THE HORSES OF ERATH COUNTY: This Texas County Ain’t Horsin’ Around
When Texas seceded from the Union at the beginning of the Civil War, the new Confederate government now faced the task of participating in the war while still defending the Texas frontier from Indian attacks.
The Confederates actually tried several methods for maintaining order on the frontier. Their final attempt to deal with the Indian menace was the Frontier Organization, established in 1864, a militia of able-bodied male citizens who lived in frontier counties and were not otherwise serving the Confederate cause. The militia was purely defensive and had neither the manpower nor the leadership to mount offensives against marauding Indians. By 1864, the Indians were conducting large raids against forts and settlements all along the frontier.
The Ellison Springs Indian Fight was typical of frontier engagements during the Civil War. On August 8, 1864, a small force of about a dozen troopers intercepted about thirty Indians carrying blankets and bridles for the horses they were planning to steal from the whites. The Indians easily repelled the soldiers, killing three of them, and went on to steal fifty horses near, where elseâ€¦ Stephenville!
FOR TEXANS, THIS ISNâ€™T HORSEPLAY
Though the possibility of Indian raids in Texas today is highly improbable, the number of horses that can be found in and around Stephenville, the county seat of Erath County, is steadily climbing.
Texas is recognized throughout the world as horse country. There are nearly one and a quarter million equines in Texas and we lead the nation in registered American Quarter Horses, Appaloosaâ€™s, American Paint Horses and American Miniature Horses. Weâ€™re second only to California in Arabians. We have over twice as many American Quarter horses as #2 Oklahoma and over one and a half as many American Paints as California, second in that department. Fully 15% of the entire nationâ€™s 6.9 million equines reside in Texas.
Want more? Major breed associations headquartered in Texas include the American Quarter Horse association, the National Cutting Horse Association, the American Miniature Horse Association, and the American Paint Horse Association. More national level horse shows are held in Texas than in any other state. Texas is home to five race tracks, three of which are very new Class 1 tracks.
Jan Anderson raises and shows Tennessee Walking Horses in Stephenville, says, â€œ… there is a lot going on here with the horse industryâ€¦.â€ Jan mentioned a Stephenville family by the name of Feltner who have raised a World Grand Champion Tennessee Walker and another, which has produced 6 world and reserve world champions. â€œI don’t think Stephenville, the City of Champions, is aware that we have championship Walking Horses right here in town. On Monday, we are headed back to the Tennessee Walking Horse Celebration to compete on a national level and will be back Sept. 7th. This is one of the biggest horse shows the nation has, with thousands of entries and an attendance of approximately 35,000 people each evening for 10 days.â€
ADDING TO AN ALREADY â€œSTABLEâ€ LOCAL ECONOMY
According to the Erath County Extension Officeâ€™s Joe Pope, the Horse Industry in Erath County alone brings in over $7.6 MILLION dollars in ag-related income each year. Sales, training, boarding, breeding, shows, winnings, job creation, investments in barns and acreageâ€¦it all adds up and lots of money is changing hands as a result. Pope said, â€œThe Stephenville Cattle Company does over $1-Million in horse sales annually.â€ There are an estimated 3,000 to 4,000 horses in Erath County. Across the state, the horse industry makes a noticeable contribution to the economy. Almost one million Texans are involved in various aspects of this industry revolving around over a million horses. The industry provides over 145,000 full-time jobs. Here are a few notable facts about the Texas horse industry:
Horseowners have nearly $15 billion invested in barns, towing vehicles, trailers, tack and related equipment and spend over $2 billion annually just to maintain their horses.
In showing and racing alone, over 300,000 owners, family members and volunteers spend over $3 billion annually attending competitive events with over a quarter of a million horses.
Annual cash receipts for horses bought and sold exceeds $400 million and are over twice the combined total for hogs, sheep and lambs and nearly twice the total receipts of Texas wheat.
Total impact of the horse industry to Texas exceeds $12 billion annually.
Over a quarter of a million households have billions invested in horses and horse-related equipment. Travel with Texas horses creates well over $3 billion in travel-related spending. The competitions and shows have a bigger direct effect on the economic impact than horse racing as well as the recreational use of horses.
According to Kathy Hawke of the Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, â€œMany people who visit The Chamber are looking specifically for information related to our Horse Industryâ€¦Most of the time, itâ€™s parents wanting riding lessons for their kids but we get many inquiries regarding stalls as well.â€ She said that The Chamber has a rodeo packet which is distributed at rodeo events and it contains western stores, tack, ferriers, veterinarians, etc., and added, â€œthe participants at these rodeo events have informed us of how grateful they are that The Chamber, as well as the promoters and the arenas themselves, care enough to cater to this need when they get to town.â€ Hawke added that her own uncle owns cutting horses in here in Texas while living and working in China for IMC Global Asia.
