December 13th is officially “National Day of the Horse” in the U.S. Why not just call it National Horse Day? Well, that doesn’t sound quite as monumental, does it? Although it kind of sounds like the title of a low budget horror movie, the benefits of horses to human society have been anything but horrible. Thus, this day is meant to honor the contributions that these beasts of burden have made to the history of the United States.

 

Safari Ltd Winner's Circle Horses Morgan Stallion Figure Safari Ltd Winner's Circle Friesian Mare Horse Figure Safari Ltd Winner's Circle Horses Tinker Figure
Morgan Stallion Friesian Mare Tinker

 

Let’s take a look at some horse history (horse-story?): The horse (Scientific name: Equus ferus) is an odd-toed ungulate (or hoofed mammal) that lived in what is now Europe, Asia and North America as far back as 15,000 years ago. Around 7,000 years ago, the wild horse became extinct in North America and rare throughout much of the rest of its range. Then around 5,500 years ago, the horse was domesticated, likely somewhere in Asia.

Today, all horses are domesticated, with the exception of one subspecies: Equus ferus przewalskii, or Przewalski’s Horse. This extremely endangered horse lives in the steppes of Mongolia, and has never been tamed or domesticated. Other “wild” horses, such as the Mustangs of North America, are actually feral – the term used for animals that trace their lineage to domesticated animals, that have since reverted to their wild, free-roaming ways. Przewalski’s Horse itself was completely extinct in the wild at one point, but captive bred animals were released back into the wild and are slowly rebuilding the population.

Safari Ltd Winner's Circle Horses Przewalski's Horse
Przewalski's Horse Mustang Mare

 

Other than Przewalski’s Horse, the horse’s closest relatives are other members of the genus Equus, which includes the donkey and zebra. While the donkey, like the horse, has now been completely domesticated, it has other wild relatives, including the onager and the kiang. The mule, on the other hand, is a hybrid of the horse and the donkey, bred by humans to use as pack animals. Zebras remain wild, though attempts have been made in the past to tame them. Zebras crossbred with horses, known as zebra-mules, also exist and are more suited to domestication.

Zebra Donkey Mule

 

So, what do we do with domesticated horses? They serve a variety of purposes that have benefited humanity throughout history and continue to do so today. Prior to the invention of the car, horses were a primary form of transportation. They were ridden, or used to pull wheeled carriages or carts. Though machinery now exists that can perform many of the functions of the horse, they are still utilized for these purposes in some areas of the world, and the horse was instrumental in allowing us to farm larger areas and travel greater distances.

Which is why we celebrate National Day of the Horse, to remember with gratitude all of the ways that the noble horse has helped further humanity through the ages.

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