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Horse - History

For 5,000 years the horse has been an ever-present ally in war and peace. Civilisations have risen and fallen on their backs and evidence of the horse’s use is everywhere to be seen. Yet somehow, following the increasing pace of mechanisation in the 1930s, we have so quickly forgotten how indebted we are to the domestication of this animal.

Before the development of the steam locomotive in the early 1800s, the only way to travel on land faster than human pace was by horse. Since travel is one of the defining features of human development, so the history of the horse is the history of civilisation itself.

The upcoming exhibition The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot (opening 24 May) explores how horses have helped to shape our history for thousands of years.

Oxus Treasure. 5th-4th Century BC, Takht-i Kuwad, Tajikistan, Gold, L: 19.5 cm, H: 7.5cm, British Museum 123908. (Photo: (c) The Trustees of the British Museum)

Horses were first domesticated in around 3500 BC, probably on the steppes of southern Russia and Kazakhstan, and introduced to the ancient Near East in about 2300 BC. Before this time, people used donkeys as draught animals and beasts of burden. The adoption of the horse was one of the single most important discoveries for early human societies. Horses and other animals were used to pull wheeled vehicles, chariots, carts and wagons and horses were increasingly used for riding in the Near East from at least c. 2000 BC onwards.

Horses were used in war, in hunting and as a means of transport. They were animals of high prestige and importance and are widely represented in ancient art, often with great insight and empathy.

The exhibition looks at how and why Middle Eastern horses, especially Arabians, were especially sought after and introduced into Britain for selective breeding between the 17th and 18th centuries, and shows how the vast majority of modern Thoroughbred racehorses are descended from just three celebrity stallions.

Paintings, including famous works by George Stubbs and William Powell Frith, prints, silverware and memorabilia explore horses in British society, especially in recreation and competition, from race meetings through to modern Olympic equestrian events.

So, how indebted are we to the horse?

We hope that this exhibition will help remind us of the long and fruitful alliance between humans and horses.

The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot was on from 24 May to 30 September 2012.

The exhibition is supported by the Board of Trustees of the Saudi Equestrian Fund, the Layan Cultural Foundation and Juddmonte Farms. In association with the Saudi Commission for Tourism & Antiquities.

9 Comanche

Comanche was a mustang purchased by the United States Army Cavalry in 1868. He got his name after being wounded in battle against Native Americans. The horse screamed when he was wounded by an arrow which prompted a soldier to observe that he yelled just like a Comanche Indian.

After the destruction of General George Custer and his troops at Little Bighorn on June 25, 1876, Comanche was found severely wounded. He spent a whole year recuperating at Fort Lincoln in North Dakota. After recovering, Comanche never fought again. In his retirement he became a celebrity, taking part in many special ceremonies and parades. People celebrated him as a symbol of Custer&rsquos memory. Comanche is now stuffed and on display at the University of Kansas Museum of Natural History.

Part of Comanche&rsquos fame rested on how until a few years ago, he was believed to be the sole survivor of the Custer&rsquos Last Stand portion of Little Bighorn. As it turns out, there were probably other horses that made it. However, they were likely all taken hostage by the Native Americans and never heard from again.

A horse’s life span is approximately 25 years. Ponies live beyond 30 years and mules can live to their 40s.

Horses are prey animals. Their physiology and behavior are that of an animal that depends on reflexes and speed to escape predators. Their skeletons are like a human’s, but their shoulders are not anchored in a socket. This allows further reach while running.

Horses are herd animals and find safety in groups. It can be stressful for horses to live alone or be removed from their companions when handled or ridden.

There is only one species of domestic horse, but around 400 different breeds that specialize in everything from pulling wagons to racing. All horses are grazers.

While most horses are domestic, others remain wild. Feral horses are the descendents of once-tame animals that have run free for generations. Groups of such horses can be found in many places around the world. Free-roaming North American mustangs, for example, are the descendents of horses brought by Europeans more than 400 years ago.

Wild horses generally gather in groups of 3 to 20 animals. A stallion (mature male) leads the group, which consists of mares (females) and young foals. When young males become colts, at around two years of age, the stallion drives them away. The colts then roam with other young males until they can gather their own band of females.

The Przewalski's horse is the only truly wild horse whose ancestors were never domesticated. Ironically, this stocky, sturdy animal exists today only in captivity. The last wild Przewalski's horse was seen in Mongolia in 1968.

Horses in Mythology

There are also famous horses in mythology. For example, Sleipnir was Odin’s favorite horse in Norse mythology. The horse was grey, it was the son of the trickster god Loki and it had eight legs. Because it had so many legs, it was the fastest horse in all of the nine worlds.

Mythology also speaks about the unicorn, the Pegasus, the equalacorn (the Pegasus with a unicorn horn), the dragon horse of Xuan Zang and the hippocampus (the Phoenician and Greek sea horse). The colors of the horses also have various interpretations. For example, white horses are associated with warrior heroes, fertility and the end of time. The Grim Reaper is said to ride a white horse.

It is clear that horses have played an important role in the life of humans for tens of thousands of years, and continue to do so to this day.

Top image: Horses on Bianditz mountain, in Navarre, Spain. Behind them Aiako mountains can be seen. Source: ( CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Contributed by Soul of Canada

Today the gentle giant draft horses are seldom seen, almost lost in a world of high-speed, noisy machines that require industrial fuel to perform. Yet we are occasionally reminded of their impressive strength, substance, and style when we see a team perform in a parade, a show ring, a movie, or a heritage park.

Only a century ago, draft horses, mules, and oxen were almost everywhere, providing a practical, dependable, and renewable power source for pioneer-era industries such as agriculture, railway building, large-scale excavation and earth-moving, mining, logging, and road construction. In fact, before 1910, at least 90 percent of all public works, agriculture, and resource industries relied on “horse power” to complete jobs both large and small.

The market for farm equipment created a demand for larger, stronger horses to power the new equipment. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta

Traditional Agriculture

For millennia, grains, fruits, and vegetables were produced manually by sowing seeds and using a scythe to harvest the crops. Hand-flailing the straw to remove the grain on the ground was a slow and inefficient way of processing. Innovations in farm equipment significantly increased the productivity of North American farmers. Double-width harrows, steel plows mounted on wheels, mowers, binders, threshers, and combines reduced the need for manpower, while dramatically increasing the horse power required to operate them. Improvements in harnesses and hitch design also increased efficiency. The western market for farm equipment created a demand for stronger and larger horses to power the new equipment. Horse, farmer, and machine began working together to plant and harvest the crops. The last half of the 19th century saw draft horse breeding become both essential and profitable.

