SIX THOUSAND years ago wild horses roamed the plains and steppes of the world. They were like many prey: fleet of foot, alert to threats and largely unaggressive. Then, in the Copper Age, the Botai people east of the Urals found a way to hunt them—for their meat and skins—and, later, to domesticate them. In horses, the Botai and succeeding civilisations found the best of partners. Horses are seen to be quick-witted and forgiving. Unusually, unlike almost all mammals other than humans, they sweat to cool themselves, which means they can work harder and run faster, for a long time.
This last attribute was central to the horse’s usefulness. Over the millennia, people have made full use of this equine companion, as two superb new books relate. “The Age of the Horse” by Susanna Forrest and “Farewell to the Horse” by Ulrich Raulff pay homage to the role of the horse in forging history—and more. Neither book purports to be a comprehensive equi-story; instead, by arranging their narratives thematically rather than chronologically, both authors have granted themselves the freedom to range as widely as the ancient wild horses, the Takhi and the Tarpan, once did, grazing on a pasture rich in anecdote, allegory and pathos as well as in historical importance.