( Originally Published 1912 )
The faithful horse has been the subject of a great many unfulfilled prophecies. At different times his friends have thought the time of his passing had come but the factors that seemed to threaten his existence really enlarged his field. Up to the latter part of the last century every new application of mechanical power seemed to promote trade. The number of wealthy persons grew and one of the first manifestations of that wealth was the family carriage, appropriately horsed and stylishly equipped. The use of the automobile as a pleasure vehicle and as an evidence of wealth has vitally affected the outlet for light horses. The draft horse, on the contrary, was never before in such great demand.
In the first part of the nineteenth century cities were comparatively small and business not highly organized. The chief demand for large work horses came from the managers of wagon freight lines. Shipping of merchandise from eastern cities by canals in 1825 and by railroads in 1835 appeared to have done away with the greatest need of the horse. In reality, these changes brought with them the greatest commercial demand for horses, improved means of travel and transportation, extended commerce and stimulated the growth of cities. The shipping and distribution of manufactured articles has always made the draft horse the peculiar need of the large business concerns in our modern cities. It is the city demand that has given the draft horse his place in America. The same is true of other countries.
The future will doubtless bring a more general appreciation of the economy of the larger horse in farm work. His use on the land means larger implements and less man labor per acre. Farmers of hilly lands may continue to use lighter horses or to adopt the larger ones and lay greater emphasis on freedom of action. It is still true however that the price of horses purchased for farm work is on a level with the earning capacity of those animals on the city streets. The city is the chief consumer and the values it places upon the various types and sizes are the ones that govern at all points where forces are dealt in.
By 1850 the development of American cities and the organization of business was such as to produce a demand for work horses of greater size than had previously been in use. Until then the horse stock of the country was chiefly related to lighter breeds. A few English and Scotch stallions and some with French blood may have been in service in our central states. These would have come chiefly through Canada to satisfy such demand as existed for farm horses of greater weight. In 1851 the first Percheron came to Ohio. His colts were so highly esteemed that he was soon purchased by Illinois breeders who were anxious to produce the type of horse called for by Chicago team users. Subsequent importations of Percherons, or Normans as they were called at first, were quite numerous. Clydesdales and Shires began to come from the British Isles. These imported stallions were used chiefly to sire market geldings, though the largest that were raised from the native mares would only be chunks in present-day markets.
After commerce had recovered from the effects of the civil war there was a period of greater activity in breeding and in the eighties importations of all the breeds were made on a large scale. Foreign-bred mares, together with those that descended from the earliest importations, formed a foundation in many establishments that seemed likely soon to furnish home-bred sires of market geldings. It had already been demonstrated that, given the blood and continuous good care and feeding, American-bred horses could compete with the best from abroad. This was true of Percherons and particularly so of the British breeds, because many of our best breeders were of English or Scotch birth and naturally chose to breed the horse of their native soil.
In those years it seemed that American draft horse breeders would soon be as nearly independent of Europe as were breeders of beef cattle. Had there been no interruptions such would have been the outcome. The business depression of 1893 and the year following closed the city trade almost completely. The best horses shrank to less than half their former values and the fortunate man was he who had no breeding or surplus horses. Registered mares were sold for what could be had and, in the frantic efforts to realize something from what seemed a wreck, nearly every horse-breeding enterprise was abandoned and the results of slow and expensive efforts, by which our breeding was about to be established, were wantonly sacrificed. The occurrences of that period are responsible for the fact that today, sixty years after the first importations of draft stallions, the bulk of the draft horses marketed are the progeny of sires purchased in European countries.
The wonderful expansion of trade that began in the closing years of the nineteenth century found our farmers unprepared to supply the great numbers of high-class horses needed for city work. There has been a scarcity of mares of sufficient size and breeding to produce real drafters even when mated to the excellent animals included in the large numbers of stallions brought from abroad in recent years. The scarcity of mares likely to raise stallions fit for stud service has been still more marked. The imported stallion is so common and the home-bred so often inferior by comparison that it has too often been granted that superior horses cannot be raised in America. The fact is that the main if not the only real advantage enjoyed by breeders abroad is in the superiority of their mares. They have been breeding along the same line ever since the draft type was established. They have not needed to put size before all else in choosing stallions to breed to. Their mares ha-re been as large as desired and the selection of stallions has been based upon conformation, soundness, action, limbs and feet and other features for which our breeders are so ready to, pay large prices. While a large proportion of the winning mares and stallions in our draft-horse shows are imported, American-bred winners have been numerous enough to demonstrate that the right breeding and right feeding are as successful here as anywhere. Our home-bred winners are the offspring of mares whose ancestors have been selected for several generations for quality and action no less than for size.
