The story is lost in the mists of time, when the vast steppe lay open before humanity, waiting to be conquered. A region that seemed immense. Boundless. “How can we cross it?” The question would be debated over a crackling fire. How could man travel quickly across such a vast area? It was then, 5,000 years ago, that man encountered the horse. It occurred almost by chance, in the north of Kazakhstan, near the village of Botai. It was there that this animal, after centuries of constant effort, was finally domesticated (although it was far from easy). Initially a horse was a creature like any other: good only as food. But it was around that village that its potential was understood, going well beyond its delicious and nutritious flesh. People realised that horses could be harnessed, milked, mounted to travel long distances or perform tasks that normally required the labour of many men, such as ploughing. It was there that a revolution began that has lasted till the present, as Professor Nurbek Amisha explained to the Astana Times. “If you think about it, the domestication of the horse created the fastest means of transport until the steam engine. In fact, for most people it was the fastest until cars became common. So just think about what it meant to go from walking to having a horse, and how this has affected people in terms of being able to trade, migrate and wage different types of warfare. Actually, if we start thinking about things like rapid movement and different types of warfare, then a slightly later development, which also took place in the Kazakhstan region, is very significant.”
Putting together what happened over 5,000 years ago is far from easy. However, we can imagine it. We can see men slowly approaching those indomitable animals. Showing them their palms, trying to reassure them, caressing their muzzles and then getting up on their backs. Being bucked off and getting back on again. Grabbing them by the mane and finally starting to ride them and never stopping. Letting themselves go to the infinity of the steppe, as the hooves trampled over grass and shrubs. Being one with them, as still happens to this day in many areas of Kazakhstan, where herds of horses can still roam undisturbed. Feeling as if your are flying while remaining firmly on the ground.
The horse represented all of this in Kazakhstan and still does. Every year, for example, rites are organised in the village of Terisakkan to mark the transition from winter to spring. Nobody really knows when the inhabitants of that village started performing them, but they probably go back to the Bronze Age (around 3000 BC). Preparations for this event are continuous and begin when the breeders are looking for the best stallion, to present it in marriage (Ayghyr kosu) to the mares. But there are also other rites, such as Biye baylau, which literally means “tying the mares”, the ancient rite of the “first milking”, which involved separating the mares and foals from the herds and Kymyz muryndyk, the rite of the “first sharing of kumis”. It lasts two weeks and the horse is at the centre of everything. Strong, ancestral rites, which today are the cultural heritage of humanity.
If history has been able to move so fast it is thanks to those men, over 5,000 years ago. It is thanks to that very important discovery in the steppes of Kazakhstan that man has been able to submit the world to his will. And to conquer it beneath the horses’ hooves.