"Wherever men have lived there is a story to be told." Henry David Thoreau

Sunday, March 9, 2014

The Stable’s Place in History

Before the automobile displaced horses for anything but pleasure, people depended on these noble creatures for both work and transportation. Their lives, and their livelihoods literally depended on the horse, so a wise man, or woman, took extremely good care of these precious animals. Horses that were used daily were kept in barns, or stables so they could be well fed and groomed daily. These structures could be simple or very elaborate, depending on the wealth of the owner. The main criteria was that they were functional, well ventilated, and afforded protection from the elements.

Buildings materials could be everything from rough lumber to buildings made of brick and mortar and decorated with paneled ceilings and fancy lamps. Most owners agreed that the best floors were clay or lumber. Concrete or asphalt was not chosen because it was too hard on the horses’ legs and feet. Straw or sawdust was used on the floors to absorb the urine and manure, then easily shoveled or forked out daily into wheelbarrows to be hauled away.

A lot of work went into taking care of the horses, so oftentimes men were hired specifically for the job. Sometimes a crew was needed to do the feeding and watering, grooming, as well as to keep the stables cleaned out daily. Harnesses had to be cleaned, oiled, repaired, and organized. Sometimes each horse’s harness was placed on hooks next to the horse’s stall; other owners preferred to keep the tack in a separate room. Saddles almost always went into a separate room and were placed on saddle racks. Equipment such as shovels, pails, brooms, pitchforks, clippers, hoof picks, soap, brushes and currycombs had to be kept clean and organized.

Stalls were built according to the size of the horse. They were designed to fit either big draft horses or the lighter weight saddle horses. Each stall had a manger at its head for oats and hay. Individual stalls could have gates, if they were larger and the owner chose to turn their horse loose inside, but if there were many horses, the stalls were narrow, not gated, and the horses’ were tied inside the stall near the manger.

Well-bred, well-kept horses and stables were not only a source of pride, and a symbol of affluence, but they were also a reflection of the man himself. For if a man mistreated his horses, he not only lost a good animal to serve him, but he lost respect among his peers as well.