Horses, Buggies, Wagons and Will Rees

Well, we have had a wide-ranging journey through the domestication of horses and the invention of wagons and buggies.

This is one of the things I find so incredible: horses (as well as donkeys, asses and other equines) were not only the main form of transportation for almost 9000 years, they were, except for shanks mare – i.e. walking –the only form. By the time of Will Rees in the late eighteenth century, wagons and buggies were polished and elegant inventions.

Okay, I can just hear someone saying ‘But what about shocks?’ Right, they didn’t have shocks. But the front wheels were slightly smaller than the rear and they were cupped to make for smooth turning. The axle, as mentioned before, is equipped with other pieces to make the operation both smooth and efficient.

And horses have been domesticated for literally millennia.

What does this mean? Well, as with dogs and the other livestock, (cattle, pigs, sheep) they are used to human companionship. Training a horse is a lot easier (I would say it requires) human contact from a very early age. Horses not only have to accept human companionship but also direction. They have to be trained to a bit and reins. If intended for a saddle horse, the animal has to accept a saddle and the weight of a rider as something normal. Horses destined to pull vehicles have to learn, besides the feel of the bit and reins, to accept the weight and the clatter of something following (Remember, horses are prey so they instinctually run).

In Rees’s time, most of the horses were trained as working horses, pulling wagons and buggies. Saddle horses were expensive and, as had been the case for several centuries, were pretty much owned and used only by the wealthy. A horse trained to pull a wagon could not serve also as a saddle horse unless it had been trained as one also. Horses were divided into the aristocrats and the cobs. The working and middle classes ( and I think of Rees as middle class since he owns property and has a craft) did not have the wherewithal to own saddle horses. They needed workers that pulled vehicles.

Of course things are different now.

For a time horses continued to be used simultaneously with the car. But gradually the engine took over. Although the Amish continue to use horses as they have been for thousands of years, for most of us, the horse has become a luxury animal. And it happened in less than one hundred years.

But not completely. One of my readers referred me to an organization that strives to keep the skills of using horses and oxen alive. Since the use of these animals are more sustainable in Africa than tractors, farmers there are assisted in their use. Thanks Kim for that information! I love it.


Horses, buggies and wagons, Part I

Think about this fact for a moment: humans have used horses and wagons for millennia. Yet, in the space of 100 years, less, actually, the use of horses had ended.
Most of us no longer have a connection to these beautiful animals or the really elegant inventions that shaped the wagons and buggies that were used for most of human civilization. True, the advances made for the creation of the humble axle did set up the use of axles in cars. How many of us think about this tool which was really the product of many years of trial and error investigation?

First came the wheel?
Not exactly. Remnants of sledges using rollers, not wheels, have been discovered n eastern Europe. There is a lot of discussion about the dating of these rollers and some estimates put it back to about 4000 B. C. (To my amazement, when I began researching wagons and horses, I discovered that Eastern Europe and the steppes were actually the home of many inventions that today we take entirely for granted. Axle is actually an evolved word (aks) from some Proto Indo-European tongue that spawned of the languages from Greek to German, Iranian to Celtic that we are familiar with today. Honey bees. Pigs. Sheep who were domesticated first for meat – they were short fibers so the wool was unspinnable. No one is sure whether it was a mutation or human intervention that created sheep with the wool we use today. )
But I digress.
Sledges had to be pulled by teams of oxen and were very heavy. Also, and this is where the axle comes in, they didn’t move smoothly. Drag is very important in the movement of objects since it pulls back. Think of trying to move something through heavy mud. Later wheeled wagons and of course our current cars don’t have drag – not from the wheels nor to this degree – because the wheels and axle and all the other pieces are constructed in such a way that the vehicle moves as though it is much lighter, without the clutch of another force holding it back. From mud to a smooth asphalt road, for example.
Are we to wheels yet?