Texans of all socio-economic levels own horses at a wide variety of prices and for many purposes. It all adds up to an industry with a multi-billion dollar impact on the economy and has a significant impact on the lives of many Texans, including those in and around Stephenville. Joe Bob Huddleston, Chairman of the Stephenville Chamberâ€™s Agricultural Committee, says, â€œThe horse industry has been apart of the Stephenville community for a long time and because of its continued growth in our area, it now has some very deep roots that have made a significant impact on our local economy. Every year, thousands of visitors visit our community participating and attending various events related to the horse industry. With all this momentum, I foresee only continued growth as folks continue to visit, and move, to Erath County.â€
JUST GOOD PROMOTIONAL HORSE SENSE
When people see emerging trends, they tend to sit up and take notice. According to Pope, Stephenville is home to some very world renown horse trainers as well, including Kobie Wood and Scot Jackson. With such international notoriety, these people wind up serving as local ambassadors for our region, bringing attention to whatâ€™s happening locally and ultimately doing their share to boost the local economy. Pope added that several of the countyâ€™s dairies have recently been converted into horse stalls and acreage.
This kind of attention cannot be overlooked from a marketing perspective. The wise local business should take a look at the large dollar amounts being generated by the local Horse Industry and do all they can to get in front of that market through sponsorship. I donâ€™t know where the notion comes from that thereâ€™s a â€˜Horse Dollarâ€™ or a â€˜Livestock Dollarâ€™ or even an investment or entertainment dollar. Fact is, thereâ€™s just ONE dollar and weâ€™re all competing for it. People who love horses also eat food, pump gas, wear clothes and stay in hotels so, the audience is right there, seated in rows. Businesses should be pursuing these equine markets for the ever-increasing number of eyes that will be staring at their brand. Thereâ€™s a particular soft drink that was so dominant as a sponsor at the 2004 Olympics, you may not be allowed in if youâ€™re sipping another beverage. That same attitude should belong to local businesses as well and the local Horse Industry is providing the audience.
HIGH ON HORSES
Stephenville, Texas just loves horses. They are simply a part of the local fabric around these parts. From My Friend Flicka, to Black Beauty, Silver to Mr. Ed, humankind has always had a special relationship with its equine friend. As John Jeremiah Sullivan writes in his eloquent treatise of the history of men and horses: â€œA person today who knows horses, really knows them, understands more about what it meant in the past to be human than the most knowledgeable historian.â€
Itâ€™s common knowledge that horses make important contributions to the livelihood and well-being of people. According to a Report on the Texas Horse Industry, produced by the Texas Agricultural Extension Service, over half of the respondents to the question posed regarding their reasons for horse ownership identified â€quality of lifeâ€ and â€œrelaxation/stress managementâ€ among the main reasons for their involvement with horses. Half the respondents identified physical fitness as a reason for their involvement.
The Equine Science program at Tarleton State University in Stephenville occasionally receives donations of horses which will be used in the Universityâ€™s breeding program and provide students with the opportunity for hands-on education in equine reproduction.
One such donation came from Jerome Hogan of Hico and Bernie Koerner of Stephenville. There were nine horses included in the recent donations and the foals from these mares will be used in future training programs. Dr. Don Henneke, Director of Tarletonâ€™s Equine Science program, said the donation of well-bred mares from around the state enhances the Universityâ€™s equine program and allows students the opportunity to work with quality animals.
â€œThe support of people like Jerome and Bernie helps insure that our students will have good horses to work with in the future,â€ said Dr. Henneke.
Stephenville, Texas bills itself as the Cowboy Capital of the World and, being the #1-ranked dairy producing county in the state, where there are cows, there’s gotta be Cowboys. Where there are Cowboys, there must be horses. The 50,000 square foot Lone Star Arena hosts many horse-related events each year including the Flying Bella Rosa, Dal-Worth Appaloosa Horseshow, National Reined Cow Horse Competition, Best Horseman in the World and more.
NOT TO BEAT A DEAD HORSE BUTâ€¦
Well, there you have it. The Horse Industry in Stephenville, Texas and surrounding area is alive and kickin’. But what about the rest of the nation?
Personally, my lone experience with a horse as a boy in Illinois was quite anti-climatic. The olâ€™ sway-backed mare wandered over to the water trough and drank forever while I sat on her back, crying (Oh, I should mention I was about 6 years old at the time; a city boy from Chicago whose only experiences with animals were the Bears, the Bulls and the Cubs).