Draft horse breeding programs in Canada flourished during the late 19th and early 20th centuries in response to the agricultural sector's demand for more horsepower. Photo courtesy of the Provincial Archives of Alberta

Horse Breeding

Horse breeding programs flourished in the late 1800s and in the early part of the 1900s. During this time, many grain farms had more horses (as many as 10 or more) than people, with each horse working an average of 600 hours per year. According to Wetherell and Corbet’s Breaking New Ground – A Century of Farm Equipment Manufacturing on the Canadian Prairies, there were 55,593 farms harvesting over 43 million bushels of wheat, oats and barley in the Canadian Prairie provinces in 1901.

Around this time, newly created agricultural and veterinary colleges began producing more educated farmers. Corresponding developments in the breeding, feeding, and care of horses led to a horse population explosion. With the increase in the number of acres being cultivated, farmers needed more horses to do the field work. Grant MacEwan, author of Grant MacEwan’s Illustrated History of Western Canadian Agriculture, states that by 1911, Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba had a combined total of 1,194,927 horses, which works out to be an average of six horses, including juveniles, for every one of the 204,214 farms in the three provinces.

The number of horses in Canada peaked in the 1930s. In 1930, Saskatchewan was home to over one million horses, but the next year the population began to drop, and by 1951 only 304,000 horses remained. This decrease in population was a direct result of the introduction of high-tech, mechanized agriculture.

Road building in the early 1900s began with clearing the path of obstructions such as trees, bushes, and rocks. Then the roadway was leveled by means of a horse-drawn plow, like the one Frank Gano used in 1917 to build a road west of Wainwright, Alberta. Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives

Competing Mechanical Workhorses

The Industrial Revolution was partly responsible for both the rise and the collapse of the heavy horse in North America. The changes in agricultural technology peaked in the latter part of the 19th century. Demand for draft animals was spurred by growing transportation, construction, and agricultural needs.

The year 1917, when the Ford Motor Company introduced the Fordson Tractor, saw the beginning of the trend moving away from horse power in favour of farm mechanization. The horse lost the dominance of the streets to the automotive industry rather quickly. As for the contest for the agricultural fields, the horse fought tenaciously but eventually yielded in many cases to steam and gas tractor power.

Since that time, the draft breeds have not only stabilized in numbers, but also once more enjoy a thriving trade. The stabilization of the draft horse population can be attributed to the dedication of draft horse breeders, as well as the decision of the old order Amish to reject tractor power in the fields. Today on small Amish farms the horse plays its traditional role as the equine tractor that burns home-grown fuel and raises its own replacements. The Amish in Ohio and Mennonites in Ontario are also producing new horse machinery in order to provide people with superior equipment. The equipment is invented, then tried and tested on their farms before it is sold to the public.

This 1920s Jackson Construction Company four-wheeled pull-grader required two teams, an operator, and a teamster. Road grading crews such as this one laid the foundation for the network of roads and highways that stretch across Alberta today. Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives

Today, there are about 1500 Amish living in Canada, the majority in southwestern Ontario. In 2006, a small group of families established homes in Manitoba near Gladstone, far from the perceived dangers of industrialization and nuclear power plants. They all continue to conduct farm work with horses as their sole source of power and still travel by horse and buggy.

The present trade for heavy horses is made up of several niche markets. Draft horses’ power and beauty have more than a little to do with this resurgence. The multiple hitch, once used to pull plows and combines, now finds itself hitched to commercial wagons in parades and big fifth wheel wagons at fairs. On western cattle ranches, horse teams are still used to haul feed to cattle.

Many of Canada’s original working horses were of indeterminate ancestry, a mix of whatever breeds were available. Where there was a choice amongst the registered breeds, the farmers, freighters, and contractors were decided about their preferences. As Grant MacEwan describes it, “Nobody was neutral either a man favoured the flat-boned, hard-hocked, big-footed Clydes with [their] straight and bold action, or he declared for Percherons or Belgians with their huge middles, powerful muscles, and phlegmatic dispositions.”

In 1916, the Bar U Ranch in southern Alberta, owned by George Lane, was home to 700 registered Percherons, among them this six-horse team and 400 broodmares. Photo courtesy of Parks Canada

The Percheron

The Percheron derives its name from the small French district of La Perche, southeast of Normandy. It was the first of the draft breeds to arrive in the Americas in 1839. The Canadian Percheron Association was formed in 1907 and its website states: “In spite of mechanization and automation, the Percheron breed has survived and, in recent years has increased tremendously in popularity and numbers.” In 1962, there were 129 Percheron foals registered for the year in 2008 there were 918 registered and their numbers continue to increase. Percherons have historically been used as both freight and farm horses the Percheron makes an excellent hitch horse due to its immense strength and stamina, and is lauded for its good temperament and work ethic. The Canadian Percheron Association was formed in 1907. As of December 2010, 29,188 stallions and 42,951 mares were registered with them. Today, Percherons can be found working in fields, forests, and even Canadian historic sites such as Bar U Ranch in Alberta.

Originally bred for warfare, the Belgian`s steadfast nature and physical strength make it ideally suited as a workhorse. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

The Belgian

The Belgian originated as a working horse in the lowlands of Belgium, and became sought after for warfare often weighing well over 1600 pounds, the animal could easily carry armour-laden soldiers in the battlefield. These giant horses were known to the Romans, and Julius Caesar remarked on their endurance and willing nature. The Belgian government produced a National Stud Book in 1886, and the first Belgian arrived in Canada in 1902, coming to Quebec. The Canadian Belgian Draft Breeders’ Association was incorporated in 1907, and since then there have been over 37,000 registrations. Their name changed to the Canadian Belgian Horse Association in 1934. Registrations hit a low in the early 1950s but have since rebounded to mid-1930 levels mainly thanks to Amish and Mennonite communities that are recognized for their dedication to Belgians for farm use. In 2011 there were 827 members in the CBHA, 335 Belgians registered and 303 Belgians transferred between owners.

Originally used for farming, mining, and logging, today the Clydesdale can often be seen in parades and at heritage parks. Pictured are the famous Budweiser Clydesdales hitch on display in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Photo: Pam MacKenzie Photography

The Clydesdale

The Clydesdale is Scotland’s heavy horse, dating back to the beginning of the 18th century when Flemish stallions were brought to the Clyde Valley of Lanarkshire. The Clydesdale is ideally suited for draft work as it is known for its willingness and high energy. Historically this big breed was used for farming but was powerful enough to work in coal mines and logging camps as well. The Canadian Clydesdale Horse Association was formed in 1886. According to horse historian Merlin Ford, during the 1920s approximately 18,000 Clydesdales were registered in Canadian stud books however, the total Clydesdale population would be a fair bit higher since the stud books include only the foals that were born and registered, and does not factor in the number of unregistered mature horses. As of December 2010, a total of 34,929 stallions and 73,516 mares were registered with the Clydesdale Horse Association of Canada.

