Horse FAQ

Horse Power in the USE

The people of the USE will need horses for a long time. The US in the OTL did not see full tractor mechanization of farming until well into the 50's (the Depression and WWII contributed to the late date). The introduction of 19th century horse drawn farm machinery will spread. It is more efficient and not so far from what is already practiced. For many of the USE farmers the move up to motorized farming will not be pressing or economically practical for a long time. Electrifying the farms will be another matter and one not strictly related to powering farm equipment. My guess is that it will take at least 3 generations (60-90 years) to develop a mechanized farming infrastructure. Even at that there will be farmers continuing to use horse power over tractor power.

For stories touching on agriculture, transportation, and military matters in the USE the power will be overwhelmingly provided by horses (and mules). Grantville had to scramble to get enough draft horses to pull what horse drawn equipment they had that first harvest. They will still be scrapping together horses as they build new farm machinery. Grantville landed in an area picked over by both armies. There will be very few useful horses or mules or oxen available locally. What is available must come from outside the immediate area. Someone from Grantville will have to buy horses from areas not as destroyed. To that end I wondered just what horse breeds/types were around in 17th century Europe.

Here is a survey of horse breeds of Europe. I've included some modern (18th, 19th, & 20th century) breeds to cover the "But what about (fill in the breed here)?" questions. Also below are two short sections presented to give some background on draft horses.

Heavy Draft Horses

From the International Museum of the Horse on draft horses in America and why they bred them bigger in the 19th century. Note: This is Horse History Lite and refers to the USA.

By the early Medieval period (500 to 1,000 A.D.), a particular type of heavy horse known as the "Black Horse of Flanders" had settled in the European low country, in what is presently Belgium and Northern France. This would be the father of all modern draft horses.

The revolution in agricultural technology between 1820 and 1870, created a demand for a larger and stronger horse to power the new equipment. In 1862, Congress passed the Morril Land Grant Act which led to the establishment of state agricultural colleges. The first of the nation's veterinary colleges opened at Cornell University in 1868. As farmers became more educated, there was a corresponding improvement in the care, feeding and breeding of horses.

The new and improved farm equipment greatly increased the productivity of the American farmer. With the McCormick reaper, which both cut and tied grains into stocks, one man could do the work of thirty. New steel plows, double-width harrows and seed drills, mowers, binders, combines and thresher's decreased the need for manpower, but increased the demand for horsepower. Toward the end of the century, the typical Midwestern wheat farm had ten horses, which each worked an average of 600 hours per year. During harvest, it was not unusual to see giant combines pulled by teams of over forty draft horses.

The average American farm in 1790 was 100 acres. This figure more than doubled over the next 60 years. By 1910, 500 acre wheat farms were not uncommon. While oxen and light horses had been adequate for tilling the long-worked fields of Europe and the eastern United States, a stronger power source was needed to work the sticky, virgin soil of the American prairie. As a result, the first European Draft Horses were imported to America in the late 1830's. Farm labor became scarce due to westward migration and casualties from the Civil War. This created a greater demand for the new farm equipment and draft horses to power them. By 1900, there were over 27,000 purebred Belgians, Clydesdales, Percherons, Shires, and Suffolk Punches in the United States. Although the purebred draft stock was seldom used in the field, the infusion of their blood resulted in an increase of the average horse size to between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds by 1900.

Draft horse Load Capabilities

Dale Wagner posted the following article to the Draft Chat Board.

The most efficient size of a draft animal is 1600 pounds. It has been proven on the treadmill and respirator tests where they measured every calorie and the oxygen going in and the output of energy and waste.

The 1600 pound horse has the ability to exert 200 pounds of tractive force for 10 hours with the ability to give brief moments of 2400 pounds. A ton horse can do only 220 pounds for 10 hours but has the overload ability of 3000 pounds momentarily (this is why they are preferred for starting heavy loads as in breaking logs loose). The 1200 pound horse has the ability to exert 180 pounds of tractive force for 10 hours but has only 1800 pound maximum pull. Also, at this weight, he does not have enough weight to give him enough traction to transfer that power as easily.

With the use of multiple hitches, farmers were able to get the power they needed. And in these big hitches, you could find horses of all sizes. With a normal loading, the smaller ones would wear out the larger on flat or even ground. On a long hill, the biggest had it easier. Another point is that I can put the harness on six 15-16 hand horses in less time than two of those 18+.

Web sites for further reading

  • Alphabetical list of Horse Breeds Oklahoma State University Department of Animal Science - Good site with descriptions of breeds and pictures - some descriptions are spotty
  • International Museum of the Horse - breeds of Europe Provides good descriptions and photos
  • European Draft horses




    Czech Republic






    Great Britain, Scotland & Ireland