Book Review: The Age of the Horse-Susanna Forrest

Susanna Forrest’s book “The Age of the Horse. An Equine Journey through Human History ” takes us  through the history of man’s relationship with the horse. She divides the book up into eight chapters, each chapter dealing with a different aspect of the horse and its shared history with humans.

  1. EVOLUTION  This is a very short chapter that briefly outlines the evolution of the horse from the ‘zero horse’ 56 million years ago to the Equus caballus of more modern times.
  2. DOMESTICATION  This is another short chapter on the evidence that has been found of horses and humans in the Copper Age.
  3. WILDNESS This chapter follows the  history of wild horses and domestic horses across Europe. It also includes Forrest’s trip to Mongolia to observe the Takhi horses in the wild. I could have done with less travelogue from Forrest about the travel experience in Mongolia and more about the Takhi. She does give some interesting history about their place in Mongolian history and how they have been returned to the wild.
  4. CULTURE  This chapter focuses on the history and development of the horse in theatrical presentations and hippodrama as well as modern presentations in Versailles.
  5. POWER  I found this a very interesting chapter.  Forrest gives us a fascinating bit of history of the heavy horse being imported into India as a gift to Ranjit Singh, the first Maharajah of the Punjab, from the British King, William IV, in 1831. This chapter goes on to give us a detailed look into a 24 hour period in London in the days when horses were the only source of transport: cab horses, vanners, carriage horses, coal horses, Shires and Clydesdales. The chapter finishes with a detailed look at the heavy horses used in agricultural work in the modern world and a movement gaining strength in the USA to use the work horse as an alternative to machines.
  6. MEAT  This is a difficult chapter for anyone who cares about horses.  In the USA there are no more slaughter houses so horses are transported for slaughter to Canada or Mexico.  It is grim and disheartening as this is the side of humans’ relationship with horses that reveals the lack of respect with which horses are still treated today. There is and always  will be a market for horsemeat. Forrest reveals the seamy side of how that horse meat is procured.
  7. WEALTH   Forrest coins the term Equus luxuriosus for the horses that are the visible sign of wealth China. In China today one of the best ways you can show how wealthy you are is to have horses. Not just any horse but an expensive, imported, European, well bred , Warmblood horse.
  8. WAR  Horses have a long history of being used in war by humans. Forest follows some of this history and then seems to get somewhat sidetracked into a recounting the bullfights in Portugal  today.  I could really have done without this. Especially her detailing the gore and dismemberment she saw on You Tube videos of these bullfights in which horses met a ghastly death.  I am unclear how this relates  to war but Forrest seems to think it does. This final chapter concludes with Forrest’s visit to the Caisson Platoon Equine Assisted Program or CPEAP.  This program is proof of the value of horses as therapists to those wounded in body and mind by war.  Forrest is very clear in expressing her opinion about how she feels the veterans of modern wars have been treated when they return home.It is in the Caisson Platoon program that Forrest can find the connecting line through all of her horse-human exploration.

I found this to be a well researched book literally brimming  with information.  However I did find the format a bit disjointed.  So for me it was not as enjoyable a read as I had hoped it would be. Nonetheless, that is just my personal taste, and this book is still well worth reading if you are interested in the history and development of horse human relationships.

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13 Comments Add yours

  1. Emma Cownie says:

    Gosh – you have opened up a very unpleasant topic for me. (I never got over that bit in Black Beauty when “Ginger” is sent to the knackers’ yard – made me cry and cry as a child). I didn’t realise that there were no horse slaughters in USA – apparently there are 2 in the UK and I am not sure how many there are in Ireland but over 1,000 horses were killed in 2017. There was a big scandal about horse meat ending up in food in the UK (and not being labelled as such) in 2013 and this actually helped reduce the number of horses killed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen says:

      It is very grim but as long as people want to eat horse meat it will continue. I remember the UK scandal. Truth be told I think many of the slaughtered horses will have drugs in their systems. But there is no testing done as far as I know so I don’t want to be eating horse meat unknowingly for humane and health reasons.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Emma Cownie says:

        Oh yes that true. I remember reading Jane Smiley’s wonderful book “Horse Heaven” – that was an eye-opener that those beautiful race horses would be discarded in such a heartless manner. I don’t know how factual that book was but I got the impression that it was well researched. It was certainly beautifully written.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. anne leueen says:

        Wonderful book and very much based in facts.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Emma Cownie says:

        Thanks for letting me know – I loved it too.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. When we lived in Montana, we had a feedlot that held horses that would be shipped to Canada for meat. It was very disgusting. Those poor animals look like they were close to death. It is a horrible thing!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      It is absolutely disgraceful. They also ship horses live from Canada to Japan to be made into a special sushi or sashimi. I understand there is a market in other countries for horse meat. I also understand there are horses nobody wants. But it is the inhumane way these poor animals are treated that just make me furious! Closing the slaughter houses in the US did nothing but make it worse as now these poor horses have to be transported in dreadful conditions to Mexico or Canada. I know there are individuals and organizations that protest and campaign for change in Canada and the US. But both governments just turn deaf ears. So very sad.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s all about tax dollars! ☹️☹️

        Liked by 1 person

      2. anne leueen says:

        Maybe it is. I’m not sure how much the federal government or the provincial government in Canada would get from slaughter houses. They are supposed to be government inspected so that would be a cost to the. Government. But someone has to be making some money or it would all come to a halt.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. You are absolutely right!

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Kelly MacKay says:

    Thank you for this write up. I was appalled and embarrassed to see that my country Canada, still has slaughter houses for horses. I instantly went to the website of the Canadian Horse Defence Coalition web page but their information is outdated and hasn’t had and update since 2014, which was when Bill C-571 drawn up to replace the defeated Previous bill. I have contacted the CHDC. If I hear anything I will let you know.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. anne leueen says:

      Please do let me know. I think there will always be slaughter houses as long as people in other countries want to eat horse meat. Closing the slaughter houses in the US only made it worse as now they must be transported in dreadful conditions to Mexico or Canada. I wish there could be some legislation to improve conditions of the transport and slaughter for these poor horses.

      Like

      1. Kelly MacKay says:

        Economies drive the industry

        Liked by 1 person

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