Thursday, December 31, 2015


    When I started this blog in March, I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep up with it. There were some rough patches (August, I'm looking at you. Only one post!! And nothing of substance. What a disappointment). But, somehow, keep up I did (mostly), and it has been a great way to jot down thoughts on a new source or work out how to break down a specialized topic so that people from many fields had a prayer of understanding me.
  With the first (foreshortened) year just about over, we've surpassed two thousand views. Here's to two thousand more!

                           Happy New Year!

Bamboo Harvester, aka Mr. Ed

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Morgan Horse Club

Sometimes you come a cross a gem while looking for something entirely different. Yesterday was one of those days for me.
The "Harness Horse Gossip" column from the January 2nd 1907 Chicago Tribune contained this little tidbit:

Breeders Talk Heavy Harness

The American Association of Trotting Horse breeders, which organization has already assumed a truly national character, and is recognized, by reason of the extent and character of its membership, as an important factor in all matters pertaining to the breeding and racing of harness horses, has decided to appoint a special committee to work actively on matters Interesting to those breeding a type of horse for heavy harness work.

This committee will be composed of Mtr. George Romiel, of the department of animal Industry, Washington, D. C., as chairman; A. T. Cole, Chicago, Gen, J. B. Castleman, Louisville, Ky., Joseph Battell of Middlebury, i't., and II. K. Devereux of Cleveland. The idea Is to the development and advancement of our native horses In a line heretofore given over without opposition to animals of foreign birth, and that a great deal or good will be accomplished is not a matter of doubt.

Although Battell had published volume one of his Morgan Horse Register in 1894, the Morgan Horse Club was not founded until 1909– two years after the formation of this committee.

One of the reasons that many early Morgans were registered with other breeds is simply because America's oldest breed was willing to compete in any and all rings, and did not enforce a separate registry. Saddlebreds began to be registered in 1891 and trotters (and later pacers) who could meet the "standard" for a mile in 1876.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

More on Morgans

     Its been a great week for Morgan History! Someone found this article from the New York Herald, December 22, 1912, and sent it into the Lippitt Club. The article claims Justin Morgan referred to Figure as a Dutch horse. Sadly, given it's late date this is still just hearsay.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

The Origins of America's Orginal Horse

        While there were horses in the Americas well before Figure (The Justin Morgan Horse), and even earlier 'breeds' developed in what is now the United States (the Narraganset Pacer comes to mind), Figure's timely birth along the his astounding versatility, and the all-important ability to pass on his traits, are what allowed the Morgan Horse to become the first truly American (as in U.S.) breed. This stud ad was recently posted by The Morgan Horse Museum. The ad is by Justin Morgan himself, when Figure was about five years old.
       There are two things I'd like to point out about this ad. This first is the fee- $1. While this seems like a ridiculously tiny fee to us, "full-blooded" (i.e. Thoroughbred) stallions of the time often stood for only $5, and only imported champions were likely to command more than $25. Figure was of course not full blooded, but rather an unregistered and unregisterable "sport," and at this point still rather young. So with only a couple of seasons of accomplishments, a scant handful of foals on the ground (with possibly none ready to be ridden), and his "strength, beauty, and activity," he merits a full dollar fee and being stood in two towns in the same season (a common practice for quality studs).
        The second, and related, item is the complete and utter lack of pedigree information. While most stud ads contain at least sire and damsire, Justin Morgan is silent. Given the currently accepted theory that his sire was the stolen True Briton, and his dam a mare by Diamond (great grandson of Cade, via Wildair), this lack is startling.* I have long favored the Dutch theory, most famously supported by the late great Jeanne Mellin, and this ad's peculiar silence further suggests that Figure was not largely thoroughbred.**

*See the Morgan Horse Register, Vol 1. Notably, True Briton and Wildair were both owned by Col. James De Lancey.

**His current "official" pedigree is 3/4 early Thoroughbred (more like today anglo-Arabs, or even Akhal-Tekes) and 1/8 Arabian, though there is some question as to wether his damsire Diamond was in fact full blooded. Even if Diamond was only half Thoroughbred himself, that would still make Figure 5/8 Thoroughbred and 1/8 Arabian. 

