Royal Mail will Issue Stamps on Working Horses

Date of Issue: 04 February 2014

\"workingReason and inspiration for Stamp Issue:Our relationship with horses began around 6,000 years ago. Over the years horses have carried men into war, transported people and goods over huge distances and been a source of power in both industry and agriculture. Despite being largely supplanted by the internal combustion engine in the 20th century, working horses still have a role to play today, whether being used in state ceremonies by the Army, crowd control with the Police Force or for therapy with riding for the disabled. The History of Horse Power

The bond between horses and humans has flourished over many centuries. Indeed, for more than 6000 years the working horse has been making a significant contribution to life and labour in human culture.

Archaeological finds have revealed that horses were initially hunted, but also kept in early human settlements alongside sheep and cattle. The herd nature of these animals makes them sociable and trainable, while being sensitive and intelligent too – all good qualities for a working companion. Horses are better suited to riding than other stock, being able to travel at much faster speeds. They can pull and carry loads that no human could manage, while their stamina enables long journeys. Once free to roam like many of the people who first tamed them, horses quickly became widely domesticated. For trade, exploration, communication and even conflict, they made it possible to travel further, work harder and achieve more. Through changing ages, the role of the horse has varied and new roles always develop. In human history, the horse is rarely far away from the main events, no matter what the culture, time or situation.

Highways and Byways

Carrying a rider, pulling a cart or towing a sledge, horses have provided transport from their earliest association with humans. Overland travellers relied on the horse across the centuries, especially in difficult terrain, and in remote areas the dead still travelled to burial on a bier between two horses into the 18th century. As the design of carriages grew more sophisticated, mobility was no longer restricted to adventurers and traders. The development of the stagecoach led in time to the construction of better roads, making travel across the country far easier. As city life developed too, by the mid-19th century the horse-drawn omnibus (meaning ‘carriage for all’) could carry 30 passengers, while Royal Mail had 150,000 horses in daily use.

Domestic Labours

The role of heavy horses in agriculture and transport is well known. But horses traditionally laboured in other contexts, too, often working in difficult and dangerous conditions. In 1928, around 60,000 pit ponies were still employed underground in British mines, and the death rate from accident or disease was around 40 per cent. In towns, long after the carriage horse was replaced by the car, milk-float and rag-and-bone horses remained part of daily working life up until the 1950s and, in a few cases, even more recently.

The Industrial Revolution

In the early 1700s, Jethro Tull’s new horse-drawn hoe enabled farmers to improve efficiency. Early models for horse-driven looms, spinning machines and water wheels soon followed in Britain’s booming textile industry. Before long, though, mechanisation threatened to eliminate the working horse altogether as coal and steam offered tireless energy. However, ‘horse-power’ had gained a new and lasting meaning in the late 18th century, when engineer James Watt coined the term to measure mechanical capability.

Working Horses Today

In the UK the modern working horse often fulfils familiar roles to those of its predecessors, though sometimes in a new form.

In recent times, a carriage and horses has become a popular alternative to the wedding car; while a horse-drawn hearse is a growing choice for funeral processions. The leisure industry generates considerable work for horses and their owners in riding schools and trekking centres, offering a wide range of activities from beginners’ lessons to long-distance rides on refurbished trails once used by drovers and post riders. Significantly, there are also more than a million family horses working hard to provide fun, companionship and exercise to children and adults alike.

The King’s Troop Ceremonial Horses

The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery, a British Army mounted unit, is responsible for firing Royal Salutes on State occasions. It provides a gun carriage and a team of black horses for State and military funerals, and performs the duties of the Queen’s Life Guard at Horse Guards Parade for one month every summer. The 111 horses of The King’s Troop are based at the unit’s purpose-built equestrian facility at Woolwich Garrison in south-east London.

Royal Mews Carriage Horses

Supporting the Royal Household, the Royal Mews Carriage Horses are integral to ceremonial events such as Trooping the Colour, as well as various State functions and Royal occasions. A regular duty involves conveying newly appointed High Commissioners or foreign Ambassadors to an audience with the Queen. Of the 30 horses working at the Royal Mews there are 10 Windsor Greys, which have drawn carriages for the Royal Family since Queen Victoria’s reign, and 20 Bays.

Riding for the Disabled Association

The Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA) has been building on the bond between horses and humans since the 1960s. Today, over 500 volunteer groups enable around 30,000 people with disabilities to enjoy riding, carriage-driving, vaulting and showjumping at RDA centres every year. The inherent gentleness of the horse balances its strength and power to offer children and adults safe interaction with a large animal, building skills and confidence, and improving physical stability.

Dray Horses

Faster carriage options have seen a decline of the once-familiar brewery dray horses, but the ability to negotiate busy city streets avoiding traffic jams or handle the rounds for smaller country breweries retains a practical purpose on which some companies still rely. For strength, size and beauty, Shire horses have always been a popular choice and a few breweries keep promotional show teams that are a popular sight in parades and summer fairs around the country.

Police Horses

The working role of the police horse began in the late 18th century, originally as a means of coping with highwaymen. The 21st-century police horse is more likely to handle crowd control at large events, but also offers an effective means of community policing as an imposing but approachable presence on the streets. A police horse is usually impressively large and undergoes rigorous training to ensure a calm and responsive attitude under pressure.

Forestry Horses

Forestry horses are able to negotiate sensitive woodland environments with minimal ecological impact. This means timber can be extracted without compacting soil or causing injury to standing trees and wildlife. Stocky breeds, such as the Dales and Fell Pony, as well as larger draught horses, excel at this sort of work. It also offers breeds at risk, such as the Clydesdale and the Suffolk Punch, a way back to safety by providing a role for the future.


Jack Renwick is a graphic designer, originally from Glasgow, now based in London. She worked for The Partners design company from 1998 to 2011, during which time she and her team designed the products for the Mammals stamp issue in 2010. In 2011 she founded her own company, Jack Renwick Studio, and has since designed the products for the Freshwater Life Post & Go series.

Dr. Elaine Walker tutors for the Open College of the Arts, the Open University and the University of Wales, Bangor. A widely published author of fiction and poetry, Elaine’s lifelong experience with horses is evident in much of her work. Her first book, Horse, features a concise presentation of equine history and provides a clear and comprehensive overview of the human-horse relationship in an engaging and accessible style.

Robert M Ball is an award-winning illustrator, designer and comic book maker working and living in Walthamstow. He enjoys capturing wildlife in pictures, whether it\’s the four footed variety or Londoners on the last tube home.

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