Horses: The Myths & Reality

Katherine Houpt, James Law Professor of Animal Behaviour, Cornell University
Mara LeGrand, Director of Wildlife Horses in Winds Of Change

Horses have been part of our lives since at least 4000 BCE., although no one knows precisely when they were first domesticated or ridden. Over the millennia , they have played major roles in our myths, superstitions (they were reputed to be able to see ghosts), legends and, not surprisingly, in our dreams. They are symbols of power and virility, a phallic symbol, and were venerated as the steeds of the gods. See a white horse on New Years and make a wish–it’ll be a good year! However, despite these wonderful stories, there is today a pernicious myth that our equine friends are not as intelligent as some other animals we live with.

Without horses, the lives of human beings would be vastly different. They have carried us, plowed our fields, waged war with us, were our only source of rapid communication before the telegraph, and our main source of transportation for years. Even earlier, they were a major source of food, and kept us warm. In return, we have feed them, loved them, protected them. We have also raced them mercilessly, used them in barbaric activities like rodeos and circuses, exposing them to danger, pain and the threat of death. Worse, we round them up, break up their families and slaughter them.

The reality of life is not so great for many horses today.