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Signal Boost: Call For Panelists

"Hi All,

I'm looking to assemble a panel for RMCLAS 2016  (March 30-April 2) in Santa Fe, NM. The panel concerns centering animals within History or other disciplines. My paper analyzes the University of Arizona Insect Collections. I seek to complicate the normative definition of archive as a fixed, static space and analyze the technologies and media used to preserve, display, and portray insect specimens for human understanding and entertainment.

Please contact me via email at if you are interested in participating. This call for panelists is cross posted to H-Net LatAm, Grad, and Animal.

Thank you,
Danielle Blalock
PhD Student - The University of Arizona
Department of History "

I am working on an equestrian paper for this panel, and we are still looking for one or two more panelists.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Friday, November 6, 2015

Triple Crown, Triple Stud

     Many years ago I was keeping an eye on a young "good looking" son of Unbridled. He lost to Funny Cide, who he had previously beaten, in the Derby, and his connections opted out of the Preakness. When Funny Cide won in Maryland, I was shocked and lost a strange bet. I had been sure it would be on his home turf in NY that Funny Cide would shine. Of course, maybe things would have been different if the Derby runner up was there. In the Belmont, he had bittersweet redemption, denying Funny Cide the Triple Crown and ensuring the drought went on. Now, Empire Maker is returning to the states to stand within miles of his son and his grandson, who finally ended that drought. I'm really not sure standing them ALL in KY is best, but I'm sure plenty of owners will be willing to ship good mares.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Thoroughbreds Beyond Aftercare

    The Retired Racehorse Project started half a decade ago. When you say it that way, it seems like a long time. But in reality,  it has been only a handful of years since the Pittmans spearheaded the newest, most energetic, and now I dare say most successful effort to revitalize the industry and show the inherent value Thoroughbreds.
    Coming off the overwhelming success of the Retired Racehorse Training Symposium at their home farm in 2009, the organization had a slow but very steady start with demos and seminars at the Maryland and Pennsylvania Horse World Expos (always a highlight of my year while I was living in MD, particularly Erin's nutrition talks and Steuart's demos).  At the end of 2011 the website launched, and the first competition, the 100-day trainer challenge, was announced. It was a wild success (I'd rarely seen so many spectators packed in the stands, short of international clinicians). Within a year I saw the price of Thoroughbreds double, even triple throughout the Mid-Atlantic. The entire economy was enjoying a brief uptick, but Thoroughbreds had gone from the very bottom of the market- I bought several nice, already retrained Thoroughbreds for between $1 and $500 in the years directly prior- to competing in the market with Quarter Horses, Paints, and even once again with warmbloods. The "rebranding" of Thoroughbreds had been successful, and a network of education was being built.
     And it didn't stop there. Rather than compete with other organizations, the the RRP has become a bridge not only between trainers and owners, but also between the multitude of Thoroughbred organizations. I think it is this co-operative, symbiotic system that is the RRP's greatest contribution, and the key to their success. This year's "Most Wanted Thoroughbred" makeover contest (also sponsored by Thoroughbred Charities of America) secured the Kentucky Horse Park and attracted close to 200 entries- almost double what was expected, and a far cry from the three horse demos that started the movement. It was, for the first time, international. And truly, astoundingly diverse in disciplines. I have watched friends videos with great envy, and also with great hope for the future of the breed and the industry as a whole.

Bareback fire jump at TB Makeover 2015
Photo by S. J. Zywar

Friday, October 23, 2015

Colors in Translation

     I had to share a few of these. Our names for coat colors seem so normal until we look at them in translation (or try to explain them to a non-horse person! "What do you mean he's not brown?"). We think nothing of calling a horse mouse dun, but pél de rata- coat of rat- elicits a giggle. 

