If horses had become extinct!

Grazing animals , including horses , were nearly wiped out in the Hemphillian event , about five million years ago. Horses declined to a single species, which appears so sporadically in the fossil record as to suggest that for a time it teetered on the brink of oblivion. Imagine human history without horses.

Bill Bryson A Short History of Nearly Everything

Horses may have been domesticated and used for meat and milk earlier but the first evidence of horse used for riding and transport comes in 4000 BCE. Humans could cover vast areas of land and move themselves and their goods by using horses. If humans had remained travelling about on their own two feet both settlements and economies would have been vastly different. Horses were seen as symbols of power by ancient civilizations and can be seen in cave drawings dating back tens of thousands of years. If we did not have horses it could be argued that we would still not have reached the era of globalization!


What else would we have missed?

The Great Wall of China. This wall was built to keep out marauding Mongolian warriors who were mounted on horses. Without the horses they would not have attacked and the wall would not have been necessary.

The Roman Empire. The Romans travelled by ship to extend their Empire but they also travelled by horse to the four corners of the known world as well. Also, without horses there could not have been the Equestrian Class. This class ranked below the Senatorial class in Rome. and was the second of the property based classes.

The great battles The cavalry was a critical part of war in human history. If there had been no cavalry would there have been the kinds of battles that shaped human history?

Chinese cavalry horse Qin Dynasty 221 -206 BC. Qin Terracotta Army.

Horses in History outside Europe. How would Queen Rani have escaped the British armed forces in Jhansi at the start of the Indian Rebellion in 1857 if she did not have her horse Baadal and with her young son strapped to her back she leapt to freedom.

Tutankhamen in his chariot 1577-1320 BC.

The history of North America. The indigenous peoples of North America became skilled horsemen. How would their history have been different if they never had horses?


Horse Sport. Medieval knights would not have been jousting.

There would not have been chariot races in ancient Rome, or horses taking part in the first Olympics in Greece. And now no horse racing, no jumping, no dressage, and so on it goes.

The work horses. We now have huge machines to do the work in the fields sowing and harvesting but in earlier times the work horse brought us to a new level. Imagine if we had never had horses and agriculture was just a human endeavor?

There is no doubt in my mind that if horses had become extinct in the Hemphillian event the history humans would be entirely different. The domestication of horses was as significant in human history as the invention of gunpowder, the harnessing of electricity or the arrival of the internet.


12 responses to “If horses had become extinct!”

  1. I. J. Khanewala Avatar

    That’s such an interesting way to look at the importance of horses in human culture. In Asia some of the tasks were taken over by ox or elephant, so there are no Asian breeds which serve as dray horses. For speed and agility you cannot beat horses.

    I’m no expert, but I used to think that the Hemphilian extinction was confined to North America. It would certainly have impacted the native tribes of the region if it had gone differently.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      I think you are correct about the extinction event being in North America. It affected grazing animals. Thank you for your comment. It is interesting to get a viewpoint from your side of the world. I believe there are some breeds of horse that are of Indian or Asian origin. I have forgotten the name of the breed but I will look it up


      1. I. J. Khanewala Avatar

        There is at least one breed recorded in the early colonial times. I don’t know whether they survive. Although given the large number of horse breeders in the country, I’m sure all breeds from the 18th have made it to the 21st century.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. anne leueen Avatar

          I know there is the Kathiawari horse which I believe is still here. I am going to do more research and will post about it. Thanks so much for your input.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. I. J. Khanewala Avatar

            Looking forward to it

            Liked by 1 person

  2. dprastka Avatar

    WOW!! Love the history and amazing how we may not have developed like we have without horses. I’m happy we can have them as pleasure today. Great post! ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Thanks so much Diana. I am also happy we now have them for sport!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Robert Parker Avatar

    A very interesting “what if?” post. If they’d only had oxen, Tennyson might’ve written “The Charge of the Heavy Brigade,” and Buffalo Bill would’ve been riding bison, instead of hunting them. No “Surrey with the Fringe on Top” in “Oklahoma,” just “A Bicycle Built for Two.”
    It’s hard to imagine human history without the horse, but you’ve written a fun speculation.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      I enjoyed your comment immensely! The charge of the heavy brigade would have been a different one for sure!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Emma Cownie Avatar

    Dont forget the massive effort by thousands (hundred of thousands) of horses (and mules) during World War I and II.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. anne leueen Avatar

      Yes indeed. Especially WW1. Millions served and many lost their lives.many more were not brought home. A silver lining is Dorothy Brooke taking pity of the horses in Egypt that had been left behind and were in dire condition. She got a British fundraiser going and bought them all. Some had to be euthanized. But this was the start of the Brooke Hospital work that now helps millions of working mules,donkeys and horses in developing countries the world over. They help to educate owners and keep the animals well. Entire families depend on having a horse or mule. So this is wonderful and important work. Hats off to Dorothy Brooke for starting it.


      1. Emma Cownie Avatar

        Well done to Dorothy Brooke!

        Liked by 1 person

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