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The Age of the Horse: An Equine Journey Through Human History

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An essential book for anyone who’s ever been captivated by horses, The Age of the Horse is a breathtaking exploration of the connection between humans and Equus caballus. Equestrian expert Susanna Forrest presents a unique, sweeping panorama of the animal’s role in societies around the world and across time.

Fifty-six million years ago, the earliest equid walked the earth—and beginning with the first-known horse keepers of the Copper Age, the horse has played an integral part in human history. Combining fascinating anthropological detail and incisive personal anecdotes, Forrest draws from an immense range of archival documents as well as literature and art to illustrate how our evolution has coincided with that of horses. In paintings and poems (such as Byron’s famous “Mazeppa”), in theater and classical music (including works by Liszt and Tchaikovsky), representations of the horse have changed over centuries, portraying the crucial impact that we’ve had on each other. Forrest deftly synthesizes this material with her own experience in the field, traveling the globe to give us a comprehensive look at the horse in our lives today: from Mongolia where she observes the endangered takhi, to a show-horse performance at the Palace of Versailles; from a polo club in Beijing to Arlington, Virginia, where veterans with PTSD are rehabilitated through interaction with horses.

With passion and singular insight, Forrest investigates the complexities of human and horse coexistence, illuminating the multifaceted ways our cultures were shaped by this powerful creature.

432 pages, Hardcover

First published May 2, 2017

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About the author

Susanna Forrest

4 books28 followers
Horses are an incredible key to exploring history and culture, not least because humans seem to be so confused about them. Do we eat them or cherish them? Improve them or ruin them? Celebrate or use them? These are the kinds of issues I explore in my books.

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5 stars
43 (21%)
4 stars
73 (36%)
3 stars
61 (30%)
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11 (5%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 43 reviews
Profile Image for Emma.
976 reviews976 followers
February 6, 2017
3.5 stars

Though this is clearly well researched, it is perhaps only one for the horse enthusiast. The author's choice to organise the book along thematic lines instead of as a linear history was a good one; it provided real focus and variety to the story, making it noticeably different from other offerings on this well-loved animal. Yet the writing style veered from rather exuberant to lecturing, making it a somewhat uneven read that often edged towards the 'i'm just going to put this book down for a bit to have a break and i'm not sure when i'll pick it up again' type. It's here that serious interest in the subject would have saved the day.

ARC via Netgalley.
Profile Image for Anne Morgan.
690 reviews15 followers
May 23, 2017
The Age of the Horse is not a history of the horse. It is, according to the introduction "a wander down six . . . ways in which we have used the horse, and the routes that ideas, people and horses took across an ever-changing territory." The six pathways Susanna Forrest takes us down include "Evolution", "Domestication", "Wildness", "Culture", "Power", "Meat", "Wealth", and "War". Within these six sections Forrest explore the entire range of equine-human interactions from warhorses to status symbols, cart horses to polo horses, from Mongolia to England, ancient past to present day.

From the luxury of Versailles and the life of a dancer to the harsh world of bull fighting and meat factories, Forrest doesn't shy away from exploring the negative as well as the positive in our treatment of horses over the centuries. She does an excellent job of balancing and capturing humankind's love of horses with the often cruel realities of human-horse partnership. Combined with her thorough research behind her subject, it is possible to learn some interesting facts and view horses and humans through interesting historical lenses.

My problem, and great disappointment, with The Age of the Horse was Forrest's writing style. A meandering, almost stream of conscious style, Forrest describes everything in the closest of details and uses so many similes and metaphors in her writing that it is oftentimes unreadable. I found it frustratingly easy to lose the thread of the narrative, or the point Forrest was trying to explore/make, because of the many tangents or 'paths' we wandered down along the way. The heavy overuse of similes and metaphors bogged down the narrative. By the end of the book, while I might have learned a few things along the way, I couldn't tell you what they were. I was more relieved to be finished with the book than reflecting on the human-horse culture I had hoped to learn about.

