When did people start riding horses?

When did horse riding begin? You will see slightly different answers from different sources so we are unsure. However, there’s a nice article in The Times today which I think sheds some light on this question.

The author of that article, Kaya Burgess, states that the first cowboys existed about 5,000 years ago. It is also believed that humans domesticated horses for a source of milk around 3,500 BC. The earliest horse-drawn chariots are dated at about 2,000 BC.

Horse riding 5,000 years ago
Horse riding 5,000 years ago. Image: DALL-E.

The article refers to a study published in the journal Science Advances conducted out of the University of Helsinki and Hartwick College in New York. The study was presented at the American Association for the Advancement of Science conference in Washington DC.

The scientists looked for signs of wear and tear in the skeletons of horses although they admitted that it does not provide direct evidence that the horses were ridden.

Discovered in Malomirovo, Bulgaria, the skeleton of a horse rider displays the typical burial custom of the Yamnaya
Discovered in Malomirovo, Bulgaria, the skeleton of a horse rider displays the typical burial custom of the Yamnaya. Image: Michał Podsiadło

They unearthed skeletons in modern-day Romania, Hungary and Bulgaria. They date from between 5,021 and 4,501 years ago (and see at base of page for alternative dates). Currently these dates are the earliest for signs of horse riding.

And they say that the skeletons “displayed changes in bone morphology and distinct pathologies associated with horseback riding”.

Horse riding 5,000 years ago
Horse riding 5,000 years ago. Image: DALL-E

They added:

“These are the oldest humans identified as riders so far.”

There were tell-tale signs of stress in the horses’ skeletons. For example, one sign of stress was around the pelvis and femurs. This is where muscles connect to bones. It showed that the legs had been spread wide apart for prolonged periods.

Some thigh bones had impression dents in them. And the bone around the hip socket was thickened which they assess to have been caused by repeated “impact stress”. This stress would have occurred as the person sat on the horse’s back with their legs drawn up, reports Kaya Burgess.

And there was damage to vertebra which they further assessed to be due to “repetitive vertical impact stress in an upright position”. In all they studied 24 skeletons of horses used by a Bronze Age people of Yamnaya origin.

RELATED: Jockeys whipping racehorses. Why? Change in rules (UK).

They lived in south-east Europe. Nine of the skeletons had at least four of the six signs of horse riding caused by stress. One of the skeletons had all six signs of horse-riding.

Volker Heyd, Of Hartwick College, said:

“It made herding cattle and sheep three times more efficient.”

They comment that the horses ridden at that time by these people were less able to bear the weight of humans. And they were probably more nervous.

The story begs the question, for me, as to whether modern-day horses are more able to bear the weight of people. Are they suffering stress damage to their skeleton as occurred to these ancient horses? My quick research indicates to me that under certain circumstances horses today can suffer stress damage to their spine and other parts of their skeleton.

It’s a question of managing horse riding properly so that this does not happen. Clearly it depends upon the weight of the rider and the size and strength of the horse. It also depends upon the activities in which they are engaged. But to simplified things: horse riding today can damage horses as occurred 5,000 years ago.

Note: Other sources online tell me that horse riding began at least 5,000 years ago. That is also according to a study. Wikipedia states that there is some evidence that horse riding began about 3,000 years BC. Another website about horse riding tells me that horse riding started around 4,500 BC and drawings of horse riding had been created at around 3,000 BC.

RELATED: Stereotypical behaviours by horses in stables is obviously due to boredom causing stress (video)

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