Monday, December 26, 2016

Bit-less not Pressure-less

     I've mentioned before that some bit-less bridles, particularly the Dr. Cook's and bridles based on it, can actually apply a huge amount of psychological and physical pressure to the horse. Those I've ridden with know that I am generally a fan of riding bit-less, but do not like rigs that directly apply unfettered poll pressure. I certainly do not agree that such rigs are kinder to most horses than a simple snaffle (or even, in some cases, a basic curb).

     Today, while looking up something entirely different, I stumbled on the original patent for Dr. Cook's bridle, which contained this terrifying addendum: "The centerpiece may include a plurality of holes for receiving studs for applying painless pressure on regions of special acuity at the poll and behind each ear of the animal, or may receive a separate sleeve which includes the studs in order to apply pressure over areas of special acuity. Studs of different sizes can be fitted in a range of locations, depending upon the amount of pressure required and the conformation of any particular horse or other animal."

     Thankfully, I have never seen poll studs in use at any of my barns, nor even seen them for sale.

Figures from Patent for
"Bitless bridle for governing horses and other animals"

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Student Evals: Reading between the check boxes

   Student evals are in. This was my first quarter teaching at UCR, and even though I've been through this process before I was anxious to see how my prior skills translated to student engagement in a new environment. My evals were overwhelmingly positive, despite evals no longer being required for students to view grades. Most of my scores were a tick above the department average, especially "Overall, is an effective teacher" and "Motivates me to do my best" which I consider the most important. Good enough, right? Well, yes, if all student evals were for was a metric to decide who is allowed to continue teaching. Student evals are often skewed, and there are always outliers. Because of this, the numbers don't always means much; and comments tend to be extremely good or bad, as students in the middle tend not to take the time to type a response even if they fill out the checkboxes. I did see a slight drop for "Gives useful feedback on assignments and exams." The majority of students who responded gave me a "perfect" score, but a couple knocked of a point or two, and two gave that section the lowest score overall. Although I gave detailed comments on the first assignment and midterm, these anomalies suggest that for a handful of students there was a lack of clarity. I doubt I will be able to give more detailed comments in a class of the same size, but I'm actually not sure that would help. Reading between the lines (or rather, checkboxes), I suspect that what will allow me to help a few extra students is some form of general translation guide: here is what this type of comment means, and here are some strategies to address it. For many of my students, this is the first class that asks for analytical writing. Many have not finished their writing series, and some have not even begun. History absolutely requires this skill, but it cannot be learned in a vacuum.

Thursday, November 24, 2016


    If the radio silence didn't make it obvious, things have been particularly busy. I'm about to be swamped in student papers again, but in the meantime I thought I'd share the lighter side of having a niche research area.

    I'm used to being the go to person when someone stumbles across an equine reference in their own research. What is a grulla? How big is a hand? What does "a freno" mean? We ask questions of others when we stumble into their specialties, and it enriches our understanding. I'm also used to the standard conference questions that nearly every equine historian gets about who ate horses and when. Lately, however, one of my colleagues has effectively turned this into a meme. I get sent assorted horse pictures, with often just the word "explain" attached. And while occasionally they're still serious questions, for the most part they are absurd and entertaining.

They really are good prep. You never know what sort of off topic threads will come up.

    And sometimes you learn new things even from truly oddball questions. I wouldn't have glanced twice at this "book," which looks like a cheap romance but doesn't come up on any book searches. But having been sent this, I did look twice, at the horse somehow jumping a house. And then I realized what was really wrong here. It was supposed to be a "story of the first thanksgiving," and I was pretty sure there were no horses on the Mayflower. So I had to check. 

    Handily for this one, I had a photo of the Animals in War Memorial memorial I'd snapped from the bus in London coming home from Leeds.

And sometimes, you just need something to lighten your day.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Zombie Horses, Oh My!

Wow, it's been a long month.

   Among the multitude of other graduate student-ly things I've been up to, I've started writing for the Sport in American History blog. Last month, they put out a call for contributors. Noticing that they didn't have adequate equestrian coverage, I thought: "why not?" U.S. history isn't technically my field, but I am fairly well versed in the equine aspects, and I am certainly involved in horse sports. I didn't consider how very different sports history, and writing about sports history, is. It has been a wonderful opportunity, and has made me re-think the way I look at certain sources and events.