An excellent concept, poorly executed, makes The Age of the Horse a book probably only the most dedicated of horse enthusiasts will enjoy plodding through. For the rest of us, I recommend passing on this title.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review

For my full review, go to:
Profile Image for Margaret Fisk.
Author 24 books38 followers
July 26, 2017
Originally posted on Tales to Tide You Over

This book is a very difficult one to review, not because it has no value, but because it has too much. I have many pages of notes about interesting elements or things to mention, all of which would make this review far too long. I’ll mention the one weakness first so I can move on to all of the strengths: The author had a couple of places in the book where, rather than telling the narrative uncovered in person or through research, the actual research earned a place on the page. Rapid paragraphs offering names and dates along with a simple statement of the contribution failed to give me the context to engage with the information. This happened at least three times, one so much so I stopped reading for about a week before starting up again, but don’t let it discourage you as I believe the worst was also the last time. However, when paired with the reflective, philosophical narrative voice in the majority of areas, which brought the history, pre-history, and modern day to life, it seems a minor flaw.

The book follows what the author calls bridle paths through the history of horses and their interactions with humans. It involves a mix of history, mythology, quotes from primary and secondary sources, and personal narrative. I learned a lot through the reading, and had my own instincts about horses confirmed, but don’t expect a pretty, non-challenging account. This is more a philosophy and recognition book than a history. It meanders through time, jumping into the past and back when it suits what the author wishes to explore. Accounts of the author’s journeys to different cultures and situations cover horse reserves in Mongolia to auction houses that are only one-step removed from slaughterhouses to U.S. military therapy programs and more.

I learned about efforts to keep horse management techniques alive in an agricultural context lead by the Amish. While some might consider this clinging to the past, a strong argument is given for horses as a way to stave off disaster when we eventually run out of fossil fuels. Horses improve field productivity by not compacting the soil and with strong fertilizer as their waste product compared to tractors, which actually reduce soil fertility and produce toxic gases.

The change from seeing horses as intelligent helpers to beasts that must be dominated and back reveals more about humanity than horses while the different philosophies and myths both raising horses up and dashing them down did as well. One section, where the author visits a horse behaviorist, reveals more about why horses work with humans than pages of training manuals.

The economic, political, and even diplomatic contributions from horses and how those changed over time gets a lot of word count, with a large section devoted to historical England and another to World War II Germany. One of my favorites is the reception giving the gift of simple work horses from England brought to India. While the gifters considered them a lowbrow animal, the recipients saw them as amazing in both their size and their abilities.

The costs and compromises made with progression, and the influence of classism, defines the number and types of horses flourishing at any one point as well as their treatment. The cultural influence shows fascinating differences between cultures and classes, with the odd exception of raising up wild horses as a symbol of unfettered nature in comparison to the restrictions of society whether in the Middle Ages, early China, or the Wild West.

What appears as chaotic organization with the information leaping forward and backward through time as well as from one side of the globe to the other proved less annoying than the wealth of content conveyed in an interesting manner. An exploration of humanity in all its good and bad sides as well as all the ways horses were involved with, and even determined, history across human cultures, this book offers valuable insights that will most likely lead you to question some decisions being made even today. I’ve offered a glimpse at the wealth to be found within these pages, and I would be surprised if there isn’t something to be learned for practically every reader interested in the subject of horses and humanity. I will caution that not all of what you’ll learn is pleasant or uplifting, but it is well worth the discomfort.

P.S. I received this title from the publisher through NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Profile Image for Al Bità.
377 reviews39 followers
December 1, 2019
Following two brief chapters at the beginning covering the evolution and domestication of horses, Forrest identifies a selection of ways in which she will provide the reader with points of view concerning humanity’s interrelationship with horses globally. Of many ways in which she could have chosen, she opts for six “ages” through which the human/horse interrelationship and its contribution to history will be illustrated: Wildness, Culture, Power, Meat, Wealth and War.

Each of these sections consists of a number of reports, essays, meditations and anecdotes. Each can stand on its own merits. Yet there is also overlap in intent, where the word “intent” is meant to relate to our understanding of “history” not so much as being simply a list of human achievements, but in subtly, yet unfalteringly focussing on the essential interdependence between humans and horses in realising those achievements.

