April - Horses


Equus is the scientific term used for modern-day equines (horses). There are more than 300 breeds of horses and ponies around the world! While many people think a pony is a small horse, horses and ponies are different, although related and quite similar. The main distinction between a horse and a pony is height. Ponies and horses also have different bone and muscle structures. Ponies tend to be stocky with shorter legs, wider chests, and heavier bones. Simply put, a horse is always a horse, and a pony is always a pony.

Modern-day equines are classified into four different groups that are based on their size. The four groups are miniatures, ponies, lightweight horses, and heavyweight horses (draft horses). Miniature horses are the smallest of the entire horse family and cannot exceed 34 inches when fully grown. Ponies must stand less than 58 inches high when fully grown and weigh less than 800 pounds. Lightweight horses have thin legs, small bones, and weigh less than 1,300 pounds. Heavyweight horses have thick, sturdy legs, large bones, and weigh more than 2,000 pounds.

As settlers came to America, they depended on horses for transportation, to pull heavy wagons, and to help clear the land and plow the fields. Horses were often the only link between settlements and towns. Even after the rail systems were developed, horses were the most popular means of transportation. Our early street cars and fire engines were horse-powered. Before the popularity of motorized vehicles, nearly every American used horses in many daily activities.

In the 1920s, only a few large farmers owned tractors. In the 1930s, farmers were strapped for cash by the Great Depression, just like the rest of the nation. But in the 1940s, there were fewer economic and war-related restrictions. During World War II (1941-1945), U.S. farm hands were drafted or enlisted to serve the war effort. The farmers who were left were making money, and equipment manufacturers were told that making tractors was a patriotic duty. The end of World War II (1945) was the end of the career for many horses on the farm. At the end of the war sales of tractors skyrocketed, and the number of horses used on farms decreased.

Horses are still important in agriculture, particularly in the Western United States. Horses are used on cattle ranches for roping and branding cattle, and for carrying cowboys through rough country to help round up herds of cattle. Horses are also used in non-agricultural settings. In large cities like Chicago, horses are used by police to patrol busy areas, which are often overrun with traffic. Horses also provide therapeutic riding for adults and children with disabilities. The contact with the horse and the horse’s movement help the disabled gain better flexibility and balance.

In most settings, the modern horse is found riding trails or showing in arenas. Many people ride horses for pleasure. There are several different types of horse competitions. These competitions range from rodeos, polo matches, trail classes, to horse racing. Horse breeds and training is specific to each activity. Certain breeds are known for specific traits and physical abilities. For example, the Thoroughbred is a breed used widely in horse racing due to their speed. There are over 300 different breeds of horses today. Today, horses used both for work and pleasure are well-cared for by their owners. They are well-fed, well-rested, and regarded as gentle companions and helpers.

McHenry County

A quick search on the internet will provide more than a dozen horse riding opportunities at area farms, stables, and equestrian centers. McHenry County Conservation District offers more than 40 miles of horse riding trails at several sites located throughout the county. We also have non-for-profit organizations that operate within the county that are tied to horses, checkout these examples: 

Main Stay Therapeutic Farm


Hooved Animal Humane Society

History of Horses Timeline 

• Ice Age—Horses found across current Europe and Asia.

• 4000 BC—Horses first domesticated.

• 770 AD—Iron horseshoes first used to improve transportation by horses.

• 1206 AD—Horses used by Genghis Kahn, leader of the Mongols, in warfare for first time.

• 1300s—Medieval knights and horses in armor used to honor the kingdoms.

• 1800s—Horses are an important part of settling the new frontier of American territories.

• 1860— Pony Express established. It was a mail delivery system that ran from April 1860 to October 1861.

• 1863—General Ulysses S. Grant rides his horse, Cincinnati, to Appomattox Court House to negotiate the end of the Civil War.

• 1875—First Kentucky Derby Takes place. 10,000 spectators watch Aristited race 1.5 miles to win.

• 1914—Horses played a valuable role in World War I.

• 1930s—Entertainer Roy Rogers selects a palomino horse named Trigger to be his mount in film and on television through the 1950s.

• 1945—Tractors replace horses as primary worker on American farms.

• 1960s—Mr. Ed rises to stardom as a talking horse on a television show with the same name.

• 1963—Black Jack is the name of the riderless black horse that leads the funeral of President John F. Kennedy.

• 1973—Secretariat wins the US Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Belmont Stakes, and The Preakness Stakes). His records in each race still stand today.

• 1980s—Safety became a key issue for horses and riders, especially rules regarding wearing riding helmets.

• 1996—Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia included groundbreaking research into equine health at high temperatures.

• 2007—The horse genome sequence was published. Medical advances made for treatment of various injuries.

• 2022—7.2 million horses in the United States

Economic Impact in Illinois