Wealthy aristocratic Athenians known as hippotrόphoi bred, raised, and trained horses to compete in prestigious equestrian competitions, to participate in the hunt, and serve in the cavalry. The frequent appearance of horses on Attic ceramics beginning in the Geometric period, indicates that they were highly prized and served as status symbols for their owners. Greek art provides the best evidence for the appearance of ancient horses. From the earliest depictions they are tall and elegant with a slender head, an arched neck and hindquarters, a lean body, and long legs.
The scientific name for horses in ancient Greek was ta lόphοura, that is “animals with long-haired tails”. Greek horses were of medium build, 130-140 cm tall (from the ground to the top of the shoulders), and came in a range of colors: red (pyrros), white (lefkos), chestnut (xanthos), brown (melas) or dappled (valios). They could live up to 25 years but after 20 were no longer useful for racing or battle, although Bucephalus, the most famous Greek horse in antiquity, lived to be 30.
Xenophon’s handbook on horsemanship shows us how much the ancient Greeks valued and respected their horses and paid special attention to their care and training. He even advised owners to pet their horse in places it enjoys and for the groom to calm it when it is frightened and uneasy and teach it that there is nothing to be afraid of. He also recommended using a trainer knowledgeable in the arts of horsemanship and one who is gentle rather than harsh.