The bright red on the harnesses draws your attention right to the hay wain and the three horses pulling it. It’s the focal point of the painting, and it’s where I’m focusing these devotional thoughts, too.
But first, don’t miss the two related study suggestions especially for homeschoolers at the end of this post. One is a literature study and the other is a Christian history study. Both are related to the time period of this painting and would be good to introduce or expand on a study of the Industrial Revolution.
Now on to The Hay Wain and the three powerful, black horses that made it possible to quickly bring in more hay than men and women on their own could have done.
They were likely descended from Friesians, black horses that originated long ago in Friesland, a northern area of what is today the Netherlands.
- As early as AD 122 records show that the Romans brought Friesians and their owners to Britain to help build Hadrian’s Wall.
- In Medieval times Friesian mercenaries rode their large, powerful horses into battles in Britain and elsewhere.
- In the 1500s more Friesian horses came to the eastern parts of England (where Constable’s family later lived and farmed) with Dutch engineers to help drain the marshes.
- In the 1800s Friesians were sought after as coach horses, and were often used to pull hearses for funerals.
Because of this, the all-round Friesian horse has contributed to several large and small horse breeds originating in England, including the largest, the Shire horse.
At the time of this painting, although the Industrial Revolution was under way, Friesians and other horses were still indispensable.
Steam may have powered the engines for railroads and machinery in factories, but the coal to produce steam had to be mined. In those mines thousands of small ponies, called pit ponies lived underground and pulled coal carts through the tunnels.
Above ground, railway companies in Great Britain still owned thousands of draft horses to make local deliveries and even shunt engines and cars around in railway yards. In London, over 11,000 horse-drawn cabs took people to work, to theaters, and to railway stations.
Wherever there were canals horses pulled barges and small boats. Here’s another of Constable’s large landscapes that shows a horse leaping a barrier as it pulls a boat along a canal near where Constable lived.
The 3-foot barriers kept cattle from straying, so canal horses had to be strong and well-trained to not only pull a barge, but leap the barriers along the way.
Even as more machines were developed to speed up planting and harvesting, large teams of horses had to pull the machines.
Of course people also rode horses everywhere, and livery stables existed for people to rent a horse the way today we rent a car.
Little wonder that we still use the term “horsepower” to determine how much power an engine can produce.
James Watt, whose steam engine helped power the Industrial Revolution, came up with the term “horsepower” to describe how much power it took to raise 550 pounds 1 foot in 1 second. He based the measurement on the work of ponies in mines.
For thousands of years the power of horses has carried armies into battle, allowed people to hunt large game such as bison, taken people to settle new areas, and once there, pulled plows to grow food and wagons to get products to markets.
Yet in Psalm147, we see that God warns us not to put our hope in even that great power.
His [God’s] pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
Nor is His delight in the legs of a man;
The Lord delights in those who fear Him,
Who put their hope in His unfailing love. Ps. 147:10-11.
As we put our hope in God’s love, the Lord can use even our weaknesses for His glory!
As Paul says, “But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” 2 Cor.12:9.
Have you experienced a time when God used your weaknesses for His glory?
Ideas for Homeschoolers studying the Industrial Revolution:
1. Literature study: Read Black Beauty. Anna Sewell wrote the story in the 1800s about a gentle, black horse that worked in many of the capacities I’ve written about. When horses filled city streets and toiled in mines, they were often overworked and abused. Sewell wanted to encourage people to treat horses more humanely, and the book did succeed in bringing better treatment to horses. Today we read it mainly because it’s such a good story, but it can still spark a discussion about kind treatment of all animals or introduce a study of that important historical period.
2. Christian history study: Learn how the revivals of the Wesleys and George Whitefield helped the many people who had left rural life for jobs in factories. Children and adults worked long hours in unsafe conditions and went home to unsanitary slums. But many Christians who came to faith in the Wesleyan revivals worked to better the conditions of poor working people. The Sunday school movement began because working children only had Sundays off. Others worked to end child labor in mines or start orphanages. They worked to improve hospital and prison conditions.