The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey through Human History by Susanna Forrest - review by Robin Oakley

Robin Oakley

A Rough Ride

The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey through Human History


Atlantic Books 418pp £20 order from our bookshop

Horses, says Susanna Forrest, have more in common genetically with humans than with man’s supposed best friend, the dog. She quotes a trainer’s argument that horses are a fine model for society: they don’t want to hoard things, they don’t want to own bits of territory, they don’t fight over air or grass and they all come together in collective defence. She would surely approve of the Mississippian John Trotwood Moore’s declaration that ‘wherever man has left his footprint in the long ascent from barbarism to civilisation we will find the hoofprint of the horse beside it’. But The Age of the Horse underlines the fact that horses have not always been treated well by man. Apart from anything else, we have hunted and eaten them. Ninety per cent of the bones found amid the Copper Age relics of the Botai people, who lived to the east of the Urals, were equine. In 1750 the Manchurian emperor Qianlong employed three thousand beaters to drive three hundred horses to their death by sportsmen’s guns. Even today a billion people regularly eat horsemeat.

We have used horses to ride, plough and carry, to entertain us, to cherish as pets and as symbols of wealth and power, but we have also used them to go to war. Some twenty thousand horses died at Waterloo in 1815, ten thousand at the Battle of Caravaggio

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

The Art of Darkness

Cambridge, Shakespeare

Follow Literary Review on Twitter