Mohrenkopf = German "moor head," for blue roan.
Windfarben= German "wind colored," for silver dapple.
Alézan Brulé= French "burnt chestnut," for liver chestnut.
Valk= Dutch "falcon," for buckskin.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Purple Potions

    Thomas de Grey's 1684 "The Compleat Horse-man" includes a number of applications for gentians, including as a partial treatment for what sounds like heaves. He gives many possible treatments, ranging from vinegar soaked eggs to the "excrements of a sucking child" - yes, that means baby poop.* Attached to all is the sound advice that the horse's hay and "meat" (i.e., dinner) be wet. Other uses of gentian, he claimed, were the treatment of glanders and as a "purgative."
   The variety in Grey's work barely touches the wild array of uses to which gentians have been put, from treatment of thrush in humans and horses to chicken feed preservative to use as a histological stain to study bacteria to treating WWI soldiers for venereal disease. Most barns probably have at least one gentian compound laying around, in the form of either Blu Kote or Thrush Buster. I'll leave the glanders treatments to the vet, though, especially since mis-applied gentian can cause tattooing.

*Grey, 122.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015


    We just got back from a busy weekend at the Andalusian World Cup in Vegas. I'd love to tell you all about it, but if a picture is worth a thousand words, than these are worth millions.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

More soon!

  The horses of the flesh-and-blood sort have been keeping me busy, but there will be more soon.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Horsebread: For Horses, Not From Them

    My current project has me looking up medieval & early modern horse diets, including horsebreads.

    Horsebreads were generally coarse ground grain and some form of legume, baked into a fairly dense loaf. The refrain on most (of the very few... horsebread isn't glamorous research) mentions of horsebread was that it was the same bread eaten by peasants, simply because it was cheap. Although it was undoubtably cheaper to produce and to procure than refined white breads, I have a feeling the legumes (peas, fava beans, etc) played a much larger role than simply making the bread inexpensive. Peasants, i.e. laborers, needed protein just as much as the horses did, and neither had access to a meat diet.
   Many of the available recipes favor rye, even when horsebread started to be refined to be fed to racehorses. Interestingly, rye has a much better calcium:phosphorous than wheat or even oats. Very roughly, these are 1:2, 1:8, and 1:4, respectively, with ideal being 1:1 to 2:1. Assorted peas and beans also have better ratios than wheat, though again they fall short of the ideal (for examples, peas are roughly 1:4.5, and fava beans- once known as horsebeans- are roughly 1:4). When wheat was used (and it usually was), it would be sifted and the finer flour would be reserved for more expensive breads for human consumption. The finer flour contains more simple starch, while the coarser (which includes most of the bran) contains more fiber and more protein, all of which is better for the horse (and the peasant, even if it was less appealing).

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


One thousand views! Thanks for reading!

Parker says coffee time.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Historical Horse Tack: The Science of Gagging

    "The Patent Bridle," invented by Dennis Magner, a popular and prolific 19th century author on 'scientific' horse training. This illustration is from his 1886 "The Art of Taming and Educating the Horse." This may be the earliest gag bit, at least of the strap style. Anyone know of (or suspect) an earlier one?

   It is slightly different from modern gags in two effective way. First, the pulley gives a little bit more leverage (re: stronger upward pull) than a modern strap. And second, "a rubber connecting the ends of the bit to the rings on the pulley reins makes the action of the bit upon the mouth the same as any ordinary bit. But if at any time there should be much resistance, the rubbers stretch sufficiently to give play to the reins upon the pulleys." If true, a very neat innovation, though I'm not a fan of gag bits, especially ones with as long a strap as this (a stopper could be added to prevent maximum engagement and the possibility of severe lip damage).

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Etymology: Grab Mane!

"MANE, (of horse &c) Dut. Maene Ger. Maene Sw. Maan. Minshew derives - because it flows from his neck. Wachter from Lat. (of the Lower Ages) Minare to lead, to guide, because the horse was guided by means it before the bridle was invented. Junius the Gr. Mavvos or uavos a kind of adapted to the neck. Kilian says that it is so from its resemblance to the moon, whence it called by Martial juba lunata, and by Catullus rutila. May it not be from A.S. Magen, magn, main strength?"