Throughout American history, there were few moments outside the home that were not shared between people and horses. One might say that we’ve beenâ€¦ stuck like glue! Horses provided us with transport, accompanied us into battle, and they were indispensable partners down on the farm, especially when agriculture accounted for the vast majority of economic output.
Even when they werenâ€™t actually present, horses were rarely far from man’s consciousness. Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the streets of America’s fast-growing cities were littered with piles of steaming horse manure as each urbanized animal produced up to 35 pounds a day. The average streetcar horse lived just 4 years and was often quite abused. Slipping on wet cobblestones could cause severe injury.
An injured or dead 1300 pound animal can cause quite a traffic jam. New York removed 15,000 dead horses from city streets in 1880 and Chicago carted away 9,202 as late as 1916.
Although not as serious a problem as manure and carcass removal, noise pollution was a constant annoyance. Benjamin Franklin complained of the “thundering of coaches, chariots, chaises, wagons, drays and the whole fraternity of noise” which assailed the ears of Philadelphians. Boston and New York both passed noise ordinances banning traffic from certain streets to buffer hospitals and legislative chambers. In 1866, the Atlantic Monthly described Broadway as clogged with “dead horses and vehicular entanglements,” and in that year the mistreatment of the urban horse led to the establishment of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. As late as the 1890s, one journalist noted that the sounds of traffic on busy New York streets made conversation nearly impossible.
Piles of pony poop and expired equines proved to be a fertile breeding ground for flies. The spread of infectious diseases were a much greater concern than odors and noise. By the turn of the century public health officials had largely accepted the bacterial theory of disease and had identified the fly as the main culprit. Street sweeping was now a major urban expense. It became increasingly obvious that the most effective way to eliminate the “typhoid fly” was to eliminate the horse.
NECESSITY: Mother of Invention
For all its supposed sophistication, life in the burgeoning city was a smelly, noisy breeding ground for life-threatening disease. I, myself, actually lived in a horse-filled Amish town called Bremen, Indiana for several years in the early 60’s. Buggies full of rosie-cheeked Amish children were everywhere and, trust me, horse pollution can be a very real concern around town.
For obvious reasons, the arrival of â€œthe horseless carriageâ€ was quite welcomed by many city-dwellers in the early 1900â€™s. The coming of the automobile dealt another large blow to the horse. A number of articles in popular periodicals repeated the argument by a writer in Munseyâ€™s Magazine that “the horse has become unprofitable. He is too costly to buy and too costly to keep.”
Despite their incomparable dependability, it was society as a whole that was now saying â€œneighâ€ to the working class horse. But the horse did not disappear from the city scene overnight. It was more of a function-by-function phase-out. While horse-powered machines remained a manufacturing necessity until about 1850, they were largely replaced by other energy sources within a decade. The next duty of the urban horse to disappear was that of pulling streetcars. Their demise was very rapid, as between 1888 and 1892 almost every street railway in the U.S. was electrified.
In 1906, city buses replaced horse-drawn buses on Fifth Avenue, New York City. In 1912, New York, London, and Paris traffic counts all showed more cars than horses for the first time. By 1907, many professionals, including urban doctors, were doing business by way of the horseless carriage. Motorized cabs became commonplace around the same time. The drop in Model T prices that followed after Henry Ford opened the first assembly line plant in 1913, led to the massive adoption of cars by commuters.
Ford had introduced the $600 Model N in 1906. Deluged with orders, afterward, Ford was able to make deliveries of a hundred cars a day. Encouraged by the success of the Model N, Ford was determined to build an even better “car for the great multitude.” In 1908, the Model T sold for $825. The Model T Runabout sold for $575. By the time the Model T was withdrawn from production in 1927, its price had been reduced to $290 for the coupe, 15 million units had been sold, mass personal “automobility” had become a reality and the era of the horse was, for all intents and purposes, gone.
Although the industrialized world has dispensed with horses for daily work and transport, our nationâ€™s history and culture are more bound to the horse than to any other animal. Today, for many, the horse lives only on the margins of human society.
Not so in Erath County, Texas. Though horses seemingly have no more room to roam, what animal standing alone in a field has the unique ability to rekindle such age-old affections that lie deep within the breast of most city-dwellers?
Only a horse, of course.
As Joe Pope said about owning horses, with a knowing smile on his face, â€œItâ€™s romantic. Purely romantic.â€
Mike Tummillo is the Communications Director for the Award-Winning Stephenville Chamber of Commerce, Stephenville, Texas, and can be reached at email@example.com
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