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Chapter 1 History and development of the horse.

Since prehistoric times, the swift and powerful horse has been domesticated by human beings for use as a draft animal, for transportation, and in warfare, and it has figured notably in art and mythology. Riding horses was not practical until suitable bits and other controlling devices were invented, and the horse did not replace humans and oxen at heavy farm labor until the appearance of an efficient harness. Today, horses are used primarily for sports such as racing, show competition, rodeos, and simple riding for pleasure. Horseflesh has occasionally been consumed by humans since prehistoric times, and it is used as a pet food.

A large herbivore adapted for running, the horse, Equus caballus, is a mammal of the family Equidae, order Perissodactyla.


After completing this chapter, you should be able to:

* Name the major evolutionary horselike animals

* Identify the position of the horse in the zoological scheme

* Describe how humans eventually changed the way they used the horse

* Give the scientific name for the horse and three of its close relatives

* List the four evolutionary trends exhibited by horse fossils

* Identify the Romans' influences on the use of the horse

* Describe the effect of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance on the use of horses

* Name three horses in mythology or legend

* Name three famous horses of the films

* Describe the use and decline of horses in agriculture in the United States

* Discuss how racing started in the United States

* Identify the factors that changed the use of horses in the twentieth century

* Name four geologic time periods (epochs) used to discuss the evolution of the horse







Eocene epoch









Miocene epoch


Morrill Land Grant Act


Oligocene epoch


Paleocene epoch

Pleistocene epoch

Pliocene epoch


Przewalski's horse




Evolution of the horse did not occur in a straight line toward a goal, like a ladder. Rather, it was like a branching bush, with no predetermined goal. Many horselike animals branched off the evolutionary tree and evolved along various unrelated routes, with differing numbers of toes and adaptations to different diets. Now one genus--Equus--is the only surviving branch of a once mighty and sprawling evolutionary bush. Of the several species within that genus, Equus caballus is today's true horse. Here's how it fits into the zoological scheme:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Mammalia

Order: Perissodactyla

Family: Equidae

Genus: Equus

Equus asinus--the true asses and donkeys of northern Africa. (The African wild ass is sometimes called Equus africanus.)

Equus burchelli--the Plains zebra of Africa, including Grant's zebra, Burchell's zebra, Chapman's zebra, the half-striped Quagga, and other subspecies. The Plains zebra is what people usually think of as the "typical" zebra, with rather wide vertical stripes and thick horizontal stripes on the rump.

Equus caballus--the true horse, which once had several subspecies.

Equus grevyi--Grevy's zebra, the most horselike zebra. This is the big zebra with the very narrow vertical stripes and huge ears.

Equus hemionus--the desert-adapted onagers of Asia and the Mideast, including the kiang.

Equus przewalski--the oldest living species of horse, discovered in remote Mongolia. (Equus caballus first appeared in Central Asia, probably as Przewalski's horse.)

Equus zebra--the Mountain zebra of South Africa. This is the little zebra with the dewlap and the gridiron pattern on its rump.

Geologic Time Scale and the Fossil Record

Geologists and other scientists use the geologic time scale to describe the timing and relationships between events that have occurred during the Earth's history. Geologic periods are standardized by the International Commission on Stratigraphy <> and the United States Geologic Survey <> or < gip/geotime/>.

The Earth is very old--4.5 billion years or more. This vast span of time, called geologic time by earth scientists, is difficult to comprehend in the familiar time units of months and years, or even centuries. The geologic time of Earth's past has been organized into various units according to events that took place in each period. Different spans of time on the time scale are usually delimited by major geologic or fossil events. Earth's age is locked up in its rock layers and the fossils in those layers. Scientist studying these layers and fossils have assigned names to the divisions of geologic time. Major divisions are called eras, and eras are divided into periods, and periods are divided into epochs. Each of these divisions is expressed in terms of millions of years.

Eohippus. The earliest ancestor of the present horse, Eohippus or Hyracotherium, was a small, primitive horse about the size of a fox. It had an elongated skull, a moderately arched back, and a shortened tail. There were four functional toes on each front foot, but only three toes on each hind foot. The structure of its teeth suggests that it was a browser (Figure 1-1). The earliest remains of this extinct animal are found in rocks of the late Paleocene epoch (about 54 million years old) in North America. More recent fossils have been found in rocks of the Eocene epoch (about 50 million years old) in Europe.

Mesohippus. During the Oligocene epoch, about 35 million years ago, Earth's temperature and climate changed; conifers began to outnumber deciduous trees. The forest thinned, grass became more prevalent, and Mesohippus appeared. This animal was larger than Eohippus. Its teeth had further evolved. It had only three toes on its front feet and was better suited to outrunning its enemies. As swamp gave way to soft ground, toes became less essential. On Mesohippus, the lateral supporting toes decreased in size while the middle toe strengthened. The toes now ended in little hooves that still had a pad behind them. In both Europe and North America, these browsing horses became extinct about 7 million years ago (Figure 1-2).

Merychippus. In the Miocene epoch, about 20 million years ago, a new type of horse appeared. Merychippus evolved in North America and adapted to the grasses of the plains. This was the beginning of the grazing horse of today, and its height was about 35 inches. Merychippus was increasingly gregarious and lived in herds. To chew the rough grass, Merychippus developed complicated grinding teeth similar to those of present-day horses. Its lateral toes shrank and no longer reached the ground. The main toe thickened and hardened for swift travel on the dry ground. The feet had no pads and the weight was carried on an enlarged single hoof on the central toe (Figure 1-3).



