The desire was to secure a quick-moving, pleasure-giving, saddle- and road-horse. In New England, the Morgan horse came to supply a long-felt want of bright farm boys. But the fitness of the horse of that period for agricultural work was not entirely lost sight of. The boys were looking for a horse that could out-trot, out-run, out-jump any other horse, and could pull anything that had one end loose. The Morgan horse came nearer to fulfilling these requirements than any other horse of that period. In most sections of the country there were few well-bred, prepotent horses, like the Morgans, for improving the nondescript farm-horse. It is only within the last part of the nineteenth century that an intelligent grasp of the fundamental principles of breeding has been secured by a few; and a fairly clear comprehension of the reproduction and improvement of domestic animals has not yet been secured by the great majority of breeders, although many farmers are breeders of horses. The lack of adequate knowledge of the principles which should govern in the breeding and rearing of horses is apparent in the multitude of unsymmetrical, inefficient horses seen alike in country and city. Had not progressive, far-seeing horsemen imported numbers of the best animals of Europe, the horses of America would be more inferior than they are - perhaps as poor as are those of China.
It is only in the last decade that the farm-boy has had any opportunity for securing instruction in the science of breeding good horses. As yet, but few have availed themselves of even the meager provisions which are offered. The wonder is that the horses are as good as they are. The native ability of the American boy, the abundance of suitable food and a propitious climate have done much to arrest deterioration of the horse when in the hands of careless owners.
In some localities, the combined influences of food, climate and skill of the breeder, have improved the horses, without the aid of a liberal admixture of imported animals of acknowledged superior qualities. Under the best conditions, many superior horses have been bred from animals of mixed blood, - that is, from those whose ancestry may be traced to several breeds or to no breed. While this careless mating of animals of quite different characteristics is not to be recommended, yet it must be said that many fine horses have been produced by this effort to breed a general-purpose horse. In older countries, the various breeds of horses are soon adjusted to the localities and conditions best suited to their specialized qualities. In a new country, like America, too often the heavy horse is found in the rough dairy districts and the light one on the tenacious, heavy-clay grain farms. In time, horses will be bred not only for special purposes but to suit the climate, soil and local conditions. True, no hard-and-fast lines can be drawn, but the time will come when the light roadster will find no place on the heavy grain lands, nor will the draft animals be used for carriage and road work.
During the last twenty-five years, the increasing heavy traffic of our numerous cities and villages has demanded more and heavier horses than were formerly required. This demand has been met by the importation and breeding of large numbers of Clydesdales and Percherons and a few others of less-known draft-breeds from Europe and Canada. The growing commercial cities of the West, especially Chicago, have also furnished a good and increasing demand for heavy horses, until within the last few years. The breeders of Illinois responded quickly, and for a time this single commonwealth contained nearly one-tenth of all of the horses of the United States. Notwithstanding the large numbers bred and imported, prices for good horses remained steady and remunerative for a long time. Recently, the great production of horses on the prairies and the introduction of electricity and steam-power, both being utilized for the transportation of goods and passengers, have resulted in checking the demand and in lowering prices. In extreme cases, horses were sold at ruinous prices or slaughtered from humanitarian reasons. In some cases the slaughtered animals were packed and marketed for food.
At the present time, the demand has overtaken the supply, and good horses, bred for special purposes, again bring remunerative prices. In the future, not so many horses per thousand inhabitants will be required as formerly, but there will always be a large place in America for the horse. Nothing can drive him from the streets of the city or the fields of the rural districts. But, from this on, purchasers will be more critical than formerly, and hence a better class of horses and those of specialized characteristics will be demanded.
Something of the history of the horse and the conditions in America which have tended to produce large numbers of varied characteristics have been discussed. It is ascertained that no native horses were found on the continent and that a large number of horses of varied qualities have been imported; that these have been bred, in many cases, with little care and judgment. As might have been predicted, our horses at the present time have many characteristics. Few of them are homogeneous, - that is, little care has been taken until recently to breed for special purposes and for uniform characteristics; hence, most of the horses are not likely to produce uniform offspring when bred together. However, when coupled with pure-bred and full-blood horses more uniform characteristics are likely to appear. There are some compensations for this unstable blood, for it can be easily molded and directed into well-defined lines by the admixture of well-bred horses of prepotent qualities. Happily, we already have large numbers of most excellent thoroughbred and full-blood sires. From these, selections can easily be made. It will not be necessary to import large numbers of foreign horses, to secure those worthy of a place at the head of the breeding establishments.
In selecting a stallion, the beginner should be careful and not be led astray by a fragmentary pedigree with one or two high-sounding names, five or six generations removed. Sometimes the name of a noted horse, as Flying Childers, appears at the end of a pedigree. The blood of a noted horse is supposed to impart great value to the animal whose pedigree in the fourth or fifth generation goes back to one or two more or less noted ancestors. If the distinguished blood has not been fortified by some inbreeding, by the tenth generation the offspring would contain but one part of the distinguished blood to 1,023 parts of blood from other sources. Surely, but few valuable qualities of a single remote distinguished ancestor would be likely to appear in the offspring. It is not wise to lay too much stress on the value of the blood of remote ancestors, which has been diluted many times. The improvement of the horse, where he has been improved, has been due largely to three principal causes: improved food, better environment and more rational use and training, and the infusion of new and better blood.
A man who wished to stint his mare was asked if he wanted to inspect the stallion. "No," he said, "I have inspected his colts." So the beginner should inspect the get of a horse, if possible, before he patronizes him.