The Domestic Horse: The Origins, Development and Management of its Behaviour

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Since it was originally domesticated in the late Neolithic period, the horse has been used for transport, labor, food and recreational purposes. This book enables the reader to gain insight into the past and present behavior of this fascinating animal as well as its profound effect upon human society. It will appeal to animal scientists and to those working with horses in a professional capacity as well as enthusiastic owners.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
'… brings together a collection of international scientific authors to write on the latest work concerning horse behaviour and welfare. Illustrated throughout, the book is designed to appeal to animal scientists, those working with horses in a professional capacity and enthusiastic owners.' Lincolnshire Echo

'It is a valuable reference text for animal scientists, horse specialists and students on animal and equine courses.' Biologist

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521891134
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 11/15/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 264
  • Sales rank: 882,885
  • Product dimensions: 7.44 (w) x 9.69 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Daniel S. Mills is principal lecturer in behavioural studies and animal welfare and director of the animal behaviour referral clinic at the University of Lincoln. He is the first specialist in veterinary behavioural medicine to be formally recognised by the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and has published widely on behaviour problems in the domestic horse and is co-author of Equine Behaviour, Principles and Practice.

Sue M. McDonnell is an associate professor and founding head of the Havemeyer Equine Behavior Programme at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, New Bolton Center. She has published widely on stallion sexual behaviour and dysfunction and is author of The Equid Ethogram, A Practical Field Guide to Horse Behavior.

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The Domestic Horse
Cambridge University Press
0521814146 - The Domestic Horse - The Origins, Development and Management of its Behaviour - Edited by D. S. Mills and S. M. McDonnell


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Perhaps no animal more than the horse has played and continues to play such an important role in shaping society. Horses were instrumental to economic development as well as the success of large-scale human invasions and the cultural changes these brought around the world. They remained a vital instrument of industry and war across the globe until well into the twentieth century, when they were largely replaced by machinery in the industrialized world. None the less, the vast utility of this animal has ensured its survival, and their greater use in leisure has meant that they continue to make a significant contribution to those economies that have otherwise sought to replace them as a beast of burden. There are no longer any wild ancestors of the domestic horse; the closest we have to these are the feral progeny of domesticated animals and the reintroduced Przewalski's horse. Domestication and captive breeding processes bring about certain changes dependent on the selective forces involved, none the less these horses appear to adapt easily to their natural environment, suggesting that they have retained much of their natural biology. Given the importance of the horse's behaviour and management to its utility it may seem surprising that research into these aspects of its biology remains largely piecemeal, with strong but relatively small research groups scattered around the world. For the first time, this book brings together much of this knowledge in a single text, in three parts.

The first, 'Origins and selection of horse behaviour', not only examines how the horse has been integrated into human society, but also emphasizes how every horse has an individual identity and role. Levine highlights how difficult it is to unravel the historical evidence which led to domestication and the basis for the ubiquitous presence of the horse today. This utility of the horse is examined further in the following chapter by Hall on the role of the horse in society across the world. Whilst it may seem obvious that horses must vary in their behaviour to fulfil their diverse roles, it is perhaps surprising how little work has been done on the heritability of horse behaviour and the genetic basis of individual variability. Hausberger and Richard-Yris provide a comprehensive review of these topics in the final chapter of this section.

Part two emphasises what we can learn from the wild and so starts with a chapter on how the free-roaming behaviour of the horse has evolved to be adapted to these environments (Boyd and Keiper) and another on the natural communication patterns used by the horse (Feh). These are followed by a series of chapters which contrast the behaviour of horses in natural social and environmental conditions with their behaviour in domestic environments. Emphasis is given to maintenance activities (Houpt), sexual behaviour (McDonnell), mare-foal interaction (Crowell-Davis and Weeks), the process of behavioural development (Ladewig, Søndergaard & Christensen) and play (Goodwin and Hughes).

Part three considers the demands and effect of the domestic environment on horse behaviour and welfare. Mills and McNicholas start with a review of the current literature and present data from recent studies that have sought to elucidate what attracts humans to the horse. The utility of the horse is related to its ability to be conditioned for a variety of functions and so Nicol provides a critical review of what we actually know about the learning ability of the horse. This is followed by a chapter which considers how this knowledge is applied in general horse training and the increasingly popularized techniques of 'natural horsemanship' (Waran and Casey). McGreevy and McLean then discuss how problems arise during the training of the ridden horse and how these can be resolved through 'the installation of clear operant basics'. Another conspicuous behaviour problem arising from a general lack of appreciation of the natural behavioural biology of the domestic horse is the occurrence of a variety of repetitive behaviours. Mills evaluates the current body of research into these and their management. Finally, Cooper and Albentosa examine the methods used to evaluate equine welfare and emphasize the need for a multidisciplinary approach if we are to understand how domestic practices impact on their well-being.

