History of Horse Breeding
History of Horse Breeding
(article from Wikipedia)
The history of horse breeding goes back millennia. Though the precise date is in dispute, humans could have domesticated the horse as far back as approximately 4500 BCE. However, evidence of planned breeding has a more blurry history.
One of the earliest people known to document the breedings of their horses were the Bedouin of the Middle East, the breeders of the Arabian horse. While it is difficult to determine how far back the Bedouin passed on pedigree information via an oral tradition, there were written pedigrees of Arabian horses by A.D. 1330. The Akhal-Teke of West-Central Asia is another breed with roots in ancient times that was also bred specifically for war and racing. The nomads of the Mongolian steppes bred horses for several thousand years as well.
The types of horses bred varied with culture and with the times. The uses to which a horse was put also determined its qualities, including smooth amblers for riding, fast horses for carrying messengers, heavy horses for plowing and pulling heavy wagons, ponies for hauling cars of ore from mines, packhorses, carriage horses and many others.
Medieval Europe bred large horses specifically for war, called destriers. These horses were the ancestors of the great heavy horses of today, and their size was preferred not simply because of the weight of the armor, but also because a large horse provided more power for the knight’s lance. Weighing almost twice as much as a normal riding horse, the destrier was a powerful weapon in battle.
On the other hand, during this same time, lighter horses were bred in northern Africa and the Middle East by Muslim warriors, who preferred a faster, more agile horse. The lighter horse suited the raids and battles of the Bedouins, allowing them to outmaneuver rather than overpower the enemy. When Muslim warriors and European knights collided in warfare, the heavy knights were frequently outmaneuvered. The Europeans, however, soon made up for the lack of speed of their native breeds by incorporating genetic traits from captured oriental horses such as the Arabian, Barb to their stables. This cross-breeding led both to a nimbler war horse, such as today's Percheron, but also to created a type of horse known as a Courser, a predecessor to the Thoroughbred, which was used as a message horse.
During the Renaissance, horses were bred not only for war, but for haute ecole riding, derived from the most athletic movements required of a war horse, and popular among the elite nobility of the time. Breeds such as the Lipizzan were developed from Spanish-bred horses for this purpose, and also became the preferred mounts of cavalry officers, who were derived mostly from the ranks of the nobility. It was during this time that gunpowder was developed, and so the light cavalry horse, a faster and quicker war horse, was bred for a “shoot and run” tactic rather than the close hand-to-hand fighting seen in the Middle Ages.
After Charles II retook the British throne in 1660, horse racing, which had been banned by Cromwell, was revived. The Thoroughbred was developed 40 years later, bred to be the ultimate racehorse, through the lines of 3 foundation Arabian stallions.
In the 1700s, James Burnett, Lord Monboddo noted the importance of selecting appropriate parentage to achieve desired outcomes of successive generations. Monboddo worked more broadly in the abstract thought of species relationships and evolution of species. The Thoroughbred breeding hub in Lexington, Kentucky was developed in the late 1700s, and became a mainstay in American racehorse breeding.
The 17th and 18th centuries saw more of a need for fine carriage horses in Europe, bringing in the dawn of the warmblood. The warmblood breeds have been exceptionally good at adapting to changing times, and from their carriage horse beginnings they easily transitioned during the 1900s into a sport horse type. Today’s warmblood breeds, although still used for competitive driving, are more often seen competing in the show jumping or dressage arenas.
The Thoroughbred continues to dominate the horseracing world, although its lines have been more recently used to improve warmblood breeds and to develop sport horses.
The predecessor of the American Quarter Horse was developed in the 1700s, mainly for quarter racing (racing ¼ of a mile). The breed was later adapted for work in the west, and “cow sense” was particularly bred for as their use for herding cattle increased. However, because there was also a need for animals suitable for sprint racing, the modern Quarter Horse has two distinct types: the sleeker racing type and the stock horse type. The racing type most resembles the finer-boned ancestors of the first racing Quarter Horses, and the type is still used for ¼-mile races. The stock horse type, used in western events, is bred for a shorter stride, docile temperament, and cow sense.
The need for horses for heavy draft and carriage work continued until the industrial revolution and the advent of the automobile and the tractor. After this time, draft and carriage horse numbers dropped significantly, though light riding horses remained popular for recreational pursuits. Draft horses today are used on a few small farms, but today are seen mainly for pulling and plowing competitions rather than farm work. Heavy harness horses are now used as an outcross with lighter breeds, such as the Thoroughbred, to produce the modern warmblood breeds popular in Olympic and sport horse disciplines.