    Excerpted from "A New Dictionary of the English Language, Volume 2," by Charles Richardson, 1855. I love this poor dead scholar for for his literary eyeroll at so many false cognates.

    Like most of our baser equestrian words, 'mane' does come from the Anglo-Saxon, though I am inclined to believe it is from gemáne, for maned. Curious, though, is this idea that somewhere in the mists of time, people dared to get on an unbroke horse without even the benefit of the headgear used for the previously domesticated sheep, goats, or cattle (and possibly even donkeys)!

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Capriole in Art

  Many horsefolk have expressed confusion or outright disbelief at the extreme angle (or rather, lack thereof) of the hindlegs in paintings of horses in capriole. The works of Johann Georg de Hamilton (d. 1737), in particular, receive a ton of comments about how 'unrealistic' or 'impossible' the position is. While his work may be idealized, it's not unusual for the period, and he may receive the bulk of the commentary only because his works are in full vibrant color, and widely accessible.


    I think this position looks strange only because it's unfamiliar. We're used to seeing horses buck or jump with their legs folded, like these:

We don't often see a spectacular buck like this, especially outside the rodeo ring:

      And although it's becoming more common again, we also don't often see a horse that has actually been trained to capriole. And as difficult a maneuver as it is (and some may argue that ethical training makes it more difficult to achieve consistent results, although it makes it much easier on the horse!), even if we do have the opportunity to see a horse in capriole, it may not be as precise or extreme as those painted by Hamilton. The hind legs may hang slightly loose and low, like this (though in some cases, this is actually due to the difficulty of timing the photograph):

There are, however, now plenty of photographs of horses in this extreme version of capriole. 

And even with rider:

Can we talk about her lack of stirrups?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Kitten Discovers Cat-tree

   Ok, so once again it isn't horses or history, or even remotely educational. But, lets be real- kitten videos are more entertaining. Parker has finally realized that the cat-tree can be climbed. And has TOYS!


Abdiel is not sure how he feels about this development. He likes playing cat-tree paw slap, but he's used to being the higher kitty. At least he's no longer running from the kitten.


Ab says that's better.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Foster Kitten

    Meet "Parker." 
aka Peter Parker aka Spidey
He leaps, flings, and climbs. A lot.

Parker, meet mirror.

I didn't grab the phone fast enough to catch him full on attacking the mirror. 
I was to busy watching and trying not to laugh.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Celebrity Catification

    Normally, I am not a fan of celebrity endorsed/marketed projects. In fact, they usually annoy me. For example, I was working at PetSmart when the Martha Stewart line launched. Most of the products are priced at 2-4x similar, but un-named, items. Most of the items provided no innovation or advantage, and those that did tended to be minor (though, that line does often have a killer color scheme). Worse is the insane variety of bits, saddles, whips, etc. endorsed by celebrity horse trainers, especially when there are claims that "no other bit/saddle/flyspray/whatever will work" or that all other whatevers are "cruel," even when there is often little difference. There are a handful of exceptions. Even smaller is the number of these items that aren't horrendously overpriced.
    So, here, I would like to offer my own endorsement (call it a PSA) of one particular celebrity product that is well worth the market price.


"Air Prey" aka birdie
"Ground Prey" aka cricket

     Yes, I watch My Cat From Hell. And yes, I love and adore Jackson Galaxy for his skill, his compassion, his mission, and his overall awesomeness. But, yet another celebrity marketed pet product? I was unconvinced.

(Cesar Millan dog water anyone?) 

   But they were on sale, and surprisingly comparable in price to other cat wands anyway. So we bought the bird.

Kill! My camera can't actually keep up when they're playing.
All the 'hunt' pictures are blurrrrr. 

