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Old Billy: The World's Oldest Horse

This article was written as a response to the question: How old was the oldest horse?

One day in 1760, in an English village called Woolston in Lancashire Country, a horse was born.  There are no records to indicate that anyone expected this horse would be at all above average, but in the end the horse went down in history as the oldest horse in the world.  The average lifespan of a horse is 20-25 years, but this horse lived to be a wizened 62 years old.

There are few records that remain about the horse, who became known as "Old Billy".  We don't know exactly what breed Billy was, but he was said to look like a cob/shire horse and that he was black with a white blaze.  The only existing image of Billy is a lithograph taken in 1820.  In the lithograph, Billy is standing with Squire Henry Harrison who had known the horse for 59 years.  They are standing in a field in Warrington.  The Warrington Pasrish Church is visible in the background.  This lithograph may be viewable in the Grange Sports and Social Club and in the Warrington Museum.

So what does a horse do for 62 years?  Old Billy was a barge horse owned by the Mersey and Irwell Navagation.  In the 1700s, horse-drawn barges were used to transport cargo throughout England by way of canals.  The horse would be rigged up to the barge and travel along an adjacent towpath to pull the barge along the canal.  This was a very common job for horses in situations where using a sail boat was impractical.  Barge horses became obsolete, however, with the onset of the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the boat engines.  The railway also had a hand in retiring Old Billy, as its speed and efficiency made slow barge transport outdated.

While Old Billy's birth may not have been recorded, his death certainly was.  As the oldest horse in the world, his passing on November 27, 1822 made the papers and was recorded in the Annals of Manchester.  2 years later, on August 30, 1824, Old Billy's head was presented to the Manchester Museum by the Mersey and Irwell Navigation Company.

Despite the interest generated over Old Billy by his death at such an old age, there is little recorded evidence generally available and many questions still to be asked, by any who are interested now.  How many years did Billy work as a Barge horse for Mersey and Irwell?  Why did they present his head to the Manchester Museum?  And, of course, what did they do with the head in the 2 years between his death and his enshrinement in the museum?

  • http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_does_old_billy_the_horse_look_like
  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Billy
  • http://www.archive.org/stream/annalsofmanchest00axon/annalsofmanchest00axon_djvu.txt

Related keywords: jumping horse
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Comments (11)

Hi Broccoli, Why Broccoli? Anyway, I give you a thumbs up on this article because it shows good research and it was well written. I'd like to see more Factoids written by you.

Ranked #5 in Horses

Hi MisterWizard, Thanks for the props, I'm glad you like my article. I'm working on some more, but I have this pesky day job that keeps me from writing for most of the day. :) I chose Broccoli because that's what my name sounds like if you say it fast (not the name I was born with, my married name). It amuses me. Since I got married i've made it my user name on a bunch of things. I'm also starting to write for Pushingplay.com under the same name.

Good article. I've never heard of this horse before, very interesting and amazing.

I have created Recognise Old Billy campaign to recognise the hero of the late 18th century that is Old Billy. See Facebook and future internet site to be created in March 2009.

Ranked #1 in Horses

and if nobody documented his birth.. how do we know he really was 62 yrs old?

Ranked #5 in Horses

Hi Brenda, No document was made of his birth because horses didn't get birth certificates back then, but we know what year he was born from records of his life and those made at his death, that indicate his age. If you're interested in more information about Old Billy, I recommend you go to the websites I've listed below the article.

Old Billy lived in the village where I have (nearly) always lived in Woolston, Nr Warrington, Lancashire. There were documents of the farmer (Dam Lane in Woolston) ) and which horses he and others owned. It's amazing which historical documents exist. Remember in those days there were no world or national records! No-one would be interested in such things. Records are a 20th century obsession and no-one would have cared about anything then except carrott, potato and turnip harvests!!Old Billy worked from the age of 2 to 32 on the local canal network, he was a barge horse. I am currently approaching the Heritage Lottery Fund to fund a statue of the great horse. Also hoping to rename a road or the motorway island at junction 21 of the M6!! His head was presented to Manchester museum a part of the University of Manchester in January 1824, 14 months after his death as that was when the university opened and Billy was known as a "horse of considerable age".. Thanks for your interest Shaun

Starting a major campaign in Woolston near Warrington with local Parish Council to launch a major drive to recognise Old Billy. There are plans for a rolling programme of environmental projects in the name of Old Billy across the parish of Woolston, involving local schools, community engagement, art work, environmental improvements and so on, in the area of the Woolston New Cut Canal and River Mersey in the south of Woolston. More to follow... SR Hampton 2-10-10.

katrina.w.

wow i have a horse at the age 29 in may he will turn 30 on the 30th.

i have apony to

Rebecca

Our horse turns 30 today and she is still very spritely and young, my Mum and Dad joked that she would outlive them and reading about Ol Billy she probably will. Scary thought.

Lauren V

My horse Yellow is 40 years old!

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