cover image The Nature of Horses

The Nature of Horses

Stephen Budiansky, Budiansky Stephen, Stephen Budiansky. Free Press, $30 (304pp) ISBN 978-0-684-82768-1

Throughout its 6000 years of domesti-cation, the horse has been viewed--not always to its benefit--through the distorting lens of human perception. ""I would argue that at this late date in the shared history of man and horse,"" says Budiansky (Covenant of the Wild; Nature's Keepers: The New Science of Nature Management), ""it is only the objective tools of science that can sort out what millenniums of tradition, lore, and wishful thinking have sometimes muddled."" To do that sorting, he uses the tools of a wide range of scientific disciplines, from archaeology to neurophysiology, to biomechanics. Along the way, he debunks long-held misconceptions about the familiar equine, which, he points out, would probably died out early in the Old World (as it did in the New) if it had not been domesticated by early dwellers of the Ukraine. However romantic the lore that Budiansky disproves (the feral horses of Assateague are not, in fact, descendents of castaways from Spanish galleons), the rigorously researched facts and keen observations that he replaces them with are equally enthralling. Many graphs and line drawings illustrate such topics as equine intelligence and gaits. Whether a ""horse person"" or a generalist with an interest in natural history, the reader is sure to learn much from this intelligent, stimulating treatise. Photos not seen by PW. (Apr.)