Horse Heritage Through Philadelphia’s History

Image by Daryl.parada on Unsplash

Horses played a significant role in the evolution of humankind. These graceful creatures have been our companions for centuries. Horses have always stayed by our side in farming, war, and sports. This article shares a common ground between Philadelphia’s citizens and equines.

Horses, as elite animals, were expensive to maintain. They started to be used in agriculture in the 19th century. When the reaper and other agriculture devices were invented. The wealthy used horses primarily in pleasure riding and sports. The animals were also used for carriage traveling. Philadelphia was known as a “walking city” where citizens used to walk around on the streets.

The Growth of Industrialization

The Philadelphia-Lancaster turnpike was completed in 1795 that resulted in creating the long-distance road. Thus, the demand for horses increased. The traffic was filled with Conestoga wagons that were drawn by Conestoga Horses. That’s a special breed of draft horses developed in the USA. The Conestoga Horse was 16-17 hands high and weighed 1,500 pounds. Unfortunately, the breed is extinct now.

Industrialization made a huge leap in using horses for pulling and driving. Their role was of the utmost importance during World War I. The equines were used to transport soldiers to hospitals and weapons to fields. Since then, more roads and canals were built. With commercial development, improved transportation was needed. And horses were in great demand.

Horses and Public Transport

In the 1830s, the omnibus was invented as the first public transport. It’s a four-wheeled coach drawn by three-four horses. Apart from carriage driving, equines were used in boat pulling. Farmers used horses for pulling reapers. All of this affected agricultural production in the USA. The horse population started to increase.

The 19th century was also known for railroad network development. Different freight needed to be transported around the states. Central Philadelphia banned steam engines due to danger from fire. Horses were used to pull railroad cars to the downtown.

As the railroad was expanded, the increase of people’s circulation increased. Philadelphia was filled with streetcars drawn by horses. Streetcar companies owned thousands of equines to deliver people and goods to the depots. By the end of the 19th century, the city was overcrowded with horses. You could find these animals in manufacturing, shipping, and carriage travel.

There was an epidemic of horse influenza in 1872. It sent shock waves through Philadelphia’s citizens. The disaster got the name of the “Great Epizootic”. The epidemic made the city life ground to a halt. It showed how important horse labor was at that time.

The Twist of Horse Use

After the Civil War, equines found their use in recreation. The wealthy kept horses to partake in riding and driving. There was a wide range of equestrian disciplines to suit every horseman. The Rose Tree Hunt Club was established in 1859 (Media, Pennsylvania). It promoted horsemanship through competitions. The wealthy competed in fox-hunting and polo while bragging about their purebred horses.

Horse racing was banned in Pennsylvania until 1959. Thanks to local breeders, this activity was revived. John C. Craig, Samuel Riddle, and other breeders developed racehorses and lots from their herds were prominent in racing.

In the early 20th century, the use of horses declined significantly. The invention of electrified transport got equines off their way. Motorized equipment started to alternate urban horses. Trucks were used to deliver goods in the city. And automobiles changed the way of using streets. Philadelphia was no longer a “walking city”. Drivers argued that equines must be banned on the streets. As the animals prone to accidental behavior. By 1930, the horse population dropped by 50 percent.

Scene from CONCRETE COWBOY, a 2021 film about urban horse riders in Philadelphia.

The Modern City

Horses were still used in Philadelphia but in different niches. Milkmen delivered milk in wagons drawn by horses. As the animal remembered the route and could traverse long distances. Some people bred horses for producing and selling meat. Police kept horses to watch the streets. Some horses are still pulling carriages downtown to entertain the city’s visitors.

Nowadays, horses are primarily used for riding and driving. They are used in Western and English disciplines. Some farmers keep equines for pulling weights and watching cattle. Pleasure riding is still in demand. There are a few horse stables left that provide riding lessons. Thus, the bond between a human and a horse remains solid.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.