The Horse Before the Cart: Considering New Transportation Solutions in the Wake of Rising Gas Prices
by Jamie Henneman of Addy, WA
With unleaded gas around $3 a gallon and diesel hovering at $3.50, many a farmer jokes that perhaps they should put a padlock on the horse pasture gate. After all, as motorized vehicles become more expensive, who HASN’T thought about going back to simpler transportation? Where cost might be the motivator to go back to horse-drawn transportation, both the auto and the equine have pros and cons.
Geo Metro vs. Stud Cart
In comparing two compact vehicles, the stud cart and the Geo Metro, there were interesting differences in speed, fuel efficiency and maintenance. In the horse world of compact vehicles, the stud cart could best be compared to the small two-seater passenger car. The stud cart was originally used to transport a stud from farm to farm to service mares. The lightweight structure of the cart didn’t burden the single horse and allowed the farmer to clip along at a nice pace.
According to Idaho teamster Evonna Hammon, the stud cart is also versatile for those not wanting to use a stud year-round. “Stud carts were very handy for breeders, although you could easily put a gelding or a mare with a stud cart,” Hammon explained.
The Geo Metro is a small, three-cylinder car put out by General Motors Company. It has a 1.0 liter, 3 cylinder engine, and is relatively lightweight.
Speed, Fuel Costs and Maintenance
At a good pace, Hammon estimates the stud cart can go about 10 miles an hour. The horse must be shod in order to deal with varying road conditions, and the horse also needs periodic rests and water stops. Keeping a horse shod for continual travel would cost around $650 a year ($100 for each shoeing every 8 weeks).
A Geo Metro tops out at 75 miles an hour and the engine does not require pit stops, although the driver might. Year-round use of a Geo Metro in most parts of the Inland Northwest would require summer and winter tires, a combined cost of $435 through Les Schwab [a NW tire dealer, ed.].
Fuel for the stud cart varies, depending on if the teamster has summer pasture for their horse. If not, the horse must be fed hay year-round, a cost of approximately $576 (Hammon estimates her draft horse eats ? a bale a day worth of hay. The going price per ton is $80. So 15 bales x 12 months a year = 180 bales/7.2. tons).
Fuel for a Geo Metro is a year-round cost, regardless. In rural areas (like where I live), the nearest town to get supplies is a 50 mile round-trip. A major city is over 100 miles round-trip. So assuming most people in rural areas drive an average of 37 miles a day over the course of a year, that is 13,505 miles a year. Since the Metro gets 42 miles per gallon, that’s 321 gallons of gas a year, or $963. Maintenance on a Metro will also vary in cost, depending on how old the car is. If the car is in good condition, an oil change would be needed every 3,000 miles, which works out to be 4.5 oil changes a year (based on our 13,505 miles driven a year). A do-it-yourself oil change is around $25 for the filter and oil, so that’s a total cost of $112.50.
The only real maintenance for a stud cart horse (besides shoeing, which we already compared to tires) is worming. A good paste wormer is needed twice a year (spring and fall) and is around $30 a pop. A garage or barn is optional for the car or the horse, although a horse will certainly appreciate the barn more. Barns are excellent for storing hay and almost a necessity for tacking up a horse without a miserable experience. Tacking up a horse will be much easier if the horse isn’t getting rained on and can have a muzzle full of grain to get going.
A stud cart harness and cart will cost approximately $3,000. The cost of a well-broke cart horse (no sense in putting the cart before the horse, after all) can range from $1,500 to $2,500. Fortunately, licensing and tags are not required on a cart (although you should put an orange hazard sign on the back), and insurance is optional. Although the stud cart may lack in speed, longevity is its strong point. Hammon said she drove some of her draft horses until they were 25. “If you take good care of your horses, they will take care of you,“ Hammon noted. “A good broke horse is hard to get, but is worth every penny.”
A used Geo Metro costs around $4,500 without licensing, tags and insurance. These additional fees vary per state and driver, but must be associated with the overall cost of owning a car.
According to a used car dealership in Colville, WA, used Geo Metros average $4,500 in cost for an early 1990’s model. General Motors discontinued the Geo Metro after 2001. The most popular era for buying Metros was from 1992-1994; however, a used car from this era is likely to have over 100,000 miles on it. The average life span of a motor (before major repairs are needed) is 200,000 miles. That only leaves 4 years worth of drivability before the car incurs a significant repair bill.
There is often a long forgotten component of horse-drawn transportation: the horse. Although it is important to compare costs, time and efficiency, a horse needs more than just shoes and feed. A horse needs a relationship.
As intelligent, teachable animals, horses work best when they trust their owner and are given affection. This need for consistent care and relationship cannot be understated, said Hammon. “My horses work for me because they trust me,” she said. “Every day I go out to check on them and care for them, no matter if it is 20 below outside.” Hammon said that consistent, quality care is important for giving a cart horse a ‘spring in its step.’ “You don’t put a horse in the garage for a couple of months and forget about it,” she said. “You have to be committed to spending real time working with them.” I think our society has just gotten too fast and people want to get where they are going right away,” she added.
Hammon also noted that the extensive paving of most roads makes them unfriendly for horses. Impatient, inconsiderate motorists are also a drawback. “Paved roads are really hard on a horse because there is no give,” Hammon said. “You really need a dirt road if you are going to travel because it is easier on the horse’s back and joints.” However, despite the fact that our culture is no longer horse friendly, Hammon said she wouldn’t give up driving horses for anything. “I have been competing in the Sandpoint Idaho Draft Horse Show for 30 years and am a third generation teamster,” she said. “I love these horses and I can’t imagine being without them.”
COMPARISON CHART: CART VS. CAR
Stud cart – 10 miles an hour
Geo Metro – up to 75 miles an hour
Annual Cost of Fuel/Feed
One stud cart horse – $576 (if feeding hay all year)
Geo Metro – $963 for 13,505 miles
Stud cart horse (shoeing, worming) – $650 + $60 = $710
Geo Metro (oil changes, tires) – $112.50 + $435 = $547.50
Stud cart, harness and horse – $4,500 to $5,500
Geo Metro (excluding license, tags, and insurance) – $4,500
A well-broke cart horse – up to 20 years
A used 1992 Geo Metro with 135,000 miles – 4 years
Total Cost Difference
Stud cart – $5786-$6,786
Geo Metro – $6,010