WHAT first possessed a human being to climb on the back of an animal and try to go for a ride?
Humans (and horses) have been on the planet for a long time and I suppose accidents with a strange and positive outcome will have happened independently and in different parts of the world, over many thousands of years.
Jean M Auel, who wrote five books about the Stone Age, suggested that the first domesticated animals would have been reared from infancy after their parents were killed.
In this way, her principal character, Ayla, made pets of a wolf, a horse, and improbably a cave lion.
One of my first books – after Janet-and-John and Noddy, of course – was an illustrated version Little Lord Fauntleroy by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
As a six-year-old, when this was my favourite book (no accounting for taste) Fauntleroy is pictured sitting on the back of a Great Dane. I distinctly remember thinking: that’s a bit odd.
The same thought obviously occurred to comedian Billy Connolly, who made a big thing of asking audiences: “Who was the first person to find you could get milk from a goat or cow by pulling its udders? What were they doing?”
It’s said that the first animals to be domesticated were dogs, though cat fanciers have claimed that Man’s best and first friend was a feline.
You just accept some things. Like climbing on the back of a donkey at Blackpool or Filey.
Let’s be honest: most donkeys stink and have really bad dandruff. Some of them are nasty-tempered, no doubt as a result of years of ill-treatment.
You never get to gallop a donkey, or take him off on your own to explore rock pools.
I thought it might be different in Egypt with the camels, but no. The camel I got on was so evil his drover had made him a wire muzzle.
And I was still led 100 yards one way, about-turn smartly, and back to base, at which point the camel-driver demanded a large sum of money.
I went riding in the Dales a long time ago. I was given Lady, a beautiful, chestnut, retired racehorse with the most pleasant nature you could wish for.
Until you got her up from a trot. She missed canter out altogether and set off for the nearest dry stone wall, no doubt thinking of those heady days at Goodwood or Aintree, completely ignoring her owner’s shouts and her rider’s screams.
Sailing involuntarily over a Dales wall is, on reflection, quite exhilarating. First you think you’re going to fall off the back of the horse. Then you are flying. Then you think you’re going to fall over the horse’s head.
The first person to whom this happened probably got off the horse and didn’t get on again for another thousand years.
There’s no evidence human beings started riding animals in Africa. It seems to be a habit we picked up in Turkey, southern China and the Russian steppes.
The Etruscans and Minoans had a thing for annoying bulls, something they passed to the Americans, who still like trying to ride them. But it’s hardly practical transport.
Riding creatures is a peculiarly European/Asian thing to do.
There’s no evidence Africans ever try to shin up a giraffe’s neck or hop aboard a startled zebra.
No Australian aborigines ever tried to saddle up a kangaroo, or someone would surely have painted it on Uluru, or Ayers Rock to traditionalists.
Why did a Galapagos Islander never get astride one of those giant tortoises? We’ll probably never know.