EQ Life Masthead - 2019
live TV (up)
EQ Life virtual competition
CMH.TV advert (V2)
EQ Life Magazine
12 month subscription
A history of equine transportation

It is believed that the transportation of horses from one place to another dates back some three thousand years. The earliest recorded reference to equine transportation was the discovery of a ‘seal’ depicting a stylised horse on a boat, dating from about 1500 bc. The beginnings of moving horses long distances originated from the need to participate in military conflicts as recorded by Herodotus and Thucydides as part of the Persian expeditions against Greece during the 5th Century.

The Bayeux Tapestry, produced in England during the later part of the eleventh century reveals a vivid account of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066. A section of the tapestry depicts the night of September 26, when 750 vessels left the Norman coast, transporting some 3,000 horses across the English Channel. A monumental feat, the Norman cavalry was an essential part of William’s military might. This led to the Battle of Hastings and the defeat of the English.

Issue 15_p84_transport1

During the 16th Century the Spanish Conquistadors transported horses to the New World by boat. These unfortunate horses were suspended in slings, cross tied and hobbled. They were kept below decks in badly ventilated conditions which took the lives of many during the long crossings.

Horse transportation changed very little from the 16th to 19th centuries. British horses sent to the Crimean War (1853–1856) endured similar conditions to those of the Spanish horses two hundred years earlier. Close confinement, airless holds and extremely crude disembarkation methods (horses were tossed overboard) injured and killed many of them.

There are no records of horses being transported across land before the 18th Century. Surface transportation had little of the discomfort associated with sea travel. Whilst travelling only a few miles an hour, these horse-drawn vehicles had better ventilation and frequent stops could be made for watering, feeding and exercise. It is said that Queen Anne (1665–1714), the founder of the famous Ascot Racecourse, had one of her racehorses carried to a track in a large horse-drawn conveyance which carried the horse in a sling.

Issue 15_p84_transport2

The vanning of horses soon gained popularity and became quite a common practice with wealthy racehorse owners and trainers as the animal was spared the wear and tear of self propulsion.

With the introduction of the railway, some horse owners saw the railway as the fastest and most efficient way of transporting horses. It enabled racehorses, in some instances, to leave home the morning of the race and arrive rested and ready to run, but others felt that their highly strung thoroughbreds suffered travelling by rail, and after long train journeys arrived having lost condition and weight.

J. Wortley Axe, one time president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons, wrote a scathing indictment of existing conditions on railways. Speaking of the common three compartment railway horsebox, Axe wrote (1905) ‘every portion of it appears to have been designed with the special object of making the most alarming noises calculated to frighten the inmates. The same description applies with even greater force to the doors, which open upon the platform. It is too heavy for a man to let down steadily, and the traditions of the railway would be altogether violated if it were not allowed to fall with great violence upon the siding. Everything about a horse box comes undone with a jerk and closes with a bang. Some horses absolutely refuse to enter a box of the kind, and much might be done to render them less fearsome to those unaccustomed to travel.’ He went on to point out the need for improved methods for tethering horses in boxcars, and for allowing a horse enough room to maintain its balance while in transit. He observed that as long as no scientific study was made of equine safety during rail transit ‘we may expect accidents to continue.’

With the motor car came a new era in equine transport. Horse boxes fitted to internal combustion motor car chassis began mass production in 1912 by Vincent Horse Boxes of Reading in England. Vincents of Reading were founded in 1805. Producing their first car body in 1899 and the first for a Rolls-Royce in 1906, by the 1920s they claimed to have the largest and most up-to-date body works in the British Isles. The company’s main claim to fame was the production of horse boxes. The Vincent Horse Box, a three ton horse box, was used by the British Army in 1914 to transport horses to war.

Issue 15_p84_transport3

Transportation by road became hugely popular as car motors were developed and became more powerful during the late 1950s and 1960s. Cars towing light-weight trailers began to be used for short journeys.

Today floats and trucks offer a myriad of alternatives: angle or straight load, goosenecks, non-skid rubber flooring, central dividers, removable breast bars, electric brakes, with the safety and comfort of the horse being of top priority, a far cry from the early days of getting horses from one place to another.

Issue 15_p84_transport4

Back to top. Printable View.