  Anyway. My first post was set to go live today (Halloween), so I searched for something suitably festive to write about. Originally, I wanted to write about Frank Hayes, and his posthumous win on Sweet Kiss. What could be more halloween than a jockey who won while dead? But, there are already a number of articles floating around about his unique win. A number of them leave out the impressive fact that  it was a steeplechase, but in all plenty of good reading. This one is my favorite.

   So, that was out. I decided to dig in to the potentially grisly tradition of burying the head and hooves (and sometimes heart) of racehorses separately. Some notable horses are buried whole, and some have even been carefully exhumed and moved. With one of these major exceptions being Secretariat, I planned to organize my discussion around him. He is a very accessible figure, being fairly well known even outside of racing circles. In my initial research, I discovered that Secretariat's burial stood out even from other racehorses who have been buried whole (you'll have to read the post for more!) One of my advance readers rather was disappointed that I didn't go with the dismemberment topic, because clearly the practice was to prevent zombie horses. And that means: Zombie Secretariat is possible!

   It is worth noting that the American horse who's passing was observed most similarly to Secretariat's was Man o' War. Read the Sport in American History post to see why.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Four-beat Follow-up, Part I

  A couple weeks ago I wrote a bit on four beat canters & lopes. In a footnote at the bottom, I mentioned the four-beat gallop as well as a non-standard gait that is sometimes four beat: the break. 

  We'll take a quick tour of our understanding of this "gait," seen most often out of the starting gate, but first lets look at the related gallop. Prior to Muybridge's 1870's photographic study of equine locomotion, running horses were depicted stretch out, both hinds together behind the horse and both fore together in front of the horse, like this:

  And then, of course, came Muybridge's stop motion photography study. This instantly "disproved" the common depiction, which quickly went out of fashion.

Muybridge's The Horse in Motion, 1878

   And that was that. Right? Well...not quite. In the last decade or so, we've revisited this idea with new film technology. We need to add a few caveats. The frames above are of a mare galloping at the Palo Alto racetrack in California in 1878. The gallop exhibited by this mare is the most common way of going for horses in that gait, with the footfalls being hind, hind-opposite fore, fore, followed by a moment of suspension with all four legs curled in towards the center of the body. It is not, however, the only footfall pattern for the gallop, nor is the gallop all we see from modern racehorses.

   First, let's talk about an anomalous form of the gallop whose existence is still, with todays slow motion video technology, debated. That is the double suspension gallop. In this, there are two moments of suspension, similar to a running greyhound.* The hoof-falls are hind-hind, suspension, opposite fore-fore, suspension. 

This "second suspension" is usually missing from a horse's gallop

   Secretariats immense stride is sometimes credited to his use of this gait. His winning photo from the Belmont Stakes shows him in this second suspension phase, with all feet off the ground but legs outstretched. His outside fore hangs slightly, much like the dog in the photo above. It looks so strange that I, like many, wondered if it was a glitch. Then I realized that foreleg, and the opposite hind, are still in the process of moving forward. He is on the left lead, with his left (inside) fore about to land. So I looked around to see if this glitch was repeated anywhere.

    I looked at some "most obvious suspects." California Chrome. American Pharoah. Cigar. Zenyatta. All had huge closing strides– and acceleration within the gallop is where the double suspension seems to show– and none of them seem to exhibit this gait. And then I stumbled across this photo finish from the 2011 Melbourne Cup.

   Red Cadeaux, the chestnut on the inside, is in almost the exact strange position that Secretariat was in at his Belmont finish. The photo IS distorted– the larger version shows one horse with a ridiculously large hock– but the distortion seems greatest the furthest from the finish line. And there are now a handful of non-finish line photos floating around of the phenomenon, like this Quarter Horse Mr Premier LV:

   This photo would be the moment after the phase shown above. The left fore has just touched the ground, but both hinds are already well in the air. The double suspension gallop's effects on speed and soundness, as well as it's possible heritability, are all conjecture at this point, as is its very existence. Finding evidence of horses galloping with out fulling weighting the diagonal at the same time is easy. Evidence of a second true suspension is inconclusive. Studies are ongoing.

But wait, what about the break? Part II & III to follow.

*The greyhound, however, also tends to employ a rotary gallop, with the hind-fore pair being lateral (usually the outside pair). The double suspension gallop is sometimes called the transverse gallop; this is technically true, but the single suspension is also transverse, meaning using a diagonal rather than lateral pattern.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Four Beat Canters & Lopes

   There is a great deal of discussion among western riders & judges about what a lope should look (and sound) like. The primary split is between those who favor the four beat lope, which became common in the last half century, and those that consider it an abomination. I'm going to complicate that by looking at cases where the canter also becomes four beats, most commonly in dressage and in saddleseat. In all disciplines, the number of beats can be the easiest criteria to look at, but it does not denote quality or lack thereof on its own. A more detailed understanding of the mechanics can benefit both riders and judges, and help us articulate and achieve a variety of goals.

