A fine time for equines

The American Museum of Natural History's new exhibit explores the human - horse relationship When I was seven years old I decided I'd rather be a horse than a human. In an attempt to dissuade me from this point of view, my parents had me start riding lessons when I was nine. It didn't work. I am still convinced the horse is a superior creature. So I was the natural choice from __The Scientist__'s editorial office to review __The Horse__, a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural Hist

Margaret Guthrie
Jun 12, 2008
The American Museum of Natural History's new exhibit explores the human - horse relationship When I was seven years old I decided I'd rather be a horse than a human. In an attempt to dissuade me from this point of view, my parents had me start riding lessons when I was nine. It didn't work. I am still convinced the horse is a superior creature. So I was the natural choice from __The Scientist__'s editorial office to review __The Horse__, a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. To see some of the displays, click linkurl:here.;http://www.the-scientist.com/supplementary/flash/horses/horse.jsp More than a simple look at the linkurl:evolutionary;http://www.the-scientist.com/2008/6/1/32/1/history of the horse, the exhibit examines what domestication of the horse has meant to the development of human civilization. How did a timid quadruped help a puny, naked primate become a mighty force that has populated the planet? How did linkurl:horses;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/52958/...
e than a human. In an attempt to dissuade me from this point of view, my parents had me start riding lessons when I was nine. It didn't work. I am still convinced the horse is a superior creature. So I was the natural choice from __The Scientist__'s editorial office to review __The Horse__, a new exhibition at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. To see some of the displays, click linkurl:here.;http://www.the-scientist.com/supplementary/flash/horses/horse.jsp More than a simple look at the linkurl:evolutionary;http://www.the-scientist.com/2008/6/1/32/1/history of the horse, the exhibit examines what domestication of the horse has meant to the development of human civilization. How did a timid quadruped help a puny, naked primate become a mighty force that has populated the planet? How did linkurl:horses;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/52958/ help humans enlarge their agriculture, engage more successfully in warfare, develop industries, and more efficiently migrate throughout the land? These are just some of the question that __The Horse__ attempts to answer. The image of a Thoroughbred horse, moving across a large screen, greets visitors to the exhibition. The equine was filmed using a high-tech military camera that captures 1000 frames per second. The horse comes toward you and bends to your left, first at a trot and then a gallop. You hear the hoofbeats, you see the muscles flex and stretch, you hear the heartbeat, and can almost smell the horse has he passes by you, dragging you with him into the exhibition. The exhibit illustrates the winding evolutionary path that horses took from the 10-inch-tall linkurl:__Hyracotherium__;http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/fhc/hyraco1.htm to the only surviving branch, the horse genus __Equus caballus__, which includes zebras, asses, and donkeys, with dioramas and a short interview with paleontologist linkurl:Bruce MacFadden;http://www.flmnh.ufl.edu/Directory/cvs/bmacfadd_cv.htm of the Florida Museum of Natural History. MacFadden carbon dates the linkurl:enamel;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/52854/ in fossil horse teeth to reconstruct equine behavior and development. He notes, from patterns in the enamel, whether ancestral horses were grazers or a browsers, like the small forest dwelling proto-horses that nibbled on leaves and twigs. From there the exhibition moves to domestication, where the horse began its partnership with man as meals on the hoof. Evidence has been found in southern France and parts of Spain of early humans rounding up horses and slaughtering them for food. A careful re-staging of one of the excavation sites in northern linkurl:Kazakhstan,;http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15784/ where horses were first kept in captivity, includes a button that lights up the excavated postholes that anchored an ancient corral. There is a short video interview with one of the leaders of that expedition, linkurl:Sandra Olsen,;http://www.carnegiemnh.org/anthro/olsen.html of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, who is also co-curator of __The Horse__. From domestication, __The Horse__ moves on to war. It's no exaggeration to say that, to ancient warriors, the horse was the equivalent of a nuclear weapon. (In 1532 linkurl:Pizarro;http://www.pbs.org/conquistadors/pizarro/pizarro_a00.html with 168 men, 62 of them mounted, conquered the Incas who mustered an army of 80,000.) linkurl:Genghis Khan's;http://www.answers.com/topic/genghis-khan army, riding atop small, tireless horses, managed to assemble the largest empire the world has ever seen, stretching from the eastern Pacific to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. A suit of armor for a German medieval battle horse, makes you realize that horses were tanks before mechanized warfare was born, and a Samurai saddle emphasizes the universality of war horses. Interactive displays on equine linkurl:physiology;http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/52931/ filled the exhibition. One station had you pull a lever to measure your horsepower and another had video screens showing a horse's skeleton and internal workings. By far the most popular with the kids was the video of the lower intestine showing the formation and dispensing of linkurl:horse "apples.";http://www.the-scientist.com/news/display/53069/ Finally I reached the linkurl:racing portion;http://www.the-scientist.com/2008/6/1/75/1/ of the exhibit. Here, displays explained the origins of the Thoroughbred breed and showed the real skeleton of a champion trotting horse, along with a model of how that horse looked all fleshed out. A short film showed horse racing in various parts of the world, various games played on horseback, and rodeo and show competitions. __The Horse__ ends with an emotionally-charged, three part tribute to horses and their owners. First, a young girl who ranches with her family in northern California explains her relationship with her beloved Quarter horse. Then a New York City mounted policeman saddles up, and tells why each officer is assigned to one horse and what his horse means to him. And finally we see a child with severe cerebral palsy riding a black and white pony named S'mores. Produced in collaboration with the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture & Heritage; the Canadian Museum of Civilization; the Field Museum of Chicago and the San Diego Museum of Natural History, __The Horse__ will visit all the collaborating museums ending in San Diego in 2012. It is in New York through January 4, 2009. Visit http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/horse/ for more information. Do not miss it. If you have a horse-crazy child you wish was a bit more interested in science, definitely take him or her.

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