The writing here is superb: elegant and elevated where necessary, intimate and direct elsewhere. The combination is smoothly synthesised to provide immense pleasure simply in the writing itself. There is a rhythm in the way both objective and subjective responses interplay with one another that allows Forrest to be both factual yet not so disinterested that deeper sentiments aren’t allowed to surface and impinge on the reader. Sentiment without sentimentality.

In her Introduction, Forrest writes:

Horses are so common in history that we glance over them without seeing them when they fill royal parade grounds, frame battle scenes, clog teeming Victorian streets, or amble under kings and queens or before peasants’ ploughs. My aim is to draw your focus to the horses in those images and in the margins of texts.

In this book, Forrest succeeds admirably in achieving that aim.
Profile Image for Bonnie.
1,001 reviews10 followers
June 4, 2017
I'm giving this book the benefit of the doubt, but it's probably more like 3.5 stars than 4. My biggest criticism was that it was uneven. Maybe that was just me and it would be same, in different places, with all readers. But while I absolutely loved the sections on the Wounded Warriors and the farmers who are returning to horse-powered farming, I found the sections on the ancient horses and the modern Chinese horse industry rather dull. I even found the section on horses as meat interesting, if deeply disturbing to my horse-loving soul. This is probably not a book for anyone who is only casually interested in horses. But it is very well-researched and even the descriptions of trekking through Mongolia looking for the wild horse herds almost made me want to go to Mongolia to see them for myself.
Profile Image for Ceri.
47 reviews46 followers
February 3, 2018
“We use the horse in more ways than any other animal: we ride on its back, attach it to wagons and ploughs, strap packs to it, drink its milk, eat its meat, go to war on it, cherish it as a pet and have turned it into a symbol of everything from wealth to political power, purity, lasciviousness and human suffering. In 5,500 years of domestication, humans have transformed horses’ bodies into everything from buttons to thrones.”

I love horses and I love history, so what was I not going to love about this book? The Age of the Horse takes a look at how throughout history humans and horses have been intrinsically interlinked, and how horses have helped to shape our world.

My favourite thing about this book is how original and refreshing it is. When choosing talking points the author does not necessarily go for the obvious choices, instead preferring little-known aspects of history. For example, when examining the links between horses and culture, the natural decision would have been to look to the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, arguably the most famous example of this around today. But instead the author takes us to a lesser-known school in the grounds of the Palace of Versailles. When investigating the horse in relation to its role in war, she does not go over and over the use of the horse in the World Wars, as so many have previously done, choosing instead to focus on the relevance of the horse to war in today’s society where they are helping to fight a very different kind of war, far away from the fire of machine guns.

I also loved how the author never stays in one place. America features heavily, but so does France, Germany, Britain, China, Mongolia, and many other countries. We really get an idea of the global impact the horse has had, and again its nice to see areas of history not usually acknowledged.

The information has clearly been meticulously researched, and the whole book is sewn together perfectly. It must have been difficult to organise everything, particularly with a topic like this which has huge breadth and scope, but everything seems under control and the focus is always clear. The information is relevant and engaging, and the author’s own anecdotes threaded throughout help to bring the whole thing to life.
Profile Image for Brittany.
1,244 reviews128 followers
January 3, 2018
Whether you like a book depends just as much on you as it does on the book. There's an ideal audience out there for every book. The book may be abysmal for most other people, the ideal audience may be infinitesimal, but it exists. Popular books or "great" books are books for whom there is a large audience that either loves the book, respects the book, or both.

For me, this was a perfect book. I adored the writing. The information was fascinating, the kind of book that makes you look up at whoever is nearby and say, "Did you know . . . ?" The organization was original and made for a readable, engaging book that was, nonetheless, educational and informative. I learned a lot from this book, and I loved the experience of reading it.

