Dependence on horses
The social and economic importance of horses to humans from early civilizations to modern times has had a profound effect on the evolution of animal care that evolved into the profession of veterinary medicine, as we know it today. Equine characteristics of strength and trainability have allowed horses to fulfill a variety of important roles in activities of interest to humans such as work, war, and leisure. Prior to the 20th century, horse provided horsepower for: transportation in rural and urban settings; increased production in agriculture and industry; and troop and equipment movements in war. Economically, equine-related activities provided employment for those caring for horses, those supplying goods and services to horse owners, as well as in prizes and gambling in organized equine sports such as racing and hunting. Around 1910 automobiles began to replace horses in cities, and by the 1920s military and agriculture requirements were becoming mechanized with less need for horsepower. The primary role of horses shifted to participation in organized equine sports and leisure activities. Horses were valuable animals and as such required competent husbandry, which developed, over time, into the profession of veterinary medicine.
The animal care literature records that for centuries horses have been the focus of attention by owners, animal care providers, educators, and writers. From the time of the Romans until the founding of veterinary schools in Europe in the late 18th century, (Wilkinson, 1993, p. 10) owners treated their own livestock, or obtained animal care from farriers (horse doctors) or cow-leeches who had varying levels of skill, knowledge or experience. Treatments that existed were rudimentary, often cruel, so high mortality rates were accepted by livestock owners. “No other animal was subject to such atrocities under the banners of training and medical care” (Dunlop and Williams, 1996, p. 289). Animal owners showed remarkable loyalty to their empirics even as veterinary graduates began to appear in the late 18th century.
"Prior to the 20th century, horse provided horsepower for: transportation in rural and urban settings; increased production in agriculture and industry; and troop and equipment movements in war".
The first specialized veterinary colleges established in Europe focussed on equine care to meet society's demands for improved animal husbandry. Bols & De porte (2016, p. 38) describe the social setting in 18th century France as one of change in which "... agricultural development became a priority again, which in turn allowed the spark to create a formal context for the establishment of veterinary education". The density of the horse population in urban areas allowed veterinarians to establish economically viable equine practices (Teigen & Blair, 1997, p. 71). The importance of horses to society was reflected in the curricula of the first veterinary schools and, unfortunately, served to narrow the career options of graduates in the budding profession. Horses were valuable animals and their owners needed high quality animal care from trained providers. Veterinarians could make a living in urban centres by treating horses, so few were found in rural settings leaving the field open for farriers and cow-leeches. In the early decades of veterinary education, practitioners were not educated to provide treatment and disease control in other animals such as livestock and poultry. The focus on equines was often to the detriment of other animal species; despite as noted by Smithcors (1957, p. 249), that cattle and sheep in Britain were the economic base of agriculture and outnumbered horses. Thus, veterinarians were not in the vanguard of expertise when public health crises such as infectious diseases arose in livestock, other than horses.
“No other animal was subject to such atrocities under the banners of training and medical care” (Dunlop and Williams, 1996, p. 289).
The reliance of the military on horses was another reason for the focus on equine health care in the veterinary college curriculum. Horses were used as large-scale support for artillery and auxiliary services (Swabe, 1999, p. 92) in years of war in Europe and in North America. Large numbers of horses in service at the front were kept in close quarters leaving them vulnerable to infectious diseases such as glanders. During WWI, "There were over a million animals on active duty across the various fronts at any one time"(Hunter, 2004, p. 21). Veterinarians provided care to horses and dogs in service. “By the close of the 18th century, the British army had decided that they should invest in the services of medically educated veterinary professionals, rather than continuing to rely on the traditional cavalry farriers” (Swabe, 1999, p.92). In the United States, the Army did not commission veterinarians until 1916 even though the military was utterly dependent on horses and mules (Stalheim, 1994, p. 19). In WWII the need for animals was relatively small when compared to WWI. Horses were used in smaller numbers, although dogs were used in greater numbers as guards, trackers, infantry patrollers, and casualty and arms detectors (Hunter, 2004, p. 24). The military had veterinary officers to care for the animals used in service.
Transportation was an increasingly important role of horses in the 19th century in rural and urban settings, thus horse populations increased as they had more roles. In areas outside cities, improved roadways meant that horses were able to move more goods by cart and wagon. Breeding practices were used to provide horses for specific work such as farm labour (MacKay, 2009). In cities and towns, horses were the prime movers as they assumed a number of modified roles including moving products and people, and using their strength to operate equipment. Horses were "... essential to short-haul transportation (including the transshipment of goods from sea vessels to land, street railways, and personal transportation) and to the construction and maintenance of buildings, streets, and railroads" (Teigen & Blair, 1997, p. 70). Horses with their ability to accept training and willingness to serve, became status symbols for owners and trainers in racing, hunting and carriage transportation (McKay, 2009, p. 11). In the 17th century the art of equitation was developing in Europe; as aristocrats were learning to ride and horses became leisure and companion animals. Gentleman horse owners were interested in farriery (McKay, 2009, p. ). "During the next two centuries, horses became extremely popular among the upper class..." Bols & De porte (2016, p. 36).
