Until the early twentieth century, horses were Americans’ primary means of transport for goods and services and enabled commerce to take place over a wider geographical area. Horses also played an important role in building the roads over which they transported merchandise and passengers. Moreover, draft horses working in the fields increased the availability of agricultural products.
Horses were essential to the development of commerce in America. They were the primary means of agricultural production and of transportation of goods until the invention of motorized transportation and mechanized farm equipment. There would have been little movement of either products or people without horses. Dray lines, stagecoaches, and canal boats pulled by horses all contributed to the growth of business in the United States, as they distributed goods and services over a wide area, allowing for increased competition.
Horses were of great significance in the economic development of the western United States. They carried homesteaders into the territories, expanding the nation’s agricultural economy. Cattle ranching would have been almost impossible without horses. The quarter horse remains an important member of the workforce on American ranches.
The lives of Native American tribes living on the Great Plains were heavily influenced by horses, which enabled them to hunt buffalo efficiently and increased their mobility. Horses became symbols of wealth for Plains Indians. The animals, however, also brought the settlers and soldiers who usurped the indigenous people’s land and changed their way of life, often causing them severe hardships.
Horses continue to affect the U.S. economy. The equestrian sports business generates billions of dollars through the sale of both horses and event tickets. It also provides employment for a large number of workers. The sport of racing requires trainers, jockeys, grooms, owners, and a large staff of employees at the tracks. The thoroughbred, standardbred, and quarter horse racing industry syndicates stallions for millions of dollars every year. Rodeos and horse shows also make a sizeable contribution to the economy.
The horse industry provides a market for a large number of commodities, including tack, equipment, fencing, and agricultural products, as well as real estate such as barns, racetracks, arenas, riding trails, and pastures. Horses, once the nation’s primary means of transportation, are now themselves transported in trucks, vans, and airplanes. The need to transport horses further stimulates the economy, as it creates a market for trailers, trucks, and planes specially equipped to accommodate the animals.
Thus, horses have been an important factor in American business from its inception. Although their role and economic significance have changed considerably, they continue to provide a significant stimulus to business activity and to contribute to economic expansion.
McShane, Clay, and Joel Tarr. The Horse in the City: Living Machines in the Nineteenth Century. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007. Walker, Wyman D. The Wild Horse of the West. Omaha: University of Nebraska Press, 1962.
Native American trade
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