whereas the native zebras

  • were not.

  • But these efforts to domesticate zebras ran into a major issue: Unlike the horse, which

  • in most places has few natural predators, the zebra spends its life paranoid about the

  • various Savannah Predators like lions, cheetahs, and crocodiles.

  • As a result, zebras are not trusting or loyal to humans.

  • They're highly defensive animals who can be extremely aggressive when cornered - and,

  • in the right situation, are more than capable of kicking a lion to death.

  • So, to answer our earlier question: Why don't we ride zebras like horses?

  • Because if you try to ride a zebra, it'll likely interpret you as a threat, and quite

  • literally kick you to death.

  • This and everything else we've discussed today all reinforces one simple truth: When

  • it comes to riding animals, nothing beats the horse.

  • Now check outLong Horse - ExplainedandYou Have Been Eating Horse Meat Without

  • Knowing Itfor more facts about our equine friends.

Picture a cowboy.

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Why Don't We Ride Zebras Like Horses?

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    林宜悉 posted on 2021/01/07
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