When one thinks of horse drawn carriages in funeral processions, images of royal or presidential funerals may come to mind. However, horse drawn carriages have been in existence since the seventeenth century and were the only means of transporting caskets until the invention of the motorized hearse in the early twentieth century. The first documented occasion of a horse drawn funeral carriage was in London in 1648 for the burial of Thomas Rainsborowe, a Vice-Admiral in the Royal Navy.
The rise in use of horse drawn carriages in both England and the United States during the nineteenth century was due to what is known as the “Rural Cemetery Movement”. The concept of rural cemeteries was forged from overcrowding in churchyard cemeteries. People began building cemeteries wherever they could find land, usually on the outskirts of town. Often, the cemeteries were of considerable distance from the church, which created the problem of transporting the casket to the cemetery. This problem gave birth to the horse drawn funeral carriage. It was customary at that time to use a black carriage with black horses for adult funerals while white carriages and horses were used for the funerals of children.
After the invention of motorized funeral coaches in the early 1900’s, the use of horse drawn carriage services began to decline. However, the funeral of President John F. Kennedy, in which a horse drawn funeral carriage was utilized, caused a renewed interest in the use of carriage services. Presently, one can find numerous companies offering horse drawn carriage services. It is seen as a symbol of beauty, elegance, and distinction and as a way to express the importance and value of the cherished life being honored.