The great influence of the horse throughout the history of China cannot be underestimated. In fact, the ancient expansion of the Chinese Empire was due in large part to the horse. The rapid mobility of horse allowed for quick communication between far away provinces. Likewise, the military role of horses aided in the conquest and submission of distant lands. The importance of the horse in the history and culture of China can be viewed, in part, through the artistic legacy of this great civilization. In sculpture, painting, and literature, horses were glorified and revered. Horses were believed to be relatives of mythological dragons, reflecting their sacred status within society. During the unification of China under the Han Dynasty, bands of mounted nomadic warriors from the north threatened the country. In order to thwart their attacks, the Chinese sought to import stronger, faster steeds from Central Asia (as opposed to the Mongol ponies used by the invaders), eventually leading to the creation of the Silk Road.
This sculpture of a mounted soldier reveals the crucial military role of the horse. When compared to the stature of the rider, the importance of the horse becomes readily apparent. This creature provided security and strength, allowing the empire to secure its borders and expand its influences across Central Asia. The magnificent regalia of the dark gray horse, including a white saddle blanket with orange highlights, reflect the respect this animal received. The warrior as well is gorgeously decorated with a painted orange tunic and gray chest armor. He would have originally held a wooden bow or spear in between his hands that has rotted away over the centuries. This remarkable sculpture is a creation of immense cultural and historical significance that attests to the critical role of the horse in ancient Chinese civilization.