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Dr. Pita Kelekna

A cultural anthropologist, whose book The Horse in Human History documents initial horse domestication on the steppes c. 4000 BC and subsequent impact of the horse on world culture, not only in military and economic spheres, but also in art, religion, literature, and the rapid dissemination of revolutionary ideas and technologies.

1. What is the single greatest change you have witnessed in the equestrian world during your lifetime?

Probably, increasing public awareness for greater kindness towards horses, whether this be by adoption programs for mustangs, gentler methods of dressage, or concern for rigorous racing practices


2. Do you ride?



3. Do you own a horse?



4. Who is your favorite horse in history?

The Duke of Wellington's chestnut mount, Copenhagen. After 20 hours of non-stop bloody combat at the Battle of Waterloo, once the general had dismounted triumphant, Copenhagen tried to kick him.


5. Who do you think was the most influential equestrian human in history and why?

Every era has its equestrian champion, but clearly the most influential was Genghis Khan.


6. What was your greatest equestrian influence from books of cinema when your were young.

National Velvet.


7. What equestrian book would your recommend today and why?

Certainly, David W. Anthony's The Horse, the Wheel, and Language for its detailed coverage of horse domestication on the Pontic-Caspian steppes, but also Sandra Olsen's numerous publications, particularly the most recent on her Botai archaeological excavations. (I would also immodestly suggest my own book The Horse in Human History, which describes the impact of equestrianism on human culture over a six-thousand-year period and across six continents.)


8. How did you initially become interested in your specific equestrian specialty?

As a cultural anthropologist, I noted the stark contrasts in politico-economic development between Old and New World cultures, differences I suspected were attributable to horse presence/absence in those hemispheres. This led me to conduct archaeological, ethnological, and historical research across Turkey, Jordan, Syria, Egypt, Uzbekistan, Tibet, Nepal, China, Mongolia, and Japan.


9. What prompted you to enter the field?

I was already immersed for over a decade in studying cultural evolution -- from hunter-gatherers to state formation -- in the indigenous Americas. But on a visit to the Near East, I was struck by the ubiquity of the warhorse in the iconography of Anatolia, Syria, and Egypt; the warhorse, of course is conspicuously absent from Pre-Columbian Americas. I wondered who had written on this disparity between hemispheres. It seemed nobody had, so I decided I would.


10. Did someone encourage your decision or inspire you?

No, my colleagues at first thought I was crazy to take on such a broad-ranging project. My first encouragement came as my manuscript was sent out for review by Cambridge University Press. Professor Victor H. Mair of the University of Pennsylvania, who for many years had studied horse cultures in Eurasia, was most enthusiastic about my work and generously provided a wealth of additional details.


11.When did you begin your research, investigation, work?

As indicated above (#8), I had spent several summers visiting archaeological sites and nomad groups across Asia. I began systematic library research in the summer of 2004. Two and half years later, I submitted my manuscript to Cambridge at the end of 2006. Following peer reviews, I undertook revisions of certain sections and the book was published at the beginning of 2009.


12.What do you think is your most important discovery, achievement or insight regarding your equestrian work?

Having undertaken a study of the horse from "soup to nuts," that is having covered 60 million years of horse paleontology, initial horse domestication on the Eurasian steppes 6,000 years ago , and subsequent expansions of horse cultures across the planet right up until modern times, I think I have demonstrated that the domesticated horse -- the extraordinarily rapid transport and communication it has facilitated -- ranks, alongside agriculture and metallurgy, as one of the most important cultural innovations of human history. I believe also I have delivered a unitary theory of cultural evolution.


13. What modern technology, techniques and media have you found most helpful?

Nothing unusual: photography, tape recorder, personal computer, graphic diagrams, maps, internet.


14. What part of your work do you find most fulfilling?

As an ethnologist, I must admit the most rewarding part of my work was making contact with nomadic groups, witnessing their annual migrations with flocks and herds up into the mountains, noting the sophistication of their trellis tents and other technologies, and most of all -- and this is as true for Jordan as it is for Mongolia -- observing the easy familiarity all nomad children have with their horses, sometimes six-year-olds riding bareback a huge mount at a gallop.


15. What has been your biggest disappointment in your work?

My biggest disappointment was not being able to obtain copyright clearance for a photograph of three mounted Kazakh hunters moving at a gallop, on each of their shoulders a golden eagle with wings outspread -- snow-capped mountains in the background.


16. How do you explain the gulf between academic equestrian investigation and the average horse owner?

Apart form the fields of equine medical and biological research, paleontology, and steppe archaeology, I do not think academia has adequately addressed the topic of the horse.


17 What equestrian subjects are in need of more research and investigation?

I think most, if not all.


18 Which part of the equestrian world would you like to see reformed and why?

Particularly, the world of horseracing. I understand from owners that the racehorse is being over-bred and now so fragile it can race only a few times a year.


19. How do you traditionally deliver your finds or message and how would you ideally like to do so?

By teaching and writing. I certainly would also enjoy making a documentary of the horse in human history.


20. What intellectual, technical or ethical advance would you like to see in the horse world?

Ethically, I would like kindness to be shown to horses in all spheres, and to other animals too.


21. Do you foresee any difficulties for the horse world in the immediate future?

Mechanization obviously is replacing horsepower the world over. Also, rapidly increasing human populations are crowding out horse ranches and other traditional areas of horse rearing.


22. What is the greatest challenge facing the horse world in the long term?



23. What books, magazines, websites, etc. can people read and review to learn more about your work?

Book: The Horse in Human History, New York: Cambridge University Press 2009 --;

Journal: Sino-Platonic Papers -- 

"The Politico-Economic Impact of the Horse on Old World Cultures"; Review:;
Website:  in Search type Pita Kelekna.


24. Any final thoughts?

Yes, I think it is wonderful that you are bringing together so many different equine specialists. Enhanced communication across disciplines will unquestionably help advance science and information exchange between horse riders and academia will certainly benefit everybody participating.


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