Where would humanity be if horses were never a thing?

So imagine a world where horses were never a thing. How would humanity have evolved?

I have trouble imagining we would have made it very much past the hunter gatherer stage.

That seems unlikely given the empires of Mesoamerica and South America and their cities.

You don’t think humans would have found something else to ride and help with transportation?

Real cowboys.

I’d think we’d have more oxcarts and similar things but, if Equus was off the table, I can’t think of a good substitute for swift single-person riding. Bovines aren’t really built for that and larger deer/antelope don’t seem like they’d work (or someone would be doing it by now). We’d still be plowing fields and hauling stuff but travel would have been slowed across the Old World (and the Americas post-European) and warfare would have developed different without cavalry. Still, I don’t think mankind would have ground to a developmental halt.

This is just the break the camel industry has been waiting for!

Who knows ?
Maybe we would have invented the motorcycle sooner.

This. There are many examples of civilizations developing without the presence of horses (Polynesians is another one).

However, the course of history would have undoubtedly gone differently. Without the horse/warrior thing, there might have not been a need for a Great Wall in China, and other impacts of the Mongols in central and western Asia, as well as parts of eastern Europe. Without the horse, the Mongols would have needed much more manpower to be able to butcher their conquests - probably manpower they did not possess. Perhaps a less defensive Chinese society and less defensive, less competitive eastern Europe would have developed differently. The silk road may not have ever been a thing, so maybe more rapid development of better ships.

Abe Lincoln might have accepted the King of Siam’s offer.

Lincoln Rejects the King of Siam's Offer of Elephants | American Battlefield Trust.

riding reindeer

You can RIDE caribou and you can ride cows, but neither seems to have the speed and stamina of a horse for distance travel. In other words, trotting around on another animal isn’t a sign that the animal makes for a good overall horse replacement.

Also, of course, part of why we wound up riding horses was their ability to be trained for combat. Not sure that works with reindeer even if they made general wandering easier.

Disagree - horses have the speed and stamina they do after millennia of careful breeding. Given a world without them, other creatures would have also been subject to human breeding for desired traits over time, whether it be bovines, deer, ostrich or what have you.

We’re smart that way.

Granted, lots of different choices and elements, and huge changes in which societies evolved which traits, so much of human history would be different in subtle and obvious ways, but I fully believe we’d have riding animals for both utility and war at near-equivalent times.

We would have used other beasts of burden to pull things. Riding was a luxury anyway. Human porters would be employed a little more often, or teams of people pulling carts. All those things were done anyway.

If the lack of horses was a big enough problem it might have spurred faster development of transportation technology. Maybe better harnesses and yokes for larger teams of small fast animals, and better roads. Probably better use of waterways for transportation. A different approach would be intensive breeding of other animals to enhance the desired characteristics valued in horses.

Camelry was a thing in the middle east. Absent horses I bet their use would have expanded outwards and filled the same niche.

Oxen and donkeys (but not mules) would’ve continued to pull things just fine.

I agree that the lack of horses would have had negligible impact on early human societal development. Horses were domesticated more recently than oxen and cattle.

We only domesticated horses about 6000 years ago. We first left the hunter/gatherer phase long before that.

However wild horses are still pretty close to domesticated horses. Obviously different but moving from the basic stock model to the domesticated model was a lot less change than trying to turn a cow or caribou into a modern equine equivalent. While its place in the equine lineage is debated, Przewalski’s horse is the closest we have to a “wild horse” and it’s still basically “a horse”. Likewise for zebras, for that matter.

There’s also the obvious point that we’ve had just as long to domesticate other animals to act similarly on a large scale and we largely haven’t, even in regions where it would have been helpful. Camels being the main exception.

Apparently you can trot around on an eland if you pick the right one.

We’d be speaking a Celtic language. I think the most important historic use of horses was in warfare.

Would we? Would the Indo-European culture have left the steppes without their horses?

I doubt we’d be speaking any Indo-European language. Probably some Uralic language or a language related to Basque .

This. The history of conquest would be entirely different. Other animals can be ridden but only the horse can be made into cavalry.

Well, ‘camelry’ is a thing, but agreed they are a lot less suited to the task generally. Useful for mounted infantry in desert areas, okayish as a mobile but not fast-paced shooting platform, not at all good as shock cavalry. On the one hand they’re basically hardier than horses. But on the other they are slower, a bit more fragile (higher center of gravity with long, spindly legs), have an uneven gait (hence mounted archers cannot expect accurate fire on the move) and are considerably less tractable (like a meaner, spittingier donkey).

The Mongols definitely wouldn’t have swept across the steppe on camel-back to conquer all before them.

Different but there would still have been conquest.

Maybe different sides would have prevailed? Maybe less rapid sweeps?

Which groups would have had the advantage or first mastered alternatives?