     Or maybe both. We ended up going back for the cricket (its not really called that, but we do). We have two cats with different preferences (they both love both toys, but each has a definite preference). They really are better. Way better. The cats play longer, they play harder, and then they are very happy mellow kitties and not little furry terrors twenty minutes later. They don't get bored until they are well and truly tired. Also they're fun to play with for us human folks, too.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

New Book

    "Who’s Talking Now? Multispecies Relations from Human and Animals’ Point of View" is now available as an e-book from InterDisciplinary Press. It is a fascinating collection, including a chapter I wrote for it on the medieval horse.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Historical Horse Tack: Snaffles, Curbs, and Losing Ones Head

      On November 20th 1627, Charles I of England issued a proclamation outlawing snaffles. Youatt, a prolific nineteenth century equine historian, suggested that this law may have been meant to counteract the trends towards favoring light racing horses over the (comparatively) heavier cavalry horse, but as the law specifically exempted racing and hunting this cannot have been the case. Charles I did have a fondness for imported hotbloods, and bred a number of early 'thoroughly-bred' horses, most of which were dispersed under Cromwell.

Charles I

       While it is easy to consider Charles I cruel in suggesting that only 'bitts' (i.e., curbs) be used, it is important to consider both who this law applied to, and the training processes of the time. First, this law was specifically directed at horses "employed for service," i.e. warhorses.* These horses must be managed with one hand, and their swift and precise reaction would determine wether they, their rider, and their companions lived or died. These were not, generally, the heavily armored knight that we think of; the heavy lancer had become ineffective in the face of greater deployment of archers, along with both canons and pistols becoming more accurate, and the bulk of military forces no longer being limited to the elite. Secondly, the introduction of the 'bitt,' or curb, was considered an advanced step in the horse's training in England at that time, more like modern dressage than western riding**. Thomas Blundville's 1580 adaptation of Frederico Grisone's treatise on the training of warhorses is a fascinating and entertaining read on this subject, full of both good advice and startling horrors. Charles I's proclamation may have been an effort to ensure that riders put time and training into their mounts, rather than showing up on a horse that was either green, or used to an entirely different form of riding (as in racing or hunting).

17th century curb bits
Look how tiny the mouthpieces are! I'd love to get a ruler on these.
 The ones I've seen usually look like they're about 4" to 4 1/2"

Charles I was executed in 1649, but his law stood.    

*Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Charles I: 1627-1628 Great Britain. Public Record Office - January 1, 1858 Longman, Brown, Green, Longmans, & Roberts, pg 441

**though I hate to draw that particular comparison, as this is the beginning of 'classical' dressage, but it does not have a strong relation to either modern dressage or what modern riders call 'classical' dressage.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

White-born Horses of Hanover (take 2)

I reworked and expanded my piece on the Hanoverian Whites for the Fresno State Graduate Symposium this month. It's much easier to follow, and seems to have been a hit, so here it is:

          The vast majority of equestrian history, like equestrian practice, is contained in oral accounts; Many of these histories have been written down over the centuries, but even the all mighty written source must be closely interrogated, as it only repeats commonly held mythologies. Equestrians revel in mythology, and unquestioned absolutes abound. They are repeated, recorded, and renewed from generation to generation. These mythologies primarily revolve around origin stories and criteria for purity; Though clearly flawed and immensely biased, these stories are worth considering both for what they can tell us about equestrian culture and material, and for the hints they can provide regarding avenues of trade and societal commonalities. Today I will address white horses, particularly the White horses of Hanover; the assumptions that have been made about them, and how those assumptions can be challenged. I would like to employ a truly interdisciplinary approach- in this case, the intersection of text, art, and genetics- in order to evaluate unreliable mythologies.

Thomas Sully, "The Passage of the Delaware," 1819

         What color was George Washington’s white horse? Ask that question at any horse barn across the United States, and you will receive a unanimous answer: “He was GREY.” Go to Europe, and the question will be “What color was Napoleon’s white horse?,” but the answer, invariably, will be the same. “He was Gray.” If you suggest otherwise, you will be informed, firmly and thoroughly, that you are wrong. Both variations of this question are used to “test” strangers, and decide if they are knowledgeable or novices.