Pliohippus. At the beginning of the Pliocene epoch, about 5 million years ago, one branch of the horse ancestor crossed into Asia, quickly multiplied, and spread to Europe. Meanwhile, in North America, the horse developed into the final form. Pliohippus was the first true monodactyl (one-toed animal) of evolutionary history. Pliohippus needed speed to outrun its enemies, so the hoof evolved from the continued overdevelopment of the middle toe. Its teeth and limbs were the nearest approach to our present-day horses (Figure 1-4). This horse now spread into South America, Asia, Europe, and Africa. The last 2 million years, from the present to the Pleistocene epoch, represent the final evolutionary stage of Equus. About 8,000 years ago, Equus became extinct in the Western Hemisphere, returning when the Spanish brought horses to the New World in the 1400s (Figure 1-5).

How Evolution Works

Evolution is not linear but branching, so common evolutionary trends are not seen in all of the horse lines. Overall, horses got progressively larger, but some (Archeohippus, Calippus) then got smaller again. Many evolved complex facial pits, only to have some of their descendants lose them again. Most of the recent (5 to 10 million years) horses were three-toed, not one-toed. One-toed animals prevailed only because all the three-toed lines became extinct.

Additionally, these traits did not necessarily evolve together, or at a steady rate. Various structural characteristics each evolved in an interrupted series of changes. For example, throughout the Eocene epoch, feet changed little, and only the teeth evolved. During the Miocene, however, both feet and teeth evolved rapidly. Rates of evolution depended on the ecological pressures facing the species.

Evolving along with the modern horse were other species of Equus, such as the ass, or donkey, the onager, and the various zebras.



Tracing a line of descent from Eohippus to Equus, fossils reveal four trends (Figure 1- 6):

* Reduction in the number of toes

* Increase in the size of the cheek teeth

* Lengthening of the face

* Increase in body size



Przewalski's Horse

The oldest species of horse still in existence is the wild Przewalski's horse (Equus przewalski). Ironically, it was not discovered until 1879, when the Russian Captain Nikolai Mikailovich Przewalski sighted it in the remote valleys of Mongolia. The modern Przewalski's horse resembles many of the animals appearing in the cave paintings at Lascaux, France. It stands 12 to 14 hands high, has a dun (yellowish) coloring, a light-colored muzzle, a short, upstanding mane, a dark streak along its back, and dark legs (Figure 1-7). In its native Mongolia it feeds on tamarisk, feather grass, and the white roots of rhubarb. The former Soviet Union established a refuge for the horse in the late 1970s to ensure both its continued existence and its freedom.

Although held in captivity in many zoos around the world, Przewalski's horse has never been effectively tamed or domesticated.

The Hunted Horse

Humankind's first relationship with the horse comes from Stone Age paintings on the walls of caves in Western Europe. Although frequently showing the horse as an object of prey, these prehistoric cave paintings also reveal the majesty the artists saw in the horse as well as the effort to capture its beauty.

Cro-Magnons primarily considered the horse an important source of food. Lacking the speed to pursue it or a way to kill it from a distance, prehistoric hunters learned to drive the prey to its death. Evidence of this can be found at Salutre in France, where the bones of some 10,000 horses dating from that period have been found at the base of a cliff.


For perhaps half a million years, humankind's only contact with the horse was as a hunter in search of food. Between 4000 and 3000 B.C. humans began to domesticate horses on the steppes north of the Black Sea. Oxen were already being yoked in draft in Mesopotamia, and by the early third millennium B.C., asses and onagers (wild donkeys of central Asia) had been similarly harnessed there (Figure 1-8). When the horse was introduced to the region in numbers during the early second millennium B.C., a tradition of driving was already well established.



While some of the history of the domestic horse is rather obscure, our knowledge of the donkey is more certain. Artifacts suggest that donkeys were first domesticated in Egypt as early as 3400 B.C., and by 1000 B.C. had spread from Egypt into Asia.

From Cow of the Plains to Pack Animal

Archaeological excavations show that the horse became progressively important in the economy of the people of the plains of Europe and Asia. Still considered a source of food, tame horses were evidently first kept for meat and possibly their milk. Later, as these domesticated animals began to carry the goods of nomadic tribes, their importance grew. The horse was now a worker--not just a meal on the hoof.

Role of the Wheel

Oxen were yoked to the pole of a plow probably early in the fourth millennium B.C., in the Near East. Toward the end of the millennium, they were yoked to sledges that were eventually mounted on rollers and then on wheels. Vehicles with disk wheels appeared near the beginning of the third millennium B.C., drawn by oxen, onagers, or donkey hybrids (males or hinnies). The four-wheeled war wagon from Ur, in southern Mesopotamia, of about 2500 B.C., was pulled by a yoked team of four donkeys with nose-ring control.

Probably imported from the steppes of southern Asia, the horse first appeared as a domesticated draft animal in the Near East between 3000 and 2000 B.C. Because of its speed, it soon became the favorite draft animal. By the time horses were numerous in the region, a light chariot with spoke wheels had been developed for war and hunting. Yoked to it, the horse rapidly gained favor over its other relatives in harness for these purposes.

Learning to Control and Harness Horses

The ability to control the horse and effectively connect it to useful implements depended on developing appropriate draft systems that would allow the horse to work at its best.

The Yoke. The first draft systems were developed for oxen and were not well adapted to equine anatomy. At first horses were harnessed in pairs, with each horse on either side of a pole and under a yoke. The yoke was secured by a strap around the throat that tended to press on the horse's windpipe. By the 15th century B.C. in Egypt, the yoke saddle was introduced. This was a wishbone-shaped wooden object, lashed to the yoke by its "handle" with its "legs" lying along the horse's shoulders. This design took considerable pressure off the horse's throat and allowed it to breathe more easily. The yoke saddles rested on pads, and their ends were joined by crescent-shaped straps that went across the lower part of the horse's throat.

