The history of horse domestication, according to recent research, starts somewhere on the plains of eastern Europe 6,000 years ago. Since then, cavalry had become a major turning point in Old World history more than once. For further history on the specifics, look to this site.

But in an alternate history scenario, men tamed horses when the majority of Europe was either buried in ice or a dry sea of mammoth steppe. Let's say that the horse got domesticated three times earlier than in OTL. Using the technology of the time, would it be possible to tame horses at the height of the Last Ice Age?

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    $\begingroup$ (1) The Current Ice Age has not ended yet. We live in an interglacial. I presume you mean the Last Glacial Maximum. (2) Yes, it was obviously possible -- it's neither logically inconsistent nor does it break themodynamics. On the other hand, the wheel was not invented until much later, and horses were initially used for pulling chariots, not for riding. Horse riding began in historical times. (3) You do understand that the LGM corresponds with the palaeolithic, old stone age, yes? $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Oct 20, 2018 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ Doesn't domestication of animals requires a sedentary life-style? Not only you need to select desirable psychological traits over several generations but also increase height and weight so a weak animal can support (well, mostly "pull" at these levels) a rider. $\endgroup$ Oct 20, 2018 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ Today's horses are the result of millenia of selective breeding for (among other traits) size, strength, and temperment to carry a human on their back. Horses 6000 years ago were smaller, and few were strong enough to carry a warrior on their back. That's why they pulled chariots. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Oct 21, 2018 at 1:42
  • $\begingroup$ I read the title and immediately pictured a herd of ice-age squirrels chasing a nut. Or would that be combat engineers crossed with berzerkers ? $\endgroup$
    – Criggie
    Dec 10, 2022 at 20:57

3 Answers 3


Is it possible? Maybe. Is it plausible? Not really

In my answer about domesticating hippos I mentioned the experiments to domesticate the Russian Red Fox. After 20 generations, their domestication percentage was only 35%.

Horses have a 25-30 year lifespan, are sexually mature at 18 months, but generally don't start foaling until 2 years. By 18 years the eggs produce regular birth defects. For convenience, let's say that a "horse generation" is about 10 years.

So, after 200 years of working diligently to domesticate horses, you'd more or less get a 35% success rate. And that's only if you're sedentary (thanks @AlbertoYagos), focused, organized, keeping records, making observations, etc. — none of which stone-age people were wont to do.

Thus, it's possible, maybe, but not plausible. People simply hadn't developed culturally enough to develop the basic skills needed to do this.

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    $\begingroup$ I'll disagree strongly. Note that, per the OP, domestication began about 6,000 years ago - hardly a period noted for record-keeping. All that is needed is a use for semi-domesticated horses, and people will begin capturing and breeding horses. And "breeding" does not require sophisticated record-keeping and "making observations" beyond the simple ability to tell that some horses are more amenable to domestication than others. Like, they don't attack their owners. Basic domestication isn't rocket science. $\endgroup$ Oct 21, 2018 at 3:27
  • $\begingroup$ The herders wouldn't even need to know that aggressiveness could be inherited - they might eat the more aggressive ones first simply because they were sick of being kicked by them, not for selective breeding reasons. $\endgroup$
    – A. B.
    Dec 11, 2022 at 1:08

I'm going to have to go with a hard no.

In order to even think of domesticating any kind of animal whatsoever, the people doing it must, at the very least, live a sedentary or semi-sedentary lifestyle. Hunter-gatherers are not going to bother with any kind of domestication that would require keeping animals trapped in enclosures, mostly since they would just abandon the enclosures in a few weeks to follow the mammoth herds. The reason we were able to domesticate dogs this early is that wolves are (relatively) smaller animals, so they did not require large, open enclosures that had to stay in one place all the time to domesticate.


I think you are looking at this the wrong way. Rather then ask is it possible to do it, the real question is why didn't we domestic the horse earlier.

If you can figure out the limiting factors and then explain in your story/world how your society overcomes them, then it is only logical that domestication would take place early.

At the highest level someone would domesticate an animal when the benefit of having the animal is greater then the cost involved with keeping them. The cost is easy to figure out. Whatever time or energy it take to care for the horse as opposed. A modern 1000 pound horse needs 15-20 pounds of hay a day, or an equivalent amount of forage. Modern horses are bigger now, so maybe you can get away with 10 pounds per horse per day.

Let's also say you have 3 horses, a dam(mother), a sire(father) and their offspring, realistically you'd likely need more then this for an effective breeding program, but it's the minimum you would need to be able to support.

So your cost question becomes, where do I get 30 pounds of plant matter per day. In the spring through fall maybe it isn't too hard, but that is a lot of effort and time on your part during the winter. Time and effort you aren't spending finding your own food.

Now the benefit side of the equation. What do I gain by having an essentially wild horse? I am not going to ride a wild horse, and as others have said we don't have wheels so a chariot does not provide a solution.

In our time line we hadn't started farming yet so even using the horse to pull a plough is out. At that time we mostly interacted with the horse as a source of food to hunt, so maybe you make the argument they first were do domesticated as a food source, but why horses and not something with less upkeep and a quicker generational cycle, like rabbits.

We know that domestication of the horse is possible given the right conditions, so you just need to find a way to write the story that those conditions are met. Maybe farming started early in your world or maybe your tribe lives in a valley that stays warm all year round because not hot springs, or maybe they make some annual journey to a place with no food, and the easiest way to eat is to bring the meat in as live horse and slaughter as you need the food.

Point being just find a way to get the cost benefit ratio to point the right direction for long enough and you can get your domestic horse early, which could then be trained into the Calvary you are looking for.


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