Skip to content

The History Of 5,000 Years Ridership Goes Back To The Days Of The Beginning Of Equestrianism

The history has identified traces of horsemanship in the bones in the first horse riders saddled up 5,000 years ago.

The world’s first horse riders saddled up 5,000 years ago, where equestrianism originated in a remote area of the Western Eurasian steppe.

A horse rider taking a stroll with the horse. Equestrianism originated in Eurasia that has spread throughout the word including among the first horse riders 5,000 years ago. STEFANIE POEPKEN/SWNS TALKER

The evidence comes from remains found in burial mounds called kurgans. The human skeletons displayed ‘evidence of horsemanship’.

They belonged to primitive sheep farmers from the Pontic-Caspian steppe – a vast area between the Black and Caspian seas.

Co-author Professor Volker Heyd, of the University of Helsinki, said: “Horseback-riding seems to have evolved not long after the presumed domestication of horses in the western Eurasian steppes during the fourth millennium BCE.

“It was already rather common in members of the Yamnaya culture between 3000 and 2500 BCE.”

They ranged across an area covering 380,000 square miles – incorporating modern day Bulgaria, Romania, Ukraine, Russia and the Ural Mountains.

The culture also spread up to Hungary and Serbia – attracted by greener pastures.

It was previously thought horse-riding began in Central Asia several centuries later.

To be able to say that skeletons found at a burial site in Bulgaria were horse riders, the international team used a set of six diagnostic criteria established as indicators of riding activity – dubbed “horsemanship syndrome.”

They included well-developed muscles in the pelvis, changes in the normally round shape of the hip sockets and imprint marks caused by pressure on the thigh-bone.

Leg bones were wide and strong, but there was also degeneration of the vertebra caused by sitting on the animals.

Analyses also found traumas typically caused by falls, kicks or bites.

The researchers also found the Early Bronze Age expansion of steppe people into southeastern Europe was relatively peaceful – rather than a violent invasion as suspected.

With the advent of ancient DNA research, the differences between migrants from the east and members of local societies became even more pronounced.

Co-author Dr. Bianca Preda-Balanica, also from Helsinki, said: “Our research is now beginning to provide a more nuanced picture of their interactions.

“For example, findings of physical violence as were expected are practically non-existent in the skeletal record so far.

“We also start understanding the complex exchange processes in material culture and burial customs between newcomers and locals in the 200 years after their first contact.”

Back In Action ridden by Jacob Opperman wins the Ararat Ag, Horse & Pet BM58 Handicap at Ararat Racecourse on March 03, 2023, in Ararat, Australia. Horse races have been popular around the world that includes major events like the Kentucky Derby and the Belmont Stakes. BRENDAN MCCARTHY/SWNS TALKER

The use of animals for transport, in particular the horse, marked a turning point in human history.

Considerable gain in mobility and distance had profound effects on land use, trade, and warfare.

Current research has mostly focused on the horses themselves. But horse-riding is an interaction of two components – the mount and its rider.

Human remains are available in larger numbers and more complete condition than early horse remains.

The study in the journal Science Advances identified traces of horsemanship in the bones.

Lead author Dr. Martin Trautmann, also from Helsinki, said: “We studied over 217 skeletons from 39 sites of which about 150 found in the burial mounds belong to the Yamnayans.

“Diagnosing activity patterns in human skeletons is not unambiguously. There are no singular traits that indicate a certain occupation or behavior.

“Only in their combination, as a syndrome, symptoms provide reliable insights to understand habitual activities of the past.”

Altogether, out of the 156 adult individuals of the total sample at least 24 (15.4%) can be classified as possible riders.

Five Yamnaya and two later as well as two possibly earlier individuals qualify as highly probable riders.

Trautmann said: “The rather high prevalence of these traits in the skeleton record, especially with respect to the overall limited completeness, show that these people were horse riding regularly.”

It may have made a mobile pastoral lifestyle convenient – enabling more effective herding of cattle.

On the other hand, horses may have been ridden during swift and far-ranging raids – or just as a status symbol.

Added co-author Professor David Anthony: “We have one intriguing burial in the series.

“A grave dated about 4300 BCE at Csongrad-Kettoshalom in Hungary, long suspected from its pose and artifacts to have been an immigrant from the steppes, surprisingly showed four of the six riding pathologies, possibly indicating riding a millennium earlier than Yamnaya.

“An isolated case cannot support a firm conclusion, but in Neolithic cemeteries of this era in the steppes, horse remains were occasionally placed in human graves with those of cattle and sheep, and stone maces were carved into the shape of horse heads. Clearly, we need to apply this method to even older collections.”

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

Recommended from our partners