First, let's take a look at some official definitions:

AQHA Rulebook

   SHW330.3 The lope is an easy, rhythmical three-beat gait. Horses moving to the left should lope on the left lead. Horses moving to the right should lope on the right lead. Horses traveling at a four-beat gait are not considered to be performing at a proper lope. The horse should lope with a natural stride and appear relaxed and smooth. It should be ridden at a speed that is a natural way of going. The head should be carried at an angle which is natural and suitable to the horse’s conformation at all gaits. (pg. 114)

USEF Rulebook, Morgan Division

13. Canter: Smooth, collected and straight on both leads.
14. Lope: Smooth, slow, straight and a three beat cadence. 
15. Extended Lope: A lengthening of stride while maintaining a smooth, straight, three beat cadence.
16. Extended Canter: The extended canter should be ground covering, free moving and smooth. The extended canter should show a definite lengthening of stride, while still being controlled and mannerly. Extreme speed SHALL be penalized. 
17. Hand Gallop: Long, free ground covering stride under control. Not a fast collected canter, but a true lengthening of stride, correct and straight on both leads. Extreme speed penalized.
(pg. 943)

Note: number of beats is only specified for lope. Within the chart for "major and minor" faults in the Morgan Western Pleasure division (pg. 951), number of beats is not listed. Thus, it is up to the discretion of the judge whether it should be considered a major or minor fault. The Arabian Western Pleasure division does specify "not performing a three beat lope" as a major fault (pg. 345). The Arabian division, in general, has stricter and more cut & dry rules. The Morgan Park Saddle section uses "proper cadence" as one of its criteria, but never mentions number of beats (pg. 944). 

USEF Rulebook, Dressage Division

1. The canter is a three-beat gait where, in canter to the right, for example, the footfall is as follows: left hind, left diagonal (simultaneously left fore and right hind), right fore, followed by a moment of suspension with all four feet in the air before the next stride begins.

 4. The following canters are recognized: Working canter, lengthening of strides, Collected canter, Medium canter and Extended canter. 
   a. Working canter. This is a pace between the collected and the medium canter, in which a horse’s training is not yet developed enough and ready for collected movements. The horse shows natural balance while remaining “on the bit”, and goes forward with even, light and active strides and good hock action. The expression “good hock action” underlines the importance of an impulsion originating from the activity of the hindquarters. 
   b. Lengthening of strides. In some tests, “lengthening of strides” is required. This is a variation between the working and medium canter in which a horse’s training is not developed enough for medium canter. 
   c. Collected canter. The horse, remaining “on the bit”, moves forward with the neck raised and arched. The hocks, being well-engaged, maintain an energetic impulsion, enabling the shoulders to move with greater mobility thus demonstrating self carriage and an uphill tendency. The horse’s strides are shorter than in the other canters, without losing elasticity and cadence. 
   d. Medium canter. This is a pace between the working and the extended canter. Without hurrying, the horse goes forward with clearly lengthened strides and impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to carry the head a little more in front of the vertical than in the collected and working canter, and at the same time allows the horse, to lower the head and neck slightly. The strides should be balanced and unconstrained. 
   e. Extended canter. The horse covers as much ground as possible. Without hurrying, the strides are lengthened to the utmost. The horse remains calm, light and straight as a result of great impulsion from the hindquarters. The rider allows the horse to lengthen the frame with a controlled poll and to gain ground. The whole movement should be well-balanced and the transition to collected canter should be smoothly executed by taking more weight on the hindquarters.
(pg 474-475)

   In all of these very different competitions, a four-beat canter or lope is considered a flaw. So what is the difference between them? Are good canters and lopes always three-beat? Problematically, no. 

