History began with Horsemanship

Greek bronze statuette (late 2nd-1st Century BC)Though it may seem obvious that writing/reading is a basic skill of civilization, horsemanship has fewer advocates as a cultural practice …

Yet we live in a world of paradox, and our partnership with horses should not be dismissed too lightly by the world they helped to create.

Author’s note: Research for ‘The Legend of the Great Horse’ trilogy led me to greater appreciation for the role of horses in human history …

Civilization developed slowly … discovering, inventing, destroying, re-discovering, re-inventing. Always building from what has gone before.

Eclipsed by Shadow - cover image coin Today we stand on a ladder of human progress. We may retreat a step–or fall off completely. History shows mankind’s progress is not steady or certain. Basic ideas which create a society can be lost.

What should be retained and what should be let go?

A plea for tradition

As we discard old ways in favor of new, we should recognize the importance of keeping the foundational skills that developed civilized humanity. Mankind has tried countless ideas that have failed … yet some specialized human activities have brought success to a wide range of cultures throughout history.

The Test of Time

History is not a clear guide, so nothing can be claimed absolutely. Cycles are not uniform: time-spans differ; some cultures persist while others vanish.

Yet even as we move into a new era of powerful, immersive technology, our society retains many activities that have been shared across successful cultures, such as honoring the dead, music, dance, agriculture. Perhaps these are threads that create the conditions of social interaction; perhaps they continue to exist in our societies because human culture needs them to survive.

Horsemanship, though recently less common, is one complex thread of human activity, one as old as writing. There are strong echoes between horsemanship and literary endeavors, two foundational civilizing arts.

Both horsemanship and writing involve education that opens doors to new experience. They share a mindset. The horseman craves the order and efficiency of a book. Yes there is passion, and whimsy, but quiet concentration is a goal for both. Informed comment is respected in both fields.

Without making claims, and taking a generalized (therefore mostly useless) stance, and accounting for generalities or patterns, it is interesting to notice some things.

Both writing and horsemanship began almost simultaneously at the beginning of civilization … in their unique history, there are other connections:

  • Both developed slowly and flowered at the very beginning of the city-state societies that formed early civilization.
  • Both have been virtually universal across dominant cultures.
  • Both are highly adaptable and incorporate developing technology and materials.
  • Both flourish or decline with the rise and fall of human society.
  • Both have renewed themselves in society throughout history.
  • Both are a combination of art and science.
  • Both have many levels of expertise and support a lifetime of learning.
  • Both reach their highest expression in successful societies.

And what may be their most important aspect …

  • Through teaching empathy, both develop human consciousness.

Horse pulling Plow (1939) USAWriting & Horsemanship: Twin harbingers of civilized culture throughout history

Though it may seem obvious that writing/reading is a basic skill of civilization, horsemanship has fewer advocates as a cultural practice.

Of course a pen is nothing like a bridle. Yet even if the relationship between writing and horsemanship is not clear in a material sense, they share a profound place in human culture. We live in a world of paradox, and our partnership with horses is sometimes dismissed too lightly by a world made by ancestors who revered the animal.

A Crossroads in Human History?

Unfortunately another similarity between writing/reading and horsemanship is that both are under commercial pressure … and both face a certain detachment by the broader public.

It is unthinkable–but not impossible–that a preoccupation with market-based solutions could influence us to let go of the ancient arts and sciences that helped form human consciousness and modern society.

Commerce has led many cultures down a blind alley.

If modern society puts the cart before the horse and cuts the reins … are we sure of ourselves, making this decision, or are we simply reacting without understanding? Our horses have seen us lose ourselves before; writing has recorded it.

Image Credits

Greek Bronze statuette (c. Late 2nd-1st Century BC), © User: niborean / Metropolitan Museum of Art / Wikimedia Commons ‘Wikipedia Loves Art’ project / CC-BY-SA-2.5

German Grobe, “Farmer with Horse & Cart” / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain / PD-Art

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