The coming of the motor car to the nation in 1900 did not dampen the prevalence of the horse for at least 30 years. There was a time when the noble equine was a common sight outside of the racetrack, since they were a primary form of transportation. Early cars were unreliable, expensive, and the roads none too kind to rubber tires. The horse was a major advantage to Spanish conquistadores who built a wooden fort at a place called Cu-Mucurapo (Place of the Silkcotton Trees) that was besieged by a powerful united Amerindian force and almost obliterated in 1533. In a last desperate attempt to break the line of First Peoples, the Spaniards saddled their horses and made a cavalry charge which had the desired effect since the Amerindians were unaccustomed to the sight of the large animals.
When a permanent settlement was founded at San Jose de Oruna (St Joseph) in 1592, there were several horses in the town. By the oppressive laws of Spain for its colonies, the natives were allowed to own horses but were forbidden to ride them. The great recessionary gulf the island’s economy experienced until the Cedula of Population was proclaimed in 1783-84 saw few horses imported. The creation of a prosperous economy based on sugar, cotton, coffee, cocoa and indigo exports after the arrival of French settlers and their slaves towards the end of the 1700s saw more horses on the roads as they were indispensable to planters and their subordinate managers and overseers for getting around on the estates. Many of these animals were introduced from North America although a few handsome specimens including heavy draught-horses were brought in from the United Kingdom from time to time.
Horses needed much care and any good owner had a groom who knew about the species. Water infused with molasses and oil-cake was a necessary refreshment as was a good bucket of oats. Large private homes in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando kept their own stables while those premises which did not have the space depended on liveries within the towns where a blacksmith was always available for shoeing and harness work as well as grooms for keeping the glossy coats bright. On the costs of acquiring and maintaining a single nag, JH Collens wrote in 1887:
“I would recommend you, if you mean staying in Trinidad two or three months with the intention of seeing all there is to see, to start at once with a horse and buggy of your own, or at any rate a horse, otherwise you will find yourself hampered at every movement, if you have to hire or borrow continually. A decent horse or strong Spanish pony costs from $100 to $200 (say £20 to £40). If you feed him well and groom him properly, he will not only be of good service to you, but when you have done with him will fetch a fair price. This is certainly preferable to constantly hiring, for, the animal is always at your disposal. A second-hand buggy would cost about the same as a horse, perhaps a little less. If you buy both for three hundred dollars and sell them for two 'hundred and fifty, you may rest contented you will have had a good fifty dollars' worth out of them. Most of the private houses of any size are provided with stabling accommodation.”
Public officers of a certain rank were provided with an allowance to keep a horse. These stipendiaries included wardens, district medical officers, road overseers and policemen. Even clergy were sometimes provided with a horse or even a horse-and-buggy. The real place however to see the most wonderful horses in action was in the canefields of the 19th and early 20th centuries. A finely groomed mount with a highly polished leather saddle and brass or silver trappings was the epitome of majesty for most planters. Many vied with each other at agricultural shows (such as that held at the Prince’s Building under the patronage of the Governor) to present the most handsome beast. The horses also shone at the annual races and gymkhanas which were held on the plantations. In the fields of the Naparimas for instance, estates like Picton, Wellington and La Fortune vied with each other to prove their dominance in athletic contests which saw horses being pitted in daring jumps, dressage and parade, much to the delight of spectators who turned out from far and wide. Today, the Santa Rosa racecourse is one of the last places to see a horse in all its glory.