François Gérard "Napoléon at the Battle of Austerlitz" 1809

         To illustrate this phenomenon:  I had the opportunity, many years ago, to train for a week in Ireland [at Calliaghstown Equestrian Centre]. There were dozens of kids in the barn’s summer camp program, from Ireland, England, France, and even a handful from Germany. I’m sure every last one of them could have ridden circles around me, despite being half my age. At lunch the first day, they surrounded me en masse. The ‘leader,’ who was also one of the oldest at all of fourteen, stepped up, stared me in the eye, and very seriously enquired if I knew what color Napoleon’s white horse was.    And let me tell you, being surrounded and stared at intently by a mob of tweens is surprisingly intimidating! But… I knew the correct answer. “Gray, of course!” They all giggled and relaxed. From that answer on, I was accepted, and they all gleefully shared the “secrets” about their favorite ponies.
Lippizan mares with foals

          The reason that this particular question can be used as a litmus for newcomers at horse barns is that there is no such thing as a white horse. Or… so conventional wisdom says. If a horse looks white, they are in fact grey.  Grey horses are born with normal dark coats (like these foals), but quickly grey out, often appearing completely white by the age of 6 or 7 (like their mothers here).
          I find particularly interesting that it is George Washington and Napoleon who are the subjects of this pop quiz. Both men purportedly owned horses bred at the Herrenhausen stud farm in Hanover. One of the strains of horses bred at Herrenhausen during their lifetimes was known as the Wiessgebornen, or literally white-borns. By simple definition, they cannot have been grey, because grey horses are born with dark coats. This odd tidbit makes it possible that the unfailing answer of “Grey!” for the horses of both George Washington and Napoleon could be wrong.

         The heraldic symbol of Hanover is the white horse. Because of this, it is not surprising that when Sophia of Hanover*, mother of George I of England, founded the studfarm at Herrenhausen in 1714 she chose to establish a “breed” – and I use that term loosely- of visibly white horses. As the “white horse” pop quiz suggests, a horse that looks white may not actually be white, geneticly speaking.
         This “white horse” pop quiz question persists despite a multitude of modern examples of non-grey, white-appearing animals. This is because most of these modern horses aren’t white so much as they are ridiculously heavily marked. What this means is that one of more of what are called “paint” patterns have become so extreme that the entire animal is a giant white spot. Occasionally, these markings will be so extreme that the entire horse looks white. These are called “maximally marked paints.” Because of this, the handful of people who have looked at the puzzle of Hanover’s “White Born” horses have assumed that they, too, where maximally marked paint horses. The answer was so obvious that the question has been dismissed, and the “White Born” horses have been de-mystified.
         I, however, believe this assumption was made prematurely. Because these early Hanoverian horses are better known for their use in England, having first been imported by George I, primarily English sources have been consulted. And, again, because the answer was so “obvious,” there seemed no reason to dig further. A brief look at German sources has provided a very different possibility. That the White horses of Hanover were not grey is clear, due to their light coats at birth. That they were not maximally marked paints, as has been assumed,  is suggested by two facts which are agreed upon by a number of 19th century German Veterinary Manuals, Horse Breeding Treatises, livestock lists, and even encyclopedias. The first of these facts is simply that if you breed two of these Hanoverian White-born horses together, the foals will all be born white like their parents. Paints, however, (like these) tend to have wildly different expressions with each generation. The second fact, which again seems to have been universally accepted, is that their eyes were always dark. Horses with large amounts of paint markings, however, tend to have blue eyes (like this).

         So, if they weren’t grey, and probably weren’t maximal paints, what does that leave us?
Appaloosa. Now, if any of you are familiar with that term, you might be a little surprised. Another name for Appaloosa is Leopard Spotted, and they tend to look something like this:

Although this mare and foal have slightly different expressions, neither could be confused with a white horse.

