Are humans wild or domesticated animals

Dressage history

The beginnings

The dog is considered to be the earliest animal companion of humans. That is why the history of dressage begins with the domestication of wolves that have joined humans.

The connection between humans and wolves began about 15,000 to 20,000 years ago, or perhaps 100,000 years ago. Wolf packs probably wandered through the savannahs together with nomadic tribes.

For wolves raised by prehistoric hunters, it was relatively easy to adapt to the human social structure because of their own genetic makeup. The animals were probably also attracted by food that the human hunters left behind on their forays.

Conversely, the animals also helped the nomads: for the hunters of the Ice Age, wolfhounds quickly became indispensable companions when hunting. The animals could smell game better than humans and were an effective protection against attacking animals in dangerous situations.

Horses, which were mere prey for hunters in the Stone Age, were domesticated, i.e. tamed, much later than dogs. With the development of the art of riding, however, the horses often became the most valuable possession of their owners.

Horses were probably bred as early as 3000 years before Christ. Historical sources report that the Mongols were excellent riders as early as 2000 BC and were able to perform equestrian tricks with their horses.

Animals as symbols of power

Around the same time, Asian kings began training the largest living land animal: elephants. Wild elephants were initially kept and trained in court stables for reasons of prestige.

Animals trained in this way later became dangerous weapons in armed conflicts. The elephants could easily overrun enemy troops and were largely insensitive to simple weapons. The animals were conducted by elephant guides who had prepared the pachyderms for their missions for years.

The symbolic power of some animal species meant that wild animals, which had no practical use for humans, were tamed early on. In Egypt, for example, high officials kept baboons as pets, and Greek priests had lions harnessed to their carriages to demonstrate their power.

In Rome, tigers, panthers and other wild animals were also tamed. Of course, these animals were not trained by their owners, but by special zookeepers and early trainers who were familiar with handling the animals.

Demonstrations with wild animals are known from the Romans in the last decades before Christianity. Not only big cats but also crocodiles and even rhinos were presented to the audience as exotic sensations.

Jugglers and tamers

In the early Middle Ages, exotic animals were able to secure a livelihood for traveling jugglers. Trained monkeys or dancing bears were an overwhelming attraction at every fair, because most people knew exotic wild animals neither from pictures nor from realistic descriptions, but only from mythical stories.

The animals were usually made compliant by brutal force. That was (and is still true today) for bears in particular. The bears' predatory instincts are harder to control than those of most other wildlife.

In order to teach bears to "dance", the animal's paws were burned at the command of a drum, so that the bear got used to certain movement reflexes to the music.

In the 16th century, the first menageries came up as a forerunner of the circus and with them the commercial demonstration of animals, which was planned as a show.

These demonstrations, too, were essentially about the display of wild animals that had been intimidated with brutal methods. Nevertheless, the animal tamer was highly regarded, because he demonstrated with his "art" the human superiority over the wild nature that the wild animal represented.

From the circus to the zoo

Over the course of the next centuries, a few mobile menageries developed into zoological facilities, in which visitors were able to continuously observe the behavior of the animals for the first time.

In the 19th century, for example, Carl Hagenbeck, the founder of the zoo of the same name, was one of the first to analyze the behavioral patterns of predatory animals.

Carl's brother Wilhelm Hagenbeck began to put this theoretical knowledge about animal behavior into practice with the first dressage numbers.

The intensive interaction with the animals and the precise observation of their reaction patterns also changed the relationship to the animal: Humans were able to rediscover their own behavior in animal behavior.

At the beginning of the 20th century, knowledge of the natural reactions of wild animals became the starting point for all essential dressage lessons.

With this knowledge, the use of force in dressage can be minimized and in some cases even avoided completely, nevertheless numerous trainers still work with methods that are painful for the animals. Therefore, many animal rights activists doubt that there can be really species-appropriate dressage at all.