There was one chapter I had trouble reading, which surprised me. It was the chapter on horses as meat. I eat some meat--mainly chickens and cows. I don't, in my heart of hearts, believe they are any different from horses on a cognitive level. But I just could not bring myself to read about the horses being brought to slaughter. My dream is to someday own rescue horses; not even for riding necessarily, just horses that are mine because they didn't have anywhere else to go. This chapter cemented that ambition and tore at my heart. I understand about zoo great cats and cheetahs, and how they thrive on horsemeat. I would really like vat-grown meat to hurry up and get here as soon as possible.

With that one caveat--purely due to my own prejudices--this was a fantastic book, absolutely well done. I highly recommend it. I look forward to reading it again, something I rarely do with nonfiction books.

Please read this book; perhaps it is perfect for you.
10 reviews
January 17, 2023
I opened up this book expecting the stuff I mostly already know, but I was blown away by all the information crammed between the pages. I believe it might be hard to read without background information, luckily I have quite a bit. Overall this book was great and I will probably read it again.
Profile Image for January Gray.
727 reviews14 followers
May 8, 2018
Being a lover of horses, I found this to be an informative, entertaining and interesting book.
Profile Image for Susan Beecher.
1,119 reviews8 followers
November 26, 2019
A fascinating and well-written non-fiction book about horses in history. I enjoyed it but it was LONG...
Profile Image for Lisa.
597 reviews
July 31, 2017
The Age of the Horse is a nonfiction work by Susanna Forrest. I found this book interesting and it is one of the best researched books I have read recently. However, it is very verbose. It was like reading a cross between a collection of stories, a PhD thesis and a text book. It made for a slow and arduous read. The publication date is May 2017; therefore, I know there will be more revisions. I can only hope that some serious editing will take place and the final product will have more readability. As it stands right now, my rating is 3.5.

The focus of this book is a history of what the horse has been to mankind (there is a brief history given prior to man) through the years starting with the earliest human domestication. The book is broken up into seven sections beginning with the first section called Evolution and ending with War. Each section has lots of interesting facts and the author recounts some of her adventures, during her research, as it relates to the each topic. Her research took her from horse auctions in the US to Schorfheide, Germany to see a small herd of Takhi. Since I am interested in sustainable farming, my favorite part was the discussion on the revival of draught horse farming outside of the Amish community.

My biggest take away from this book is how important the role of the horse truly has been in the history of mankind. Undoubtedly, we, as a species, would not have come so far with the aid of the horse.

Even though it was difficult to read, I liked it. After further editing, I can easily recommend this book to anyone that likes histories, science or horses.

I received a free copy from the publisher, via Net Galley, in exchange for my honest review.
Check out my blog at www.thespineview.com for this review, as well as others, and author interviews.
Profile Image for Ana.
92 reviews2 followers
November 21, 2019
The Age of the Horse meanders between different aspects of the relationship between horse and humans. Likewise, it is sometimes fascinating, and other times less so.

Forrests writing style is most engaging in the passages where she describes her own experiences, and the people and horses she has met while researching. However, her descriptions of the history surrounding this are often difficult to take in. Particularly in the first section, about Takhi horses, I found it easy to get lost amongst the names and dates reffered to. Certain facts about the horses gave me the engagement to read on, which I am glad I did as the book generally became more engaging from there.

Overall, I enjoyed The Age of the Horse and would recommend it to any hippophile, however, due to the broad range of topics, I would only recommend sections to certain people. For example, the section on agriculture and horses would be interesting for anyone who had an interest in farming, whether they loved horses or not.
Profile Image for Troy.
406 reviews4 followers
August 19, 2017
I did not enjoy this. Wasn't what I expected and read as a very dry, convoluted look at history of man, only slightly related to horses at times.
Profile Image for Maura Heaphy Dutton.
545 reviews12 followers
April 21, 2022
Interesting topic and much enlightening detail, but goes on at too much length about the author's adventures writing the book.

From the school of the "long form essay," beloved of magazines like The New Yorker, where an interesting topic takes back seat to the minutiae of the essayist's journey. The author, or the author's publisher, or a grant-giving body has paid good money to ship the author the exotic places to "experience" first hand some of the issues covered in the book, and by God we are going to hear all about the full experience, in gruesome detail.

