Human history has been powered by horses for millennia. In Portland, you can find symbols of the horse’s contribution to society — if you lower your gaze.
Scattered around the City of Roses are discreet brass + iron rings bolted into curbs and sidewalks. They harken back to a time when Portlanders used horses to travel and transport goods.
The City of Portland installed metal rings throughout the city at the turn of the 20th century, requiring riders and wagon drivers to tether their unattended steeds to protect passersby if one should spook and bolt. Within a couple of decades, the rising popularity of automobiles had pushed horses out of Portland — and the rings fell to disuse.
The city eventually started removing the rings after some people reportedly tripped over them. But a resident complained that the rings were worth preserving (read his colorful statement) — and the city agreed, reining in its efforts to remove them. In 1978, the city announced that residents could pay a $5 fee to have a tether ring replaced if it was removed during curb repairs.
Local artist Scott Wayne Indiana reunited the rings with horses, so to speak, when he launched the Portland Horse Project in 2005. He tied some toy horses to the rings, sparking a stampede of enthusiasm, including a marriage proposal + a documentary. People still hitch toy creatures to the rings today.
If you’d like to visit a piece of Portland’s horsey past, look for the tether rings in the Pearl District, inner Southeast, the Sellwood neighborhood, and in the West Hills south of Washington Park (though they’re scattered across other areas, too). And if you see one, snap a picture to share on Facebook or Instagram.