The Canadian is good-natured and versatile, and known for its exceptional suitability as a driving horse. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

The Canadian
The Canadian breed may be one of the best kept secrets of the twentieth century but was well known to American colonists. The Canadian horse traces its ancestry to stock brought to Acadia and New France in the 17th century, when Louis XIV sent two stallions and twenty mares from the royal stables of Normandy and Brittany. In the mid-1800s, the Canadian horse population exceeded 150,000, but due to the desire for larger draft breeds, and advances in farm machinery technology, their numbers decreased throughout the 1900s. Canadian breed numbers waned further during the war years, and by the early 1970s there were only 400 left in existence. However, thanks to the efforts of the Canadian Horse Breeders Association and committed breeders across Canada, the breed’s numbers are rising. As of December 2010, there were 13,187 Canadian horses registered with the Canadian Horse Breeders Association. The versatile Canadian is represented by almost all types of equestrian disciplines, and is particularly well-known for their driving ability.


Horse Logging

When Canada was settled, logging with horse, mule, and oxen was the economic basis of the growth of many towns. However, as machines took over the harvest of trees, the skills and benefits of logging with living horse power was lost.

Today, we have become aware of the damage that huge vehicles do in the forests, which includes altering water resources, compacting soil, and destroying wildlife habitat. In the logging industry, increasing environmental concerns have bolstered the use of horses and mules as the machines of choice. Concerned logging operators have reverted to the practice of using horses, as pre-selected trees can be cut and then hauled out with chain and harnessed horses, leaving only hoof prints and skidding trails in the ground, as compared with the tracks of a 10,000 pound tread skidder.

A team of horses can pull upwards of eight tons of timber a day, and causes less soil compaction and destruction of wildlife habitats than heavy machinery. Photo courtesy of Soul of Canada

Not only can a team of horses pull upwards of eight tons of timber a day, but the animals also can move on terrain inaccessible to machines, work quietly, and consume and recycle natural products.

In Prince Edward Island, a horse-logging project involving several skilled teamsters is underway in provincial forests. Teamster Kevin Taylor notes that: “Horse logging is very healthy for forest maintenance. What we hope to establish in the bush is a series of unevenly aged trees. It’ll be constantly an ongoing process where you go in and take out older trees and give room for new ones to establish. It’s part of the management cycle. Using horses in the winter forest keeps the wood intact. When you come in here in the spring, you’d never know there had been anything in there, like you would if there had been a tractor. There won’t be a mark in the woods.”

Peter Churchill, a horse logger from Bridgewater, Nova Scotia, uses one horse in the bush, which requires moving very little brush. He describes his involvement as select logging for a specific purpose, not necessarily a monetary purpose. “I like this very well because horse logging is not a volume business. For the landowners where I work, and on our own property, the motivation is low impact on our forest,” says Churchill. “We do not need huge mechanized equipment.”


Energy and Food Security

A growing number of small-scale farmers are concerned about sustainability and the use of fossil fuels. Many question what we will do when oil runs out or becomes too expensive. Solutions such as ethanol, biodiesel, or methane still require a level of technology that is not conducive to sustainable farming practices. Horse power could be one answer to this problem.

Advocates of industrial farming claim that without factory farms not enough food would be produced to feed all of the people in the world. The factory model of agriculture is often quoted as the most efficient way to produce cheap food in fact, this could not be more untrue. What advocates of factory farms do not tell us is that the low cost of food does not take into account the true cost of production. Some of these hidden costs include degradation of our water, soil and air, damage to our health, and any of the impacts that are felt by the communities in which industrial farms are located. None of these costs are paid by the owners of factory farms but rather by the people who live in these communities. Billions of dollars are spent to mitigate problems created by agricultural industrialization. Damage to the air, water, and soil can only spell disaster for our species and no amount of money will be enough to fix the problem. Converting back to horse-powered methods will be a challenge but the cost will be far less than if we continue on the path of industrial agriculture.

Only a century ago, horses were the power source behind the agricultural, logging, mining, road and railway building, and large-scale excavating industries, as demonstrated by this draft horse team who tackled the job of massive earth removal for the Weed Creek Drop in Alberta in 1912. Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives

With the aim of sustainability in mind, no tractor could possibly match the benefits of “animal power” over fossil fuels. As Jonathan Wright of The New Farmer School heartily asserts, “their [horses’] fuel comes from the land, from the sun. Their wastes go back into nurturing that land. They don’t come from a strip mine or an assembly line.” Horses make for healthy land as they run on hay which encourages farmers to employ perennial forage crops that build the soil with organic matter, protect the soil surface from wind and water erosion, and provide a living root system to sustain soil micro-organisms and fix atmospheric nitrogen. Horses eat grass or hay and return it to the farm ecosystem and economy as manure. The manure then returns to the soil to improve fertility and nourish the plants.

There are many other advantages of using animal power instead of industrial power. Draft animals tread lightly on the land and can work soil that is wet enough to bog down machinery. The horses’ hooves don’t create the compaction “dams” created by tractor tires, so wet areas tend to shrink rather than expand.

The Hornbrook Family of Mount Middleton, New Brunswick, has a six-generation farm with young children who will likely become the seventh generation. Their 680 acres, including 50 acres of grain, 300 acres of hay and silage, and 200 acres of bush, has always been looked after with horses. Calling the farm home are 40 Percheron horses, 60 milk cows, 50 beef cows, 30 ewes, and 15 sows.

“I didn’t have much luck using tractors in the woods,” says Adam Hornbrook. “The horses do a lot less damage in the bush than tractors do.”

The machinery used with draft animals is also far less expensive than mechanized machinery, and horses cost less than mechanized equipment to purchase and maintain. “Over a 10-year period our horses brought $10,000 to the farm in addition to the work they did. The horse purchases, harness, breeding and vet bills were offset by the sale of colts and teams,” Hornbrook says. The horse has a long working life during which one-third of the energy it consumes as food is reusable as manure, whereas two-thirds of the fuel energy used by a tractor is lost as heat and exhaust fumes.

The slower pace of a horse gives plenty of time for farmers to think while working, making it less likely that they’ll get hurt in an accident. Tried and true horseman Doc Hammill affirms this, saying, “One of the things I've learned over time is that the truly great teamsters rarely – if ever – have upset horses, close calls, mishaps, or wrecks."