Early Bits. All-metal bits were first used in the Near East around 1500 B.C. Increased use of the light chariot in warfare called for stronger and more effective control of the teams. Two types of snaffle bits appeared almost simultaneously--the plain bar snaffle and the jointed bit. Both bits usually had studs on the inner surfaces of the cheekpieces to enforce directional control when one rein was pulled.

Learning to Ride

Learning to drive horses came before learning to ride in the Near East. Large chariot forces required schooled, disciplined, and highly conditioned horses. Riding was still pursued only in a casual fashion. Disciplined military mounts, trained to function with their riders in formation, were used only after 1000 B.C. Horseback riders before 1000 B.C. were depicted as scantily clad, unarmed riders, probably grooms or messengers.

At first, riders may have controlled their mounts with no more than a rope around the jaw or some sort of hackamore. Antler cheekpieces, which served as toggles to soft mouthpieces of rope, rawhide, or sinew, have been found at sites of the earliest domesticated horse on the steppes north of the Black Sea.

The Scythians

The Scythians unified as a group of nomadic horsemen with common customs and interests about 800 B.C. During the seventh century B.C., they invaded the Near East, riding as far south as Palestine, and occupied part of northern Iran for some 40 years.

Scythians were primarily archers, skilled at using the powerful composite bow from horseback. One warrior technique they mastered was that of shooting backward over their horses' croups as they turned away from the enemy.

The Scythian's nomadic way of life, which enabled them to burn and destroy all their property when they retreated, allowed them to survive encounters with two of the greatest invading armies of the time, those of Darius I of Persia (512 B.C.) and Alexander the Great (325 B.C.)--all made possible by the mobility provided by vast herds of horses.

Scythian horses are the first recorded geldings. Horses in the Near East were not castrated at that time.

A Scythian's wealth was measured in horses. Belief in the continuation of material life after death caused the wealthy to take horses (in one case, 400) with them into the grave.

The Roman Army

During the more than four centuries of its existence, the Roman army changed from essentially an infantry to a predominantly cavalry led force. A cavalry is a military force mounted on horseback. The change was brought about primarily by the type of enemy the Romans faced on the frontiers. To the east, rivals such as the Persians, who employed all-cavalry armies, had inflicted serious defeats to Roman infantry. The only way to effectively counter these armies was with more and better cavalries. The same was true when facing the mounted Germanic tribes to the north and west, and eventually the mounted nomadic tribes of the steppe.


Horse-drawn war chariots were first used in China during the Shang dynasty (about 1450 to 1050 B.C.). But repeated invasion and devastating plunder by barbarians of the northern steppes and by the Huns led to the development of a Chinese light cavalry, which provided a more effective defense against invaders.

Despite completion of the Great Wall in 209 B.C., continued clashes with the Huns prompted China to adopt and refine their enemy's riding technique based on the use of a saddle.

The Chinese did not use the horse in great numbers until the third century B.C. (well after its use was common in the West). But by the seventh century A.D., the T'ang emperors had huge stud farms holding as many as 300,000 horses, with each horse given seven acres of pasture. Paintings from the 10th and 11th century show the Chinese as complete horsemen. Their equipment is rather modern in appearance, and they seem at ease on their mounts.

Europe after the Romans

The fall of the Roman Empire in A.D. 476 began the Middle Ages, a period that lasted some 700 years. The early portion of this period is sometimes called the Dark Ages since the glories of the former Roman Empire virtually vanished. In this period, learning and invention stagnated except in a few isolated monasteries. These were times of religious wars and barbarian invasion. The horse became largely used for battle or hunting as the Roman roads, which had previously united Europe, fell into disrepair. Travel from one area to another was dangerous due to the hostile relations between kingdoms. Generally, chariots fell from use and the wagon remained a farm vehicle. Despite a decline in the quality of technological innovation in many spheres of life during the Middle Ages, the horse adapted to new roles, particularly in agriculture.

Horses were expensive both to buy and to keep when compared to oxen and donkeys, which are foragers. The feudal system of the Middle Ages placed the farmer of the land under the control of a lord. Since the lord had the financial means to supply his farmers with horses to work his fields, the Middle Ages saw the horse used on a large scale in agriculture for the first time in history.

During the Middle Ages, hunting deer on horseback became a popular sport, especially in Norman France. By the time of the Norman conquest of England in 1066, the deer hunt was enjoyed by most noble Norman gentlemen. William the Conquerer brought the sport, with all its rules and traditions, with him to Britain. "Ty a Hillaut," the old Norman phrase used to warn hunters that a deer had been found, became the "Tally-ho" familiar to the fox hunter of today (Figure 1-9).

The Renaissance

Between 1450 and 1650, Europe experienced a cultural rebirth called the Renaissance. Interest in the natural laws governing the world and the universe was renewed. Gutenberg's invention of the printing press introduced an age of study and creation. The Renaissance removed the veils of mystery and ignorance that had characterized the Middle Ages.

Events affecting the history of the horse in the Renaissance grew from people's zeal for discovery. The anatomy of the horse became a subject of scientific study, and the training of horses became a disciplined art. The Renaissance enriched the quality of life for humans and the horse. Vehicle design was advanced, and horses assumed a more prominent role in transporting goods and people.

Hungarians emerged as supreme in the art of carriage making. Anne of Bohemia (circa 1380) made a great impression when she brought well-designed coaches from her native land to England. The coach body was constructed of a light wood frame with wickerwork attached. The wheels were light; and the singletrees, which connected the harness to the vehicle, were ingeniously secured to the rear axle--a remarkable design for the time. The coach and other vehicles developed along similar lines during the Renaissance were dramatically superior to the lumbering carts and wagons of earlier times. Refined, light-weight carriages continue to be used by cultures such as the Amish (Figure 1-10).



