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Horses And Mules

( Originally Published 1918 )

Introduction of the horse. Fossil remains prove the existence of the horse both in the Old and the New World in an earlier geological period. But he became extinct on this continent, so that when America was discovered there were no horses here. The first brought over came with Columbus, who carried with him, as we have seen, several varieties of domestic animals on his second voyage, in 1493. The first horses in that part of America which is now the United States were landed in Florida in 1527 ; there were forty or so of them, and they all died soon after their arrival. De Soto took horses with him on his western journey, which were abandoned and became, in all probability, the ancestors of the wild horses of the Southwest, on the Texas plains and the prairies. These animals were, then, of Spanish origin. The French introduced horses into Acadia in 1604 ; in 1609 English horses were brought to Jamestown, Virginia ; in 1623 horses of Dutch origin were introduced into New York ; and in 1629 came the first arrivals in Massachusetts.

Horse-breeding. At one period in our colonial history horses were so cheap that careful breeding was neglected and the animals ran down in size until the colonists became anxious about the matter and put into effect laws to forbid the breeding of under-sized horses and to prohibit them from ranging at large. It is said that the typical American horse has sprung from the stock imported into Acadia, Virginia, New York, and Massachusetts, constantly improved by crossing with the best Old World breeds. The really significant improvements—in size, strength, speed, and other qualities — have been made within the last century.

A United States census report speaks of this matter as follows : The first horses imported for breeding purposes were the English thoroughbreds, a cross between the Arabian and the Barb. They were brought to this country about 1750, but the total number imported prior to the Revolution did not exceed fifty horses and twenty mares, which were distributed in Maryland, Virginia, New York, and North Carolina. Immediately after the Revolution, however, racing became popular, and many thoroughbreds were imported. The French-Canadian horse is the descendant of horses brought to Canada by the French. They have become reduced in size, but still retain the good qualities of their Nor-man ancestors and constitute one of the best breeds of farm horses. Roadsters and, in less degree, coach horses are bred from trotting stock. There are English and other foreign breeds or types of coach horses, but they are not much used in this country. Foreign draft horses of all the well-known breeds have been constantly imported into this country, but the English Draft, the Clydesdale, and the Percheron are most common. There are also Belgian and German horses.

Improved breeds. An important event in the horse-raising industry was the importation of the Percheron breed ; this type of horse was a great improvement in the type of draft horse. Before this the best burden-bearing horse had been the Conestoga, a type associated with the well-known stage-coach period, when the Conestoga wagons plied between Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Horse-racing. The trotting horse is, to a very large degree, an American product. When Americans took up horse-trotting as a sport, they soon developed a type of trotter which could outrace all comers. For the trotting horse good roads were a necessity, and as good roads are a nineteenth-century product, so is the trotter ; up to near the middle of the last century the buggy was little known, as the usual method of traveling was on horseback.

The horse car. The introduction of the horse car on the streets of American cities, and its general use for a period, created a new demand for horses. Cities and towns everywhere, but especially in the West, were growing rapidly, and business in general was very good. The introduction of horse cars called for a great many horses, whose lives in the cities were short. This was due to rough pavements and other unfavorable conditions and also to ill-usage. Horse-breeding was much stimulated, and in the nineties the supply began to overtop the demand. By 1895, however, electric plants were so widely installed in connection with street-car systems that the horse was practically supplanted in that industry. This change threw many horses, formerly used for hauling street cars, on the market, and soon the demand for cheaper animals was gone.

The demand for horses. The widespread extension of the trolley into country districts stimulated the demand for horses. Population grew up along the new transportation lines and, rents being low in the suburbs and country, people settled farther and farther out. But until the development of the trolley express they needed horses for the transportation of their goods to the city. Also the tremendous foreign demand for wheat and other cereals has brought about heavy exports, and more and more horses and mules have been needed to cultivate the land. The domestic demand for the cereals has increased at the same time ; and the heightened interest in beef and other animal products has called for an increased production of corn and hay for feeding purposes.

But such a development has demanded more cultivation and more animals. In fact, since about 1896, when horse cars were becoming extinct, there has been a considerable foreign demand for our horses. This exportation was stimulated at first by the very low domestic prices of American horses and, later, by the great European War. On the whole, in spite of the swift advance of the electric railway, the bicycle, automobile, and motor truck, as well as of all sorts of farming implements driven by mechanical means, the development of horse-production has progressed at a fairly even rate.

Regions of horse-raising. The farmers and ranchmen of the Western states raise more horses for the market than do other producers. The " blue-grass region " of Kentucky, with Lexington as a center, is one of the well-known districts for horse-raising. Here are reared mainly trotters and driving horses instead of draft animals. Horses, also, go with corn production ; the colts are fattened on corn and sent to Eastern markets.

Horseflesh. We have considered the horse almost exclusively from the standpoint of his use as a transportation agency. Originally, like the rest of the domestic animals, he was eaten ; and he still is. It is difficult to say just how much horseflesh is eaten in this country, for it is not a popular food. Doubtless this prejudice will sometime disappear, under pressure of need, as it has done on occasion heretofore. A good deal of horsehide is now and has always been used, — baseball writers commonly refer to the ball as " the horsehide," — but whatever there is to say about horse leather, as well as about pigskin and sheep leather, will come in better under the leather industry, to be taken up in another chapter.


Nature of the mule. The mule is a cross between the ass and the horse and has been known since remote antiquity. It is a very tough and hardy animal and excellent for draft use. It can stand a warmer climate than the horse and is therefore commoner as a carrier in our Southern states, where there are, in some cases, more mules than horses. Says a census report again :

The hot, moist climate is quickly fatal to horses when hard worked, while mules bear it with impunity and endure hardship, overwork, and ill-usage without great loss, an element of considerable importance in a country where work animals are handled largely by ignorant and careless laborers. Their hoofs are very hard, and are shod either not at all or at infrequent intervals. Their average working life is longer than that of horses. It is claimed that the mule will do equal work on less food than the horse, but this is open to serious doubt. They will, however, eat coarser forage, and can be carried through the winter in fair condition at less expense.

Virtues of the mule. It has been said that the reason why the mule does not displace the horse in a country like this is in large degree a matter of pride ; the horse looks more respectable and acts better than the mule. However, the mule is credited with more intelligence, especially in work on mountains and in mines. It is a calm, obstinate animal, hard to " rattle," and has been known since antiquity for its sure-footedness. To "work like a mule " is a phrase that explains itself ; as long ago as Homer's time mules were called " hard-working." It is fair to say that the mule does not deserve his unpopularity, but he evidently has no pride to injure.

Value of the mules. There are at the present time over four and one-half million mules in the United States — about one fourth the number of horses. Their rate of increase for the last fifty years has been approximately the same as that of horses. The present farm value of the mules is a little over half a billion dollars.

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