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Drawing on archaeology, biology, art, literature, and ethnography, this singular study illuminates the relationship between horse and human throughout history. From the Ice Age to the post-industrial age, horses have provided sustenance, transportation, status, companionship, and the ability to establish and expand empires. Included are stories of horses at work, at war, at play, and in art, film, and books, starting with the first equestrian encounters in which early humans in Asia and Europe hunted native horses for food. The dualities in the horse–human relationship are explored, such as humans' ability to both care for and slaughter horses, and the travel benefits that horses have provided that have enabled devastating warfare. Training techniques and breeding practices are examined from a global viewpoint, discussing cultures as varied as the Persians and the Nez Perce and looking at breeding stock that range from Lippizaners to quarter horses. Written in lucid prose full of wisdom, passion, and wonder, this far-reaching story explores a vital shaping force in the history of the world.
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J. Edward Chamberlin is a professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Toronto. He was the senior research associate with the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples in Canada, and has worked extensively on native land claims around the world. He is the author of Come Back to Me My Language: Poetry and the West Indies, The Harrowing of Eden: White Attitudes Towards Native Americans, and If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories? The grandson of an Alberta rancher, Chamberlin has bred horses and collected stories about humans and horses for much of his life. He lives in Toronto, Ontario.
Out of the Mist
Horses and Humans in the Americas
It snowed every day from early December to late February, which was rare in the northern range of the Rockies; and the temperature went down to fifty below, which wasn’t. The winter of 1932-33 had been the worst that anyone could remember. Anyone except Big Bird.
Big Bird was a horse, her name drawn from an Indian legend. A big gray mare, almost pure white by now, she knew the stories of the old, old days. She remembered one about a winter thousands of years before which went on so
long that they forgot about everything but getting by. Back then, in a place where the ice hadn’t covered the land, wondering whether winter would ever end, humans and horses first made friends.
The place looked different then. The forests hadn’t yet covered the land, and the valleys hadn’t been carved out as deeply. There were animals everywhere, wooly mammoths and grumpy rhinoceroses and large bears and small camels, swift antelope and toothy tigers, mean wolves and shaggy buffalo and sleek beaver and sly fox. You could see farther then, and the horses could run when the big cats and dogs – the tigers and the wolves – came after them. Everyone was watching everyone else to see what they were doing and whether they were having trouble and how long it would be before they would eat or be eaten. They were all holding on by the skin of their teeth.
Then some of the horses left, traveling over the tundra across the Bering Land Bridge, the doorway to Asia. At its most extensive, Beringia covered over five hundred miles from north to south, and stretched from central Siberia to the western Yukon. Even in the coldest times, it was free of ice except high in the hills, and it nourished a large number of animals. The horses who left spread across Asia; some carried on beyond the steppes to Europe, while others went south to India and Africa. But wherever they went, they traveled between the mountains and the rivers on the savannah lands.
Those horses that stayed behind in the Americas died out. Nobody quite knows why. They didn’t die of the cold, because they survived worse in the places they went to. Maybe when the world became warmer they just wandered around as woodlands took over–like humans, horses are mostly at home on the range – and became easy prey. Maybe the shrubs and the grasses and the berries they ate became scarce. Maybe the humans, who must have been hard pressed to find enough food and were well outfitted with throwing sticks and fluted spear points, hunted them down. It doesn’t take long, as we know from the prairie buffalo and the Atlantic cod. Perhaps other things happened.
Whatever the case, for at least ten thousand years, so it is said, there were no horses in the Americas. But eventually they came back home, suspended in slings in the Spanish caravels. And some say that they came earlier, crosstied in the Viking longboats that ventured across the ocean.
And they had all come back to this. Perhaps it was a big mistake. In the fall of 1932, Big Bird had heard the owls screaming, and had seen the crows shifting their wings sideways in flight. The fox and beaver pelts that the Indians trapped were heavier than usual. She had known it was going to be a bad winter. But this was the baddest of all. The snow had been very deep, forage had been terribly hard to find, and most of the horses had floundered and froze in the drifts.
The spring of ’33 eventually came, blessing those who made it through. And out of the morning mist, suspended between the meadow and the mountain, came Big Bird, gaunt and gimpy. It was a big comedown for her. She prided herself on looking good and moving well–showing her bottoms, as farmers say when a horse picks up her feet nicely – and here she was, a bell around her neck and hobbles on her feet. She felt like a milk cow.
But once again, memory took over, and she remembered another time, around 50 million years ago, which she had heard the old ones tell about, when their earliest ancestor had appeared out of the morning mist way back at the beginning of time. Right around here, too. Dawn horse, she was called. Eohippus. Small and shortlegged, with toes (four on the front feet, and three on the back); teeth that were good for browsing leaves, but not tough enough for the sandpaper grasses; and a tippytoe walk like a fox. They came on the scene when the dinosaurs died out, moving into a niche. It was the right move, for they did well, keeping company with the other hippos.
Eohippus looked a lot like Eeyore, the donkey in Winnie the Pooh; but instead of losing her tail, she lost her toes. At first, she and her kin were at home in the rain forests and swamps, but as these changed to savannah land all the places to hide disappeared, replaced by places to run. So the toes went, slowly but surely, until all that was left were some bones up above the ankle and a little bit of the pad on the foot. The legs became longer, as eohippus changed into mesohippus and merychippus and then pliohippus, running faster each time, rearing up higher, kicking harder, eventually emerging from the evolutionary labyrinth as equus.
When shrubs and bushes gave way to grasses and grains, their teeth changed, too, becoming high-crowned and cement-covered so that they could cut and grind rather than chomp and chew. Being easily surprised was their great strength back then, and Big Bird knew that it still was, watching and listening for predators, and smelling them. Their heads became bigger, the size of their eyes larger than those of even the largest mammals, the elephants and the whales, and more soulful, too; their ears rotated in all directions, and they developed a big nose to sniff out trouble, or another horse in heat. These horses were the legend of the Americas before anybody had legends. Before there was anybody.
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Book Description Bluebridge. Hardcover. Condition: New. 0974240591 . Seller Inventory # Z0974240591ZN
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