[Artist] Fulvio Cinquini
[Date] January 11-March 17, 2002
A gallop conquering the world
History was built with the horse. Who decided to place a leather strap in the mouth of this proud animal? Impossible to find out. Perhaps certain figurines in terracotta of Syria, where we see a bit, or certain cranes of horses whose teeth had been worn down from constant contact with the harness, may suggest a date. Five thousand years ago, or even earlier? Who, in fact, had the mad courage to jump on the back of this animal? In domesticating the horse, man becomes a centaur. A single creature, capable of speed, gifted with strength. Of the horse, the legs and the heart, of man, the mind and will. Soon after, people who succeeded in possessing a considerable amount of horses were able to reach larger empires, accumulate riches, and control commercial routes. Owning superb horses for battle, for example, became the obsession of the Chinese Han in 2nd Century BC. They never reached the rank of raising horses, especially due to territorial reasons, poorly adapted to pasture. Even the history of this region was completely changed by it. After expeditions for procuring horses, the Hans learned to become strategic. They now traded with nomadic tribes, precious silks and princesses for horses. This commerce began the famous Silk Road, which later opened up to the West.
Without the horse, the conquest of the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa would have been impossible. Retracing the history of the horse, that is to say, since man domesticated it, presents history, geography, ethnography, botany, folklore, magic, as well as religion, genetics, and the propagation of war technology and techniques. It is about going back to commerce, metal craftsmanship, fabrics, skins, wood, studying about diet, animal behaviour, music, clothing, hunting, sports, and art history. No less. Thanks to this tremendous animal, History encouraged man to colonise land to which, in the beginning, he was not destined. On horse, man tastes the exhilaration from the wind, the sensation from landscape passing at a new speed. The Mongols believes that man without horse is a bird without wings. Long ago, the infinite steppes of Asia opened a natural opening to hordes of horsemen, a path free of difficult obstacles, no mountains impossible to cross, no rivers too wide or too strong to ford. These vast spaces man was able to cover, hill after hill, distances that would exhaust any infantry heavily armed. We say that each of Genghis Khan’s warriors would work 20 horses to the ground. It is also said that Mongols would during their incursion, cover 350 kilometres in the span of 24 hours.
But outside of clubs, stables and farms, where do we find the horse today? We would be surprised to learn, for example, that a city such as Lahore in Pakistan, has ten thousand horses pulling carriages still today. These are the taxis of the poor, contrary to roman carriages know to tourists. There are still some tribes on the plateaux of Africa and Asia, the last nomadic Iranians, Ethiopians, Tibetans, Kirghizians, Kazakhstans, Tajiks, who continue to travel across the Earth, in search of pastures for their herds. Today, in the Western world, the usage of horses on a daily basis has almost disappeared. However, the horse remains present, often in an unconscious manner, in linguistics and other symbolic forms. He is also a sure protagonist in pilgrimages, festivals, spectacles and sports. Man projects on the horse, the qualities judged positive in the human being.
The title of knight remains a sign of distinction. And if modern equitation, which has become an art, continues to grant an aristocratic status to the horseman, this means that the horse will continue to reside in the memory as well as the present of mankind.
Note: The text was edited and translated from the original text by Fulvio Cinquini in GEO (France), December issue 2001.