   The most visible, and visibly problematic, of the four-beat canters and lopes are in Western divisions, especially among stock horse breeds. AQHA specified four-beat lopes as a flaw after USEF did, and Quarter Horses are often easier to train to perform a four-beat lope than other breeds. There is still some disagreement among judges in all breeds about if it is a flaw and how severe a flaw it is. There are related discussions on headcarriage, as often an extreme four-beat lope also has a very down hill appearance, with the horse leaning on the forehand and the head carried below the chest. This sort of movement that is very recognizable, and while it does cause the horse to cover a minimum of ground (i.e., go slow), it is clearly detrimental to the horse. I won't show examples here, but if you search youtube for "western pleasure" you will find a range of examples. While seeing the break of the footfalls can sometimes be difficult without slow-motion, horses that move in this way have a noticeable hitch in their stride as they move forward using their backs and forelegs rather than their hips and hindlegs.

   The second place where this type of gait is very noticeable and not uncommon is in saddleseat. It is not, however, talked about as a number of beats issue. It is most often talked about as a shoeing issue, as the heavy shoes and action devices can often cause the same hitching four-beat gait as western pleasure riders can achieve by backing the horse out of the bridle. In saddleseat, this gait is hugely animated, and when achieved more by equipment than by training and conditioning it can appear very strange and un-horselike. This is, of course, exemplified most by the "big lick" walking horses, but can be seen in varying degrees anywhere a collected, animated canter is desire: park classes, most other saddleseat classes, and yes, even in dressage.

   But wait, didn't I say that a four-beat canter or lope isn't always bad? I did. The reason lopes often devolve into four-beat eyesores is because we humans, as rider, trainers, and judges, get stuck on the idea of "slow." We forget that the lope is actually a type of collection, and requires building up the horse's strength, stamina, and coordination. The reason saddleseat and even dressage fall prone to a similar four-beat gait, with the horse laboring more from its front end than its hind, is the same. It is a lack of conditioning. That lack can be temporary, a moment in the horse's progression, or it can become chronic if we are not aware of the issue. The problem, however, is not actually in the number of beats.

or how about this jumper doing canter poles

   These are all cases of four-beat canters that are 'correct;' meaning, they maintain the soundness of the horse and its balance to be able to move into a different gait or maneuver. They tend to go to four beats due the the degree of collection, with the hind of the diagonal pair landing before the fore, but the pair leaving the ground together. Now go back and look at those youtube videos. Look closely at the ones you didn't like. Play with the pause button. Are any of those broken looking lopes three-beat? I'd bet a few of them are. Because of the focus on the number of beats, that issue is often fixed without addressing the underlying cause. Just as shoes aren't necessarily the issue in saddleseat (plenty of keg-shod horses also move in a disunited fashion), not all three-beat lopes are good and not all four-beat lopes are bad: it is a question of carriage, not beats. The canter, or even the lope, moves fast. So we have to learn to see fast, or take advantage of the technology we have that lets us see it more slowly, in more detail, and play it over and over again. We need to look at the quality of the movement, rather than the quantifiable numbers of how they move. No matter the discipline, we need to look at the whole picture.

I should also footnote this post with two other cases of (non-gaiting) fourbeat, being the true gallop (which is by definition four beats) and the break or jump, the little-discussed transition 'gait' see in racehorses, barrelhorses, ropers, and others who accelerate suddenly.

Saturday, September 3, 2016


   I noticed (a day and a half ago) that this blog was vast approaching 5k views, and have been wracking by brain to come up with an "exciting" post to celebrate. Well, the mark has been hit, and I don't have a fresh new idea to share.

   I do, however, have some exciting news. I received word that I was selected for the John H. Daniels Fellowship at the National Sporting Library & Museum. I will be spending two delightful weeks next summer delving into their massive and varied collection in Middleburg, VA. I will primarily be laying the foundation for my dissertation on Hanoverian horses (the historical, not the modern), but I hope to have time to glance at a few other topics of interest. Like horsebread. Or early Thoroughbreds or Morgans. And I am sure I will accidentally discover many more fascinating things along the way.

Check them out. Seriously.

   I'll work on those new post ideas (and clearing the backlog), but meanwhile I'll leave you with this news and the obligatory cat pic:

Former foster loves his new home

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Horse Protection Act

   I was initially dismayed to hear about the widespread opposition to the 'strengthening' of the HPA. This includes the American Morgan Horse Association, which in the articles I have found issued a statement of blanket opposition. I can only hope that the actual letter was more nuanced (does anybody have a copy?). I do have some faith in the AMHA, and I thought I should read the proposed changes before making a judgement. I dug up the proposed changes with some trepidation. Within the last decade, the AMHA has severely relaxed their shoeing rules.* But, they have also made strides in enforcing their own rules (which are generally much stricter than the HPA) at shows.

