By managing, between the 5th and 2nd millennia, to train the horse for riding and harnessing, man multiplied his speed of travel by ten.
From the Palaeolithic era, the horse was not only among the game most widely hunted and consumed by man, but was also and above all the animal most commonly depicted in cave art. With the end of the ice age and the taking hold of the forests, the horse migrated towards the grassy steppes of Eurasia, where it was domesticated around the 5th millennium BC.
During the Neolithic Era, the horse was overtaken in the field of transport by the ox, which pulled the earliest heavy carts with solid wheels. From the middle of the 3rd millennium, the innovation of spoked wheels permitted the introduction of light carts able to be pulled by horses, leading to a gradual switch towards the use of the horse.
It was during the course of the Bronze Age that the horse and the light cart became established throughout the continent of Europe. Monopolised by the elite, the horse allowed people to go faster and further, reinforcing social inequalities. It became a symbol of power and prestige, as the famous tombs dating back to the Iron Age attest. Later, the horse even acquired a religious dimension when it was personified by the Goddess Epona in the late Merovingian Period.
From the year 776 BC, horse races featured on the programme of the Olympic Games, but the earliest races date back to ancient times. In the Iliad, for example, Homer describes a race organised by Achilles the Greek to celebrate his victory over Hector of Troy.
The history of racing then takes us to Rome, where Tarquin the Ancient had the first racecourse constructed (in 600 BC). The first equestrian professions then began to appear, such as jockeys (conductores), trainers (agitatores) and judges (designatores).
Consequently, terms for the horse exist in many ancient languages, such as Latin (equus), Greek (hippos) and Celtic (epo). Epona is one of the rare Celtic deities of which the worship spread over a large part of the Roman Empire.
The rules of modern horse racing were invented by the English, who also created the breed that is the cornerstone of modern equestrian competition, the thoroughbred, incorrectly translated into French by the expression “pur-sang anglais” (literally “English pure blood”).
From the Middle Ages, the English made racing both a distraction for all classes of society and one of the essential components of their horse breeding policy.