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Horse populations were greatly reduced as cars became prevalent: http://www.cowboyway.com/What/HorsePopulation.htm

What happened to the surplus horses during that period, say, in the USA? Or was the transition slow enough that not breeding new horses was enough?

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    Or was the transition slow enough that not breeding new horses was enough? Do you have any reason of thinking that it wasn't? Horses were reserved to the richest, and cars too before the 1960s. – Bregalad Nov 20 '17 at 7:57
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    The transition was very slow, and it was more than just the horses themselves. Once upon a time every town would've had a blacksmith for reshoeing horses much in the way that we have gas stations. There would've been posts to tie horses to, drinking troughs outside shops, etc etc. All these died a slow death as horses were slowly phased out and new infrastructure were built with cars but no horses in mind. – Semaphore Nov 20 '17 at 8:16
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    Note that average lifespan of a workhorse in the beginning of XX century would be likely around 10 years, so the rate of population loss would be almost equal to the number the breeding rate was reduced by. I was unable to find the number of horses born/imported to USA in that period, though. – Danila Smirnov Nov 20 '17 at 9:45
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    The question referenced the introduction of cars, but many horses were used in agriculture. The transition to tractors and other mechanized farm machinery that replaced horses, mules and oxen was even slower. Not only infrastructure but price was a factor. And custom work (hiring someone with more modern equipment for certain tasks) would have helped delay the need for a complete changeover for any individual farmer. – bgwiehle Nov 20 '17 at 13:41
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    @bgwiehle - Quite. My dad's family was still using horses for herding cattle as recently as the 1970's. I suspect many ranchers still use them for that purpose. Having seen it first-hand, you can't really use motor-vehicles to the same effect for various reasons (they either need pavement to be effective, or aren't imposing enough). – T.E.D. Nov 20 '17 at 15:23
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In most areas transition was indeed gradual. They just stopped breeding them in large numbers. However there is one exception. Military horses. Main transition happened during WWI, and after the war many millions of war horses were slaughtered. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horses_in_World_War_I

http://grey-mare.co.uk/articles/general-interest/real-war-horses-remembered.shtm

  • One should note that there were more horses (millions) used by World War II armies than in any other war. – Barry Nov 21 '17 at 1:13
  • You are right. But I have not read any stories about mass slaughtering of them. – Alex Nov 21 '17 at 1:41
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The transition was indeed slow: Cars were very unreliable and infrastructure did not exist for large numbers of cars for a long time. This is not just roads but also service stations, etc. Horses were used up to and including WW2 definitely in Poland but possibly also in the USA armed forces. Old horses were processed for things like glue and their meat was eaten so I think a reasonable assumption is that surplus horses were dealt with in the same way.

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