   I can see many good reasons why the AMHA would oppose these changes. I still hope they do (or already have) lay out plainly why they oppose these regulations, because that is important for coming up with better alternatives. But here are some of the issues I see:

   First is the call for “Horse Protection Inspector (HPIs)” to inspect horses. For the AMHA, and even the ASHA (Saddlebred), these inspectors would mean an additional cost for a redundant office. Rated shows already have inspectors for USEF, which again has stricter regulations than the HPA. Tennessee Walking Horse shows are not regulated by USEF, which is why these outside inspectors have been deemed necessary. Currently the HPA specifies Walkers, Racking Horses, "and related breeds" as being required to give notice 30 days before the show, and supply records to APHIS within 72 hours. Who is considered a related breed? I expect there is also some concern as to the availability of these HPIs, considering other staff shortages within the USDA. This concern would be heightened by the proposal that these inspectors be required at all "Tennessee Walking Horse, Racking Horse, or related breed class or event at any horse show or exhibition" of any size. In effect, any show of any size, rated or not, that wanted to have saddleseat classes could be required to have two licensed inspectors on site. This is regardless of whether or not they had other inspectors, because HPIs must be "outside the industry." This is despite that fact that the proposed changes also state that only vets or vet techs can serve as HPIs- and vets are, assuredly, part of the industry.

   Other issues:

   Shippers (including commercial) would be required to have the address of the horse's regular farrier. While I appreciate the desire to be able to be able to penalize farriers who perform illegal shoeings, most farriers don't have a business address. You are asking them to make their home address public. And, not every horse that is being moved may have a regular shoer. What if they've been recently sold (the provision includes auctions)? These are minor issues, but it would be just as easy to require the information of the owner in the case that a horse be found in violation of the HPA.

   The use throughout of the phrase "or can reasonably be expected." This grey area is, I think, meant to allow conscientious trainers some leeway, but it is in fact the root of how the previous inspection setup could fail. Inspectors didn't need to lie to allow soreing to continue, because the inspections had a large element of subjectivity.

   The prohibition of pads (while still listing allowed hoof packing materials). I've had more than one horse who needed a pad or pads to remain sound, either to support a congenital abnormality (such as club foot) or protect a sensitive sole (not many Morgans for this, but I'm sure many Arabs).

   In all, the HPA is long, contradictory (prohibits all action devices in one area, but only those that might cause irritation in another, etc.), and puts a great deal of pressure on trainers and exhibitors who already follow stricter regulations while leaving loopholes that allow for abuse.

  There is no simple solution. I do think many breeds would benefit from being brought under USEF, though I understand the resistance to the cost involved. The prior iteration of the HPA lead to splintering of Walking Horse groups, as some folks took a stand and others tried to find ways around regulations. I'm not sure these proposed changes would be any more successful. I also think that education is a stronger, and more lasting, force than regulation.

*I was discussing this with another exhibitor. I find the long feet and weighted shoes being allowed in hunter and western classes now to be problematic. But, AMHA has not changed the maximum hoof length or weight in total, but rather allowed their maximums in more divisions. As the other exhibitor pointed out, the same horses are just now allowed to cross enter. As I am a fan of Morgans "doing it all," I can't be upset with horses crossing divisions. With turnbuckles and stacks already illegal, as well as action devices on show grounds, the rule changes of the last decade don't significantly impact the horse.  I do choose to support shows that pick judges who more strictly adhere to the criteria of each division, rather than picking the 'flashiest' horse regardless of the class. This, to me, also includes penalizing park horses who are out of control or have the lopsided, jerky action associated with shortcuts.

UPDATE: It looks like AMHAs official statement was sent via email (that's what I get for letting my membership lapse). Their main issues with the amendments seem to be the APHIS inspectors and the banning of all pads.


Saturday, August 20, 2016

Call for Panelists: Equine Sciences at WSECS 2017

   Seeking one or two more panelists for WSECS to be held at UC Santa Barbara Feb. 17&18, 2017. The conference theme is “Eighteenth-Century Science(s).” This panel will consider the ways in which new ideas about how the world did and should work were applied to the equestrian arts. Please contact no later than Sept. 28.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

"Race Horses" or "Horse's Race"

   Yesterday, this came across my feed:

