This was always the one "item" that had multiple uses and variety. In most starting games none of us could afford a horse (heck, we couldn't afford the armor we wanted), but we still wanted a horse. The horse was one of the first things we would buy when we "were rich". We knew we had made it once we each owned a horse.
Horses also act as companions. We always named them and those names were a reflection of ourselves and/or our characters. They gave us something more to worry about, something to care about. Somehow this gave our games more meaning. In our games the horses often had personalities and provided a limited form of role-playing.
Side Note: I detest the 10' pole. I don't care what people say; no one in reality would ever carry one nor use it. It would be tossed aside after about 10 minutes of hiking or riding. It is a metagame tool and I don't like them.