The domestication of the horse

The still-open question of the domestication of the horse has given rise to considerable research and debate. As it is, research looks to find out where and when the horse lost its status as a wild animal and how it entered into the suite of species under human control. It is thought that the horse was domesticated in the Eurasian steppes, which are the animal’s natural habitat. Zooarchaeological remains and the analysis of fat residue observed on ceramics appear to indicate that certain horses in the Botai culture in northern Kazakhstan were domesticated in the mid-4th millennium BCE (Outram et al., 2009).

The domestication of the horse took place in the Middle East nearly 5,000 years after that of the goat, sheep or cow, thereby revealing the uniqueness of the relationship between man and this species.

However, centres of domestication other than the Eurasian steppes are open for consideration and it is known, for instance, that from that time on European wild varieties contributed to the diversity of current domestic breeds. Genetic analyses have also led to significant advances in understanding domestication. The analysis of the molecular genes responsible for the coat colour variation of horses has clearly showed a large and rapid increase in coat colour variation around 3,000 BCE and this diversification may arise from post-domestication human selection (Ludwig et al, 2009). The fact remains that the domestication of the horse took place in the Middle East nearly 5,000 years after that of the goat, sheep or cow, thereby revealing the uniqueness of the relationship between man and this species.

< >

Arbogast, R.-M., Clavel, B., Lepetz, S., Méniel, P. et Yvinec, J.-H. — 2002. Archéologie du cheval, Paris, Errance.


Ludwig, A., Pruvost, M., Reissmann, M., Benecke, N., Brockmann, G. A., Castanos, P., Cieslak, M., Lippold, S., Llorente, L., Malaspinas, A.-S., Slatkin, M. et Hofreiter, M. - 2009. Coat color variation at the beginning of horse domestication. Science, 324 : 485.


Outram, A., Stear, N., Bendrey, R., Olsen, S., Kasparov, A., Zaibert, V., Thorpe, N. et Evershed, R. - 2009. Earliest horse harnessing and milking in the Eneolithic of Prehistoric Eurasia. Science, 323 : 1332 – 5.