A horse tram (horsecar) in Danzig, Germany (present day Gdańsk, Poland)

A horse-drawn vehicle is a piece of equipment pulled by one or more horses. These vehicles typically have two or four wheels and were used to carry passengers or a load. They were once common worldwide, but they have mostly been replaced by automobiles and other forms of self-propelled transport but are still in use today.


Horses were domesticated circa 3500 BCE. Before that oxen were used. Historically, a wide variety of arrangements of horses and vehicles have been used, from chariot racing, which involved a small vehicle and four horses abreast, to horsecars or trollies,[note 1] which used two horses to pull a car that was used in cities before electric trams were developed.

A two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle is a cart (see various types below, both for carrying people and for goods). Four-wheeled vehicles have many names – one for heavy loads is most commonly called a wagon. Very light carts and wagons can also be pulled by donkeys (much smaller than horses), ponies or mules. Other smaller animals are occasionally used, such as large dogs, llamas and goats (see draught animals). Heavy wagons, carts and agricultural implements can also be pulled by other large draught animals such as oxen, water buffalo, yaks or even camels and elephants.

Vehicles pulled by one animal (or by animals in a single file) have two shafts that attach either side of the rearmost animal (the wheel animal or wheeler). Two animals in single file are referred to as a tandem arrangement, and three as a randem.[1] Vehicles that are pulled by a pair (or by a team of several pairs) have a pole that attaches between the wheel pair. Other arrangements are also possible, for example, three or more abreast (a troika), a wheel pair with a single lead animal (a "unicorn"), or a wheel pair with three lead animals abreast (a "pickaxe"). Very heavy loads sometimes had an additional team behind to slow the vehicle down steep hills. Sometimes at a steep hill with frequent traffic, such a team would be hired to passing wagons to help them up or down the hill. Horse-drawn carriages have been in use for at least 3,500 years.

Two-wheeled vehicles are balanced by the distribution of weight of the load (driver, passengers, and goods) over the axle, and then held level by the animal – this means that the shafts (or sometimes a pole for two animals) must be fixed rigidly to the vehicle's body. Four-wheeled vehicles remain level on their own, and so the shafts or pole are hinged vertically, allowing them to rise and fall with the movement of the animals. A four-wheeled vehicle is also steered by the shafts or pole, which are attached to the front axle; this swivels on a turntable or "fifth wheel" beneath the vehicle.

From the 15th century drivers of carts were known as carmen, and in London were represented by the Worshipful Company of Carmen. In 1890 there were 13,800 companies in the United States in the business of building carriages pulled by horses. By 1920, only 90 such companies remained.

Basic types

Vehicles primarily for carrying people

A horse and buggy c. 1910
Resting coachmen at a Fiaker (fiacre) in Vienna

Irish jaunting car, or outside car (1890–1900)
A mid-19th-century engraving of a Phaeton, from a carriage builder's catalog
Stagecoach in Switzerland

Vehicles primarily for carrying goods

A basic, un-sprung cart in Australia. In that country and in New Zealand, the term dray is applied to this type of vehicle in addition to a four-wheeled wagon.
Also a sledge used for moving felled trees in the same way as the wheeled skidder. (See implements, below). It could be used in woodland, apparently with or without snow, but was useful on frozen lakes and waterways. [OED]
Travois, 1890s

Rail vehicles

Horsecar in Germany, 1972

See also: List of horse-drawn railways


Horse on towpath pulling a narrowboat

Agricultural and other implements

Turning the soil with a plough

War vehicles

Horse artillery—rows of limbers and caissons, each pulled by teams of six horses with three postilion riders and an escort on horseback

See also


  1. ^ The term horsecar is used primarily in the UK to refer to a rail-based vehicle drawn by horses. In the US, the term streetcar or trolley is used, but those same terms could refer to the electric versions as well.



  1. ^ "Definition of randem". www.merriam-webster.com. Retrieved January 12, 2018.
  2. ^ a b c Smith, D.J.M. (1988). A Dictionary of Horse Drawn Vehicles. J. A. Allen & Co. Ltd. ISBN 0851314686. OL 11597864M.
  3. ^ Vaughan, Adrian (1997). Railwaymen, Politics and Money. Trafalgar Square Publishing. p. 28. ISBN 0719551501. OL 10532606M.
  4. ^ "Horse-Drawn Harvester-Thresher | Photograph | Wisconsin Historical Society". www.wisconsinhistory.org. Retrieved July 3, 2017.


  • Encyclopædia Britannica (1960)
  • Ingram, A. Horse-Drawn Vehicles Since 1760 (1977) ISBN 0-7137-0820-4
  • Oxford English Dictionary (1971 & 1987) ISBN 0-19-861212-5
  • Walker, J. A Critical Pronouncing Dictionary and Expositor of the English Language (1791)