Saturday, 31 March 2012

Will we ever go back to real horse power?

"The cost of keeping a horse today is between £2,000 and £10,000 per year. Your average car costs £5,869 a year to run. Even with today's rising fuel costs, horses would be more expensive to use as transport than a car."

With current fuel prices rising and the resounding fear that our fuel resources will eventually run out, it begs the question - should we have been so eager to move from horse power to engine power? In today's fast paced life and overpopulated urban spaces, its hard to imagine ever going back to the thundering of hooves in our streets rather than the roar of engines.

A bit of Horse History
So why did we move from horse power to engines? Once upon a time a long, long time ago in the late 1800s, horses were the main mode of transport for people and for industry. The horse had carried us and pulled us and our freight for thousands of years, which was fine until populations grew, industry grew and so did the horse population. Sounds like heaven to us horse fans doesn't it? Well the picture was very different back then, instead of thinking 'National Velvet' galloping through the countryside on your way to work, think more 'Black Beauty' in the bad days when he was pulling a coal cart! Horse pollution had become a problem with the busy towns rapidly filling with horse manure and urine, flies and stench became a big problem. Author, Eric Morris stated "Wet weather turned the streets into swamps and rivers of muck,but dry weather brought little improvement; the manure turned to dust, which was then
whipped up by the wind, choking pedestrians and coating buildings." (1) The problem was growing at such a rate that The Times of London predicted that by 1950 every street would be buried nine feet deep in horse manure, not a pleasant thought even for the most avid horse fan! Horse carcasses were piling up (not a nice thought) and as if that wasn't bad enough, horse cruelty was also common with horses overworked, underfed and beaten regularly.

Feed costs for the horse population
These hard working urban horses needed feeding, which brought about another problem with horse transportation. They estimated that one horse would consume 1.4 tons of oats and 2.4 tons of hay per year! One farmer calculated that each horse consumed the product of five acres of land, enough to feed up to 8 people back in them days before McDonalds was invented!

So it paints a dismal picture of our world full of horses back then and thats without going into all the horse accidents, congestion and noise pollution. I think we get the picture, it was pretty grim.

Progress for horse and human
Things started to get a bit more organised and improvements were made for both horses and people. Animal protection organisations started to emerge to improve the lives of working horses. The street sweeping services improved, making streets more sanitary and safer. By the 20th century road rules had been invented which reduced the chaos and danger of the roads (depending on who's on them as always). Asphalt roads replaced cobbled streets and private motor vehicles eventually replaced the horse.

The cost of horse transport

It was calculated that it was cheaper to own and run a car than a horse drawn vehicle. By 1912 there were more cars than horses. Today there are about 31 million cars in the UK (2) in contrast to the 1.3 million horses, with 17 horses to every 1000 people. (3)

Cost of horse ownership today
The cost of keeping a horse today is between £2,000 and £10,000 per year(5). Your average car costs £5,869 a year to run (4). Even with today's rising fuel costs, horses like for like would be more expensive to use as transport than a car. However, if you already have horses to feed and exercise then using them as a means of transport could save you time and money. A family from Essex use their horses and carriage to run their kids to school and pick up groceries (Read Article)

Although it would be nice to use your own
leisure horses to plod to the shops to save on fuel, having horses as the primary means of transport isn't the pretty picture I had painted in my head for so many years. The harsh reality has smacked me in the face and made me feel quite glad that the horse is now mainly for leisure rather than work. And, as I am about to climb into my car to drive to see my expensive but priceless horse, I feel lucky to have a practical mode of transport to use and abuse without worry, leaving me the chance to love and care for my precious equine waiting patiently for my arrival.
Kelly Jackson - Co Founder
EquineCompare.co.uk - the equestrian comparison site
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Sources1 - From Horse Power to Horsepower, Eric Morris (http://www.uctc.net)
2 - UK Census 2011 (Green motor.co.uk)
3 - British Horse Society 2011
4 - RAC Motoring Index 2010
5 - Horsemart.co.uk

Images
Taken from the book 'From Horse Power to Horsepower by Eric Morris
(http://www.uctc.net)

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