Ancient humans held the horse in awe and placed it among the gods and in their legends. Cultures of the ancient world evolved various mythologies, bodies of legend and belief, that reflected their values, ideals, and visions of the past. Some examples of the horse's place in these include:

* Poseidon creates the horse

* Pegasus the wild winged horse tamed with a golden bridle by Bellerophon

* Centaur--the magnificent creature who had a body that was half horse and half man (Figure 1-11)

* Epona, an ancient Gaul goddess of horses, who lovingly protected horses and stables and kept watch over grooms and carters

* Horses in ancient warfare in Homer's The Iliad

* Trojan horse--the wooden horse that got the Greeks inside the walls of Troy

* Unicorn--an animal with the legs of a buck, the tail of a lion, the head and body of a horse, and a single horn in the middle of its forehead (Figure 1-12)

* Horse-drawn Chariot of the Sun used by the ancient gods of India

* Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Bible (Rev. 6)





When the first Spanish conquistadors came to the Americas in the early 1500s, they considered themselves the explorers and colonists of a vast new world. For horses the Spanish brought with them, the voyage to the Americas was really a homecoming. Although the horse is believed to have originated in North America, none survived prehistoric times except possibly those that emigrated to Asia over an ancient land bridge near modern-day Alaska.

In 1519, Coronado set out for North America with 150 horsemen, followed by DeSoto's expedition with 237 horses in 1539. By 1547, Antoni de Mendoza, the first governor of New Spain (Mexico), had 11 haciendas and more than 1,500 horses. The Spanish colonization depended on horses, and the Spaniards recognized the tactical value of the animal. Indians were forbidden to ride horses, unless they had the specific permission of their masters.

Colonization and Settlement

With colonization, towns and cities began showing signs of the growing importance of the horse--hitching posts, mounting blocks, water troughs, stables, and carriage houses. By the late 1800s, the horse was central to urban life. It hauled goods, pulled cabs, and moved people about in carriages. Prosperity of the urban population created a huge new market for horses. In turn, carriage makers, wheelwrights, harness makers, and feed merchants prospered because of the horse's increased prominence in everyday life.

The exploration and settlement of new frontier land in America also created an enormous need for the horse. Settlers saw the horse as a means of expansion and as power for taming the wilderness and cultivating the virgin soil. The sluggish but easily maintained ox had previously fulfilled the farmers' needs. But the versatility of the horse made it an even more valuable asset to the farmer of the 1800s. Horses plowed fields, pulled wagons and carriages, and became an essential part of the rural economy. The horse population grew rapidly during the 1800s. For example, in 1867 the rural horse population in America was estimated at nearly 8 million, while the number of farmworkers was well under 7 million.

Mules. Changes in farm machinery also increased the demand for mules. Beginning in the 1830s, farm machinery such as mowing, reaping, and threshing machines, John Deere's steel plow, the corn planter, and the two-horse cultivator were invented. These inventions called for the heavier and stronger horse or mule. Mules were especially valued in coal mines, where the poor working conditions defeated many horses. Typical coal mules hauled between 60 and 100 tons of coal a day in 2 to 5 cars from mines. Mules also had a long career in the U.S. Army. The government used them from 1775 until 1957 to transport supplies in packs and under harness.

Commercial Uses

The draft horse played a significant role in the growth of urban America. From the end of the Civil War to the beginning of World War I, the United States was in transition from an agrarian to an urban society. As cities grew, so did the need for mass transportation.

The development of horse-powered mass transit systems allowed the cities to expand into the new suburbs. In 1880, horsecar lines were operating in every U.S. city with a population of 50,000 or more. By 1886, over 100,000 horses and mules were in use on more than 500 street railways in more than 300 American cities.

As cities grew, so did the demand for powerful horses. Heavy horses hauled cargo unloaded at city terminals by railroads, steamships, and canal boats, and they distributed the goods produced in urban factories. The vans used for cartage were 15 to 20 feet long and often carried loads of over 10 tons. Strength and endurance were prime considerations in selecting horses to haul the goods. Some businesses used brightly painted delivery wagons pulled by handsomely matched teams to advertise their products. Breweries, meatpackers, and dairies were particularly fond of this practice, assembling elaborate wagons powered by four or six regally harnessed draft horses. By 1890 draft horses averaged 2,000 pounds apiece.

These hitches soon began to compete in the show ring, especially at the annual International Livestock Show held at the Chicago Stock Yards. Their legacy is carried on today in the famous Budweiser Clydesdales and other show hitches performing in American show rings.

Fire Protection

The horse became an essential part of urban fire protection during the 1850s. As cities grew, the magnitude of destruction from urban fires increased. With the introduction of heavier and more efficient steam pumpers and ladder trucks in the 1850s, horses were required for urban fire departments. Speed was essential. When an alarm sounded, stall doors automatically opened and the horses were moved below their suspended harness. The harness, complete with hinged collars, dropped onto their backs and was quickly secured by the driver. A good crew could complete the entire operation in around 2 or 3 minutes. Fire horses were almost always draft crosses selected for speed and strength. By 1906, New York city had 1,500 fire horses (Figure 1- 13).


When roads became worn between towns and farms, a lighter wagon was needed. The "pleasure wagon" had a seat on two hickory springs, while other wagons had no springs at all. For farmers who could afford to have such a vehicle and a pair of horses, the pleasure wagon hauled the crop to town and took the family to church on Sunday.

Some people drove a one-horse shay on local errands. The shay got its name from the Yankee rendering of the French word chaise, meaning "chair." It had two wheels, a fixed top, and a body hung on straps. The shay's two large, strong wheels could absorb some of the roughness of a road by spanning the holes, ruts, and bumps.