Tresaison Harlem

         This little guy looks pretty “white,” right? He is neither grey, nor a maximal paint. He is what is called a “fewspot appaloosa.” Homozygous appaloosas – horses that have two copies of the appaloosa spotting gene, rather than one copy like the previous picture of the mare and foal- appear white or mostly white from birth (like this guy). They tend to forget their spots.  This guy is a Knabstrupper, a modern Danish breed. The German branch of the Knabstrupper registry still lists Weißgeborene – the term historically used for the white horses of Hanover- as a current option for coat color registration. The current registry uses this term for what we would call a fewspot appaloosa. So, as it turns out, this answer, too, seems a little obvious.
         Those same 19th century German Veterinary Manuals, Horse Breeding Treatises, livestock lists, and encyclopedias, as well as a 1906 interview with the “oldest retainer” at the Herrenhausen stable all suggest that the White-born horses of Hanover were originally from Denmark, home of the modern Knabstrupper. While the Knabstrupper studbook itself was not established until 1812, a century after the establishment of a breeding program for white-born horses at Herrenhaus, the Knabstrupper was an effort to recreate a type that had been popular in the 17th and 18th centuries- the same time in which the Weissgeborn type of horse was being developed at Herrenhausen.

James Ward "Adonis" 1823

I would like to end with this lovely painting of Adonis, a White-born Horse of Hanover. Adonis was born is 1784, and in 1791 became King George III’s primary mount. – though supposedly the stud manager liked him so much he was reluctant to give him up, even to the king. Although (this work) was not painted until 1823, it is very likely that the artist, James Ward, had met Adonis, and absolutely certain that he had met several other White-born horses from Hanover. James Ward had been appointed as the official painter to George III’s son –who would become George the fourth- in 1794, and there are a number of accounts that Ward ‘borrowed’ White Hanoverian horses from the Royal Mews to use as models. James Ward painted a wide variety of horses in meticulous detail, and has been renowned for his realism. The reason I mention this, is these dark spots. I would love to be able to examine the original of this painting, but it unfortunately has been sold to an undisclosed private collector, for just shy of half a million dollars. All of the reproductions, however, have these same spots. They are not shadow, but distinct mottling on his sheath and testicles. And this is a trait used to confirm that a horse does, in fact, carry the appaloosa gene.

In the case of the White-born horses of Hanover, even a cursory examination of the evidence leads to the questioning of cherished assumptions. Identifying the simple biological possibilities allows us to evaluate the accepted mythology, and consider what avenues of further inquiry are most likely to be fruitful. These biological possibilities can lend credence to parallel mythologies regarding contact between historical areas, give depth to known associations, and suggest connections that may have been overlooked.

Epilogue: The most famous "white" mounts of both Washington and Napoleon were taxidermied, and  are clearly grey. Both men had a fondness for hotbloods. Napoleon preferred small desertbreds (ever wonder why the perspective is always strange in paintings of him? His mounts were apparently significantly shorter than any of his servicemen's horses). Washington preferred partbred 'English' horses, i.e. early thoroughbred crosses. While Washington may have owned a horse from Harrenhauens, it was more likely a Cream than a White, though even this is only rumor. Napoleon briefly controlled Herrenhausen, and so owned both Creams and Whites, and used them extensively for coaching, but there is no record of him riding them. The horses bred at Herrenhausen tended to be on the large side for the period, and so Napoleon probably had little interest in riding them.

*I am not yet certain that it was, in fact, Sophia and not her son or grandson. Even a century out, the accounts are vague and conflicting. However, it does seem to have been her; all accounts that suggest that it was George I or George II leave out Sophia of Hanover's known contributions to Herrenhausen. They may simply be unwilling to place such accomplishments at the feet of a woman.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Origins of Canter

      This article says that "if you look up the word canter, it means to maintain a canted position." While this is true, this is not the origins of the word "canter" for the three beat 'running' gait of the horse. If you've taken any Romance languages, you might have wondered why trot and gallop tend to be cognates, but canter doesn't translate well. In French, it is a 'petit galop,' or little gallop. In Spanish, it is 'medio galope,' or medium gallop (which may say a little about the relative riding styles). German does have a cognate for canter, being 'kanter,' which at first may seem to be because German does not stem from Latin, but it is simply taken from English. Germany's domination of Equestrian sport came fairly late, and so much of the equestrian vocabulary in German is borrowed from English and French. So why does English stand alone in this? English tends to steal words and grammatical structures from a variety of languages, but the term 'canter' originated in English, in England. It is short for the 'canterbury gallop,' which has more to do with an easy or lazy pace than with the angle of the gait.