Answers to Guiding QuestionsUse the questions in the Teaching in the Exhibition section of The Horse Educator's Guide as a springboard for discussion, which may go in many directions. The answers below are not meant to be exhaustive. Rather, they summarize key concepts introduced in the exhibition where student dialogue may land.
For more detailed background, the link that follows each section leads directly to relevant text (and some imagery) from the exhibition.
1. The Evolution of Horses
How did ancient horses differ from horses today?
Ancient horses generally were smaller than today's horses. Some had three or four toes with hooves on each of them, unlike the single-toed hoof of today's horses. Some ancient horses lived in forests and ate leaves, which today's horses do not do.
How did the variety of horse species change over time?
Over much of the time horses have existed, there were many branches of the horse family with different traits living simultaneously. Today, only one branch survives—the genus Equus. This branch has just seven living species, all of which have adapted to very similar environments, such as open grasslands.
What traits helped ancient horses survive in their environments?
Some ancient horses lived in the forest, while others lived on grassy plains. Horses living in the forest had three or four toes, an adaptation that made walking on soft forest ground easier. They chewed soft leaves with their short, broad teeth. Horses living on grasslands had a large central toe with a hoof, which was more suited for walking on hard ground. Their legs were generally longer than those of forest-dwellers, which helped them run quickly from danger on the open plains. Plains horses also had longer teeth than forest-dwellers to cope with the wear caused by grazing on tough grass.
How did modern horses become adapted to a dry, grassy habitat?
About 35 million years ago, the global climate became cooler and drier. This caused wet forests to shrink and dry grasslands to expand. Forest-dwelling species died out, and more species evolved the features of grass grazers.
Visit The Evolution of Horses section of the exhibition website for more information.
2. Horses and Hunters
What do the cave art, tools, and bones suggest about the lives of Ice Age people and their relationship to horses?
The artifacts indicate that Ice Age people hunted horses for meat. The paintings and artifacts suggest that horses were important to the survival and beliefs of humans at this time.
Visit the Horses and Hunters section of the exhibition website for more information.
3. Domesticating Horses
What questions are scientists investigating at Krasnyi Yar?
Scientists studying Krasnyi Yar are actively exploring questions such as: Were the horses here domestic or wild? What was the relationship between humans and horses in this society? What was the purpose of the fences at Krasnyi Yar?
How are the scientists using technology in their search for evidence?
The scientists use magnetic sensors to look beneath the ground surface to spot holes where fenceposts once stood. They use microscopes and chemical tests to identify whether soil once contained manure. They also use chemical tests inside ceramic pots to detect traces of horse milk.
What evidence have they found?
Postholes indicate that fences once stood at Krasnyi Yar, and soil inside the fences and on the floors of houses contains evidence of manure. The scientists found tools to make bridles, whips, and lassos from horsehide, and ancient pottery that once held horse milk. They found horse bones that appear to be buried in a ritual manner, and others that have cut marks from butchering.
How have scientists used the evidence to develop an explanation?
The scientists work as a team to consider how all the evidence fits together. They also note what was not found, such as evidence of agriculture. The findings suggest horses were raised at Krasnyi Yar more as a source of food than for work or riding.
Visit the Domesticating Horses section of the exhibition website for more information. Also check out Meet the OLogist, an interview with curator and zooarchaeologist Sandra Olsen.
4. The Nature of Horses
What physical and behavioral traits make horses useful to humans?
This animal's biological traits make it easy for humans to bond with horses and control their movements for long periods of time. For example, a horse's continuously active digestive system can turn its food into energy all day long. Their locking knees allow them to rest while standing in place. Furthermore, their long legs and springy tendons and ligaments enable them to run fast. Behaviorally, horses are social animals, and instinctively follow a leader. Horses are also not territorial, which means they can be led almost anywhere.
Visit The Nature of Horses section of the exhibition website for more information.
5. How We Shaped Horses / How Horses Shaped Us
In what ways have humans used horses?
The horse may be the most useful animal in the history of human civilizations. People have used horses to travel near and far—they've carried soldiers into battle, pulled vehicles, and hauled loads. Horses have been used as workers to power machinery, herd cattle, and plow fields. People have traded goods and exchanged mail with the help of horses. This animal has also served as a symbol of spiritual beliefs, wealth, or status in many societies. Horses have also been athletes in people's games such as polo and racing.
How has their use transformed human societies?
The use of horses in war has helped some societies conquer others, shifting the balance of power and influencing geography. They have helped humans work faster, stronger, and more frequently, fueling commerce and technology. By carrying people, goods, and ideas between civilizations, horses have helped humans spread knowledge around the world. They have also been an important part of the religion and belief systems of some societies.
What are some examples of the use of horses as symbols of wealth and status?
Horses are held in high esteem in many societies, so those who own or ride them can also be seen that way—especially when the horse is opulently dressed. Horses can be costly or challenging to acquire and care for, which means powerful, wealthy people are more likely to own them.
Visit the How We Shaped Horses, How Horses Shaped Us section of the exhibition website for more information.
6. An Enduring Bond
What traits do horse breeders select? Why?
Breeders select strength and large size for work horses; small size for ponies that work in small spaces; speed and stamina for racehorses.
Note: Students can relate more specific traits by exploring the horse breeds interactive.
What are examples of the bond between horses and humans?
Note: Accept all reasonable ideas from students, which may be based on personal experiences, facts they have gleaned from previous sections of the exhibition, or the video in the last section of the exhibition, which depicts the mutual attachment between several people and the horses they ride.
How are the roles of horses changing over time?
Horses are no longer integral to the lives of most people in the world today, but many people still use them.
Note: Elicit all reasonable responses from students.
Visit the An Enduring Bond section of the exhibition website for more information. Also check out Beautiful Breeds to explore 18 horse breeds.