Further to my most recent post, on the domestication of the horse, perhaps I should have done a little research before I wrote it (though I personally think that one of the great things about writing a blog is to get rough ideas down before they go through the refining mill of research and validation.)
The sources I used, which are mainly about the history in warfare, talk about horses being used with chariots (from about 1800 BC to 800 BC) before they were used in mounted cavalry (from 800 BC onwards). The inference is that they were harnessed to carts and chariots before they were ridden.
Well, I’ve just been reading the Wikipedia article about the subject. This says that riding horses may well have long preceded harnessing them to carts and chariots. There is some evidence that the earliest horse bones show signs of “bit wear” on the teeth, which suggests that they were controlled by a bit – therefore in all likelihood ridden. (On the other hand, as the article points out, such wear could come from a bit being connected to a rope used to harness a horse to a cart.)
The evidence is ambiguous – not surprising for such an early date. But it does make sense that horses were being ridden very early on after their domestication – as, in my (not-very-well-informed) opinion, it is hard to see how they were herded by people on foot.
Whatever the case, horses made a huge impact on world history in ancient times, both as chariot-drawers and as mounts for archers.
By Peter Britton