In The Age of the Horse I gave readers some idea of the ingenuity humans used to recycle the bodies of horses used in the nineteenth century west. Of course, this inventiveness was not restricted to the Victorian era nor to the more rapidly industrialised nations – and we’re still finding new uses for horses’ bodies. Here is a brief, morbid and often suprising list of them, from armour to face lifts.
As shelters in the eighteenth century by the Puelche and Pehuenche of Argentina and Chile. (Horse Nations: The worldwide impact of the horse on indigenous societies post-1492, by Peter Mitchell, 2015, p281)
The skin from colts’ and mares’ lower legs were used to make gauchos’ “bota de potro” footwear. (Mitchell, 2015, p282)
Drumheads; Blackfoot Indians, (The Role of the Horse in Man’s Culture, by Harold B Barclay, 1980, p177)
Leather for covering large boardroom and office tables (Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances: Or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields by Peter Lund Simmonds, 1862, p364)
“Leather guards on [German] cavalry trousers”, carriage roofs or whip lashes. (The Horse-World of London by W J Gordon, 1893, p187)
Shoe leather or “porpoise hide” (“Horse Meat for Food” by Frank G Carpenter, The National Tribune, 19 January 1893, p9)
Saddles and boot tops (twentieth century America)
For making braided reins, bridles, girths, cruppers and whips in Kazakhstan. (Barclay, 1980, p319)
Bags and shoe soles in Mongolia (Barclay, 1980, p302)
Cordovan leather, shield and buckler parts, coat worn under armour, harness (Barclay, 1980, p133)
Distilled for use in lamps, etc. (Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances: Or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields by Peter Lund Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Sausage skins, gut strings (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Grease and bones burned for fuel on the Pampas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (Barclay, 1980, p187)
“Lucifer matches” (Simmonds, 1862, p340)
Knife handles, phosphorus, super-phosphate of lime (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Oil for candlemaking, leather dressing and lubricating. (Gordon, 1893, p186)
Ground and mixed with sulphuric acid for fertiliser, or simply ground into bone meal for manure making. (Gordon, 1893, p186)
Button-making (Gordon, 1893, p186)
Ribs and scapulae for smoothing clay pots, cannon bones for spear heads, jawbones to scrape leather thongs, pastern bones to make ornaments. (Copper Age Botai culture, Kazakhstan)
As necklaces by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)
Glue and gelatine (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
“Nithya” – a botox-like cosmetic treatment that stimulates the cells that produce collagen.
Hair of Mane, Tail
Tapestry making, girths, ropes, fetters, collars for horses and cattle, shoe covers, rain hats and fishing nets in Buryatia, Siberia.
Hair-cloth, mattress stuffing, woven into bags for crushing seed in oil mills (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Furniture stuffing, fishing lines. (Gordon, 1893, p187)
Plaited to make ropes, nets, lassoes and fly whisks by the Yakut of Siberia, who also use it for decorative work and stuffing saddles. (Barclay, 1980, p327)
Tipi decorations among some Native American groups (Barclay, 1980, p177)
Clothing or harness decoration by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)
The shirts of penitents (Barclay, 1980, p133)
Mixed with rubber to create “hairloch”, which was used as padding for the equipment dropped into Occupied France for use by the Special Operations Executive in World War Two (The Women who Lived for Danger, Marcus Binney, 2002, p26)
As crests for helmets (Ancient Greece, Persia) and on war standards carried by the Mongolian Army.
Used in perfume making by the Blackfoot (Barclay, 1980, p177)
Boiled for men, dogs and poultry (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Cat and dog meat (Gordon, 1893, p187)
Fed to animals on fur farms (Horse meat for fur farms: its chemical composition by Sedgwick E Smith, Washington, Department of the Interior, 1940)
Fed to zoo animals in Central Park (The Daily Yellowstone Journal, 2nd December 1887, p1)
Fed to hunting hounds (UK)
Trimmings turned into funeral wreaths (Luc Sante’s The Other Paris); bright blue dye (Simmonds, 1862, p340)
Gelatine, prussiate, “fancy snuff boxes” (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Glue, blue-maker manufacture (Gordon, 1893, p186)
As pendants by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)
Armour – “These mares [the Sarmatians use] not only use for war, but also sacrifice them to the local gods and eat them for food. Their hoofs they collect, clean, split, and make from them as it were python scales. . . . These pieces they bore and stitch together with the sinews of horses and oxen, and then use them as breastplates that are as handsome and strong as those of the Greeks. For they can withstand blows of missiles and those struck in close combat.” (Description of Greece, Pausanias, translated by W H S Jones)
Button manufacture; albumen extracted and used for making photographs (Carpenter, 1893, p9)
For making cores/loose internal parts of casting moulds in foundries “in some foreign countries” (Simmonds, 1862, p368)
Collected, moulded into cakes for fuel and sold (China) (Simmonds, 1862, p369)
To insulate roofs (Copper Age Botai culture, Kazakhstan)
For making PreMarin, a hormone used to allay menopause symptoms and in feminizing hormone therapy for transwomen.
Boiled to preserve seeds, in a mythical Chinese pharmacopoeia.
Bezoar (a solid mass that forms in the digestive tract of some animals)
“It has the medicinal properties of settling fright and resolving phlegm, clearing heat and dispelling poisons. It is used to treat internal proliferation of phlegm-heat, manic depression (diankuang) and fright epilepsy (jingxian), malign poisons, ulcers and swellings, disturbances of consciousness, etc.” (Bencao gangmu, a Chinese Systematic Materia Medica by Li Shizhen, 1590)
Shipped to China, straightened and sharpened into razors (Carpenter, 1893, p9)
“Horse-shoe nails, kicked about the world by horses innumerable, are not the useless fragments we might naturally deem them. Gun-makers tell us that no iron is so well fitted for their purpose as that which is derived from horse-shoe nails and similar worn fragments. The nails are, in the first instance, made of good sound iron, and the violent concussions they receive when a horse is walking over a stony road, give a peculiar annealing and toughnening to the metal, highly beneficial to its subsequent use for gun-barrels” (Simmonds, 1862, p418)
If you’ve had your horse cremated, the cremains can be transformed into diamonds or glass jewellery as a keepsake.
Alternatively, the horse can be allowed to break down into compost.