Wild Horses: The Horse In Agriculture

Wild Horses

Mustangs and Humans



Before the advent of the tractor and automobiles, horses were an integral part of everyday worklife as well as a companion.

Horse and Harness — 1733
The agricultural region near the Conestoga River, 70 miles from Philadelphia, was burgeoning in the early 1700s. Hauling produce and goods by pack horse was tedious, time consuming, labor intensive and expensive, and merchants realized that to carry produce this way was costing them dearly. In addition to this problem, the townspeople and farm families needed supplies delivered to and from the valley. These problems were growing as the area grew economically and geographically.

Frustrated and determined to resolve the problem, the Germans of the Conestoga Valley constructed a wagon which would safely and economically carry produce and supplies for the area's farmers and city dwellers alike with the help of a team of horses. This was no ordinary wagon. The roads in that area were often barely passable by horseback, much less a wagon. The usual wagon had broad wheels, a white fabric hood, and a convex wagon box. It was generally drawn by 6 horses and had a capacity of about 7 metric tons of freight. Before the extension of railroads into the frontier regions, the Conestoga wagon was the principal vehicle for inland commerce. A version of the wagon, the prairie schooner, was used by westward-bound immigrants later in the 19th century.

Horses and Cowboys Lead the Cattle Drives — 1865
Growing populations in the eastern part of the United States had developed a strong appetite for beef. The western railroad provided dependable transportation but there was only one railroad line, and it crossed the continent in Nebraska, not Texas, Oklahoma, or Kansas where a lot of cattle were. To get beef to the consumer and with the horse as a critical facet of the team, cattlemen raised stock and drove them great distances to the railheads.

The cowboy's life was often lonely and sometimes violent. His horse was frequently his only companion. His manners, dress, language, and amusements remain a symbol of the rugged independence, romance, and determination which characterized humans, their horses, and the American West.

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Horse and Farmers
The versatile horse was the farmer's main asset. The exploration and subsequent settlement of new land in America created a variety of ways the horse would be called upon to help people forge a living on the land. The horse was a readily available resource for expansion, and as a team, horses and humans had the power to tame the wilderness and work the soil. The horse sometimes replaced the sluggish oxen, which had worked equally hard to fulfill the needs of  farm families. But the 1800s' farmer was more interested in the versatility of the horse, a quality which made it a valuable asset to settlers and farmers alike. The horse plowed fields, pulled wagons and carriages, and became such an essential part of the rural economy that the loss of a small farmer's horse frequently meant demise of the farm.

The horse population grew immensely during the 1800s. In 1867, the rural horse population in America was estimated at nearly 8 million, while the number of farm workers was well under 7 million.



Ancient Connection          Journey to the New World
Native Americans          Catlin's Observations
Palo Duro Canyon Tragedy           The Horse in Agriculture
Moving Humans & Machinery          Waging War
The Sporting Horse          Equine Quiz