In addition, horses are a self-renewing technology. Two tractors do not easily become three. George Rupp, a pioneer breeder of Belgians, humorously echoes this sentiment in his query: “When will they make a tractor that can furnish the manure for farm fields and produce a baby tractor every spring?”

Horses also offer companionship to their human counterparts. When working with horses you are intimately partnered with another living presence. As Wright says, “No one develops a rapport with a rototiller or tractor!”

Aden Freeman, born in 1930, has spent a lifetime working with horses. “I have been a farmer all my life and I have learned many skills,” he says. “I have used horses for a living as my only source of power. You have no idea of the commitment needed between the driver and team. Through the years if it hadn’t been for horses I don’t think I would be where I am today…I am not a wealthy man, but because I am a farmer I simply know who I am and what I feel. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Yes, I’m glad I am a farmer.” Horses help build communication skills and provide physical fitness for their owners. In other words, horses create healthy people.

Wright says, “It is our belief that no farm can consider themselves serious about sustainability if they rely on the tractor or some other internal combustion machine as their primary on-farm power source.” Animals are essential to a healthy, sustainable farm. As Charlie Pinney of the UK states, “replacing tractors with horses would enable farms to significantly reduce their fossil energy use. Growers who have already made the switch report reduced soil compaction, increased yields, and improved harvesting times.”

From work animals at the core of the agricultural, logging, and road building industries, among others, to companions used in sport and recreation, the horse plays a significant role in Canada's heritage. Photo courtesy of Glenbow Archives

Traditional Equipment in Use Today

Small-scale agriculturalist Tony McQuail has been farming with horses for a number of years and is a founding member of the Ecological Farmers Association of Ontario. McQuail believes we need to redesign our society so that most of what we need to live can be created with energy from the food we grow. Trained in holistic management methodologies, McQuail solves many problems using only horse power. Holistic management was developed by Allan Savory, a wildlife and ranch biologist in Africa who created a program to help farmers establish a clear holistic goal and then use the farm’s resources to move toward the goal while being ecologically sustainable.

To illustrate this, a number of winters ago, McQuail had an issue with road access to his farm due to higher than average snowfall. He tried to use his clunky, old, gas-guzzling snow blower but the machine failed to accomplish the task. With the help of a local Mennonite friend, McQuail found a solution to the snow problem in a horse-power snow scoop.

Today, farming with horse power is experiencing a resurgence in popularity due to an increasing awareness of the detrimental impact of machinery on the environment. Photo: Robin Duncan Photography

Teaching Farms and the Return of Horse Power

In response to this ecological crisis, small-scale teaching farms are sprouting up throughout Canada and the world, and sustainable farming practices are becoming more and more popular as people see the negative effects of industrialization on their families, communities, and the ecosystem.

Alberta’s Thompson Small Farm and its sister organization, The New Farmer School, were created out of the belief that “a return to a healthy, localized system of mixed farming using natural inputs is one of the fundamental steps we must take if we are to restore the health of human and natural communities on this planet and live sustainably.”

Wright believes that now is the time to “re-adopt the abandoned elements that worked, to re-embrace and to put back into practice the simple yet elegant systems with their track records of centuries.” The goal of these farms is to serve as an example of an alternative way to live that sustains local and global communities. To this end, Thompson Small Farm and The New Farmer School use animal power for as many tasks as possible.

The New Farmer School offers a number of courses such as the Work Horse Orientation Clinic. Through these courses, Wright hopes “to reacquaint folks with the working horse, to re-establish the working horse in our collective consciousness.” He views the work horse as the best option for achieving sustainability and energy independence, a necessary alternative that will assist us in severing our dependence on non-renewable resources and the damaging technologies associated with them.

There are a number of organizations, magazines, and other teaching tools to help beginner teamsters learn how to safely handle and farm with draft horses. The Draft Horse Connection , a quarterly journal in publication for over 17 years, also strives to keep the living tradition of Canadian heritage horse farming alive. Their magazine and DVDs are useful forums to preserve the knowledge of older generation teamsters, which can be handed down and shared with the younger generation.

Draft horses supply the living horse power that could help mankind move forward into an ecologically sustainable future. Photo courtesy of Soul of Canada

The Future of Horse Power

The mechanization of agriculture has created environmental problems that are difficult to overcome. Methods used in the industrial production of food alone have caused havoc to the land and the economy. Soil erosion, the abundance of pesticides in the ecosystem, and the overuse of antibiotics, genetically modified crops, and petroleum power sources are cumulative problems for both humans and the natural systems that support us. Many people, scientists and economists included, believe that humanity must return to past methods in order to restore the balance.

Can we help ourselves by reintroducing the working horse of the past into our future lifestyle? There are indications that this is already happening in agriculture, forestry, and other industries. The flourishing tourism industry has prompted the return of horse-drawn trolleys and carriages, which are again commonplace in historic areas and on many big city streets. The uses for draft animals are limited mostly by the imagination of people, and horses are doing amazing things, some traditional and others less so. The production and use of draft horses is, once more, a viable and growing business.

The future is already calling to the gentle giants to supply the living horse power that will help mankind move forward into an ecologically sustainable future.

For more information, please visit Soul of Canada at

Main Article Photo: Courtesy of Glenbow Archives - Horse-drawn binders not only cut crops but also bound them into small bundles. As agricultural technology grew, so too did the need for horsepower.

This article originally appeared in the 2012 Equine Consumers' Guide.

The War Horse

Humans have had a relationship with horses for nearly 6,000 years, for 5,000 of those years we've used them for warfare. Until the automobile, the horse was the fastest mode of transportation, thus allowing warriors to roam farther than ever before. Many fierce warriors were also great horsemen, including the Hittites, the Huns, and the Scythians. Over time fighting groups like the Hussars developed not only advanced horsemanship but also both light and heavy cavalry units. The invention of the saddle, stirrup and the full horse collar changed the effectiveness of the horse.

Depending on the terrain and type of warfare the size and type of horse also changed. Small and quick ‘ponies' are very effective for raiding while larger horses were needed for knights in armour. The addition of gunpowder to war meant yet another change as light cavalry units gained favor. They were crucial not only during the Napoleonic wars but also during the American Civil War. Battle loses accounted for a large percentage of war-related equine deaths during the World Wars but disease and exhaustion also played a critical part. Horses eat approximately ten times as much food as a human soldier and transportation of horse rations has been a continual problem during times of war. Despite this factor, many recruitment pictures paint a dashing picture of the bond between a soldier and his mount. Today, mounted military units still exist although primary for ceremonial purposes.