Long-distance travel by public stage was quite uncomfortable. Two big horses normally pulled the stage wagon, but in bad weather four horses were needed. Nine to 12 passengers sat three abreast on backless board seats. The wagon had roll-down curtains in case of rain, but no springs to soften the ride. Schedules were often inconvenient. For example, the stage for Lancaster, Pennsylvania, left Philadelphia at 3:30 A.M. and didn't stop at an inn for breakfast until 9:00 A.M.



Throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries, horses in the United States were used primarily for riding and pulling light vehicles. Oxen were the preferred draft animal on many American farms. They cost half as much as horses, required half the feed, and could be eaten when they died or were no longer useful. Oxen, however, worked only half as fast as horses, their hooves left them virtually useless on frozen winter fields and roads, and physiologically they were unsuitable for pulling the new farm equipment developed in the 19th century. The revolution in agricultural technology, westward expansion, and the growth of American cities during the 19th century led to the emergence of the draft horse as America's principal farming work animal (Figure 1-14).

In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Land Grant Act that led to the establishment of state agricultural colleges. The first of the nation's veterinary colleges opened at Cornell University in 1868. As farmers became more educated, there was a corresponding improvement in the care, feeding, and breeding of horses.

The revolution in agricultural technology between 1820 and 1870 created a demand for a larger and stronger horse. New and improved farm equipment greatly increased the productivity of the American farmer. With the McCormick reaper, which both cut and tied grains into stocks, one person could do the work of 30. New steel plows, double-width harrows and seed drills, mowers, binders, combines, and threshers decreased the need for manpower but increased the demand for horsepower. Toward the end of the century, the typical Midwestern wheat farm had 10 horses, each working an average of 600 hours per year. During harvest, it was common to see giant combines pulled by teams of over 40 draft horses (Figure 1-15).



With the use of new equipment and fertilizers, wheat yields increased seven times between 1850 and 1900. Better rail and steamship transportation opened new markets in the United States and in Europe. America came of age as a world agricultural power.

The acreage one family could cultivate increased as technology and equipment improved. The average American farm in 1790 was 100 acres. This figure more than doubled over the next 60 years. By 1910, five-hundred-acre wheat farms were not uncommon. While oxen and light horses had been adequate for tilling the long-worked fields of Europe and the eastern United States, a stronger power source was needed to work the sticky, virgin soil of the American prairie.

The first European draft horses were imported to the United States in the late 1830s. Farm labor became scarce due to westward migration and casualties from the Civil War. This created an even greater demand for the new farm equipment and the draft horses to power them. By 1900, over 27,000 purebred Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons, Shires, and Suffolk Punches were in the United States (Figure 1-16). Although the purebred draft stock was seldom used in the field, the infusion of their genetics resulted in an increase of the average horse size to between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds by 1900.

The offspring of these heavy farm horses soon found additional uses as the nation moved west. The railroads employed thousands of draft crosses, working side by side with mules and oxen to carry ties, rails, and supplies to the railheads and haul dirt and rock from the excavation of mountain tunnels. Many of the western stagecoach lines used up to six draft crosses to haul mail and passengers over dangerous, rough roads. Eventually large grain farms, comparable to those in the Midwest, were established on the western prairies. These farms also relied on draft horses to power their plows, threshers, and combines.

Recreation, Sports, and Shows

One of the most popular equestrian events in the United States is the National Horse Show, held each November at Madison Square Garden in New York City. The National Horse Show began in 1883 and was soon a major event of the social season.

Team events began in 1911. Although interrupted by World War I, the show again thrived in the 1920s and 1930s. In the early years of the show, military teams dominated the jumping competition; but now most of the entrants are civilians. The National Horse Show includes international team jumping, competition for national hunters and jumpers, saddle seat equitation, and harness competition.


Another notable event that happens every 4 years is the Olympic Games. Equestrian events include jumping, dressage, vaulting, and endurance. This is an international event where riders and horses both benefit from sharing information and experiences with other countries.

Rodeo. This once informal sport of cowboys developed into an organized event (Figure 1-17). Rodeo (Spanish for "cattle ring") started as an amusement among cowboys who had reached the end of the long cattle drive and had to remain with their herds until they were sold. Given a few days of freedom, it was not long before one cowhand challenged another to a calf-roping contest or dared him to ride "the meanest horse between here and the Rio Grande." The first rodeo with paid attendance was held in Prescott, Arizona, on July 4, 1886. At the turn of the 20th century, rodeos combined with the popular Wild West show. These events became extravaganzas, including wagon races, bull riding, and steer wrestling. The Wild West show soon fell from popularity, but its influences remained in the rodeo. Rodeos steadily grew in popularity throughout the western United States and Canada. Today major events in a rodeo include bareback bronco riding, saddle bronc riding, tie-down roping, bull riding, team roping, and barrel racing.

Racing. Kentucky has long been recognized as a horse-breeding region. But back when Kentucky was only a remote and unknown woodland, the chief horse-breeding region of the United States was Rhode Island. From these Rhode Island farms, horses were shipped to all of the coastal colonies as well as the Caribbean islands for use on the plantations. Rhode Island was the only New England colony that allowed horse racing, and a 1-mile track was maintained at Sandy Neck Beach, South Kingston. As always, competition was the key to improved breeding; Rhode Island gathered the best stock from neighboring areas to upgrade its horses.


Many towns and cities in America have streets called "Race Street." Such streets gained their names from the habit of running horse races on them. In 1674, the citizens of Plymouth evidently grew tired (or frightened) of the races in their village, and passed an ordinance forbidding racing.