Horses were "... essential to short-haul transportation (including the transshipment of goods from sea vessels to land, street railways, and personal transportation) and to the construction and maintenance of buildings, streets, and railroads" (Teigen & Blair, 1997, p. 70).
Equine-related activities provided economic support for saddlers, grooms, coach makers, trainers, smiths, farriers, and others. Organized equine sports realized economic gains through prizes and gambling associated with racing and hunting. Fox hunting and horse racing were becoming popular for a wider audience than the aristocracy. In addition, riding stables and schools were built and equerries were hired to provide training for riders and health care for horses. Bols & De porte (2016) identify equerries and blacksmiths as two factions competing for the business of caring for horses. MacKay (2009) argues that farriers had a greater effect on the development of veterinary medicine than is noted. The date of the founding of the first veterinary school in Britain in 1791 is often cited as the beginning of the rise of the veterinary profession. “Yet, that date can actually be seen as the conclusion of over a century of change in veterinary care (McKay, 2009, p. 14). Traditional farriers continued to practice as blacksmiths, however, there were farriers interested in treating horses through surgical interventions and advanced this view through education and experimentation (McKay, 2009, p. 14). By the mid-1920s, horses had lost their predominance in work and war to internal combustion engines and became animals kept primarily for sport and leisure activities.
"During the next two centuries [18th and 19th], horses became extremely popular among the upper class..." Bols & De porte"
The change in equine roles to sport and leisure signalled a change in the livelihood of equine practitioners and the opening of other career opportunities in public health and companion animal medicine. Equine-only practices began to be replaced by mixed practices catering to a variety of owned animals. The urban middle classes were distanced from livestock, in general, as horses disappeared from city streets and farm animals were out of sight in the country. Urban dwellers shifted their interest to care of companion animals and created a market for specialized professional services for canine, feline and avian patients (Swabe, 1999, p. 178). By the middle of the 20th century there was still a need for equine care, however, many other career opportunities in animal health and research were unfolding.
The density of the horse population in urban areas allowed veterinarians to establish economically viable equine practices (Teigen & Blair, 1997, p. 71).
The importance of horses to humans is reflected in the output of veterinary literature beginning in the Middle Ages. The works of ancient writers were reworked as compilations on agricultural topics and reprinted. Giordano Ruffus (in Latin, Jordanus Ruffus) was born at the beginning of the 13th century and produced a textbook in Latin on equine medicine called De Medicina Equorum (in a later translation it was called The Hippiatria . It was created in manuscript form in 1250 and later printed in Italian in 1492 and again in 1563. Ruffus complied the works of previous Arab veterinary writers in his textbook. Later in the same century The Hippiatria: the Book of Marshalry (Marescalcia equorum) by Laurentius Rusius was written and reprinted in Paris in 1532. It contained the whole of Ruffus’s equine medicine text as well as materials from Rusius’s own experience with horses; thus, three volumes on animal husbandry with similar titles were written and later published in printed form. The first English book on horses that has survived is The Art of Riding by Thomas Blundeville in 1560 based on work by Federico Grisone. Blundeville also wrote The Foure Chiefest Offices Belonging to Horsemanship in 1565. Blundeville's works are in the University of Saskatchewan ebook collection.
By the end of the 16th century the anatomy book, Anatomia del Cavallo, by Carlo Ruini (1530-1598) had been published in Italian in 1598 and translated into several languages. It was "... the first book to focus extensively on the structure of a species other than man and, its splendid images were often plagiarized for years to come" (Bols & De porte, 2016, p. 36). The plates, which depict the anatomy of the horse through dissection, were inspired by the works of Vegetius and Ruffus. Anatomia del Cavallo is in the University of Saskatchewan ebook collection. The artistic plates arena the style of those of the human anatomist Andreas Vesalius in his De Humani Corporis Fabrica Libri Septem published in 1543 (available in the University of Saskatchewan microform collection). In turn, Ruini’s work was the basis of farrier Andrew Snape Jr’s (1644-1708) The Anatomy of an Horse published in 1683. According to MacKay, 2009, p. 29), "One of Snape's primary contributions was collating anatomical images into a single volume that could be studied by farriers". And, "Snape's book was not just comparative anatomy created to document discoveries of nature; it was equine anatomy intended for the medical benefit of horses" (MacKay, 2009, p. 33). Snape's book is not in the Rosen collection, but is in the University Library's ebook collection and also in a reprint edition.
In the 17th century the art of equitation was developing in Europe. Rising schools were built and staffed with equerries who produced comprehensive works on all aspects of horse care. This new literature genre was called "Traites Hippiatriqués" (Bol & De porte, 2016, p. 37). Jacques de Solleysel (1617-1680) was another writer inspired by the writings of Vegetius. de Solleysel was an experienced equerry who owned a riding school and taught students about equine therapy. He published Le Parfait Maréchal in 1664 that contained equitation and horse care subjects, and was instrumental in improving riding, initially in France, and later in England. The text was used in farrier schools in royal courts and in the army (Walker, 1991, p. 52). It is available in the University of Saskatchewan ebook collection. Le Parfait Maréchal was subsumed into Le Nouveau Parfait Marechal with additional information written by Francois Alexandre Pierre de Garsault (1692-1178) and published in 1664. The final edition of this famous work appeared in 1843.