Famous Horses in The History:

Marengo: Marengo was the horse of famous Napoleon. In the year 1800 A.D when Napoleon won the historical Battle of Marengo this horse was named after the success of that battle. After that this horse carried Napoleon to many big battles. And the most interesting thing is that after the Battle of Waterloo this horse was captured by the British. Till now the skeleton of this horse is displayed in the National Army Museum of England.

Comanche: This horse was found in the battle field of Little Big Horn. When this horse was found in the battle field after three days some arrows was stuck on his body. Later he was taken and treatment was done. Afterwards he was never used in the battlefield. The fact for which he was famous was that he was the only living creature found on that battlefield even after three days.

Nielson: Nielson is the horse of another legendary human being George Washington. He carried George Washington to various battles. And it was when George Washington was riding in a horse when the British surrendered from the war.

Sakarya: This horse is a famous horse in history as it was the horse of Ataturk. This horse carried Ataturk to many historical Turkish Independent Wars and most amazingly he was the father of most racing horses after the republican period.

Copenhagen: Copenhagen is a world famous dog and also proved himself with outstanding potentiality and ability to maintain his name in history. He was the Horse of Arthur Wellesley and also was a participant in the Battle of Waterloo. After the battle he was given a great honor by the then National Army. An estate was given to this horse by the British Government and was preserved as a national treasure. He died at the age of 27 years and buried with full military honors.

Incitatus: Caligula, the third ruler of Rome was the owner of Incitatus. He gave his horse a house to reside, and decorated it with gold ornaments. Afterwards he also proposed to make this horse as the Consul to the Senate.

Kanthaka: Kanthaka is a religious Horse and famous in history as the horse of Lord Buddha. It is said that this horse was born at the same day in which Lord Buddha was born. Kanthaka’s color was full white. Kanthaka went out with Buddha when he left his father’s palace to renounce the world. But when Buddha crosses the river Anoma, he left this horse on the other side of the river where Kanthaka died.

Pegasus: Pegasus is a great character in Greek Mythology. He was a winged horse of Goddesses. Later we also saw Pegasus as the lifelong partner of Hercules in the famous Hollywood movie ‘Hercules’.

Burak: Burak is the horse of Prophet Mohammad. It was presented to Mohammad by Gabriel. Many stories are there related to this horse and it is said that this horse was a magical fire winged horse that carried Mohammed.

Bucephalus: Busephalus was an amazing horse of Alexander the Great. Once, Alexander noticed that Bucephalus was afraid of his own shadow. So Alexander trained him by facing at the sun. With this Horse, Alexander founded the city of Bucephala.

Ever since the wheel was first invented around 3,500 BC in Mesopotamia as a wooden disc with a hole in the middle for some form of axle, creative Sumarian minds were buzzing. They were, after all, already planting crops, herding animals, and had a pretty impressive social order. But getting the wheel contraption right took a bit of creative genius. The holes in the centre of the disc and at the ends of the axle had to be perfectly smooth and round in order for the wheel to fit and turn. Otherwise, too much friction would cause breakage.

The wheel for transportation actually followed the invention of the potter’s wheel. But those Bronze Age inventors wasted little time connecting the dots and figuring out that if you put a box on top of the axle, you’d have a cart. It you hitched a horse to the front end, you’d have an animal to pull it which would save doing it yourself. With the domestication of the horse almost 6,000 years ago, a marriage between the cart and the horse was inevitable, eventually transforming a civilization. On the Sumerian Battle Standard of Ur is the depiction of an onager-drawn cart from 2,500 BC.

The earliest form of a “carriage” (from Old Northern French meaning to carry in a vehicle) was the chariot in Mesopotamia around 3,000 BC. It was nothing more than a two-wheeled basin for a couple of people and pulled by one or two horses. It was light and quick and the favoured vehicle for warfare with Egyptians.

Carriages in a myriad of formats quickly became the defining form of transport. And with them came their own dictionary of terms. A carriage is sometimes called a team. A carriage and horse is a rig. A carriage with horses, harness, and attendants is a turnout. A procession of carriages is a cavalcade. Then there’s the coachman (driver), footman (who cleared the path in front), a carriage starter (directing the flow of carriage traffic at curbside), and a hackneyman (hiring out carriages). Horses were carriage horses (for the wealthy and elite) or road horses (a working horse for the road). They were kept in stables or, among royalty and aristocracy, in mews, so named because the buildings originally housed birds used for falconry and their cyclic moulting of feathers was known as mewing. The mews contained not only stabling for the horses, but a carriage house and housing for staff. The most famous is the Royal Mews on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.

Of the more than 100 historic coaches and carriages housed at The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace, the coach most often employed is The Irish State Coach, used for the State Opening of Parliament. Photo: Robert Sharp/Wikimedia Commons

Over the centuries, a bewildering array of carriages entered mainstream. They were developed not only for the practical needs of getting around and delivering goods, but for style, elegance, and changing fashions. From a barouche to a chaise, governess cart, dos-a-dos, Hansom (named after Joseph Hansom who designed and patented it in England in 1834), Landau (named after the German city of Landau where they were first made), road coach, tarantass, or a simple village cart, there was always something practical to hitch a horse or pony to.

The 1902 State Landau carriage carrying Prince William and Kate Middleton from their marriage. Photo: John Pannell/Flickr/Wikimedia Commons

In 1829 in England, the horse-drawn hail-and-ride bus was launched, followed much later in 1870 by horse-drawn trams on rails. Businessmen got around town in stylish Hansom cabs, which seated two inside while the driver sat outside and at the back of the vehicle. The little cab was fast, nimble, and could turn on a dime.

Eventually, of course, motorized transportation eclipsed the horse-drawn carriage except for the most ceremonial of events. And Britain has a wealth of historical ceremonial coaches ready for hitching.

At the far end of the coach spectrum is the Gold State Coach (aka the coronation coach), gorgeous to look at, but murder to ride in. This four-ton gilded coach covered in gold leaf and painted panels was built in 1762 and is drawn by eight horses, four of which are mounted by the postilion riders. Due to its weight, the carriage can only be pulled at a walk. The coach is suspended from braces and lacks absolutely any modern comfort. In fact, the ride is so uncomfortable that King William IV, a former naval officer, said it was like being “tossed in a rough sea.” King George VI said it was one of the most uncomfortable rides he’d ever had in his life.

Photo: David Crochet/Wikimedia Commons

Photo: David Crochet/Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Steve F-E-Cameron/Wikimedia Commons

The Gold State Coach (Coronation Coach) gilded and painted by Italian painter and engraver, Giovanni Battista Cipriani, in 1762.

The Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace houses a collection of over 100 historic coaches and carriages, most of which are used for a variety of ceremonial and special occasions. The coach that is often used is the Irish State Coach for the State Opening of Parliament, but other state coaches include Queen Alexandra’s State Coach (used to convey the Imperial State Crown to Parliament for the State opening), the Australian State Coach (a gift to the Queen from the people of Australia on the nation’s bicentenary), the Glass Coach (a favourite of royal brides) built in 1881, and a variety of State and semi-State Landaus. All the carriages and coaches receive maintenance from craftsmen in the Royal Mews. Then there are a variety of barouches, broughams (used each day to carry messengers on their official rounds in London), and Queen Victoria’s ivory-mounted Phaeton (used by The Queen since 1987 for her birthday parade).

The Glass Coach, built in 1881, returning the Ladies in Waiting to Buckingham Palace after the State Opening of Parliament, 2008. Photo: Robert Sharp/Wikimedia Commons

Carriages represent a time gone by, a slower, more stately era when horses were central to everything people did and everywhere they went. Today in noisy, vehicle-cluttered cities, a ride in a horse-drawn carriage is a unique step back in time to that distant heritage – and a step forward in an unrealized appreciation for the skilled, dependable harness horse.

While horse and carriage rides have traditionally been tours around city parks, carriage operators also offer their unique services for weddings, festive and ethnic occasions, parades, movie shoots, and funerals. Each has its special needs and the horses used in harness must match those needs, often down to matching colours. Most frequently, draft horse breeds are used for carriage work and the most popular are Percheron, Belgian, and Clydesdale, as well as the lighter Friesian. But when cars, trucks, planes, and trains took over people’s lives, unknown thousands of carts, coaches, and carriages languished in barns. Some folks, though, saw value in restoring and preserving that lost time. Often it would take just the simplest task to spark a lifelong passion.

“Don Remington’s interest in carriages started in the fall of 1954 when he was in charge of the Rotary Christmas event which involved bringing Santa into town at the end of November to open the Christmas shopping season in Cardston,” says Howard Snyder, manager of Remington Carriage Museum, Alberta Culture and Tourism. “He said it was wrong to bring Santa into town sitting on a bale of hay in the back of a pickup truck. Santa should be in a sleigh. So Don found one in Marysville, British Columbia, and restored it to bring Santa into town. That began a 33-year career of collecting and restoring carriages.”

The 63,000 square foot Remington Carriage Centre in Cardston, Alberta, is the largest purpose-built carriage museum in the world, with over 300 carriages on display. Photo courtesy of the Remington Carriage Museum.

Remington earned his wealth from his construction business and his two ranches. Before his day got busy with construction work, building concrete bridges throughout western Canada, he used the early dawn hours to work on carriages. While he felt at home in a business-style suit or a tuxedo, he was more at home in jeans, a plaid shirt, and a battered cowboy hat. He loved physical work and was a proud craftsman with skills in woodworking, painting, metal working, and upholstery. He was, in reality, the working man’s man, never hesitating to shake a hand that was calloused, hard, or dirty from labour. And all the while he retained a wry, distinctive humour.

The pragmatism of the man never failed to surface. Snyder recalls visiting Remington’s home where he noticed one of the first satellite television systems in Cardston. He happened to mention that the price of those installations was dropping. “The problem with waiting is that you might not be alive when the price (finally) comes down,” Remington replied. Snyder says it was one of the hallmarks of the man that he made good use of the present because the future was unknown.

As Remington became more and more passionate about horse-drawn vehicles, Snyder says that his antique vehicles were valued almost as though they were children.

“His first vehicle was a cutter,” he explains. “The second was a Prairie Concord buggy with a folding top and, third an elegant enclosed Brougham, or Clarence, with curved bevelled-glass windows. These three, likely by coincidence, represent the three primary types of non-industrial horse-drawn vehicles: a sleigh, a buggy, and an elegant carriage.”

The cutter was an open sleigh on metal runners made classic by Santa Claus images. The buggy was a Prairie Concord made by the McLaughlin Carriage Company in Oshawa, Ontario. The Prairie Concord was based on the original Concord developed in Concord, New Hampshire in the early 1800s. The original had low sides and side-spring suspension of longitudinal elastic wooden bars. The Prairie version, which had metal semi-elliptical side springs, was an updated version produced almost 100 years later. A buggy whip had a small tasselled tip called a snapper. The Brougham was a light, four-wheeled carriage named after Scottish jurist Lord Brougham. It was designed to his specification in 1838, and it had an enclosed body with two narrow doors. The carriage had a glazed forward window so occupants could see ahead. But it was the Prairie Concord buggy that, Snyder says, evoked a really sharp memory in a visitor to the Museum one day.

“In the spring of 1955, only six months after starting his collection with a cutter to bring Santa into town, Don acquired his second vehicle and first wheeled vehicle, a McLaughlin Prairie Concord, a light buggy with a folding top. He had located it in a barn in Lundbreck, Alberta, almost 100 kilometres from Cardston, where it had been stored for 40 years by that time, suspended from the ceiling by wires. It has now had 100 years of indoor protection since it was last used, and as a consequence we can see the original oilcloth top, original leather dash, and original leather seat. Even at this extremely early time in Don’s collecting career, he recognized that this vehicle was in too good a condition to restore, so he left it unrestored.

The second vehicle acquired by Remington in 1955 was a Prairie Concord buggy made by McLaughlin in Oshawa, Ontario, with original oilcloth top, leather dash, and leather seat. Photo courtesy of the Remington Carriage Museum.

“In conducting a tour through the collection, I had a visitor say, ‘You mentioned that this vehicle came from Lundbreck. Do you know who owned it?’ I replied that it was owned by the Sandeman family. He responded, ‘My dad worked for the Sandemans, and when I was five years old, he took me out to the barn and showed me this vehicle hanging from the ceiling.’ The visitor was about 50 years old and the sight and recognition of this vehicle brought a rush of memories of his childhood and his father.”

Remington’s devotion to acquiring carriages became a bit of a legend, even to the point of saving marriages. Snyder recalls a time, 50 years ago, when Remington went to Dallas, Texas, to bid on an elegant Brewster Barouche vehicle.

“His main competitor in the bidding was a Texas lawyer named Sid Latham. As the bidding climbed toward $20,000, the auctioneers came down from the stage and gathered around Latham, telling him that he should not allow this vehicle to leave Texas. To uphold the honour of Texas he should increase his bid. Don admonished the auctioneers that such conduct was highly irregular and they returned to the stage. The bidding continued until Don purchased the vehicle for $21,000. As the hammer came down, Sid Latham said in a Texas drawl, ‘Don, I’m so glad you bought that thing. If I had bought it my wife would have divorced me for sure.’ Don replied, ‘I’m glad I got it too, Sid, because if I hadn’t I would have been so miserable my wife would have divorced me too.’ It is now recorded in the Carriage Association of America’s Journal that the sale of that Barouche saved two marriages.”

