01 Dec History of Horse and Sleigh Bells
Ornaments, including bells of all kinds, have been used to adorn horses worldwide from at least 800 BCE through today. Horse bells attracted good luck; protected against disease, injury and evil; flaunted the owner’s wealth and status; and enhanced the horse’s natural beauty.
Horse bells have always had a practical purpose as well as a decorative one. They warned pedestrians and other drivers to the approach of oncoming vehicles and alerted potential customers that street vendors and delivery wagons were in the neighborhood.
Drawing: Knight and horse with bells on its harness
In Britain, a few horse bells dating to Roman times have been found. The book Game and Playe of Chesse by William Caxton, published about 1474, shows a knight riding a horse with a single crotal mounted on its rump. In the 1500s and 1600s, horse bells were were often plated with gold or silver, engraved with coats of arms and inscriptions, and presented as gifts and awards. (5) In the 1700s and 1800s, horse bells in Britain were often used on pack horses traveling narrow trails through the mountains and hills. These bells were also used in the 1800s and 1900s on horses pulling wagons along winding country lanes in southern England and Wales.