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I ventured forward to meet this fascinating creature. Closer and closer I went, and all was frozen. Frozen in the form of a stillness so pronounced against the backdrop of nature driving everything in its wind that it had to be some form of forced chicanery. And indeed, the next momentary step broke it. The spell was lifted, at the precise moment when the cute little being judged with his own two eyes the mark at which he should flee. And flee he did, in one sweeping move so quick and nimble it was impossible to see if he went for the trees or the bushes fronting the side of the rustic brown-tiled building. Just like the others. A disappearing act. A witty prestidigitation.
Amused I was, but surprised I should not be. These little creatures do have a propensity for running, like a stealthy sleuth of baby black bears dashing up a tree upon sight of a human. Yet there was something peculiar, a question that did not really seize me in the aforementioned days and years of my time. Beside my desk was a picture of a horse. Not just any horse, but a horse with five toes instead of a singular hoof. An odd sight that did not really make sense, for it looked like a human held captive in a scrambling plank position on the verge of losing his balance. And atop of that chimera of a being is another creature – a form of ape, curiously bearing a human-like resemblance atop the horse. His arms were overly stiff, as if riding for the first time. A strange sight, but the question remains. How did man and horse learn to interact with one another, if the squirrel disappears on sight?
It started over thirty hundred years ago in a little unheard of village across the vast untamable wilderness of a certain Mongolian Orkhon steppe only traceable by the network of satellites launched by the rise of modern iPhone users driving demand for exotic selfie pictures in the middle of nowhere – that, or perhaps the expert hand of a local guide untempered with the cult of global positioning devices that do not work 100 days into the wild. It was here, on the day of the supermoon, where it all started. The Kharums conducted their annual sacrifice on a hill-valley so pristine it looked like a certain windows start-up screen, only much windier and chillier. Hour by hour, the horses arrived in bands of four, transporting the wood for the eternal flight to a land without pain – with the irony of which it is that very vehicle of sensation needed to thrust the ascension.
At dawn’s light, the time of birth and creation, the body is carted up the frigid hill, against a wind so penetrating a stake would have brought welcome relief to the victim’s eyes. But alas, the stake was intentionally left unignited in order to maximize the pain so as to fulfill the random list of inconveniencing requirements brought about by some old tradition whose origins were never found. It was to be lighted, to the point of blue-bell flames, before the subject of sacrifice was to step in, in order to prevent any profit from any semblance of temperate warm. And to add to the mockery masked in the guise of divine martyrdom, no man could subject himself to the guilty torments of building the fire – it was left to the horses, so the fourteen chief tribesmen could not blame themselves for the death.
But this one man decided to give fate a cry. As the horses started surrounding him with logs, he smoked a plan to go up with a bang. Not yearning to be made an abject fool, he caught sight of a particularly braying horse who waddled his head up and down in the mock amusement of his funny predicament. Thus catching foot on a three-framed pile of logs, he victoriously did what no one would ever dream of doing. It was most unthinkable. Certainly improbable in the edicts of any known time. He jumped atop the horse, but missed his sidesaddle landing, resulting in an awkward position with the horse showing such an expression of horror and ruination the entire herd cringed and bowed down to a heap. His crotch was between the horse’s sides. It was painful for the man too, and so he beat the horse’s flank in such an ecstasy of choking confusion the horse advanced towards the chiefmen’s table, with the only utterable words being ‘chouk, chouk’. As the logs fell, the flames spread and consumed them all, leaving the unnamed man free to escape from the scene on his newfound vehicle in similar form to the long-lost story of a certain Targaryen. From that day onward, no horse in the Orkhon Valley dared to beat the brains out of any mounting man, and the Kharums soon taught their secrets to the Krasnyi Yar tribesmen in a trade for their own lives upon advancing on their keep along their newfound travels. Soon, all the Kharums and later Mongolians came to keep up with the Joneses, less so for their desire of exploration than their dogmatic need to appear bigger than their rivals in their claim of power.
Yet, putting into perspective this creation of history from the far reaches of the excitable mind, the five-toed Eohippus could never have been disrespected by the Eohomo man in this form – as evident in the all-telling eye of the poor, small, deer horse going ‘why me...’ The two would have missed each other by millions of years (and for good reason). Moreover, man of that timescale had neither the level of pride nor artifice to craft unnecessary sacrificial rituals of worth-testing, for they were too busy surviving in small agrarian communities unlike the deathly debates of hatred today driven by the discombobulating turmoil of being yet another nameless face in an ever-growing crowd.
I turn to look at the framed picture on my mantle this time, and sink back on the plush, velvet chair, before drifting off into yet another spin of imagination on my own little cloud.
In this cartoon - drawn for Othniel Charles Marsh during his visit - Huxley predicted how an ancestral horse might appear, showing an imaginary extinct human riding it. Huxley named his creations 'Eohomo' (dawn human) and 'Eohippus' (dawn horse). Marsh would name one of his fossil horses Eohippus later that year.
Right - Artist, Thomas H. Huxley (1825-1895)
Yale Peabody Museum
How did humans come to ride horses? A sketch tells the imaginings of the first horseman atop a legendary five-toed horse in a time too far away to remember and a place too far removed to discover.
Somewhere along my morning walk, a scurry of five beady eyed squirrels with sharp pointy ears greeted me with an exhibition of bouncy children let free on an unobserved play yard. They jumped from tree to tree, in directions so confused it was impossible to trace the sudden disappearance of the lot the moment they noticed my towering presence. All except for one, who stood, still as a fossil, with arms held semi-down side-by-side in the manner of an aloof creature folding its arms, having had enough with the plebeians of the world and staring upright with its sharp, staring eyes in a direction perpendicular to the line of my fire. His triangular-marked forehead which reached down in a slope towards his round nose gave energy to the languid glare of silence, as if its statue-like pretensions were betrayed by his own mark of concentration. He looked as if he was about to eat something, an acorn or some vegetable stick, by means of it being nibbled by a happy little toddler.
The Opening Line
This title is under the Peabody Collection