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“Most people today are not at all familiar with what it is to be a horse […], but they can still see a picture of a horse and love it. What is that? What is the factor that connects us?” (p. 18)
As equestrians we rarely question why we so passionately love our horses, it just an everyday fact of life. Have you ever wondered where the roots of this passion may stem from, why every time you mention to your friends about riding or owning a horse they suddenly become passionately enamoured with the subject, sometimes droning on about that one time they went riding …
Ever wonder why that is?
Wendy Williams delves deep into that subject in her latest book, The Horse: The Epic History of Our Noble Companion, a scientific travelogue that is one part biography of the horse and one part narrative exploration into the ancient relationship between our species. The text traces the evolutionary path that has led to the modern equus we know and love, from the days of the dawn horse through to the present day wild horses that roam places like Wyoming (USA) and Sable Island (CAN). Williams’ text spans the globe, leaving few stones unturned in a story that compiles not only a wealth of paleontological and archeological research, but ongoing contemporary research into equine intelligence, vision, and behaviour as well. It’s a journey into the past, dotted with authorial observations, and unique stories that bring history to life. Stories and history are slowly revealing that we may not know as much as we think we do about our four-legged companions – those stoic mounts who have pulled our plows, carried our soldiers through war, and trucked our children around the farm yard.
Don’t let the historical and/or scientific nature of this book fool you, while comprehensive and detailed in its scope it remains charming and accessible for its full 267 pages. The text is easy to understand, and while having some of the images in the text, such as the colour vision chart, would have been much more convenient alongside the relevant pages in the text (to minimize flipping back and forth), this doesn’t detract from the book itself (and there are some useful black and white photos dispersed throughout as well, in addition to the full colour insert in the center of the text).
As fascinating as the history that makes up the backbone of The Horse is, it’s the stories that make this book truly come to life. It’s in the stories of the authors own experiences (the observations and personal interludes), but also in the stories of the past, constructed from the fossil record. From the remnants of equine ancestors in Polecat bench and the story of the Laetoli mare and her foal — moments of history glanced through fossil remains preserved for millions of years — to the modern stories of William’s own horses, the ever clever Whisper and his buddy Gray, these stories have a charm of their own that is entrancing and entertaining.
Through a comprehensive analysis of evolutionary data paired with observation and ongoing research in the field of equine behaviour, William’s also debunks some common myths about our equine companions, and reveals some very interesting facts. What exactly does she reveal? Well you’ll have to read the book to find out – we can’t ruin all the fun.
The evolution of the horse itself, and our relationship with him – William’s points out – is a journey, and one that even now is not complete. “Horses have a story to tell” she notes, quoting Chris Norris, and how true this is. Horse people know this innately, but even then it seems a quality that most of humanity as a species understands as well.
But should I read it?
Overall, Williams’ The Horse is a compelling journey into the evolutionary history of the horse we know and love today. It’s a story, that in the telling, shines new light on old truths and attempts to reveal why, as a population, we remain so enamored with our equine companions. What makes this book particularly unique is the tone in which it’s told. While it is a non-fiction account of the evolution of the horse, it doesn’t read like a science text book either. It well and truly is a travelogue, as William’s states in the opening pages, it’s full of facts but it is also filled with stories and experiences (past and present). Many of these stories will be relatable to equestrians, but even they book remains accessible, meaning even your non-equestrian friends are sure to enjoy it. It’s detailed but clear, and surprisingly fun in places as well.
Interested in obtaining a copy for yourself? Wendy William’s The Horse: The Epic History of our Noble Companions is available from most major bookstores, including Chapters and Amazon.
The Canadian edition of The Horse is published HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.