The people of Grantville have been plunged into a world where horsepower literally means horse power.
In the 17th century muscle, water, and air provided power. Water wheels provide power for mills but their use is limited by location. Water is also subject to seasonal variations. Air-driven power always comes to mind with the Dutch windmills; but, again, air-powered windmills are limited by location and subject to variations. The ability of boats to move down rivers with the currents and back upstream with wind power again depends upon variations in the water and wind.
For dependable and portable power, that leaves muscles. The muscles involved might be human, canine, bovine, or equine. Horses, mules, and oxen provided the heavy muscle power.
The major categories that horses are used for are:
”¢ Draft—pulling carts, wagons, plows, harrows, canal barges, and such;
”¢ War—cavalry, officers' mounts, pulling artillery;
”¢ Power—hitched to sweeps to provide rotary power for machinery;
”¢ Food—do I have to explain this one?
Each category has different physical and mental requirements. A horse that is well suited to be a cavalry mount would not be suited to pull a wagon or plow. Each job requires a different combination of body type and personality. Also, each of these broad categories can be broken down into more specific uses, all with their own body type requirements. Within each category there will be a wide range of horses from the few, very good, very expensive, to the many solid, medium priced, to the poor quality, very cheap.
Draft horses may be light, medium, or heavy. Light draft would be pulling two wheeled carts to haul produce or people from the farm or around the city. Small placid horses and ponies are suited to these jobs. A new wrinkle, starting in the 16th century and continuing in our timeline (OTL) until well into the 20th, is the development of fancy carriage horses. These fancy carriage horses fall between the light and medium draft categories. Medium draft horses would be used in teams of two to eight to pull plows, harrows, and wagons on the farms. Heavy draft horses, also used in teams, are needed to pull the mechanized farm equipment Grantville will be building.
Light and medium draft horses abound; heavy draft horses do not. A major change, one that is just starting in the 17th century, is the development of the heavy draft horse. As road systems get better between towns the larger draft breeds also begin to show up. They are the heavy trucks of the day. Oxen are still the animals of choice for plowing because the plows are so big, heavy, and awkward and horses are expensive. Slowly, in OTL, several heavy horse breeds developed and others were remodeled from medium to heavy draft. The early introduction of mechanized farm equipment will speed the demand for these heavy horses and in this area, the Grantviller with the Belgians may have something to offer his down-time farmer friends.
Horses used for transportation can be generally assigned to two categories—speed and comfort. The speedsters are bred for just that. They are used to speed mail and messages and for the man in a hurry. The comfort horses are the amblers. Another major change that occurs in OTL is the almost complete disappearance of amblers or gaited horses from Europe. The ambler has a soft, easy to ride gait much appreciated by those who ride long distances. Modern examples of amblers would be such as the Peruvian Paso, Paso Fino, Icelandic, and Missouri Foxtrotters. The ambling gait is a natural gait and is known today by a number of names such as singlefoot, shuffle, amble, Paso Llano, Paso Fino, or Tolt.
Warhorses also come in several types. There is the heavy cavalry horse, the light cavalry horse, the officer's horse, and the artillery horse. Again, those horses best suited to each category differ in body type and personality. All warhorses, regardless of use, must be able to learn to tolerate the battlefield or they have a very short career.
The medieval knight's destrier or Great Horse has disappeared from the battlefield along with the full suits of armor, victims of changes in warfare. The destrier type still hangs on, but is now seen mostly in the grand equestrian schools such as the Spanish Riding School. Some officers, to prove they are true gentlemen, will use the 17th-century version of the destrier as their mount. The various movements, such as the Airs Above the Ground, once used in battle, now are reduced to equestrian exercises.
The heavy cavalry horse is a sturdy animal, similar to today's Irish Draft horse. This troop horse can carry the heavier armored soldier in grand charges against the enemy line invoking terror in those facing his charge. This is the horse of close order formations and close quarter engagements. He has to be strong enough to cart his soldier to and from battle as well.
The light cavalry horse is more of a speedster; his soldier has less armor, and the tactics used are more hit and run or pursuit of broken (routed) troops. In Poland, they have been breeding Arabians since the 12th century and intermixing them with native light horses to produce the ideal light cavalry horse. All across Europe horse breeders are mixing various types in efforts to attain these ideal cavalry horses. In OTL, one result of this will be the English Thoroughbred.
Artillery horses are somewhere between the heavy cavalry and medium draft horses, or will be with Grantville's improvements to the Swedish artillery. Artillery in the 17th century was heavy and it moved slowly. Oxen were preferred for artillery draft animals. This will change and a medium-sized, strong, and quick artillery horse will be in demand.
