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Today, many have a romantic view of horses. While that may be admirable, would it have been the same in the old days? At the American Cowboy web site, we discussed the "no slaughter" law, and are now discussing the control of the wild horse herds. Many believe we should return to the "good old days" and let horse herds grow as large as possible, even to the point of kicking ranchers off public lands so the horses would have more range. Is that fesible? Is it even desirible?


Now, I guess to my point:


What do you think the attitude of the general public in the Old West was toward horses? We all remember the old movies where the hero always had his trusty steed near to hand. Does anyone think that was factual or even close to factual?


In my own opinion, (some based on my grandmother's words) I think the average person back then was very happy with the advent of the automobile. Before then, I think the horse was probably most often looked at as a "tool." It was a means of transportation and work. Sure, the cowboy had the most need for the horse, but most of the time back then, the average cowboy did not own his own horse, but rode the outfit's animals.


As for the towns people, I believe they most likely did not own a horse either. There was always a convient livery stable where a person could rent a riding horse or a horse & buggy if the need for such arose.


In all of my reading of Old West history, I have very seldom came across any reference to a "favorite" horse of any cowboy, outlaw, law dawg, soldier, or any other person. (with the exception of Bobby Lee and Stonewall Jackson).


So, in my opinion, I think the "love affair" we have today with the horse is more based on fiction and wishful thinking than on actual historical fact. I do not condemm that attitude, I just don't believe it was prevalent among those who lived in the old days. with the exception of the cowboy and the horse racer, I think the majority of the folks were happy to see the automobile and say good bye to the horse.

What'ca all think?

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Frank & Jesse James definitely had their favorite horses. You may want to check the book A Kingdom for a Horse by William Preston Mangum II.

As for letting horse herds run wild and grow free, I'm all for it. It's the human herds that need to be pent up and thinned.
I agree with you on the horse herds...Really ticks me off what the BLM is doing to them.....
Unfortunately, horses are destructive grazers, like sheep. What is now semi-desert in Terrell County, Texas, in the 1870s & 1880s was actually a lush grassland. When ranchers moved in & began to raise horses for the US Cavalry, they overgrazed the land with horses.

You can overgraze pasture with cattle & it will come back. Cattle have no front teeth in the upper jaw. When grazing, cattle swing the head up & forward, breaking off the fodder against the front teeth in the lower jaw. This leaves, depending on the type of vegetation, anywhere from an inch to several inches of vegetation above the ground, plus the root system is undisturbed.

Horses--& sheep--have front teeth in both the upper & lower jaws. Both animals, when grazing, bite very close to the ground, then jerk the head back toward the front feet. This leaves almost none of the vegetation above ground & in many cases uproots the vegetation, meaning it won't grow back. That's what happened in Terrell County & over much of the West. Raising horses for the Cavalry was a very lucrative undertaking into the late 1930s. The novels GREEN GRASS OF WYOMING, MY FRIEND FLICA, & THUNDERHEAD are about an early-20th-century operation in Wyoming that raised horses for the Cavalry.

Most cowboys had a 'string' of cowponies they used in work, but many kept a 'Sunday horse,' a rather showy animal used to go to dances, church socials--especially box suppers, where the men bid on a box packed by a single lady without knowing which single lady packed which box (it was a very popular way to meet decent girls)--or 'play parties' where there was no dancing. Many religious groups frowned on dancing (a lot still do) so they organized 'play parties' with parlor games for their young people. Other young people, not necessarily church members, would attend. A cowboy would wear his 'Sunday best'--usually a pair of non-work trousers, a 'boiled shirt,' sometimes with a collar, sometimes without one, his best vest, clean & black his boots, & brush his hat to go to one. He'd ride his 'Sunday horse,' but it was never used as a cowpony.

Incidentally, the automobile was seen as the solution to pollution--no more road apples or cow patties from oxen in the streets.
A horse was a tool... and still is in some parts. There's an old adage about 'naming a horse'. "Never name somethin' you might have to eat." 'Course we all do... but usually the horse dunno the difference between 'Horse', 'Standstill dammit' 'n 'Whoa ya lop-eared dink!' A horse got you from point A to point B on ground you'd rather not walk. (Still do) They have their moments... they spook at goofy stuff... they might try to lay down... and they'll balk at the dumbest things; depending upon how old they are (usually). I ride here in the desert where there are no trails... or follow arroyos. The wide ones w/'walls' make the horses goofy... especially if they can't see a bend in the wash 'n it looks like a dead end 'box'. Two hours in hot weather... 100F+ type makes 'em cranky. 'Makes the rider cranky. Movies always show horses at the gallop... but that ain't how it's done... unless you want'a end up walkin'. Maybe you can do that on grasslands... but here where the west is still 'wild', the ground's the same as it always was. 'Lotta neck reining... 'cause it's not all straight line open country. It ain't flat either. Everything has thorns... count on it. As for the wild horse herds... it's public land. Yeah, I know the ranchers consider it 'theirs'... but it's not. Some ranchers would shoot any and everything they consider a threat to their herd wether it was or not.

Some valid points.

When I was riding for a place in Skull Valley, AZ, (2006)(actually I was more of a caretaker) I would often just head out and let the horse (or mule) have their head, just to see where we may end up. The mule usually made a circle and brought me right back to the ranch. The horse would just amble along, mostly with no direction. But it was fun.
I can only say that my Father was very emphatic that a rider should always consider his horse before himself - after a ride, first to drink, first fed, a rub-down with a cool blanket if overheated, & see he is well stabled before the rider considers his own accommodation. Saddle & other equipment comfortable for the horse to wear. He said that those who abused their horses were much looked down upon & a man's character was often judged by the way he treated his horse. A large measure of practical self-interest of course, but much of this was over & above that. The horse was also a companion who could be talked to along the trail, and some claimed they understood every word! None of this is from film or literature. Cavalrymen also had to treat their mounts well, and many young men could weep to see horses killed & maimed in action. That is documented.

After all that though, no wonder some preferred cars!
I've owned a 2 different teams of Draft Horses....
Their needs were always met before my own.

You always take care of the animals first.  I don't have horses any more, but my dogs are always fed before I sit down to eat.


One of the reasons the Desert Big Horn sheep is in decline is the wild horse herds on BLM land where there are also Desert Big Horns.  Those wild sheep--which are native to North America, which horses are not--are born, live, & die within perhaps a 1-mile radius of a specific water hole.  A horse herd comes in, eats up all the forage, then moves on.  The Desert Big Horns starve to death because they have no food around the only source of water they know.


Catching wild horses & selling them to  ranchers, either the mares as brood stock--mustangs have a lot of bottom and make excellent brood mares when bred to a good stud--or the stallions to be gelded & tamed for saddle animals, is a good idea, though BLM insists that all the wild horses people 'adopt' be neutered.  Of course you want to geld a mustang stud, but those mares are a valuable resource for breeders who are looking to sell working horses. 


At least they're not selling them to the French any more.  For a number of years Frenchmen would come to the BLM sales and buy all the horses they could get.  Some of those horses would have made good work horse if properly tamed & saddle-broke.  Instead, the French shipped them to France, where they were slaughtered.  The French consider horse meat a delicacy.


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