The early American farm horse helped build the country, as described in the book Farmer Boy by Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Wilders were successful and relatively wealthy farmers. Their barns (yes, more than one) are described in detail and they owned a herd of horses. The purebred Morgans also brought in quite a lot of money each year when Pa Wilder sold matched pairs of horses to New York City horse buyers. The Ingalls in contrast felt lucky to have even a single team of horses instead of oxen. The Ingalls horses, Sam and David, were not described by breed or even appearance, but they were just as important to the Ingalls as the purebred Morgans were to the Wilders. Sam and David were likely mixed breed horses which did not make them any less useful or less of a farm horse.
The Early American Farm Horse
Clydesdales are the matched, big bay (brown with black markings) horses driven in teams pulling brightly colored wagons.
Clydesdales are light enough to be ridden in saddle, although they aren’t as fast as a typical saddle horse. Clydesdales were used on farms when the land wasn’t so tough as to need an extremely powerful horse. One consideration farmers had when selecting horses was also how much food was needed to keep a horse healthy. The bigger the horse, the more they eat.
Morgans are generally agreed upon to have originated out of Vermont. The University of Vermont still has a working Morgan farm which can be visited by Morgan fans.
As mentioned, these are the horses raised on the Wilder farm. Pa Wilder was not only a farmer but also a horse trainer. As Pa Wilder phrased it, the Morgan is tough enough for farm work yet light and swift enough to pull a buggy or ride in a saddle. Morgan fans like to say the Morgan horse can do it all.
Shire Draft Horse
The Shire horse was used by knights in the middle ages and was England’s warhorse. The Shire horse is a survivor of a horse that was referred to as The Great Horse.
Farmers did not exclusively use only American developed breeds. Often economics and availability dictated what horses were bought. I.e. the farmer often bought the most affordable horses for the expected purpose.
Because a strong power source was needed to work the soil of the American prairie, the first European Draft Horses were imported to America in the late 1830’s. Although Oxen were preferred due to a lower maintenance cost, horses were faster workers. Western migration and the civil war increased demand for the new farm equipment and work horses. By 1900, there were over 27,000 purebred Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons, Shires, and Suffolk Punches in the United States.
American Quarter Horse
The sprinting American Quarter Horse is necessary to chase after rogue cattle and convince said misguided cattle to rejoin the herd.
Quarter Horses are taller and more rangy in appearance than Morgan horses. They are tough horses who can cover long distances at a reasonable speed.
The American Cream comes in different weights; draft and saddle. Visitors to the Wells Fargo farm at the Minnesota Zoo can see these beautiful horses.
Three other common breeds found on American farms were the Clydesdale, Percheron, and Belgian.
Smaller Percheron horses were often featured in circuses and as parade horses. Besides working on a farm, they also made excellent stage coach horses being powerful enough to pull a coach of people and luggage but fast enough to keep passengers happy.
Belgian horses are known to be able to pull more than 10,000 pounds when working in pairs! Belgians are now the most popular draft horses in America and often have a golden to red coat and a flaxen (ivory) mane.
So dear Reader, we have not only the early American farmers to thank for building a great country, but also their livestock. Especially the many horses of all sizes, breeds, and age.
Thank you for reading, I-Ried