Hybrid Cart Makes Pulling Loads Safer for Horses

Hybrid Cart Makes Pulling Loads Safer for Horses

An electrically-powered hybrid cart is designed to prevent equine fatigue and make pulling heavy loads safer for horses.

Photo: Bernard Michon

For thousands of years, the only kind of "hybrid vehicle" involving equids was the mule--half horse, half donkey. Today, however, European scientists have designed a 21st century equine hybrid that's half horse, half machine.

Developed from electric bicycle technology, this "hippomobile" ("hippo" is Latin for horse) is intended to help horses more easily do a task they've been doing for centuries: pull carts and carriages. And in an eco-conscious world, many people support this type of "horsepower," if it's used safely and in the best interest of the animal.

"The return of the horse (as a working transport provider) can only be achieved on a large scale if human intervention guarantees the well-being of the animal," said Claude Cremet, who manages Cheval Cité, an organization that currently handles trash collection and plant watering via draft horse-drawn carts in Macon, France.

"A renaissance in the field of animal traction will therefore not mean a return to the conditions of the 18th and 19th centuries as some might fear," he said. "Completely the opposite in fact, as this return will involve modern practices, with horses being used under economic, ecological, and ethical conditions, failing which no such return will take place."

With carriage horse welfare coming under international scrutiny of late, the Swiss National Stud in Avenches has instigated research into the electrically-powered hybrid cart and how it can prevent equine fatigue.

"Our research is aimed at studying the influence of the practiced technique (the electrically-assisted cart) on the well-being and the behavior of horses," stated Ruedi von Niederhäusern, PhD, director of the Equichain research department at the Swiss National Stud.

Currently 120 French cities, including Paris and Lyon, and a growing number of Swiss cities--including Lausanne, home of the Fédération Equestre Internationale--rely on draft horse power for community chores such as trash and recycling collection, park and forest maintenance, and even the transport of children in horse-drawn school buses.

The new hybrid cart would "in no way substitute the horse, but like the electric bicycle it would help out (the horse) during difficult moments," said Marco Zandonà, president of the Swiss technology company Meterus, which developed the cart's motor in cooperation with the College of Engineering and Architecture of Fribourg, Switzerland, partly funded by a national innovation grant.

The cart's design allows it to recharge the motor's battery during downhill movements and to automatically detect via onboard electronics when the horse needs electric assistance, Zandonà said.

"The goal is to modernize and lend credibility to animal traction through an approach that combines technology, ecology, profitability, and equine welfare," he said.

About the Author

Christa Lesté-Lasserre, MA

Christa Lesté-Lasserre is a freelance writer based in France. A native of Dallas, Texas, Lesté-Lasserre grew up riding Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, and Shetland Ponies. She holds a master’s degree in English, specializing in creative writing, from the University of Mississippi in Oxford and earned a bachelor's in journalism and creative writing with a minor in sciences from Baylor University in Waco, Texas. She currently keeps her two Trakehners at home near Paris. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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