Origins and selection of horse behaviour

Domestication and early history of the horse

Marsha A. Levine

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Before the development of firearms, the horse was crucial to warfare and before the invention of the steam engine, it was the fastest and most reliable form of land transport. Today its importance has scarcely diminished in parts of South America, Asia, Africa and Eastern Europe, and even elsewhere it is of great economic importance to sport and leisure industries. Nevertheless, in spite of intensive investigations over many years, researchers know very little about the origins of horse domestication and the evolution of horse husbandry.

The origins of horse domestication

Throughout the course of the twentieth century a variety of theories have been developed purporting to explain where, when and for what purposes the horse was first domesticated. The basic positions can be summarized as, that it was first domesticated:

  • during the Neolithic, Eneolithic or Early Bronze Age (Table 1.1);

  • for meat, riding or traction;

  • in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Eastern Europe or Western Europe;

  • possibly in response to contacts with the Near East;

  • at a single locus or at a number of different loci, more or less simultaneously.

In some situations it is, of course, easy to show how horses had been used in ancient times. For example, the horses found in some of the Altai Early Iron Age kurgan burials (Figure 1.1) - such as Pazyryk, Bashadar and Ak-Alakha - as a result of their burial in permafrost, were accompanied by well-preserved equipment such as bridles, saddles and harnessing (Rudenko, 1970; Polos'mak, 1994). Because of Rudenko's publication The Frozen Tombs of Siberia, Pazyryk is especially well known, but many other Early Iron Age sites from the Ukraine and south Siberia are equally spectacular. Many of the richer graves contained objects made of gold and silver - for example, jewellery, vessels, harness ornaments, weapons and belt buckles. Carpets, wall hangings,

Figure 1.1. Map showing locations of Dereivka, Botai and Early Iron Age Altai sites: Ak-Alakha, Bashadar and Pazyryk. Image not available in HTML version

Table 1.1. Chronology of the west Eurasian steppe

Approximate Dates (BC) Period
900-300 Early Iron Age
1000-900 Transition to Early Iron Age
1800/1700-1200/1000 Late Bronze Age
2000/1900?-1800/1700 Middle Bronze Age
3000/2900 (2750?)-2300/1900? Early Bronze Age (EBA)
3500/3400-3000/2900 (2750?) Final Eneolithic - beginning of EBA
4800/4700?-3500/3400 Eneolithic
6000-4800/4000 Neolithic

clothing made of felt, furs and even silk from China have also been recovered (Cahen-Delhaye, 1991). It is intriguing to note that the jointed snaffle bit was in wide use in central Eurasia during the Early Iron Age (first millennium BC).

At most sites, however, especially those dating from the period when horses were first domesticated for riding and traction, determining whether an animal was domesticated is much more difficult, sometimes impossible. Organic materials such as leather and wood are only very rarely recoverable from the archaeological record. In unfavourable soil conditions even bone is eventually destroyed. Moreover, not only is it possible to ride a horse without the use of a saddle or bridle, but also, during the early stages of horse domestication, it is likely that they were usually ridden that way.

In recent years two sites have come to the fore in debates concerning the origins of horse domestication: Dereivka and Botai. Dereivka, an Eneolithic Ukrainian settlement site, has been central to the problem of the origins of horse domestication, because for the past three decades it has been regarded as the site with the earliest evidence of horse husbandry (e.g. Bökönyi, 1978; Bibikova, 1986b; Telegin, 1986; Mallory, 1989; Anthony & Brown, 1991; Gimbutas, 1991). More recently Botai, an Eneolithic settlement site from Kazakhstan, has also been associated with this question (Brown & Anthony, 1998) (Figure 1.1). Because of the enormous numbers of horse bones found at Botai, it was inevitable that this site would be considered in such discussions. However, upon further examination such as that below, it should be clear that the evidence backing the claims for both sites is deeply flawed.

Types of evidence for the origins of horse domestication

Two types of evidence are referred to in discussions of the origins of horse domestication: direct and indirect. Direct evidence relates to artistic, textual and funerary evidence, where there is virtually no doubt both that the horses were caballine and that they were ridden or used for traction.

Indirect evidence is inferred from characteristics of bones and artefacts. It includes evidence derived from analytical methods such as population structure, biogeographical distribution and artefact studies. It is invariably the case that any one pattern manifested by these types of data could have more than one explanation. On its own, no one type of data can provide satisfactory evidence of horse domestication. Indirect evidence must have corroboration from as many directions as possible.

Some types of indirect evidence are frequently confused with direct evidence. That is, data - whose association with horse husbandry is only inferred - are treated as if they could only be explained by horse domestication. Eneolithic bit wear and cheekpieces are examples of false direct evidence.

