January 23, 2011

Wild Horses

One of the oldest and purest breeds, Norwegian Fjords were first domesticated in Europe around 4,000 years ago.  They are still very similar to the last true wild horse, Przewalski's Horse, with small yet strong confirmations, and primitive markings with faint stripes.  But as far as farm animals are concerned, horses were brought under human husbandry rather late in the history of agriculture, with sheep, goats, pigs and cattle all being domesticated more than 6,000 years earlier.
Of course, given the general temperament of  horses, it is easy to understand why it took so long for humans to tame them.  The animals have inherited a strong fight-or-flight instinct, with natural selection clearly favoring the latter. As Ryan likes to note, even our big Suffolk draft horses still see themselves as being only three feet tall in a world full of saber-toothed tigers.  But despite their close ties to the past (or, perhaps, because of them), the Norwegian Fjords are some the the most gentle and helpful workhorses to be found anywhere, even if they share a certain willfulness with their ancient ancestors.  
On the left are three horses drawn by a Paleolithic artist on a rock wall in the Chauvet cave in France.  On the right are Sven, Josie and Ole getting ready to do some harrowing.  In between are almost 30,000 years.  Apparently, when it comes to horse breeding, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. 

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