Colt following: Project Pegasus to kick UK emissions into the last century by leaning on horsepower

Six horses in a grassy field with trees and wind turbines in the background.

Grantham Institute’s Lottie Butler dons her jodhpurs as the government is onto a winner with its latest low-carbon transport innovation, inspired by nineteenth century technology. 

In 2019, the UK government announced an £80 million investment to develop the next generation of electric vehicles, while legislators are rushing to legalise electric scooters and hoverboards. Transport remains the largest contributor to the UK’s emissions and in November 2020 the Prime Minister announced his 10 point plan for a green industrial revolution which covered plans for the transport sector, including providing better support electric vehicles. 

Next week however, the Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng is saddling up to announce investment in an exciting low-carbon transport proposal inspired by a nature-based technology that everyone thought had bolted in the nineteenth century. The initiative, codenamed ‘Project Pegasus’ and developed by Grantham Institute researchers, involves restoring horses – and horse-drawn streetcars and carriages – as the mane form of transport in urban areas.  

“Horses are a highly sustainable form of transport, travelling many miles powered by hay and grain alone, and they are not ruminants, meaning their digestive process produces far less methane than that of cattle and sheep” explains Grantham Institute Professor Rein Canter, who leads the project. “Not only does horsepower win by a furlong over the greenhouse gas emissions of petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles, this project really does have wings.”

A booming economy 

Horses left in a field may not need much maintenance, but for them to play an active role in society will require a significant workforce of highly skilled professionals, including trainers,  wranglers, dentists and vets. The British Horse Society has proposed horse-riding training for postal service delivery operatives, while The Jockey Club have pitched their services to food delivery companies, requesting only a small nosebag in return.

A person riding a horse next to a river in a city at sunrise. There are construction cranes and trees on the other side of the river.

A green city

“Turning over tarmacked roads to sandy tracks, and car parks to paddocks, would completely transform the urban environment. Money released from road-building schemes could be re-invested in integrating nature into our cities,” says Professor Canter. “This would enable city-planners to embark on ambitious greening schemes, such as planting apple orchards on roundabouts, and free manure for everyone.” 

Why the long face?

Transitioning from four wheels to four legs could bring an enormous and immediate reduction in air pollution, as well as significant physical and mental health benefits. Horses have been used in physical therapy since the early 1950s to help people improve their coordination. Furthermore, their sensitivity to human emotion offers a form of psychological therapy for stressed out city residents, and everyone will enjoy learning the comedy name people give to their new horses

How do we get there? 

UK horse numbers are currently stable at around 850,000 – by no means sufficient for a population of over 66 million people. However, targeted breeding schemes can lead to a significant crop in just a few of years, helping this scheme to cross the first hurdle.

“In the early twentieth century, the Army Remount Department boosted the equine head count from 25,000 before World War One, to around 600,000 animals by 1917. The commercialisation of new technologies can take decades, and cost hundreds of thousands in investment, but while you can lead a horse to water, you can’t make them drink,” says Dr Nay Trotter, a collaborator on Project Pegasus. “If the government is looking for a quick, low-cost solution to our high-carbon transport sector, and a first prize rosette, they need look no further than the affable equines grazing our green and pleasant land”.  

“Just don’t tell a hungry French person, if you want to get anywhere tout suite,” he added. 

Happy April Fools! Love the Grantham Institute Communications Team. 

Funny photograph of a horse in a stables, it has its face close to the camera and is pouting its lips.

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