In colonial America, town rivalry was centered around horse racing. Often, competitors and spectators traveled far to early quarter-mile race paths in the woods and placed considerable wagers on their town's horse. Typical wagers included money, tobacco, slaves, and property. Tempers frequently ran high. Thus, the official who started the race was selected as much for his brawn and ability to defend himself as for his honesty. The race was generally started by firing a pistol, sounding a trumpet, or hitting a drum. Even after land became available for long circular tracks, the sport of quarter-mile racing remained a popular American institution (Figure 1-18).

The first Kentucky Derby was run on May 17, 1875. The Derby was sponsored by the Louisville Jockey Club and Driving Association, which owned the track now known as Churchill Downs. Colonel M. Lewis Clark founded the association after visiting Europe to study their farms and racing regulations. Clark was particularly impressed by the English system. He called the Kentucky race a "derby" after the Epsom Derby, which was first run in 1780 under the sponsorship of the Earl of Derby.

Today, the Kentucky Derby is the most prestigious race for Thoroughbreds in the United States and the first race in the Triple Crown for 3-year-olds. Each year in May, horse enthusiasts look to Churchill Downs in Louisville to see who will become the year's contender for the Triple Crown. The Kentucky Derby is the oldest continuously run race in America (Figure 1-19).




Pit ponies were used to haul coal from mines as early as the 1600s. Breeds such as the hearty Shetland ponies from northern Scotland were imported in great numbers to work in the first mines of Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky. In some larger mines, particularly in Europe, a pony would be bred, born, and put to work without ever having seen the light of the sun.

Old West

The original cowboys were Native Americans, who tended herds on the vast rancheros of Spanish conquerors in Mexico. They wore broad sombreros to protect them from the burning sun and chaparejos (chaps) to protect their legs against cactus and mesquite.

Men who came from Kentucky and Tennessee to settle Texas were the first of the American cowboys. The growing population of the eastern United States in the mid-1800s created a market for beef. When construction of the western railroad provided the means of carrying the beef to the East, the cattle business began to flourish. Cattlemen raised stock and drove them great distances to the railheads. The men who tended and drove the cattle came to be known as cowboys and were as ethnically diverse as the growing nation. With the increasing demand for beef, the cowboy's domain spread northward to Canada and westward to the Rockies. His manners, dress, language, and amusements remain a symbol of the rugged independence and determination that characterized the American West.

The ranges were not fenced, and the cattle had to be watched constantly. Regular chores included cutting out calves for branding and, in the earlier days of the range, fighting off the Native Americans who were protecting their hunting grounds.

In the fall of each year the cattle were rounded up in preparation for the drive to market. The riding and roping skills of the cowboy and the agility and cow-sense of his horse were especially important in the roundup and continue to the present (Figure 1-20).


By the turn of the century, at least half of the 13 million horses in the United States carried between 10 percent and 50 percent draft horse genetics. More than 3 million of these were in use in nonfarm capacities by 1910. With the continued growth of heavy industry and increased European immigration, American cities experienced unprecedented growth. New interest in public health, rising real estate values, and improvements in electric- and gasolinepowered alternatives to horsepower combined to mark the rapid decline of the horse's significance in the city.


Decline of Draft Horses

Within a decade, motorized taxis, electric streetcars, and subways replaced the horse in public transportation. Large new gasoline-powered trucks had a similar impact on the transportation of goods. New trucks were three times faster (10 miles an hour) than horse-powered transportation, took less room to store, and eliminated the problem of manure disposal. One of the last urban uses of the horse to succumb to mechanization was the horse-drawn hearse, which continued to be used into the 1930s and is still used for dignitaries and presidents.

The market for heavy horses in agriculture went into a steady decline after World War I. Reduction in the number of domestic draft horses, an increased demand for American grain exports, and improvements in gasoline-powered tractors combined to hasten the replacement of draft horses by machines. This was especially true of purebred draft stock. For example, in 1920, there were 95,000 registered draft horses in America. By 1945, this figure dropped to under 2,000.

Particularly hard hit were the Clydesdale and the Shire. Both breeds had been used primarily in the city and were affected earlier than other draft breeds. Heavy feathering on the feet of the Shire and Clydesdale was considered a maintenance problem on the farm, therefore diminishing their popularity. What remained of the draft horse market was centered primarily on the farms of the Midwest. American farmers looked for a smaller, more economical animal. Belgian breeders responded by breeding a more compact horse; and by 1937, the Belgian was the most numerous draft breed in the United States.

By the early 1950s registrations for all draft breeds dropped dramatically, and many breeders went out of business. The numbers of Shires and Suffolks dropped so low that in 1985 the American Minor Breeds Conservancy listed then as rare.

Personal transportation in the early 1900s also saw the transition from horsepower to gasoline-engine power. Since many families called their faithful carriage horse "Lizzie," their first car was often dubbed "Tin Lizzie." At first, the tin lizzie was apt to get stuck or to boil over. But soon, as roads and engines improved, the automobile was used every day, and the horse was reserved for the Sunday drive (Figure 1-21).

Black Jack

The profound grief of Americans at the
death of President John F. Kennedy was
accentuated by the sight of Black Jack,
the riderless horse with boots reversed in the
stirrups, a symbol of a fallen hero. Black Jack
was the last horse issued to the Army by the
quartermaster, and the last to carry the "U.S."
brand common to all army horses. Like so many
thousands of army horses, his breeding was
unknown. He was foaled on January 19, 1947.

Black Jack was sent to the 3rd Infantry (the
Old Guard) from Fort Reno, Oklahoma, in 1953.
He was named after General John J. "Black Jack"
Pershing, Supreme Commander of the American
Expeditionary Force in World War I. Black Jack
served in ceremonial functions, participating in
the funerals of Presidents Hoover, Kennedy, and
Johnson, General Douglas MacArthur, and thousands
of others in Arlington National Cemetery.
Black Jack was semiretired on June 1, 1973, and
died February 6, 1976, at the age of 29. His
ashes were placed in an urn at his monument at
Fort Meyer, Virginia.