Home-bred exhibits have scored more heavily in the mare than in the stallion classes. Of late years practically all mares eligible to registration have been retained on the farms. Because young stallions are so much more troublesome only a few are kept entire and those that are spared are much less likely to receive the feed and care essential to the development of draft qualities. It does not seem likely that horse breeding will be taken up as a special business as is the breeding of other classes of stock. The risk of mares failing to raise foals makes it desirable to obtain some work from them to pay their keep when not breeding. A considerable amount of work can be done without injury to mares even when they are breeding. Such work must be done in the hands of a careful teamster and many failures to raise foals are attributable to the driver of the mare. For these reasons draft horses are likely to be raised by farmers rather than by professional breeders. The methods coming into use for getting mares in foal by artificial means are sure to add greatly to the returns from horse-breeding and to make both mares and stallions more profitable as investments. Farm breeding is much more favorable to raising mares than stallions though this is not necessarily true. It is possible that America may develop the French custom of buying numbers of colts at weaning time to be developed on separate farms until salable as breeders.
The continued high prices for horses have helped to direct the consideration of team users to the auto-truck. That a part of the work now done by horses can be done by mechanical power has been demonstrated. The relation of costs of hauling by horses and by motor power is not so clear. Considering the amount of work that must always be performed by horses and the continual expansion of commerce there is every reason for assurance that really high-class horses will command more than it costs to produce them. The competition of the auto-truck or any other factor that tends to change values affects first and most seriously the animals of lowest earning capacity. The smaller sorts or those that lack durability because of defects in foot, limb or body will be the first to be discriminated against. To insure maximum returns it is therefore always a practical economy to breed for the top of the market, to select parent stock and care for them and their offspring in such a way as to reduce to a minimum the probabilities of having misfits to sell.
Buyers of draft horses are as far from being unanimous in their ideas of perfection in form as are breeders. Points of conformation offer little ground for divergence of opinion, but there are at least two types either one of which will suit the preferences of different buyers. It is of small moment whether one breeds for the upstanding free-going kind or for the lower and extremely drafty type that matures earlier and is of more phlegmatic disposition. The former type is commoner in the Clydesdales and Shires, the latter among Percherons and Belgians. The British breeders argue that while their horses are somewhat slower in attaining their maximum development, their fibre is such that they remain serviceable through a great number of years. The continental breeds find favor with farmers by coming onto the market while still quite young. All of these peculiar features are as much matters of individuality as of breed.
Since the revival of the draft horse demand size has been at so great a premium that there has been but little discrimination among different kinds of horses that are up to required size and weight. Firms buying geldings for show and advertising purposes have bought quality and action at a high premium, but in the main softness of bone, coarseness of joints and defect of action have been very lightly discounted. It is impossible that animals with such characteristics can do as much work or remain in service so long as the better sort, but in the activity of the demand for weight there has been little evidence of observations of difference in the wearing of different kinds of horses. It is inevitable that discrimination will soon be made in the selling ring as judges have been doing in the showring. Size will be a prime requisite no less than it has been, but cleanness and correct set of limbs and trueness of action directly related to a horse's value on the street will be appreciated whenever the buyers are sufficiently independent to be discriminating. In service as in breeding individuality is more of a controlling factor than is the breed name.
Breeding the lighter classes of horses is not so strictly an agricultural matter as is the breeding of drafters. Good driving and saddle horses continue in demand and at prices that make their raising an attractive business. Breeding is even more of a factor in light-horse breeding than with draft horses, at least feeding is less to be relied upon for producing market qualities. Neither coach, driving nor saddle horses enter into commerce to any considerable extent. Their users are persons who own horses for the pleasure of using or showing them, consequently there is practically no limit to the amount obtainable for finished specimens, and misfits or sub-standard sorts are unlikely to bring more than the cost of rearing them. Some of the lighter less level soils in the localities of larger centers of population are better adapted to the rearing of light horses than are most of the farms in the corn-belt.
A carriage horse seldom develops sufficiently before five years of age to show the style and action that sell best. Even the most promising young horses require a year or more of expert handling and most of the more successful show horses are handled through a number of seasons. Such handling is expensive but when a show show results the expense is fully justified. In the past many of our best specimens of high-stepping horses have been found by dealers who handle large numbers of prospects in the hope of developing a few of extraordinary merit. The business is fast becoming more fully systematized. If extreme style and action are not transmitted with great certainty it is largely because matings are rare in which both parents are backed up by ancestors that were themselves of show caliber. Raising coach horses is not an attractive business to one who is not prepared to develop and market the horses he raises. The breeder of a horse has the best opportunity to develop him fully and if he does not do so he can receive only fair prices for those he sells as show prospects. The trouble and expense of developing is justified only when the breeding is of the very best. It is not sufficient that there be uniformity of conformation in the breeding stock, but there must also be similarity in the spirit and ease and height of action that go to make up the highest type of carriage horse.
The outlet for roadster horses is not so broad as before the coming of the automobile. Really high-class road horses are wanted however, and the demand for horses likely to develop into racers is unlimited. The sport of trotting racing is firmly established in every part of our country. Horse racing is in no sense an agricultural affair, but selling young animals for driving purposes or to be prepared for racing by those engaged in that work offers an opportunity for profitably combining good farming with ability as a breeder. Here also, while individuality counts for much, performance is the main thing and it must come by inheritance. To secure profitable prices for undeveloped trotters they must be correctly built, faultless in action and above all bred in lines that have produced extreme speed.