Remington’s reputation as a carriage collector spread and he frequently received calls from governments, churches, and corporations asking him to provide transportation for dignitaries. In 1973, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip visited Alberta. Remington had been asked by the Government of Alberta’s Protocol Office to provide a five-glass Landau to transport the Queen and the Prince on a tour of the Calgary Stampede. The problem was that no one in the Protocol Office remembered to inform the RCMP.

“When Don and his driver, Jack Bevans, arrived at the Stampede Grounds, they were asked by the RCMP why they were in the area where the Queen’s car was soon to arrive,” says Snyder. “He replied that they were here to carry the Queen and Prince Philip at the request of the Alberta Government. The Police were quite agitated about this situation as they are responsible for security for the Queen. Now, and at any time in the past 30 years, they would have said that it was out of the question. But this was 42 years ago and, although they were not happy, they said, ‘Here’s what we will do. We will provide the driver. We will provide the horses. You and your man can stand at the back of the carriage as footmen.’”

The elegant Brewster Park Drag, made by Brewster & Company in New York. This vehicle was drawn by four horses driven from the rooftop seat, and used for formal outings by passengers who rode in the enclosed comfort of the carriage. Photo courtesy of the Remington Carriage Museum.

Remington was apparently delighted with this arrangement as it allowed him to talk to Prince Philip who, at the time, was President of the FEI and who had been instrumental in developing the sport of combined driving and had overseen the sport’s original set of rules. He had extensive knowledge about carriages.

During the ride, Prince Philip said to Remington, “This is an interesting vehicle, whose is it?”

“It belongs to me,” Remington replied.

Snyder says that it was likely the only time British royalty had been told that the vehicle they were riding in was owned by their footman!

Landau carriages are a mainstay of ceremonial use. Canada’s State Landau was purchased by Governor General Earl Grey from the Governor General of Australia. The carriage had been built in the 1890s and was gifted by Grey to the King-in-Council in 1911, the year King George V was crowned. It is used for ceremonial processions through Ottawa by the Governor General or visiting members of the Royal Family, and it is maintained by the RCMP.

But a purchase one day at an estate auction in Oregon triggered a life decision for the Remington family.

“Don purchased one of the finest vehicles in the collection at an estate auction in Portland, Oregon,” recalls Snyder. “The Hansom cab had been in the collection of Aaron Frank, one of the founders of the Meyer-Frank department stores in the Pacific Northwest. Don had known Mr. Frank for several years, and his attention was drawn to the estate sale by one of Don’s sons who happened to be in Portland taking training in dermatology. Don attended the sale and bought the Hansom cab which had been owned originally by Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt of the New York railroad and shipping family. [But] upon arrival back home in Alberta, he was not elated like a kid at Christmas with his new vehicle, which was his normal reaction to a new acquisition. Instead he was depressed, having seen the life avocation of a fellow collector scattered across the continent in a two-day sale. He said to his wife Afton, ‘We can’t let that happen to ours.’ That was the beginning of the idea for the Remington Carriage Museum.”

The Hansom Cab at the Remington Carriage Museum was made by Forder and Company in Wolverhampton, England, circa 1870. Photo courtesy of the Remington Carriage Museum

Remington wanted his collection to be kept together after he and Afton were gone he wanted the collection to be located in Cardston where they lived and he wanted the vehicles’ stories to be told to anyone who might be interested. The family decided to donate their 48 vehicles, horse herd, extensive harness collection, and a truck and trailer to the Department of Culture, Government of Alberta.

The Remington Carriage Museum opened in 1993, six years after Remington passed away. It is the largest purpose-built carriage museum in the world with the largest collection of carriages (over 300) on display in North America in a town of just 3,500 people. On the museum grounds are stables for a herd of 18 horses – Canadians, Percherons, Quarter Horses, and Percheron/Quarter Horse crosses. The museum is a go-to destination just 40 km from Waterton Lakes National Park, Glacier National Park in Montana, and 60 km from Head Smash-In Buffalo Jump Interpretive Centre.

Inside the $16 million, 63,000 square foot facility many of the carriages are displayed in vignettes that represent how the carriages and coaches were most typically used and in what kind of setting. For instance, there is a mountain scene displaying a stagecoach, a Victorian street scene, a campfire scene with a chuckwagon, and a firehall. Of course, one of the most popular activities at the Museum is to have a ride in a carriage or in the stagecoach around the grounds.

A hearse at the Remington Carriage Centre. Photo courtesy of the Remington Carriage Museum.

Snyder says that the oldest vehicle in the collection is actually the running gear of the wagon that brought the wife of the founder of Cardston (Charles Ora Card) from Cache Valley, Utah, to Alberta in 1887. It was driven by his wife Zina Card and her son Sterling and it dates from approximately 1840.

The most complex carriages on exhibit are the Hansom cab, the Concord stagecoach, the eight-spring barouche, and the park drag. The simplest is the racing sulky. However, according to Snyder, the Concord stagecoach is the most valuable. It is one of only 56 complete vehicles that still remain out of some 10,000 that were built, and is valued at over $500,000.

The first Concord stagecoach was built by wheelwrights J.S. Abbot and Lewis Downing in 1827. At their Concord, New Hampshire wagon factory, they manufactured not only the Concord but 40 other styles of coaches and wagons. But it was the scarlet stagecoach that came to be legendary for the image of passengers travelling across the US to start a new life as the west opened.

In 1857, Wells Fargo joined other express companies to form the Overland Mail Company. It provided financial services and mail delivery by overland stagecoach between St. Louis and San Francisco. Night and day it travelled across the country at a speed anywhere between 5 and 12 miles per hour (8 and 19 km per hour). Today, the company still has 10 original stagecoaches made by Abbot and Downing in their museum displays.

It was Mark Twain who said in his book Roughing It, published in 1872, that the Concord stagecoach’s ride was like an imposing cradle on wheels. The company used braces and a suspension system made of strips of thick bull-hide under the coach to give the ride a swinging motion rather than a jolting up-and-down sensation from a spring-type suspension. Importantly, the suspension system spared the horses from any jarring discomfort.

The stagecoach was pulled by four or six horses, was typically painted scarlet or green, and had canvas or leather curtains hung over the windows. Upholstered bench seats allowed for just nine people to ride inside, and sometimes passengers could ride on top of the coach. Some larger versions of the stagecoach had seating for 12 passengers.

