If all the famous steeds of historic significance could be placed in a head-to-tail procession, such a line of prancing chargers would doubtless encircle the earth several times.
True, this may seem an extravagant statement to some but when one takes into consideration the fact that for more than thirty-five hundred years the horse has been the companion and servant of man in all human conquests and migrations, then such an estimate, covering thousands of animals, can be better understood and accepted.
In order to read the first reference ever made to those iron-muscled and intelligent beasts, let us turn back the pages of the past and glance over a Babylonian letter, written about 2000 B.C. which speaks of "getting fodder for the horses"; or, drop down three centuries to 1700 B.C., and read, this time in Biblical history, of a dire famine in Egypt, where the people turned to a wise governor for first-aid, and, "Joseph gave them bread in exchange for horses" (Genesis 47:17).
Should we wish to view the earliest pictured equine, we may examine a sculptured stone of the same 1700 b.c. dating, standing in Mycenae, Greece, which carries the figure of a chariot drawn by horses; while scenes depicting pursuing horses, chariots, and Egyptians, which followed the Israelites fleeing from the land of bondage, can be found on many ancient monuments.
Again a fine poetic picture of the war-horse in all his glory and strength appears in the thirty-ninth chapter of the book of Job, verses 19 to 25.
From such pictures it will be inferred that horses were first used for drawing chariots, low two-wheeled vehicles; yet as nations began to carry on incursions of war, and excursions of peace to distant lands, horseback riding became the order of the times, and cavalry, in the sense of mounted men, was featured as a great fighting factor, insomuch that horse-drawn chariots were soon in decline as equipages of war.
It might be mentioned in this connection, that saddles were used by Oriental riders, long before they were adopted elsewhere. The Greek and Romans rode bare-backed until as late as the fourth century. It was difficult, of course, to mount, but the more agile riders learned to practice to leap upon their beasts without assistance of any kind; however, the heavily armored warrior had to depend on being helped up by a servant, called a stator, and along all Roman roads there were mounting blocks, placed at every mile's end, for the convenience of horsemen.
With the beginning of the equestrian period, and traveling down the centuries, came sturdy steeds bearing warriors, crusaders, and knights errant, and brave and daring deeds did they perform. So now, for the sake of becoming better acquainted with some of the most famous of these animals, let us watch the procession as it passes:
Behold, Bucephalus, the celebrated war horse of Alexander the Great (356-323 b.c). Coal-black with one white star on forehead, this magnificent beast lived for thirty years and at death his famous master built a city for his mausoleum. Alexander called it Bucephala.
Here is the Wooden Horse of Troy, the Cambuscan's steed of brass, and Pegasus, the winged horse, and Sleipner, the eight-hoofed, better known as Odin's gray, who could traverse either land or sea. Rosinate, the lean, lank nag of the doughty Don
Quixote and Bevis, whose master, Marmion, fell in the battle of Flodden Field, and Black Beauty of fiction. And Gunpowder, the one-eyed plow horse of Ichabod Crane, one of the best known animal characters in American literature.
And Traveler—owned and used by General Robert E. Lee.
And Marengo, a white horse of fame, who bore to countless victories (but at last to defeat) the great Napoleon I. On the field of Waterloo there moved another fighting horse—Copenhagen, who served his master, the Duke of Wellington. Still from the historical past the horses surge—among them an unnamed but honored group: The courier steed of Paul Revere; the swift, sure-footed horse of Gen. Israel Putnam; the celebrated charger who carried General Washington through many campaigns of danger. And old Whitey, General Zack Taylor's well-known horse.
Let us not forget what the Bible says: "A horse is a vain thing for safety" (Psalm 33:17).
A city man, visiting a small country town, boarded a stage with two dilapidated horses, and found that he had no other currency than a five-dollar bill. This he proffered to the driver. The latter took it, looked it over for a moment or so, and then asked:
"Which horse do you want?"
A traveler in Indiana noticed that a farmer was having trouble with his horse. It would start, go slowly for a short distance, and then stop again. Thereupon the farmer would have great difficulty in getting it started. Finally the traveler approached and asked, solicitously:
"Is your horse sick?"
"Not as I knows of."
"Is he balky?"
"No. But he is so danged 'fraid I'll say whoa and he won't hear me, that he stops every once in a while to listen."
A German farmer was in search of a horse.
"I've got just the horse for you," said the liveryman. "He's five years old, sound as a dollar and goes ten miles without stopping."
The German threw his hands skyward.
"Not for me," he said, "not for me. I live eight miles from town, und mit dot horse I haf to valk back two miles."
There's a grocer who is notorious for his wretched horse flesh.
The grocer's boy is rather a reckless driver. He drove one of his master's worst nags a little too hard one day, and the animal fell ill and died.
"You've killed my horse, curse you!" the grocer said to the boy the next morning.
"I'm sorry, boss," the lad faltered.
"Sorry be durned!" shouted the grocer. "Who's going to pay me for my horse?"
"I'll make it all right, boss," said the boy soothingly. "You can take it out of my next Saturday's wages."
Before Abraham Lincoln became President he was called out of town on important law business. As he had a long distance to travel he hired a horse from a livery stable. When a few days later he returned he took the horse back to the stable and asked the man who had given it to him: "Keep this horse for funerals?"
"No, indeed," answered the man indignantly.
"Glad to hear it," said Lincoln; "because if you did the corpse wouldn't get there in time for the resurrection."