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100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 1995 (NY Public Library)
Author Biography: Milton Meltzer, a Christopher Award and ...
100 Titles for Reading and Sharing 1995 (NY Public Library)
Author Biography: Milton Meltzer, a Christopher Award and Jane Addams Children's Book Award winner, is the author of over eighty books in the fields of history, biography, and social reform. His most recent books are The Amazing Potato, a 1993 ALA Notable Children's Book, Gold and Hold Your Horses!. He lives in New York City.
Winner of the 2001 Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal
"God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses." One of President Theodore Roosevelt's friends wrote that to him.
That's what some people think of the horse. What do horses think? Of themselves? Of us? Unfortunately, we don't know, for horses do not keep diaries or write letters or give TV interviews. But men and women have observed horses closely for a very long time. A Greek soldier and historian named Xenophon wrote a book about the horse over two thousand years ago. After watching the animal's behavior, he and the many writers who followed him put together ideas about how horses think.
A herd instinct: that's the horse's strongest basic urge. Understandable when you realize that before horses were domesticated, their survival depended on sticking together. A group of horses had a better chance against predatory animals than one horse alone.' The horses of today still like to be in company, it means security as well as companionship.
Like all herd animals, horses are followers. They look to a leader. They like a regular pattern of life. Familiar routine puts them at ease and makes them feel calm. The horse has a tightly tuned nervous system. It responds quickly to danger, but it also is excitable and nervous.
Horses are highly trainable. Their ability to race, jump, perform in horse shows, and carry out any number of tasks can be developed. Like people, horses must be willing to learn. (Again like us, if they're badly handled, they stubbornly refuse to learn.) For thousands of years they learned so much that their impact upon human history has been immense. From the dawn ofprehistoric agriculture the horse has tilled the fields. Down through the ages, the horse has become an essential partner in warfare, in the exploration of strange territories, and in the hauling of raw materials to the factory and the finished product to the marketplace. Almost anything humans have demanded of it, the horse has done.
And done it because the horse is superbly equipped for so many tasks. Its strength, its speed, its vision, its hearing, its sense of smell, its reflexes — they are better than a human's. Its memory — a big factor in intelligence — is very good. It can learn the complex routine required of it in everything from circus acts to herding cattle on the range.
The personality of the horse varies considerably in individual horses and from one breed to another. There are hundreds of breeds and variations in color. Each horse has a basic character or temperament, with as many variations as are found among humans. Horses can be delightful or dull, energetic or listless, "good" or "bad." Some authorities believe that the horse is not by nature a brave animal. But those trained for warfare can display great courage in the face of terrible danger.
A horse's height is always described as so many "hands. " Where did the form of measurement comefrom? Long before we had a system of feet and inches, horsemen measured the height of their animals in "hands. " By that is meant the width of an adult male's band, taken from the base of the thumb across the palm. Thats been standardized as four inches. The horse is measured from the ground to the top of the shoulders. The "hand" measurement is used everywhere.Where did the horse family come from? When did this species of animal arrive? Its appearance on earth predates humankind.
The horse we know today — called Equus caballus — is the result of a long process of evolution that scientists have been able to trace through a series of fossilized skeletons dug up in North America and northern Europe at the beginning of the twentieth century. The earliest ancestor of the horse predates humans by about sixty million years. It's commonly called eohippus, the "dawn horse." It was a small animal, scarcely more than a foot high.
Although eohippus fossils are found in both the Old World and the New World, the evolution of the first horses took place chiefly in North America. Some of the forms that developed spread from North America into Asia and Europe, crossing by way of the land bridge (later flooded by the Bering Sea) that long ago connected Alaska with Siberia.
It was toward the end of the Pliocene Epoch, around 2,500,000 years ago, that the modern horse — Equus — evolved. As a new form it proved very successful. It spread from the plains of North America to South America and across the land bridge from Alaska to Siberia and all parts of Eurasia.
But a strange thing happened. The horse did very well in its North American homeland for millions of years. Then, about 10,000 years ago, it disappeared from North and South America. Why? No one is sure. Did devastating diseases or a fatal parasite wipe it out? Did humans who hunted horses kill them off? Were climatic changes to blame? The exhaustion of food supplies? The appearance of a natural enemy? Wh en the Bering land bridge disappeared beneath the rising sea, it became impossible for the descendants of the horses that had migrated earlier to Asia to return to America. Not until the ships of the Spanish explorers carried them to the New World five hundred years ago did horses return to their native land.
It was during the evolution of Equus in Eurasia that local types of horses developed; all breeds descended from this single species, Equus. Eurasia's wide variations in climate, altitude, and soil influenced the evolution of the horse during these last ten thousand years. It explains the differences in size and shape we see in today's domestic horse.
Three of these prehistoric breeds are considered to be the ancestors of our domestic horses. One, called Przewalski's horse, evolved on the wild steppes of Turkestan in central Asia. It was about the size of a modern pony, with a thick neck and a short black mane that stuck straight up. A second breed, the forest horse, found in northern Europe, was the largest and heaviest. The steppe horse, the smallest of the three breeds, is thought to be the forerunner of what is now called the Arabian horse.