Direct evidence

The earliest unambiguous direct evidence - that is, dateable textual and artistic evidence - for horse domestication probably only dates back to the end of the third millennium BC (Postgate, 1986; Zarins, 1986; Piggott, 1992; Kuz'mina, 1994a,b, 1996; Littauer & Crouwel, 1996). Evidence of horses in graves, accompanied by artefacts unambiguously associated with riding or traction is even more recent, dating to probably no later than the beginning of the second millennium BC (Postgate, 1986; Piggott, 1992; Kuz'mina, 1994a,b, 1996; Anthony, 1995; Littauer & Crouwel, 1996). By the middle of the second millennium BC horses were widely used to pull chariots - for example, in the Near East, Greece, and on the Eurasian steppe (Piggott, 1992; Littauer & Crouwel, 1996; Renfrew, 1998). There is apparently no reliable textual or artistic evidence for horse riding earlier than the end of the second millennium BC (Renfrew, 1987, 1998; Piggott, 1992). There are earlier representations of people riding equids in the Near East. However, because of the extreme difficulty of distinguishing artistic representations of horses from those of asses, it is impossible to identify the earliest evidence for horse riding itself (Piggott, 1992). It is highly improbable, however, that traction horses could have been herded either on foot or from a vehicle. Therefore it seems almost certain, as far as the horse is concerned, that riding would have preceded traction.

One interpretation of this evidence is that the horse was first domesticated for traction around the end of the third millennium BC and for riding a little earlier (Khazanov, 1984; Renfrew, 1987; Kuz'mina, 1994a,b). However, it is almost certain that horse husbandry must have developed well before its earliest unambiguous manifestations in art and burial ritual. As Piggott pointed out, these representations are not merely portrayals of everyday life, they are closely connected with the delineation of power and prestige (Piggott, 1992, p. 69). If horse riding, at its inception and during its early development, did not have high status, it would have been unlikely to have been represented in art or burials. It might not, in fact, have left any direct evidence at all. This evidential 'invisibility' seems to suggest that, whatever its practical value, the horse was of little or no political or social significance until the end of the third millennium BC. This point of view is, of course, in direct conflict with the picture of horse-powered migration and warfare during the Eneolithic and Early Bronze Age proposed by Gimbutas (e.g. 1970; 1991), and supported by many others (Telegin, 1986; Mallory, 1989; Anthony, 1991).

False direct evidence

Four types of evidence, conventionally accepted as proof of horse domestication, fall into the category of false direct evidence:

  • Horse-head sceptres.

  • Horse burials not associated with tack.

  • Cheekpieces.

  • Bit wear.

Horse-head 'sceptres' or 'maces' (Figure 1.2)

Horse-head 'sceptres' (Telegin, 1986; Gimbutas, 1991) or 'maces' are found in Eneolithic burials from the Volga to the Lower Danube. Only a few have

Figure 1.2. Horse-head 'sceptres': (1) Suvorovo Ⅱ, Kurgan 1, Burial 7; (2) Kasimcea; (3) Khutor Shlyakhovsky, Kurgan 3 Burial 3 (from Rassamakin, 1999, figure 3.14; © McDonald Institute). Image not available in HTML version

more than a passing resemblance to horses' heads and those are found west of the Dneiper, mainly in the Balkan and Lower Danube regions (Telegin, 1986; Häusler, 1994a). These sculptures are conventionally regarded as symbols of the power wielded by the male occupants of the graves in which they were found (Anthony, 1991, p. 267). It was, however, the archaeologists not the Eneolithic people who described them as 'maces' or 'sceptres'. Their association with power is largely based upon the fact that they are made of exotic stone such as porphyry. The markings carved on some of the sculptures, which have been described as depictions of harnessing, are too schematic to be used as evidence of such (Anthony, 1991). The sculptures are not, in fact, found with any direct or even indirect evidence of horse husbandry.

© Cambridge University Press
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Table of Contents

Part I. Origins and Selection of Horse Behaviour: 1. Domestication and early history of the horse M. A. Levine; 2. The horse in human society S. J. G. Hall; 3. Individual differences in the domestic horse, origins, development and stability M. Hausberger and M. A. Richard-Yris; Part II. The Natural Behaviour of Horses in the Wild and Domestic Environment: 4. Behavioural ecology of feral horses L. Boyd and R. Keiper; 5. Relationships and communication in socially natural horse herds C. Feh; 6. Maintenance behaviours K. A. Houpt; 7. Sexual behaviour S. M. McDonnell; 8. Maternal behaviour and mare-foal interaction S. L. Crowell-Davis and J. W. Weeks; 9. Ontogeny: preparing the young horse for its adult life J. Ladewig, E. Søndergaard and J. Winther Christensen; 10. Equine play behaviour D. Goodwin and C. F. Hughes; Part III. The Impact of the Domestic Environment on the Horse: 11. Rider-horse relationship D. S. Mills and J. McNicholas; 12. Learning abilities in the horse C. J. Nicol; 13. Horse training N. K. Waran and R. Casey; 14. Behavioural problems with the ridden horse P. McGreevy and A. McLean; 15. Repetitive movement problems in the horse D. S. Mills; 16. Equine behaviour and welfare J. J. Cooper and M. J. Albentosa; Index.

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