As humans began using horses for transport – and war-horses rapidly became very valuable. Forrest quotes a Mitanni horseman as saying a trained horse was worth twice as much as an ox and even an untrained horse twice as much as a cow. For many cultures horses became too valuable to eat. The first talking horse in literature, (in cuneiform dating from the seventh century) the horse says ‘My flesh is not eaten’. He has become too valuable and not just in money. A horse lends prestige. A trained horse was essential for warfare (the horse is a ‘glorious creature’ clothed in copper armor). Where would the chevalier be without his steed?
By the time of the Old Testament, horses were forbidden flesh. Romans, who happily consumed dormice and ostriches, would only eat horse meat in extreme poverty. Christians, who moved away from the strict dietary restrictions and ate pork and shrimp, kept the one forbidding horseflesh. There are cultures now who eat them. True. When Christianity moved into pagan German and east to the steppes of Eurasia it moved into territories where the horse had been eaten for centuries. It took a long time to establish the taboo. Among these ‘barbarians’, horses played a mythological role and were sacrificed and eaten as part of the rites. Like the bull in Ancient Crete. horses were divine. After sacrifice they were eaten, partly because it was believed eating sanctified flesh took the divinity and the other attributes of the animal into the human body.
In France, in an effort to encourage eating horseflesh, horse banquets were arranged in the middle 1800s.
To this day, people in some countries such as the U.S. and Great Britain do not eat horse meat. In France, however, horseflesh turns up on menus, sometimes to the chagrin of a diner whose French is not up to the translation. This happened to a friend who, when she discovered what was on the plate in front of her, went supperless. I share her revulsion even though I will happily consume chicken.I cannot imagine myself eating either horse or dog, the two companions that have shared our journey through history.