Chapter 4 begins with a classic of the "art" (sarcasm), where Forrest walks through the seemingly deserted écuries, or stables, of Versailles, and describes every single things she sees: A full bottle of red wine, opened and recorked. A box of instant noodles. A think quilted saddle pad on a radiator ... Every ... single ... thing ... for four pages. Four pages, without even a glimpse of a horse, just an insight into the poor housekeeping of the staff at the Grande and Petite Écuries. No idea how that's supposed to enlighten me, as a seeker of wisdom about horses.

I liked Forrest's decision to organize her material into eight topics that reflect the ways that we have "shaped" the horse, and the horse has shaped us. And I did learn a lot -- I just felt that I had to wade through a lot of unnecessary "local colour," the written equivalent of sharing your holiday snaps, to do it.
17 reviews1 follower
August 14, 2022
The age of the horse is a book about the relation of men and horses; emphasis on relation. It delve into the role and 'relation' of horses in various aspect of human life. It's start with a little tidbid on the ancestry of horses. It continue unto the history wild horses domestication by human. As well as, human attempt in preservation of wild horses. Following that, the book wrote about the role of horses as caltural figure, driving power of industry, food sources, wealth symbol and war effort throught out human history. This book really shows that horses are a human companions.

I pick up this book with the intention of reading about history of horses throughout human history. As I was reading this book, my intention is not fully filled. This book does not tell much on the history but delve quite deeply in the relationship between horses and human right throuth civilisation. It quite fascinating to learn about horses role in the human civilisation. However, it feel like the author tend to write down various fact that is indirectly related. This style kind of derailed my reading. Nonetheless, it is not a waste to read it as open my mind to a new idea and knowledge.
Profile Image for Zoann.
567 reviews8 followers
June 25, 2017
This is not the typical history of the horse. It started as a dry, scholarly tome, written in the third person, but, unexpectedly, the author switches to first person in places and tells of her own experiences. So the information and education becomes personalized and more interesting. The horse's relationship with humans is told in broad themes: Evolution, Domestication, Wildness, Culture, Power, Meat, Wealth and War. Parts of the book were hard to read for this horse lover, but all worthwhile. Some quotes I liked:

"The history of the horse family is still one of the clearest and most convincing for showing that organisms really have evolved, for demonstrating that, so to speak, an onion can turn into a lily." Horses: The Story of the Horse Family in the Modern World and through Sixty Million Years of History by George Gaylord Simpson.

"Any beginning in nature is arbitrary."

Profile Image for Mackay.
Author 4 books22 followers
October 22, 2017
A fascinating, lovely book - I'd say a sociology of human/equine connections through the eons, except that makes it sound too dull. Beautifully written and thoroughly researched, still it's unlike any book about horses I've ever read (and I've read a library-full!). Parts of it will make you angry (the kill auctions, the uses in war), but it does explore these essential parts of our complex relationships with this most useful and beautiful and wonderful animal. Highly recommended for horse lovers or those interested in this most essential human/animal relationship. (Also should be must readers for anyone interested in organic farming and sustainable food.)
Profile Image for Elena.
Author 3 books7 followers
November 17, 2019
Parts of this book are fascinating and parts seem to be a bit random. I really loved aspects of it, but it’s a bit like 6 different books stuck together. I’ll read one part and really love it and then the next section will be 30 pages of a totally different subject that I’m not as interested with. I can’t really fault the author for that, the history of the horse is a really huge subject, but it was frustrating. I’d give 3 stars for some sections and 4 for others. If you love horses though, it’s well worth a read. I’ve read loads of horse books over the years and this had plenty of fresh and unusual material.
Profile Image for Kate.
426 reviews1 follower
January 27, 2021
I had fairly high hopes for this book. Some things were really good, but the depth of information was not enough (first two chapters).

However, many things were just unacceptable - changes of perspective from general history to some random memoirs from trips and last chapter was supposed to be about war. Well, it kind of was, but more about therapy of PTSD patients.