All types of horses can provide power and food and often the sweeps were the last stop before the larder for aged and broken-down horses.
Grantville's impact on the horse population will come mainly in the demand for new types of horses. In leapfrogging three hundred years of gradual improvements to farm machinery they will quickly create demand for the heavy draft horses.
Changing horse types takes time. Gestation in horses takes eleven months. The foal is dependent on its dam for roughly six to seven months. At two years the horse may be developed enough to start training but two is when they lose their baby teeth. A sore mouth is not a good place for a bit. By the time they are four the growth plates in the knees are mature and the legs can withstand heavy work. Some breeds are not considered fully mature until six or even later. Starting a horse working too early can lead to physical problems. Training can add anywhere from six weeks to six or more years, depending on what the horse is being trained for. Adding it up, from breeding to useful animal is five years at a minimum (for those needing only the most basic training) to ten years or more for the highly trained.
One example of new horse types being developed is the Oldenburg. Bred in Lower Saxony, near the city of Oldenburg, they were based on the Friesians with a mix of Spanish, Neapolitan, and Barb blood. Early on they were known for consistency of type (conformation) and for being powerful animals with a kind character and a willingness to work under saddle, pulling a carriage, or in the fields. The Oldenburgs were started as a breed by Graf Johann XVI von Oldenburg (1573–1603) who set up breeding farms to produce warhorses. His son, Count Anton Günther von Oldenburg (1603–1667), also a renowned horseman, continued to breed these animals for riding and carriage pulling, warhorses being no longer at a premium.
Of the medium-sized draft breeds existing in the 17th century, one is the Percheron. They developed in the province of Le Perche in France. This breed's history is not well documented. What is known is that the breed began as a warhorse. Their size, 15 to 16 hands high, is documented from the 1600s although at that time they were still mixed use—riding and carriage—animals. While substantial, they were not as heavy as today. As with all European warhorses, they probably have some Spanish and possibly some Arabian blood. In the 17th century the breed began to be used as a carriage horse. Once relegated to draft roles, the breed changed conformation and size to suit its new role.
In the 17th century the term "breed" did not mean what it does today. What they called breeds were really types. As an example, a "Flemish" horse normally meant that it came from Flanders, not that it was a particular breed. On the other hand, if a horse was called "Spanish" or "Friesian" certain body and temperament characteristics were expected regardless of where the horse was actually bred. These body characteristics are what horse folks call "conformation."
Most 17th century breeders carefully selected both sire and dam and kept records as to the animals used. The breeders had a specific conformation and temperament in mind as they selected and bred. They did not place as great an importance on the origins of a horse as they did on its physical and mental suitability. If the object was to breed large draft horses with feathers then they selected the largest horses with draft type builds and feathers and bred them together until they achieved a strain that bred true.
An Oldenburg horse was a horse bred by Graf Johann XVI von Oldenburg or his son, Graf Anton Günther von Oldenburg. Graf Johann and Graf Anton Günther were breeding fancy carriage horses that could also be ridden. They selected those horses that most closely matched what they intended the end product to be and bred them together. These horses were known as "Oldenburgs." However, as Graf Anton Günther allowed tenants and others to breed their mares to his stallions, the term "Oldenburg" might also apply to animals that did not come from the Graf's breeding program. The upshot was if the horse met the criteria of an Oldenburg, it was acceptable to almost everyone as an Oldenburg. Naturally those horses sold from the Graf's stables commanded the higher price and some people undoubtedly got taken by smooth talking horse traders into thinking that the Oldenburg they purchase had come directly out of Graf Anton Günther's stables instead of Bauer Schmidt's pasture.
Today, what we know as breeds have studbooks and registries to control which animals can be called by the breed name. A studbook is a list of horses meeting the standards of the breed and being registered as that breed. Some breeds have closed studbooks; others run open studbooks.
The Thoroughbred is an example of a closed studbook. No Thoroughbred can be registered unless both of its parents are also registered Thoroughbreds. A Thoroughbred must be able to trace its ancestry back to the horses found in the General Stud Book (GSB). The GSB was established and first printed in 1808. The GSB used private records to attempt to detail all the horses that deserved the name Thoroughbred. At the beginning, in the late 17th century and early 18th century, there was no such thing as a Thoroughbred and those developing the breed had no controls on what animals could be bred. The Thoroughbred was developed in England as a light cavalry and racehorse. Reading the GSB you find horses listed as Turks, Barbs, Arabians, Royal mares (no breed specified) and others with only a descriptive name such as Old Bald Peg. At its beginnings, the Thoroughbred was a type. When that type had reached a point where it was breeding true the studbook was established and closed.
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- The Grantville Gazette Staff