As early back as the stone age hunters the horse has served some purpose for man. Back then it was before they realized the amazing potential of the horse. Instead of using the horse for riding and work, they were used as a source of food. One horse could feed a family of four for a month. By 3000 BC however, man began to realize they could be used for more than just food and they started taming them to be hitched to a variety of different carts to do work for the people. At this time, the horses that were captured and tamed were probably too small to ride since most only stood 14 hands or 56 inches in height.
It was around 1800 BC when horses were discovered to be far better in warfare than would be expected. The Hittites created the war chariot and were able to conquer Mesopotamia along with Egypt by using chariots drawn by horses. It was about 800 years later that man discovered that the horse could be ridden by individual soldiers. The reason they think that it took so long to move to this phase is because they need to start trying to breed bigger and stronger horses that could carry a man, especially one that might be wearing armor. Not only that they needed to invent all the different things a person would need to try and stay on the horse, things all riders take for granted today.
Once the horse became the key in warfare other things began to arise that people realized that they could do with the horse. One of those was travel. Travel by horse became important for the conquerors who would have to keep control over the territories they won in war. So the horse became the best way to keep track of all of this.
Using the horse for travel continued to be the best and fastest way to get somewhere for both travel and communication between people until the later part of the 19th century when the steam engine was created and the telegraph became popular. But for centuries, the horse was the king of travel and communication.
Another popular reason for horses was to use as a source of entertainment. Even though horses were key in warfare humans soon discovered that if they learned to ride a horse they could use their horse in the sport of hunting and it enabled them to go after bigger and more challenging types of game. It was the Persians and the Greeks that first started racing with horses. It was in Greece where people were encouraged to take an interest in horsemanship, something they used for self discipline as well. In fact the oldest book ever written about being a good horseman was written by Xenophon who was born in 430 BC. His book is called “The Art of Horsemanship”.
Beyond war, travel and leisure came work. It took quite a while though for people to realize the horse could also be good at doing work. For much of early human history oxen and donkeys were the biggest sources of work animals. The reason for this is that it took centuries to breed horses that were heavy enough to carry the burden of heavy duty work. Most horses of ancient time were also more expensive to keep and they had to eat more than oxen and donkeys due to their less efficient digestive system.
It was not until the medieval days that horses heavy enough began to appear to be used as farming animals. This was also when the shoulder or horse collar was invented and farmers then were able to use their horses to cover more farmland than their donkeys or oxen could. This was mainly due to their extreme speed and greater strength.
For over 2,500 years or until the internal combustion engine was born, the horse and all horse drawn vehicles were the most effective ways to travel long distance, plow the fields, wage war and fulfill the leisurely needs of mankind. Without horses, it could be possible that our development and exploration may have been slower to develop. The horse, and it's influence on man has been immense over the centuries.