Another thing was posing a horse as a reasonable and ecological alternative to coal and oil. It seems ridiculous, as despite producing less methane than cows, horses still produce a considerable amount of it. But hey... it’s natural way of things so we must praise it.
Profile Image for Kilian Metcalf.
982 reviews22 followers
May 29, 2017
It is difficult to review this book. It would be easier if it were a rant or a rave. Instead it's just 'meh.' The author looks at six uses of the horse from the dancing horses of the haute ecole to the draft horses that are making a comeback in agriculture. There is no unifying thesis to bind these disparete articles into a whole. Instead they read like magazine articles published at various times.

If you know a young person who is horse mad and not very critical, this book might make a nice gift.

Thanks to Netgalley for ARC
1,275 reviews13 followers
June 4, 2017
Throughout history the development of man has been intertwined with that of the horse. In this book Susanna Forrest looks at different aspects of that relationship, from the beauty of the equine ballet to the way society deals with horses injured or beyond work, from the preservation of the wild horses of Mongolia to the role of the horse in newly affluent China. This is a love story to the animal and the writing shows both passion and knowledge. However it does not really hang together as a complete book. Each section is very self-contained, this is more a collection of extended essays.
Profile Image for Sarah Foster.
12 reviews2 followers
January 3, 2019
I absolutely loved this book, but may be it’s niche target audience, of archaeologist and equestrian. It does not read like a traditional history book, and is archaic in it’s chronological and geographical organisation. It focuses on a handful of case studies of interactions between culture and horse. It is jammed with interesting facts and stories and there was much to learn, despite my lifelong obsession with all things equine, which was a little surprising!
Beautifully laid out and though provoking.
It definitely made me look at my own horse through fresh eyes this week!
Profile Image for Mari Sasano.
3 reviews1 follower
July 20, 2019
There's a lot of writing about horses' relationship to humans, but I learned so much from this book! It's detailed, in-depth (I find most human-horse histories to gloss over so much) and beautifully written. The narratives answer the question, "how did we get here?" with respect to what horses mean in our lives now, not just running down the list from Lascaux to show jumping. It discusses how humans used them and how they were a part of our lives. The section on the development of dressage was particularly interesting, and gave me some important context to my own riding.
89 reviews3 followers
March 27, 2018
A fascinating insight into the history of human interaction with horses. There are some brilliant facts hidden in here. Unfortunately, the author's writing style tends to lean towards listing things in long run-on sentences which can make parts of it less easy to understand than necessary. With a bit of editing, it could be an excellent book, but as it is, the rating is more for the idea and the content that is hidden in amongst the dense paragraphs than for the presentation.
Profile Image for Parita.
128 reviews4 followers
May 22, 2018
Detailing the history, present and future of the animal that has served man the most through centuries, Forrest weaves an epic read about the Equus ferus caballus. A befitting and worthy tribute to the horse with amusing facts. well researched. Definitely a must read for all horse lovers and information sponges.
Profile Image for Batool AK.
130 reviews
March 31, 2020
I honestly found the writing style to be tiring, and I felt as though the horses were pushed to the background to make way for all the humans and what they had to say. I was going to give the book two stars, but because the good parts contained valuable points (especially when she discusses the dominance theory and feral vs domesticated horse behavior) I bumped the rating up to 3 stars.
3,224 reviews27 followers
August 29, 2017
Fascinating look at the prehistory, history and development of modern horses. Horse lovers will love reading this book. It's very well researched and contains lots of interesting info. I can't believe anyone ever viewed horses as food....
Profile Image for Judith.
21 reviews14 followers
January 19, 2018
I enjoyed this book and learned a lot of interesting things, but it fails to hold together as a whole. The chapters are interesting, but they don't seem to related to one another. I don't think the author proved her thesis and pretty much admits it at the end. Still worth reading.
Profile Image for Dave.
28 reviews1 follower
June 17, 2017
Wonderful book about a great animal! Interesting historical details and stories!
Profile Image for Leiki Fae.
284 reviews5 followers
April 29, 2019
Very much enjoyed this read. Lots of info about my favorite animal, written by someone who obviously loves horses, and also forays into history, global warming, animal welfare, evolution, etc.
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