The American inherits from his European, and especially his English ancestor, a sincere love for the horse. This love has amounted to adoration in some cases. The family horse, if he outlived his master, inherited under the will a sufficient amount for luxurious support during life and a costly interment and monument at death, the same as the children. Although oxen were used by the pioneers for the most laborious work, fine horses were imported and bred in considerable numbers in the United States before 1776. Maryland, Virginia and South Carolina had established racecourses prior to that time. As the forests disappeared before the woodman's axe and the stumps slowly decayed, horses were gradually substituted for oxen as "work stock." As soon as settlements were made in the interior of the New England and middle states away from the natural water-courses, vast amounts of goods had to be "wagoned" from towns along the water-courses to the inland settlements. The rapid settlement of the middle states created a large demand (1) for stout, serviceable horses, and this demand stimulated the importation of well-bred horses and the breeding of what has been erroneously called in modern days "a general-purpose horse."
The work-horses of America fall naturally into four general groups, each group overlapping the other. Although there are many subgroups, all of these are only connecting links between the four great groups and fall naturally into one, or sometimes, into two of them.
(1) Heavy draft-horses, designed and adapted for moving heavy loads in cities and forests and at mines.
(2) Medium draft, usually a mixture of the blood of the smaller individuals of the heavy draft and that of the larger animals of the third group; sometimes the blood of the light draft predominates; sometimes that of the lighter and quicker horse which traces back in some lines to oriental or "warm-blooded" ancestors. In many cases, the sires are largely of oriental descent and the dams of mixed draft type or of unknown blood. This group is quite variable, as might be expected from the indiscrimiaate mixing of the warm- (oriental) and cold- (draft) blooded breeds. Perhaps nine-tenths of the farm-horses of America belong to this nondescript class. It furnishes nearly all of the cavalry- and artillery-horses for the army. Since the best specimens of this group, produced by individual enterprise, furnish ample material from which to select, no attempt has been made by the United States government, as in Europe, to encourage the breeding of horses suited to these purposes. Horses of this group are also found in considerable numbers in the city. They are used at light draft, delivery and street-car work, and at any other light work where a cheap horse, having more speed than the draft-horse and more weight than the roadster, can be used to advantage.
(3) The third group is designed for drawing light loads at a rapid pace. In America the term "roadster" has come to be applied in a generic way to all of this class, although some members of it are used exclusively in competitive speed contests.
(4) The fourth class comprises several breeds and mixed - blood varieties of small horses known as "ponies." Some trace their ancestry to the north of Great Britain; others, first to southern and western United States and thence back to Spain.
The American, having all of these varied classes, groups and subgroups from which to select, and having opportunity to put the horse to many uses, both profitable and pleasurable; living in a country of magnificent distances, traveling over roads that were once bridle-paths and that are yet far from good; having easy and constant communication with Great Britain, and therefore many improved varieties of horses to draw upon for foundation stock, has an inevitable and an inherited love for the horse. It is no wonder, then, that the American boy has always felt that he was robbed of his inalienable rights unless he owned a colt which was under his personal care and tutelage and which was "truly" his when it had grown to be a horse.
Hay and grain have always been so abundant in America that every farmer could afford to keep at least one horse, however small his holding. The business of all except the older great cities is still largely carried on by men who were reared on the farm and who love the horse. This fact, coupled with cheap maintenance and abundant traffic, has filled the cities as well as the country districts with horses. Unfortunately, until the twelfth Census was taken, we have had no means of knowing the exact number.
When the pioneers reached the vast open grass-covered plains of the west and southwest, they might have expressed their surprise and wonder in the words of Byron:
"A thousand horse, the wild, the free, Like waves that follow o'er the sea. A thousand horse, and none to ride;
O! where are they the reins to guide?"
They did not stop to quote "Mazeppa," however, but proceeded to catch and tame the horse and to furnish him with a rider, who learned to keep a firm seat even though the horse frequently stood alternately on one end and then on the other. Thus American boys and men have become expert horsemen by reason of unique conditions not found in countries long settled. The word "expert" is not full and comprehensive enough, for they love to own, rear, educate and drive the horse. The American is usually a kind, good caretaker, supplying the wants of his horse before his own are satisfied. Like the Arab, of all his possessions, he is proudest of his colt; and so the large number of good horses in our new, and, as yet, only partly developed country can be easily accounted for.
It is not strange, therefore, that the people of the United States, both urban and suburban, have always taken an intelligent interest in the horse. They have not only taken pains to improve the animals of mixed blood by selection and by improving their food and environment, but, even as early as the colonial period, horses of superior qualities, horses of oriental lineage and of great beauty, were imported at large cost. After the Revolution, as soon as the country began to recover from its long struggle for independence, the importation of horses was resumed.