Old Pictures of People and Horses


As much as people may love their horses now, the fact is that the relationship between people and horses is different than that which existed a century ago.*  People love their horses for companionship today, but they generally don’t rely on them for transportation, as in years gone by.  They jump over wood fences with them, but usually don’t use them to haul logs.  People love horses and care for them, but the relationship has certainly changed.

For a long time, I’ve collected old photos of horses with different people, in different places.  They are meaningful to me because it’s a record of something that seems to have been lost – an intimate relationship between human and horse that transcends sport and pleasure.  So I thought I’d share a few of them with you (please feel free to reproduce any of them that you’d like).

Here’s a wine vendor, in Italy, probably somewhere around 1870.  I love the decorative head set – I’m trying to figure out why the horse needs such a big net on his back.  With a head like that, the horse is clearly not going to win any shows, but carting around barrels of wine every day for his owner won him plenty of affection!



This photo is dated, with a description on the back.  It says, “The St. Car line from Ontario to San Anotonio Heights, ~ 6 miles.  This is the way we came back – the cart before the horse.  It took me 1 1/2 hours to go up to the heights, only 1/2 hour to return.  Ontario, Calif. May 18th, 1891.”  I checked how far it is from Ontario to San Antonio Heights – 6.5 miles.  Oh, the wonders of modern transportation.


I look at this photo, of two kids, and their pony, and I think about how kids and ponies go together about as well as anything that you can think of.  In the area where I practice, I think it’s too bad that there aren’t more opportunities for kids to just go out and play with their pony, unencumbered by adult supervision, competition, or expectation.  As has been attributed to Sir Winston Churchill, Will Rogers, and probably a few others, “There’s something about the outside of a horse that’s good for the inside of a man.”  And I wonder what happened to kids wanting to dress up nicely when they went out for a ride.


I look at this picture, of a proud papa, and his young child (can’t tell if it is a boy or a girl – they all seemed to wear skirts when they were young in those days), and I think of, well, me.  Somewhere, I have a picture of me and my older son, now 16, and driving, and it’s really not too different from this one, from a century or more earlier.  No, I don’t have a top hat, and, no, he didn’t wear a skirt.  If I can find the darn thing, I’ll post it.



Back to working horses – isn’t it nice that you don’t have to wait around for ice to be delivered?  From the late 19th century, when ice was cut from ponds and lakes, stored in ice houses and transported to cities., to the mid-20th century, when refrigerators became common, in cities and towns icemen would commonly make daily rounds delivering ice for iceboxes to keep food cold.  As the playwright Arthur Miller noted in his autobiography Timebends, “Icemen had leather vests and a wet piece of sackcloth slung over the right shoulder, and once they had slid the ice into the box, they invariably slipped the sacking off and stood there waiting, dripping, for their money.” In the United States, ice delivery still goes in in Amish communities, where electricity is not allowed.


How about this guy?  Proudly displaying his 5 horses, in front of the barn, he’s surely the groom for a wealthy owner.  You still see polo grooms exercising a bunch of horses in hand from the back of another horse, but I can’t imagine a dressage barn would ever go for such a thing!


And last, how’s this for a family pic?  I figure that Dad’s happy to be spoiling his little girl, and the boys are happy to not have to worry about the pony!  And how about those clothes?  Only the horse tack seems pretty much unchanged.  Some things, you just can’t really improve much.


Right now, on Kickstarter, I’ve got a project going because of my love of history and horses.  This one’s about translating an entire handwritten manuscript from Chinese into English.  It’s a one-of-a kind book of history, art, and medicine, rolled into one.  If you’ve got an interest in history, I hope that you’ll consider supporting it.  CLICK HERE to take a look.

It’s been said that while a dog man be a man’s best friend, the horse wrote history (I wrote a fun essay on the differences between horses and dogs – you can read it if you CLICK HERE).  And, one of the really fun projects that I’ve ever done was a chapter on the history of horses and humans in a book that was published on equine welfare a year or so ago.  But even though our relationship with horses has changed, maybe we can repay a little bit of the debt that we owe them by taking care of them now when we may not need them as much as we did in years gone by.  I’m lucky to be able to do that almost every day.

****************************************************************************************************************************************** That’s true for most of the world.  In some parts of the world, horses and people still live together, with horses serving as sources of food (both as meat, and for milk), as work animals, and as companions.  Or, for another perspective on the horse equids and people rely on each other, CLICK HERE to read a fascinating story about the extraordinary donkeys of Morocco, published in Smithsonian Magazine in 2009.


The veterinarian comes to visit, Morocco












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