Source: International Museum of the Horse

Horses in the Military

Cavalries have been an important part of the armies of all major powers. When used as part of a combined military formation, the main duties of a cavalry included observing and reporting information about the enemy, screening movements of its own force, pursuing and demoralizing a defeated enemy, maintaining a constant threat to an enemy's rear area, striking suddenly at detected weak points, turning exposed sides, and exploiting a break through the enemy lines.

The American cavalry traces its origin to the Revolutionary War with the formation of units known as the Light Dragoons (mounted and dismounted) or Mounted Riflemen. These units participated in wars from the Revolutionary period to the Mexican-American War, in which cavalry units played a key role in the American victory. The Mexican-American War was the first time in American history that mounted troops played such a strategic role for an army and its successes.

In March 1855, Congress authorized the raising of two horse-mounted regiments, known as the 1st and 2nd Cavalry. These were the first units to be called cavalry units rather than dragoon or mounted units. Many officers in the cavalry units were from south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Cavalry units were headed by some of the great generals of the American Civil War. The cavalry played key roles in the Civil War, providing reconnaissance, security, and a show of force with small numbers.

After the Civil War, the cavalry protected citizens from warring Native Americans, and Native Americans from renegade citizens. They also watched over the new national parks and their wildlife preserves. At the end of the 19th century, the cavalry was epitomized by the famous Rough Riders of the Spanish-American War of 1898.

The entry of the United States into World War I in 1917 tipped the balance in favor of an Allied victory. Long before the United States sent its men into the struggle, it had sent another resource--its horses. World War I was the twilight of the cavalry. Except for limited skirmishes in the Middle East and on the Western front, the cavalry now fought mostly on foot. In previous wars the cavalry swept across a battlefield to surprise an enemy force. But now, tangles of barbed wire were not easily penetrated, and the machine gun could mow down man and horse alike. The days of the horse as military offensive had ended.

Horses were used in great numbers for noncavalry purposes during World War I as well. About 6 million horses served, and substantial numbers of them were killed. The deaths of these millions of horses depleted the world's equine population. By 1914, the British had only 20,000 horses; the United States was called upon to supply the Allied forces with remounts. In the four years of the war, the United States exported nearly a million horses to Europe. When the American Expeditionary Force entered the war, it took with it an additional 182,000 horses. Of these, 60,000 were killed and only 200 returned to the United States.

In one year, British veterinary hospitals treated 120,000 horses for wounds or diseases. Like human combatants, horses required ambulances and field veterinary hospitals. The motorized horse van was first used as an equine ambulance on the Western front.

Many changes occurred in the cavalry during the 20th century. While World War I was fought with cavalry on horseback and dismounted infantry tactics, around 1930 the cavalry began a transition from horses to armored vehicles. The last cavalry unit to fight on horseback was the 26th Cavalry, which fought during World War II in the Philippines. By the 1950s, no horse-mounted cavalry units existed in either the U.S. or British armies.

Movies and Entertainment

Some of the best-loved motion picture and television stars have been horses. Beginning with the Great Train Robbery (1903), the West became one of film's dominant themes and depended inevitably on the horse. The horses of the screen, and later television, became as familiar as the heroes who rode them to fame and fortune. Famous stars and horses included:

* Tom Mix and Tony

* Gene Autry and Champion

* Roy Rogers and Trigger

* The Lone Ranger and Silver

* Tonto and Scout

* Hopalong Cassidy and Topper

Motion pictures and television also produced individual equine stars, such as:

* Francis (the talking mule)

* Fury

* Flicka

* Black Beauty

* Mr. Ed (the talking horse)

The tradition of movies using horses and about horses continues in movie remakes and in new movies:

* Phar Lap (1983)

* Return to Snowy River (1988)

* Coyote Summer (1996)

* The Mask of Zorro (1998)

* The Horse Whisperer (1998)

* The White Pony (1999)

* Seabiscuit (2003)

* Hidalgo (2004)

* The Legend of Zorro (2005)

Like their human counterparts, horses in the movie world can be divided into three classes: the stars, the stunt horses, and the extras. The brilliance of a particular horse is based more on training than on breed or pedigree. Both stars and stunt horses receive systematic schooling so that they will respond to their rider's or trainer's commands. They must be of even temperament because a film set is a mix of equipment, bright lights, and unfamiliar sounds and faces.

Horses on the set must respond to the trainer's visual commands since verbal commands interfere with the recorded sound. Stunt horses must have the skill and courage to run over cliffs or crash to the ground from a full gallop. Stunt horses are carefully watched by members of humane societies to ensure their safety. What appears to be a bone-shattering crash on rocky ground is, in reality, a well-rehearsed fall on soft mattresses covered with plowed earth. Whether star or extra, the talented movie horse has a special place in the equine world.

Circus Horses. The circus is an exciting tradition in which the horse has played a prominent role. In the early days, the circus parade announced the coming show. All the horses and rolling stock paraded through the village streets to advertise the animals and performers on the bill.

In the early 1900s, the Barnum and Bailey Circus used 750 horses in draft and performance; Ringling Brothers had 650 horses. The circus was moved almost exclusively by horses, first from town to town and later, to and from railroad yards. The dappled gray Percheron was a trademark of the Ringling Brothers Circus. By 1938 the circus was mechanized, although horses remain popular performers.

Carved carousel horses are reminiscent of the fancy circus horses. Carousels were popular in America in the 1900s, and about 7,000 carousels were created. Today, only about 300 carousels exist. Usually the most decorative horses faced the public. Today carousels can still be found in parks, amusement parks, and with the occasional traveling carnival (Figure 1-22).