The stagecoach got its name from the fact that the term “stage” referred to the distance between stations along a route so that the coach travelled the entire route in stages. Stops were made for passengers to grab a quick snack of coffee, beef jerky, and biscuits. But the main reason for the staged stops was for a fresh set of horses to be hitched, allowing those that had pulled thus far some time to get rest, feed, and water. The fresh set of horses could then continue the journey to the next stage with the minimum amount of lost time.

The stagecoach at the Remington Carriage Museum is always a highlight among visitors who are thrilled for a chance to climb inside one used by Jackie Chan in Disney’s Shanghai Noon and by Tom Selleck in Crossfire Trail.

Today, visitors number about 30,000 a year, not only from Canada and the US, but the UK, Holland, Germany, China, Australia, and elsewhere. At first, visitors may enter the museum with a fairly casual interest in carriages but by the end of their stay, Snyder says, they are captivated by the information they learn and the stories they hear about life in a bygone age. The carriages come to life and seeing the horses, the harness, the wheels in action only adds to the immediacy of the visit.

“The general public comes here with either low expectations about the interest inherent in carriages, or no expectations at all, so we get a positive ‘bounce’ when they find that there is a fascinating story to be told by horse-drawn vehicles,” says Snyder. “Partly as a consequence of this exceeding-of-expectations, the Remington Carriage Museum for fourteen years in a row was rated number one in the province for visitor satisfaction in the annual (but now discontinued) government-administered surveys at the 19 historic sites and museums owned and operated by the Province of Alberta.”

The vehicles are windows into almost every facet of life a hundred or more years ago, from private family transportation to the moving of commercial goods, from leisure to industry, from fire-fighting to ice delivery – the entire tapestry of life in the nineteenth century is made visible.

The questions visitors to the Centre ask most often are:

Is Don Remington related to Remington the rifle maker? No, nor Remington the artist, the electric razor maker, nor the typewriter maker.

Do you have a stagecoach? Yes, half a dozen.

Do you have a covered wagon? Yes, also half a dozen.

This Bull Wagon (aka Covered Wagon) at the Remington Carriage Centre is the lead Bull Wagon from a wagon train. This particular one was originally used on the Oregon Trail (aka the Whoop-up Trail) and ended its career hauling supplies between Fort Benton, Montana and Fort MacLeod, Alberta. Photo courtesy of the Remington Carriage Museum.

Do you have a milk wagon? No, still looking for a 1998 Studebaker low-boy.

Are you going to restore all of these? No, the ideal is preservation of original materials and workmanship, not restoration.

However, experts at the Museum do restoration work for clients across the western half of North America year-round. Restoration is considered a ‘heritage craft,’ sometimes regrettably called a ‘dying art.’

On the grounds of the Museum is a statue of the Thoroughbred Seabiscuit, America’s beloved racehorse, and George Woolf, the most successful jockey in the 1930s and 1940s. The connection is that Woolf came from Cardston.

“The statue shows Woolf and Seabiscuit in the ‘Race of the Century’ against War Admiral on November 1st, 1938 in Pimlico, Baltimore, Maryland,” says Snyder. “Woolf is looking to his right at Charley Kurtsinger on War Admiral, and saying to the rival jockey ‘So long, Charley!’ as Seabiscuit accelerates around the homestretch turn to win the race by four lengths, setting a track record (1:56 3/5) for the 1 3/16 mile track. This confrontation is considered by many racing experts to be the greatest match-race in history.”

The statue honouring Seabiscuit and jockey George Woolf on the grounds at the Remington Carriage Museum. Woolf was born in Cardston, Alberta, on May 31, 1910. Photo courtesy of the Remington Carriage Museum.

The race was covered by all the radio networks and Remington, 24 years old at the time and starting to build his empire in construction and ranching, must have had an interest in a local boy who made good in the match race of the century.

Horses and the carts and carriages they pulled were the backbone of the early days of Cardston. It would be 16 years before Remington would start his carriage collection, but he had no idea that, just a stone’s throw away, the true heritage of the horse in Cardston lay just beneath the range where cattle then grazed. The area was destined to become St. Mary Reservoir in Cardston County in 1951.

In dry winters, the water level drops sufficiently to expose the soil. In 1996, a local schoolteacher discovered ancient spear heads and bones. Then in 1998, the reservoir was drained for construction of a new spillway. When wind erosion removed layers of sand and silt, bones and tracks of extinct animals including those of the horse, camel, mammoth, muskox, bison, and caribou, as well as stone tools used by Paleoindians were revealed. The site where so many artifacts were found was once a well-used river crossing in the middle of a vast grassy steppe where many huge herds of grazing animals roamed and, it is believed, hunted by the ancestors of the Clovis people.

The school wagon (left) is called a School Van or Omnibus. The stagecoach next to the School Van is called a Western Passenger Wagon, also nicknamed the “Mud Wagon” due to conditions often encountered on bad roads. The Western Passenger Wagon, for carrying six passengers inside plus the driver and shotgun, was manufactured by Abbot and Downing in Concord, New Hampshire, the largest manufacturer of stagecoaches in the world. Their stagecoaches, along with the covered wagon, are the most famous horse-drawn vehicles in the world, thanks to their appearance in hundreds of Hollywood Western movies. Photos courtesy of the Remington Carriage Museum.

The bigger brother of the Western Passenger Wagon is the Concord Stagecoach, available in two different sizes to carry nine to twelve passengers inside, plus the driver and shotgun. This 1866 coach at Remington Carriage Museum made by Abbot and Downing could carry nine passengers inside and four informally seated on the roof, plus the driver. These “Hotel Coaches” were built to suit the fancy of the purchaser, commonly ordered with custom colours, scrollwork, and landscape paintings on the doors. Interiors were finely appointed and often French windows were used rather than roll-up side curtains. This Concord stagecoach is one of only 56 still remaining out of 10,000 originally built, and is valued at over $500,000. Photo courtesy of Remington Carriage Museum.

Originally, the artifacts were carbon dated to 11,000 years ago. However in 2015, horse, camel, and muskox bones were re-examined and subsequently dated between 13,100 and 13,300 years ago.

Along with many large mammal species, the ancient little horse would disappear from North America where it evolved due mainly to rapid climate change. Over millennia, horses had migrated to Eurasia. When the horse returned to this continent from Europe, it would be in harness pulling the vehicles that defined human civilization and which Don Remington worked so diligently to preserve.

Main Photo: An original Concord Stagecoach on display at the Wells Fargo History Museum in Old Town San Diego State Historic Park. Photo: Captain Tucker/Wikimedia Commons

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