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Jobs with horses

John Jenkins

Thomas Martin

Links

The slower road - An American blog about carriages and carriage driving.  Everything you wanted to know past and present.

Victorian London - This encyclopedic site has several contemporary accounts and information about the horse related professions - just follow the prompts in the index.

By ‘jobs with horses’ I mean the men who worked with horses - coachmen, ostlers, grooms, stable hands, cattle drivers and ploughmen - the men who got them ready for the work they were to do, and then helped them to do it.  Blacksmiths, saddlers, coach builders and the like will be dealt with separately as they crop up.


The motor-car and other motorised vehicles, have, of course, largely made the horse redundant in a working sense - at least in an urban environment.  In rural areas they still have their place, although even there their role in rounding up herds of cattle and sheep has sometimes been replaced with motorised bikes of one kind or another.  And for certain specialised jobs, such as crowd control by the police, they are still used.  And yet the horse endures.  ‘The sport of kings’ - horse racing flourishes (I write this just after the massive celebration that is Melbourne Cup Week has just finished), polo continues to be played by the rich and young girls still ride ponies.  Pony trekking of various kinds is a popular holiday past-time and various equestrian events play a major role in the Olympics and other international games.  Man’s love affair with the horse continues - although nowadays most usually in the field of leisure.


So when did this love affair begin?  Well apparently the domestication of the horse began around 4000BC, most likely in central Asia and was widespread by 3500BC.  The Indian rock painting at right shows a man riding a horse.  No doubt originally they were ridden bareback and then, it is thought, some form of secured blanket was introduced and this evolved into the various forms of saddle that exist and have existed here and around the world.  As soon as the horse was used in other ways - for pulling and driving vehicles and machines harnesses would have been developed.  As the beautiful painting above shows, the modern paraphernalia that can be used for horses is complex and has led to other professions such as harness making, saddlers, coach building.


So the horse has been used for leisure, just to go for a ride, or in some kind of sport, as a method of transport - either on its own or as an ‘engine’ for a vehicle, to drive machines such as water wheels and millstones, in agriculture for ploughing and pulling various carts and also for rounding up cattle, and, of course, they have also been used in war - right up until the first world war.  Think Ghengis Khan and his mongol hordes who swept across the Asian steppes to the centre of Europe on horseback.  Their role in history, therefore has been immense.


With respect to family history we probably all have somebody who worked with horses, either in an agricultural way or as a coachman, ostler or groom.  In the nineteenth century, which, is probably the main focus of we family historians, in spite of the arrival of rail transport, most people still would have had occasion to use some form of horse driven transport.  Even ‘buses’ were pulled by teams of horses, which I find extraordinary.  And deliveries of goods and services were most often delivered by some form of horse-drawn vehicle.  Even in my childhood (in the late 40s and 50s) the milk came on a horse-drawn cart as did the man who sharpened knives and the rag and bone man too.


As well as the public transport of stagecoaches, hansom cabs and omnibuses, richer individuals kept their own stable of horses and vehicles.  It may have been just one horse and one vehicle, but this would also have necessitated at least one man to look after said horse and vehicle, and drive it too.  These people would most likely have begun their working lives as children - the stable boy slept with the horses and did all the menial cleaning and feeding tasks.  I have never been involved with horses myself, but I imagine that they are very high maintenance.  They seem to require a lot of grooming and cleaning, not to mention the saddling and harnessing and general cleaning of the area in which they lived.  It would have been a full-time job for one person.  And so a large household with several vehicles and several horses (some of them used for leisure riding), would also have had a large staff to look after them.  Depending on the size of the establishment they might also have worked at other outside tasks such as gardening.


Then there were the carters and carriers and coachmen - those who worked for themselves or for a company, delivering goods, services and people.  Coaches that made long journeys would have to stop and change horses every now and then, and so there was a whole other army of people who worked with horses in these staging posts, caring for the horses, harnessing them to the coaches, and generally looking after them between jobs.


I confess I have not found a lot of websites so far that would be all that useful to family historians.  So I will just finish with a few paintings and photographs of the working life of horses and their companions.