When James Herriot–author of “All Creatures Great and Small” (1972)–was a student at Glasgow Veterinary College in the 1930s, he realized that the school prioritized animal care in this manner: horse, ox, sheep, pig, dog. Most of his medical training revolved around horses because they were crucial to the local farming economy. Over 40 years after the invention of automobiles and tractors, people were still dependent on horses. It wasn’t until after World War II, when manufacturers switched from making planes and other war-time equipment, that farm machinery began to replace the horse in our daily lives.
But horses are not gone, not by a long shot. In 2004, The United States Congress passed the National Day of the Horse Resolution, setting December 13 as a day to recognize the contributions, both past and present, that horses have made to our lives (see the full resolution at the end of this story).
Think about the contribution horses and horse care make to the economy, even in the 21st century. A 2017 Economic Impact Study by the American Horse Council reported that “the equine industry in the U.S. generates approximately $122 billion (annually) in total economic impact. The industry also provides a total employment impact of 1.74 million, and generates $79 billion in total salaries, wages, and benefits.” Horse activities are flourishing: racing, polo, barrel racing and cutting horse competitions, dressage, western pleasure, amateur and professional shows, breed clubs, riding clubs, carriage clubs, pony clubs, therapy, 4H, and more. The industries that support our love of horses also contribute to the economy: hay, tack, clothing, medicines and supplements, barns, fencing and other facilities, breeders, veterinarians, trainers, and many more.
In the lives of many children, horses play a starring role. What horse-crazy kid wouldn’t want to be Velvet Brown in “National Velvet” or Alec Ramsey in “The Black Stallion”? Although I never owned a horse until I was 39 years old, I grew up surrounded by horse books, movies, and TV shows. I had my father’s copy of Black Beauty, a gift he received on his 8th birthday in 1929. Breyer horses took the place of dolls in playdates with my best friends, the Foote twins, Christy and Cathy. We didn’t walk to school; we galloped! And after school I was immersed in TV shows like My Friend Flicka, Fury, and Mr. Ed, as well as a host of cowboy shows: Sugarfoot, Palladin, Gunsmoke, The Lone Ranger, The Rifleman, Bonanza. Their stars were my idols: Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Chuck Conners, John Wayne, and so many more. I could sing all the theme songs from each show. I confess I have a playlist on my phone of cowboy songs.
From working horses to pasture pets, horses deserve recognition for the special place they hold in our lives. Here are some ways you can honor your horse(s) on this special day:
- What does your horse really love? If the weather is nice a winter trail ride might be perfect. If it’s too icy out for a trail ride, how about a short walk together?
- Give your horse some special attention. Turn him out to run, and do some fun training. Teach him a trick or new obstacle challenge. If it’s not too cold, a bath will freshen up his good looks. If it is too cold, a vigorous brushing will warm him up.
- Your retired horse deserves love too. A gentle grooming might hit the spot. Clean the mud off his blanket, pick the ice out of his hooves, and fix him a warm bran mash.
- Donate to a horse rescue in your area. There are rescue groups for mustangs, retired racers, minis, donkeys, and homeless equines. Find one in your area and drop off some halters, buckets, brushes, or cash to pay for hay and vet bills.
- Give a child a pony ride. Pass your love of horses on to the next generation. City kids will love grooming, riding, and having their picture taken!
- Have someone take photos of you and your horse. They make great Christmas cards and special memories.
- The National Horse Council invites you to post photos and stories about horses on social media using the hashtag ##NationalDayoftheHorse.
- Volunteer for a horse rescue or therapeutic riding facility.
- Enjoy your favorite horse story or old movie. I bet you have one!
No matter how you decide to celebrate, give your horse a big hug and a treat. Then give her an extra one from me.
The National Day of the Horse Resolution
The National Day of the Horse Resolution was set into action by Senators Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Mike DeWine (R-OH), and Mary Landrieu (D-LA).
The National Day of the Horse Resolution states:
“Designating December 13, 2004, as National Day of the Horse and encouraging the people of the United States to be mindful of the contribution of horses to the economy, history, and character of the United States.
- Whereas the horse is a living link to the history of the United States;
- Whereas without horses, the economy, history, and character of the United States would be profoundly different;
- Whereas horses continue to permeate the society of the United States, as witnessed on movie screens, on open land, and in our own backyards;
- Whereas horses are a vital part of the collective experience of the United States and deserve protection and compassion;
- Whereas because of increasing pressure from modern society, wild and domestic horses rely on humans for adequate food, water, and shelter; and
- Whereas the Congressional Horse Caucus estimates that the horse industry contributes much more than $100,000,000,000 each year to the economy of the United States: Now, therefore, be it Resolved, That the Senate–
- designates December 13, 2004, as “National Day of the Horse,” in recognition of the importance of horses to the security, economy, recreation, and heritage of the United States;
- encourages all people of the United States to be mindful of the contribution of horses to the economy, history, and character of the United States; and
- requests that the President issue a proclamation calling on the people of the United States and interested organizations to observe the day with appropriate programs and activities.”
Published December 13, 2021