Through a series of evolutionary stages involving millions of years, Eohippus--the small, primitive ancestor of the horse--evolved. After the horse evolved into what we know today, humans began interacting with horses. Humans first hunted the horse. Eventually, different civilizations learned to use the horse for work and transportation. The horse also played an important role in the history of the United States.


The 1800s saw an unprecedented pace of economic growth. As new markets for manufactured goods were opened, the need for horse transportation increased dramatically. As a result, many horse-drawn vehicles were built by local carriage makers or by large wagon factories. The need for new harnesses and constant repairs on old ones created a demand for skilled harness makers. Wheelwrights, farriers, and blacksmiths were essential to the livelihood of every city and town. Other horse-related crafts and occupations included saddlers, grain farmers, feed merchants, veterinarians, grooms, coachmen, and horse breeders. The revolution in agricultural technology and the growth in the economy and population created a peak of interdependence between human and horse.

The 20th century brought radical changes in the world of the horse. With the steady rise of technology, the horse was eclipsed by the internal combustion engine. In 1915, the horse population in America peaked at over 21 million. But immense numbers of horses were sent to the battlefields of Europe during World War I. This export decreased America's horse population, which steadily declined until recently, when the horse entered new arenas as a pleasure rather than work animal. Equine numbers now continue to grow rapidly. Instead of being a beast of burden, the modern horse plays a major role in recreation and organized competition. Many breeds of horses are now being revived, and systematic breeding is raising the quality of horses to heights unknown in the past. The future promises a continued increase in the world horse population. Perhaps the ultimate "Age of the Horse" is yet to come.


Success in any career requires knowledge. Test your knowledge of this chapter by answering these questions or solving these problems.

True or False

1. The first fossil horse, Eohippus, was about the size of one of today's donkeys.

2. Equus asinus is the scientific name for today's true horse.

3. Przewalski's horse was discovered as a fossil in 1879.

4. Prehistoric humans probably hunted and ate horses.

5. Metal bits were first used about 1810 in England.

Short Answer

6. Arrange the following geologic time periods from oldest to most recent: Pliocene, Oligocene, Paleocene, and Miocene.

7. List four trends documented in the evolution of the horse.

8. List the following ancestors of today's horse in order of their appearance on Earth: Pliohippus, Eohippus, Mesohippus, and Merychippus.

9. Where and when was Przewalski's horse discovered?

10. Name three horses or horselike animals mentioned in mythology or legend.

11. Name three horses made famous by the movies or television.

12. List the scientific name for the horse and three of its close relatives, such as the donkey or zebra.

13. Name two factors that caused an increased demand for draft horses during the history of the United States.

14. Name the zoological kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species for the domestic (true) horse.

Critical Thinking/Discussion

15. Discuss how the development of the wheel influenced humans' uses of the horse.

16. How did horse racing start in the United States?

17. Describe how the Romans influenced the use of horses.

18. What 20th-century events have changed how horses are used in this country?

19. Describe the events during the 19th and early 20th century that caused the number of horses to steadily increase in the United States.

20. What effect did the Middle Ages have on the use of horses?

21. Discuss the concept that Spanish conquistadors actually reintroduced the horse to America.


1. Visit a virtual museum on the Internet and learn more about the fossil record and evolution of horses. Report your findings.

2. Read a legend or myth that involves a horse or horselike animal. Retell the story in your own words.

3. Research and report on plants and other animals that were present and evolving during the same geologic time periods as the horse.

4. Prepare a presentation showing the horse in the art of specific civilizations.

5. Report on the status and populations of feral horses in the United States today, or report on the donkeys in the Grand Canyon.

6. Make a pictorial display of the various modes of transportation that horses have pulled over the ages.

7. Choose a civilization and report on its use of horses in warfare; or compare the use of horses in the Civil War, World War I, and World War II.

8. Compare a piece of farm equipment pulled by draft horses to one now propelled by the gas-powered engines used in farming today.

9. Choose a race horse, and track its winnings for several months.

10. Horses are still used for work in some police departments, the Forest Service, and search-and-rescue operations. Find out how these horses are selected and trained.

11. Discover how horses used in the movies are selected and trained. Report your findings.

12. View an old Tom Mix, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers, Lone Ranger, or Mr. Ed video, and discuss the training and use of the horse used in the video.

13. Trace the history of horses and their use to transport people.

14. Use the Internet or other resources to find the average selling prices of horses used in rodeo events, racing, dressage, and so on.

15. The history of horses can be used to teach geography, even though many of the names have changed. Obtain a world map and identify the locations discussed in the chapter. Also, the history of horses can be used as a springboard to other history lessons.



Davidson, B., & Foster, C. (1994). The complete book of the horse. New York: Barnes & Noble Books.

Dossenbach, M., & Dossenbach, H. D. (1998). The noble horse. New York: Crescent Books (Random House).

Gonzago, P. G. (2003). The history of the horse. J. A. Allen & Company.

Kimball, C. (2006). The complete horse: An entertaining history of horses. St. Paul, MN: Voyageur Press.

Silver, C. (1993). The illustrated guide to horses of the world. Stamford, CT: Longmeadow Press.


Internet sites represent a vast resource of information, but remember that the URLs (uniform resource locator) for World Wide Web sites can change without notice. Using one of the search engines on the Internet such as Yahoo!, Google, or, find more information by searching for these words or phrases:

Equus caballus

Przewalski's horse








Trojan horse




history of horses

draft horses


horses in the military

horses in the circus

horses in the movies

Table A-18 in the appendix also provides a listing of some useful Internet sites that can serve as a starting point for further exploration.
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Author:Parker, Rick
Publication:Equine Science, 3rd ed.
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2008
Next Article:Chapter 2 Status and future of the horse industry.

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