History on the Hoof; ANSWERS TO CORRESPONDENTS

Article excerpt

QUESTION Is there any record of when and where a horse was first ridden by man?

THE earliest ancestor of the modern horse, Eohippus, is thought to have appeared around 55 million years ago. This animal looked nothing like the horse we know today, having an arched back and standing only 16in high. The animal's dental pattern suggests it was a fruit and leaf-eater.

This animal gradually evolved into the modern horse, Equus caballus, a larger animal that had the grinding teeth of a grass eater.

Evolving along with the modern horse were other species of Equus, such as the ass or donkey, the onager and the various zebras. The modern horse is thought to have appeared first in central Asia.

The earliest record of the use of Equus is of the onager, by the Sumerians, who used this 'wild ass' to pull wheeled carts more than 4,000 years ago.

From this simple beginning, the horse was sufficiently controlled in the Roman era to be used not just for pulling a cart or plough, but for riding.

Roman poet Gaius Valerius Catullus (84-54 BC) confirms this with his reference to his animal (a mule) losing a shoe.

The first people to be associated 100 per cent with the horse were the Scythians of the central steppes in what is now Russia.

This ethnically diverse tribe was nomadic and lived between the eighth and fourth centuries BC.

The importance of the horse to their lives is seen in the burial mounds which have warriors (both men and women) buried in their riding outfits and with their trusted animals.

There is some suggestion that the close relationship between the Scythians and their horses came as such a shock to other cultures that many believed they were one and the same - hence the portrayal of the half-man/half-horse centaur.

Colin Fitzgerald, Nantwich, Cheshire.

QUESTION Coming out of Southport travelling-north, there is a narrow road called Ralph's Wife's Lane. Who were Ralph and his wife?

RALPH'SWife's Lane, in the village of Banks, on the Preston Road out of Southport, supposedly got its name in the 16th century.

Banks was a fishing village at the time, and a local man called Ralph is said to have gone out onto the marshes to set his nets - and never returned.

His distraught wife went onto the marshes to search for him, but found nothing and eventually died of exposure. Legend has it that she still walks along the road (paved only in the 20th century), searching in vain for her lost loved one.

However, I have lived in Banks for 47 years and have yet to bump into her.

Tom Abram, Banks, Lancashire.

QUESTION As a taxi driver, I carried a Chinese girl who spoke no English but spent the entire journey texting on her phone. …