A History of How Work Horses Have Helped Humans Over the Ages
A History of Horses Timeline
For many animal lovers, work horses are revered as the world’s most majestic creatures. In fact, the working horse has often been referred to as the most indispensable gentle giant in the history of human development.
Throughout history, whether these work horses pulled armoured centurions around a battle arena or transported food to market, they did it with beauty and power.
Carriage horses are valued members of the team at Tally-Ho Carriage Tours. With many draft breeds facing extinction, Tally-Ho is committed to caring for and maintaining these work horse breeds. We treat them with the utmost care and comfort, and as a result, our horses live up to ten years longer than the average life expectancy of these breeds.
Read on to learn about the origin of horses and how “horse power” has transformed the way humans work and live together in so many incredible ways.
History of Horses Timeline
As the Pleistocene (last ice age) period approached, massive glaciers isolated many horses. Over millions of years, these horses evolved distinct character traits that allowed them to survive in their environments.
Early horse migration occurred across the Bering Land Bridge, which allowed horses to spread from the Americas into Asia, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The first heavy horse, the Black Horse of Flanders (considered the father of all modern draft horses), settled in Northern France and Belgium.
Working horses date back to the 14th century. The Middle Ages were when excelling in knighthood went hand in hand with horsemanship. When lightweight armour designed to protect knights and their brave steeds in battles and jousting tournaments became heavier, so did the horse required to carry it all. Historians claim many modern horses are descendants of the Destrier.
The ancient wild horses that once populated the Americas drifted to extinction and were reintroduced by European colonists during the 15th and 16th centuries. Initially, small horses were imported due to shipping constraints. But eventually, draft horses also made the perilous journey across the open water.
In the Ancient Near East, 16th century-advancements in the chariot and harness designs led to increased chariot warfare. During this period, the invention of the stirrup, horse collar and saddle revolutionized horsemanship, and soon mounted cavalry replaced the chariot.
Although the Hackney was bred as a riding horse in England as early as the 14th century, it wasn’t until 1729 that it was coupled with an Arabian to produce the first heavy-built Norfolk Roadster. With the improvement of roads, the modern Hackney’s value rose as a high-stepping harness horse. But, by 1883, the breed’s decline began with the advent of the railroad.
Battle cavalry was crucial for victory during the Napoleonic wars of the 18th century. Similarly, Indigenous people were trained in mounted warfare tactics in the Americas. As a result, they became part of highly mobile horse regiments essential in the American Civil War.
The Conestoga Horse and the Vermont Drafter were bred outside of the war in North America. These draft horses replaced oxen as farm machinery revolutionized. The smaller equipment size made horses more suitable than oxen. Heavy draft horses were also better suited to frozen winter roads and fields.
The use of draft horses peaked during America’s westward expansion and with agricultural technology improvements. It wasn’t uncommon to see giant combines pulled by teams of forty-plus draft horses. The average Midwestern wheat farm during this period had ten horses. It was also during the 1800s that improvements were made to the breeding, care and feeding of horses.
In 1849 gold fever swept through the United States. Local ponies from Indigenous people were initially used to carry supplies and haul gold and other minerals to the railway depots. As the gold rush progressed, ponies were replaced by draft horses. Massive quantities of charcoal were required for smelting, and draft horses hauled the logs to fuel the process.
Draft horse-powered mass transit allowed cities to expand. By the late 1800s, over 100,000 horses and mules operated as horse-car lines. During this time, businesses began advertising with decorated wagons powered by teams of draft horses that averaged 2000 pounds each. This was the beginning of the show era.
Throughout the 19th century, westward migration exploded, fuelled by the promise of free land. In addition, virgin soil that required tilling increased the demand for draft horses that powered farm equipment. Over 27,000 Clydesdales, Suffolks, Shires, Percherons and Belgians were present in America at this time.
Heavy horses were also instrumental in building railways. They carried ties, rails, supplies, and the ore and soil excavated from mountain tunnels.
By the end of the 19th century, stagecoach lines with teams of six draft horses carried mail and passengers over rough and dangerous roads.
In the 20th century, the role of horses in warfare changed. While scouts used horses for surveillance and draft horses were used to transport troops and supplies, cavalry horses were no longer needed for trench warfare.
Additionally, improvements in gasoline and electric-powered engines led to a swift decline in horse use. Horse-drawn hearses were one of the last modes of transportation to be modernized.
As the 1950s approached, many breeders went out of business, and the number of Shires and Suffolks dropped so low that by 1985 that they were listed as rare.
Today the role of work horses in the military looks much different. Horses are mainly used for historical re-enactments, law enforcement and equestrian competitions. However, small mounted units may still patrol or provide reconnaissance.
Modern draft horses are making a comeback as pleasure animals. With registrations steadily rising, they can be found in show rings and competitions across North America.
The forestry service, therapeutic riding programs, sustainable agriculture, tourism and lessons are all industries where you might find heavy work horses used in the 21st century.
Tally-Ho Carriage Tours – Committed to The Horse!
See first-hand how Tally Ho’s working horse team is cared for on a behind-the-scenes tour experience at Hidden Acre Farms. Enjoy hands-on time with these rare large breeds and learn about their care, comfort, specialized equipment, training and human partnerships.
Our dedication to work horses, enthusiasm for people, service excellence and high safety standards date back to 1903 when Tally-Ho was established as Victoria’s first horse-drawn tourism service.
We offer a variety of carriage tours throughout Victoria, BC and can even help you craft the custom horse-drawn experience of your dreams. Contact us for more information or to book a tour today.