Use of the Horse

"Duplice corde, two hearts that beat as one and a single brain: the perfect combination of horse and rider."
Alessandro Alvisi






Quarter Horse Racing





Flat Racing

Stock Work

Harness Racing


Horse Shows




To begin with, horses were hunted for food.  Later on they were bred to do all sorts of work.  Harness horses, for example, pull light carts and carriages, while draft horses are used for plowing and hauling (pulling heavy carts and wagons).  Today, people ride mostly for pleasure or sport, although some horses still work on farms, especially in eastern Europe.  (One small problem:  One source I found said there are a total of about 75 million horses in the world; another said that it's estimated there are 750 million horses in the world.  Give me some time on that one!)

    The breeding of horses for competition rather than military use has resulted in finer, faster horses, even in carriage-driving, and has improved many breeds, or at least changed them beyond all recognition.  This particularly applies to the many European warm-blood breeds such as the Hanoverian, the Holstein and the Trakehner, which now have a great deal of Thoroughbred blood in them to provide the speed, quality and quick reactions needed in today's sports horse.
    Many forms of equine competition involve large sums of money, both paid for and own by horses, as well as sponsorship deals, but the main attraction for the public lies in watching the superb achievements and performances of racehorses, show-jumpers, eventers, carriage-horses, trotters and pacers.

    In the beginning, the horse's main role was as a pack animal, and it continued to be used in this role up until the early part of the 20th century.  To start with, the smaller, lighter types were used for this kind of work while the larger, more powerful animals were used as war horses.  However, with the invention of fire-arms, armor was abandoned and a different type of horse was needed in battle, freeing the heavier horses for other types of work.
    With the advent of industrialization heavy loads of equipment and goods needed to be moved across the country, and the very large, heavy draft breeds such as the
Shire and the Clydesdale were developed.  During the 19th century, horses were also used for towing barges along canals, and for moving coal and equipment around the coal-mines.

    Predictions that the horse would become extinct as a result of mechanization have proved mistaken.  No longer a "beast of burden," the horse is increasing in popularity as a source of enjoyment to people in many ways.  Race horses are the athletes of the equine world; the Thoroughbreds of flat-track racing and the Standardbreds of harness racing draw millions of people yearly to tracks throughout the United States.  Horse shows, for which many people school and ride their own horses, are a growing pastime both for participants and spectators.  The stock horse, still in use for working cattle in the West, also is a star performer at Western shows and rodeos.  And there is the family pleasure horse, which can be stabled in simple backyard quarters.  A recent (1970s) horse census showed a surprising increase in the number of families maintaining a horse for fun and exercise.  Equestrian sports go from strength to strength, and are increasingly popular with both riders and spectators.

Advertising:  Horses, other than those used for police and military duties, still play an important part in city life.  Some large breweries still keep fine teams of heavy horses with the dual role of impressive advertising and day-to-day deliveries.  In Holland (the Netherlands) horses are used to convey some famous cheeses to city markets.

Gymkhanas:  Gymkhana is a popular sport among children in England.  Success at gymkhana games depends almost entirely on schooling your pony.  Although size is immaterial, small ponies often have the edge on larger ones.  Like a Polo Pony he has got to be quick off the mark and easy to stop.  He must be obedient and able to snake in and out of a line of poles without "going wide" and losing time.  In all events your pony should be taught to run beside you on a loose rein without hanging back or pulling; to walk slowly around a bucket while you drop potatoes in it; to carry a straw-filled "dummy" over the saddle bow without fussing; to stop suddenly while you get off, and remain still for you to mount again; to find nothing distasteful in going up or down steps.  This training all comes within the compass of good riding, and however exciting the race, kicking legs and yanking hands only demonstrate the rider's inefficiency.

Jousting:  In medieval Europe jousting was a popular sport.  A joust was single, originally deadly combat between two mounted knights.  By the mid-13th century jousting tournaments were organized entertainment, held in specially cleared fields.  A l'outrance was jousting to the death; a plaisance was for fun, with points scored for splintering the lance and unhorsing the opponent.  It was an execrable foul to strike another's horse.
    Medieval knights kept their coursers for war, but for jousting retained prized, highly trained destriers (dextrarius--right), so called because they never swerved inward toward the opposing horse and broke away to the right at the last moment.

Pony clubs:  The Pony Club membership exceeds 66,000 and has branches in twenty-two different countries.  The membership fee is quite reasonable.  Its aim is to encourage "horse-minded" young people under twenty-one to ride and enjoy all equine sports; to provide riding instruction, to teach the proper care of horses and ponies and to promote the highest ideals of sportsmanship.
    Pupils are taught in groups according to ability.  Some have the chance to qualify for the Regional and National Rally Teams.  Many enjoy fun-filled, hard-working weeks in camp with their ponies.

Riding clubs:  Riding clubs are the natural follow-up to the pony club and combine excellent instruction, competition and enjoyment.
    In the United States there are many community riding activities, such as the 4-H Club, where a well-behaved and well-trained horse is most important.

Trade:  Cart-horses plodded along the quiet tow-paths of canals pulling long, narrow barges loaded with freight.  In towns the butchers' boys used to whip up their cobs as they spanked along delivering the weekend joints; big horses struggled gamely up slippery streets with huge loads of merchandise, and on Sundays hundreds of railroad horses stood patiently in rows in their dimly lit stalls, enjoying a day of rest.  The milkmen's horses knew the rounds as well as their masters and always inched up onto the pavement outside houses that might provide a lump of sugar.
    Today only a few countries deliver goods by horse transport.  It is surprising that in America, the most highly mechanized country in the world, pack-horses are still used to deliver goods to remote places in the Rocky Mountain states.

Trail riding:  Trail riding became popular after World War II.  It is a splendid means for acquiring a little horse-sense while spending a pleasant day riding through the countryside.
    Small horses or ponies are usually best as they are tractable, up-to-weight, sure-footed and suited to slow speeds over rough country.  Sometimes each person is assigned a mount to ride and look after, and the treks are organized at different levels of riding competence.

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