A fascinating canter through the history of horses and their dealings, for better or worse, with humans.
Horses have served humans for centuries. Still, writes Raulff, director of the German Literature Archive, we have arrived at the end of the “Age of Equus.” “To be born in the countryside in the mid-twentieth century meant growing up in an old world,” he writes at the outset of his sweeping cultural history, one in which horses did work drawing plows and wagons; even at that time, the horse was at the end of its useful life, the victim of a long decline in the age of mechanization that corresponded to the “long 19th century.” The “Centaurian Pact” that Raulff celebrates still exists, though horses are now mostly used for recreation, but under very different terms from those of the past. In his long, circumstantial discussion of horses in warfare, for instance, he observes that in World War I, between 8 million and 9 million horses were killed, about as many as humans. The book has an almanaclike feel to it, darting from sketch to interesting tidbit to extended narrative. Though it sometimes approaches an everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about manual, in all its oddments—e.g., Theodore Roosevelt risked a lawsuit from Buffalo Bill Cody for coining the term “Rough Riders,” the invention of the stirrup stirred demand for heavier armor and bigger horses, spurring evolution of armaments and animals alike, and so forth—there is a thoroughly impressive literary endeavor at play. Indeed, some of the best moments of this excellent book concern literary and artistic responses to horses, from the “savagely beaten or tormented horse” as a literary trope (Nietzsche, Kraus, Schopenhauer) to Slim Pickens’ riding “the hobby horse of the nuclear age” at the close of Stanley Kubrick’s film Dr. Strangelove.
A top-notch addition to the library of any cultured equestrian; highly readable from start to finish.