There is every reason to suppose that the horse was very early in the world's history compelled to carry man, but when the latter first devised means for the conveyance of horses is not known.
Potentates both great and little were from the earliest times the recipients of presents in the shape of horses from distant lands, and sea carriage appears to have long preceded the horse-box upon wheels.
Ships capable of conveying Hannibal's elephants from Carthage to the Spanish peninsula may well have carried horses, but they do not receive any mention in connection with that great general's disposition of the sea forces which landed upon Mediterranean shores, to dispute with Rome for the mastery of the world.
The great passenger ships by which private individuals usually convey favourite horses offer no special accommodation; there are no stalls or permanent fittings on the Peninsular and Oriental Company's steamers, for instance, although they frequently carry horses of great value, both east and west. The site usually assigned to horses is in the ship's waist, where the greatest amount of protection from the weather is ensured. Here they are enclosed in a narrow wooden box some 7 feet by 2 feet 3 inches, the sides of which are 6 feet high. At one end is a door whence the manure can be removed, and outside the other end a small manger fits into iron slots. Beyond a little trap-door on a level with the floor there is no provision made for drainage. The urine escapes from the box as best it may, finding its way from the deck to the scuppers, and out through the holes provided on all vessels for the escape of water. The horse is not led aboard as in the regular cattle ships, but is boxed on the quay, and then, by means of slings attached to semicircular iron bars placed equidistant above him and from the ends of his prison, he is raised by the steam crane or derrick, and lifted aboard as deftly as might be a lady's bandbox. In this position he has sometimes to remain the whole of the voyage. In cold and foul weather a tarpaulin is thrown over the box as it stands on the open deck. Horses bound for the East suffer more from the heat in the Red Sea than from the inclement weather so often experienced in the Channel and the Bay of Biscay. It is therefore necessary, in exporting horses to India and other hot climates, to make special arrangements with regard to clothing. In this journey a change from warm to light cool rugs will be required on reaching Port Said, and if practicable the horses should be removed to the cool and sheltered side of the ship, which in this case will be the port bow. When weather permits advantage should be taken of every available opportunity to give exercise on deck, so that any undue filling of the legs may be obviated, and relief afforded from the cramp and fatigue of long standing. It will be well, too, to bear in mind that much relief from the discomfort arising out of these causes may be afforded by the repeated application of friction to the surface of the body and vigorous hand-rubbing of the legs. Except when the animal is at exercise bandages should be worn and applied with a fair amount of tightness, so as to support the joints and sinews and prevent swelling.
The vessels which bring so many horses from America carry them between decks. A number of stalls about the same width as the box previously described are arranged on both sides of the ship, the animals facing inwards. They are not slung, but the length of the stall is not sufficient to include the head and neck, which protrudes over the gangway, and it is therefore impossible for an animal to get down. Each animal is fastened with the usual halter or head-stall, which is long enough to permit him to feed from the level of the deck or floor of the gangway, where the nutritious alfalfa hay is strewn.
The stout planking that runs breast-high in front of the stalls is screwed up with bolts, and, in case of a sick animal having to be removed, it must needs be cut away for a space. The planks which divide the stalls are made to drop into iron receptacles, and have only to be lifted out when the horses arrive at their destination. To prevent slipping there are bars across the floor of the stalls, but no bedding is provided, as being unnecessary and likely to hinder drainage. A gutter is provided in those vessels specially constructed for the transatlantic horse trade, and that it effectually carries away the urine may be presumed from the comparatively pure air and freedom from ammonia which prevails on these ships on arrival with a cargo of live stock.
The arrangements for disembarkation leave a good deal to be desired, the movable gangways being too long, and most of the animals strike their polls and at first refuse to mount the ladder. Another shoot or portable gangway over the ship's side enables them to reach terra firma, which they do with evident satisfaction, for though they are often cramped, and occasionally the victims of fever in the feet, one cannot have associated with horses on a voyage without observing the pleasure they display on once more getting ashore.