(UK) or pack horse
(USA) refers generally to an equid
such as a horse
used for carrying goods on their backs, usually carried in sidebags or panniers
. Typically packhorses are used to cross difficult terrain, where the absence of good roads prevents the use of wheeled vehicles.
Pack horses have been used since the earliest period of domestication of the horse. They were invaluable throughout antiquity, through the Middle Ages, and into modern times, used whenever roads were nonexistent or poorly maintained. While westernized nations today primarily use pack horses for recreational pursuits, they are still an important part of everyday transportation of good throughout much of the third world.
Historic use in the United Kingdom
Packhorses were heavily used in the transport of goods in England
in the period up until the coming of the first turnpike roads
in the 18th century. Away from main routes, their use persisted into the 19th century. This usage has left a history of old paths across wilderness areas called packhorse roads
, and distinctive narrow and low sided stone arched packhorse bridges
at various locations. For similar reasons, names such as The Packhorse
are common public house
names throughout England.
Historic use in North America
The pack horse, mule or donkey was a critical tool in the development of the Americas
. In colonial America, Spanish, French, and English traders made use of pack horses to carry goods to remote Native Americans and to carry hides back to colonial market centers. Prior to the 18th century there were reports of pack horse trains of over one hundred horses passing southwest out of Petersburg into the backcounty.
As the nation expended west, pack horses, singly or in a pack train of several animals, were used by early surveyors and explorers, most notably by fur trappers, "Mountain men", and gold prospectors who covered great distances by themselves or in small groups. Pack horses were used by Native American people when traveling from place to place, and were also used by traders to carry goods to both Indian and White settlements. During a few decades of the 19th Century, enormous pack trains carried goods on the Old Spanish Trail from Santa Fe, New Mexico west to California.
On current United States Geological Survey maps, many such trails continue to be labeled pack trail.
In North America
, the pack horse still plays a major role in recreational pursuits, particularly to transport goods and supplies into wilderness areas
and other roadless lands where motor vehicles are either prohibited or impracticable. They are used by mounted outfitters
to carry necessary tools and equipment that cannot be carried with the rider. They are used by guest ranches
to transport materials into remote locations to set up campsites for tourists and other guests. They are even used by the United States Forest Service
and the National Park Service
to carry in supplies to help maintain trails, cabins, and even to bring in commercial goods to backcountry tourist lodges and other remote but permanent residences.
In the third world, pack horses, and donkeys to an even greater extent, are still seen hauling goods to market, carrying supplies for workers, and many other of the same jobs that have been performed for millennia.
In modern warfare, pack horses are still used to bring supplies to areas where roads are poor and fuel supply is uncertain. For example, they are a critical part of the supply chain for all sides of the conflict in remote parts of Afghanistan.
- Back, Joe. Horses, Hitches and Rocky Trails.