Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Celebrating the horse -- holding his head high in history's annals



This scene, of horses in pasture
framed by the Crazy Mountains, 

 epitomizes the grandeur of Big Sky
Country to many Montanans. 
No horsing around. The horse goes back farther than we imagined.  So an homage seems in order.  With Fourth of July parades and the horse the star of the rodeo, we have new scientific information about his history.  But first, allow me some steed-steeped memories.
MY CHILDHOOOD HORSE was Peanuts.  He was 18 years old and three of us pre-schoolers could fit in the sway of his patient back.  He remains the favorite horse of many I've ridden since.
There was Pedro delivering me safely down a rocky trail high above the sea, to the famed Leper Colony of Molokai.
He was a mule, actually, so only half-horse.  And he was sure-footed, although he frightened me a number of times as rocks slipped under his sturdy shoes.  I heard one crash down to the ocean from our trail, carved against the jagged cliffs above the Pacific. Pedro didn't blink.
THERE WAS FRANCO,  sleek on a  white sand beach in Italy.  He galloped when I had no interest -- a Roman holiday for sure but he was too frisky for me. I hit the sand.
There was Jose, sweetly obedient on the Acapulco shore.
Maggie took me for a Montana ride, packing into the Crazies.  She was an eater and got me in trouble with the guide.
 A herd of wild horses looks to include several pregnant mares, caught in a pause of grazing and moving.

Hank in the Tetons. Too frisky for this reporter.
Seth on a Taos trail.  He chewed his way along just fine.
"I want an old horse, close to the ground and slow. I don't care
if he stops to munch grass," I always tell the guides and packers. "And let me be the last rider."
San Diego's East County has a volunteer police posse in which riders,
including Linda Slater and her horse Wendy help out in full regalia.
Horses have plowed our fields, forged our trails, moved our cattle and hunted our outlaws.  Today, they still provide valuable services, in sheriff's volunteer groups and police posses. The horse has played a part in my life -- on and off the trail.  Even in the theater. For the horse has long fascinated poets and playwrights. Several of my favorite plays involve horses. At the top of the list is "Equus."  Horse inspired plays have won Tony awards and toured the world. Horses are the heart of the Kentucky Derby and I've visited the famed Lipizzaner Stallions on their home turf of Vienna.  Horses and riders share a unique bond.  Reverie and fitness are just two of the offshoots of the friendship. Horses have long been beloved by royals; Queen Elizabeth II has visited Wyoming friends to view their thoroughbreds.
A driver takes his passengers around town square in the Canary Islands.
FOR HORSE LOVERS , there's news about the history of this gorgeous beast. The horse is even older than we've thought.
By piecing together new genetic information, scientists have deciphered the complete genome of an extinct prehistoric horse that roamed the Yukon more than 700,000 years ago.
 Analyzing a fossilized bone, scientists are rewriting the evolutionary history of the horse and smashing the previous record for the oldest complete genome ever sequenced.
Do you hear that, Jose, Franco, Wendy, Maggie?  Your ancestors are making history!
A horse tips his head to a sunny winter day near Luther, MT.
In the new study, an international team of scientists led by Ludovic Orlando and Eske Willerslev at the University of Copenhagen used what’s become a common approach: comparing the DNA of  modern species to DNA recovered from fossil remains.
Their study focuses on a frozen, fossil bone fragment found near Thistle Creek, Canada.
By pushing DNA sequencing technology to its limits, they were able to rewind the evolutionary clock back further than ever before.
So the next time you put your backside on a horse, show some respect.
You're throwing your leg over millions of years of evolutionary history -- and a critter whose history goes back more than 700,000 years!

COMING SATURDAY:  Flower Power to the people, as the year marks its half-way point.
Future posts will circle the globe, giving tips on travel and taking memorable photos abroad.  We'll also celebrate the joys and trials of life with a handicapped child, explore a glider port, look at the moon and more. Enjoy the  Fourth of July and remember to explore, learn and live.
We post each Wednesday and Saturday at:

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