     My first thought was "racehorses?...maybe harness racing?" My puzzlement only grew when I went to the full post which covered the five digitized photos from the U.S. National Archives collection RG 17-HD "Photographs of Horses and Dogs, 1897 - 1934." The horses picture were certainly not racehorses, and while of different breeds all appeared to be fitted for a halter (conformation) competition. The tweeter, and blogpost writer, do not appear to be the source of the error, as the original items are listed in the archives as "Photograph of a Race Horse" or "Photograph of a Race Horse with Handler." It is possibly that the original archivist, unfamiliar with specialized equine language, saw "Raza" –Race– at the beginning of each caption and assumed it meant "racehorse." In English, we talk about "races" of people, but not of horses. However, in Spanish, French, and other related languages "raza" is also used for breeds of animals, which is how it is employed on these photographs. So, here is my "crack" at translating them, and what I do with that information:

Canelón. - Raza Trakehnen cruzado con de carrera. - Nacido el 29 de Noviembre de 1909. - Premio Conjunto y Primer Premio. - Criador: Manuel Artagaveytia. - Haras ((Santa Lucia Grande)). - Canelones.

Horse's name is Canelón. His breed is Trakehner "crossed with the runner" (possibly Thoroughbred? theres the racehorse). Born Nov. 29 1909. Joint prize & first prize: "premio conjunto" was puzzling, but looking at some modern Criollo (Uruguayan breed– why Criollo will become clear), it seems that conjunto is the championship class, and not a tie or a group entry as I had initially though. His breeder was Manuel Artagaveytia of the Santa Lucia Grande studfarm. He was from Canelones, a coastal area of Urugauy.

Original Caption: Canelon. - Raza Trakehnen cruzado con de carrera. - Nacido el 29 de Noviembre de 1909. - Premio Conjunto y ler premio. - Criador: Manuel Artagaveytia. - Canelones.

This is the same horse from the other side. The differences are "ler premio" (the prize) instead of primer premio, and the farm name is left off. His handler is also visible in a uniform that matches that used by the Urugauyan military in the early twentieth century. Men often did, and occasionally still do (and now women, too!) show horses in military uniform even at civilian shows, though this could indicate a military inspection.

Roy Mischeif. - Raza Yorkshire cruzado con trakehnen. - Nacido el 20 de Octubre de 1909. - Premio Conjunto y Primer Premio. - Criador: Manuel Artagaveytia. - Haras ((Santa Lucia Grande)). - Canelones. 

This horse is named Roy Mischeif. He is a Yorkshire (coaching relative of the Cleveland Bay) Trakehner cross. Born Oct. 20 1909. He was also award "premio conjunto" (championship) and first place. It is possible that this means these two horses competed in separate classes (possibly one for Trakehner crosses, and one for Yorkshire crosses, which could be a reason for the how the breeds in the cross are ordered, as they are of the same age); however, it is also possible that "first prize" means of a certain quality rather then best of the bunch. This is often done with warmblood inspections, with "first premium" still used in English. His breeder is the same as the horse above, and indeed his uniformed handler is likely the same man (possibly Manuel Artagaveytia himself).

The head of the first horse above.

Pandy?- Boulonnaise. - Nacido en Noviembre de 1910. - Primer Premio en la Categoria 151.a. - Criador: ((La Franco Platense)). - Cerros de Monzon. - Florida. 

This horse's name is worn away, --ndy. He is a Boulonnaise, a French draft breed. Born Nov. 10 1910. First prize in the category 151.a. His show division being named may be incidental, or many mean signify he showed in a non-standard section while the others above were in the main category. An individual breeder is not listed, just a farm; La Franco Platense, in Cerros de Monzon, Florida (Uruguay). His handler looks to be the same mustachioed man above. It may be that these photos are meant to be stud ads, or simply one man's record of how his stock performed at a show or inspection.

     Given the breeds represented: the Boulonnaise, a French draft breed, the Trakehner, a Prussian breed that was and still is popular in France, and the Yorkshire, a British coaching breed that was popular in France, I immiediately looked for (and found) connections between Urugauy and France at this time. The best avenue for further research would be Manuel Artagaveytia of Santa Lucia Grande Haras, in Canelones Uruguay. The pictures are likely from around 1912 (that Boulonnaise looks a little young, but certainly not a foal) but could be as late as the 1920's.

      Information often gets lost in translation from one language to another. Just as fraught is the translation from one way of life to another. I find that many of the translations I work with require not only someone proficient in the tongue, but someone proficient in the culture.

Edit to add:

Saturday, July 16, 2016

How Great were Great Horses: The More-Modern Historiography

     For most of the twentieth century, the perception of many historians seemed to be of a medieval arms races resulting in ever larger and heavier horses; this remains, to some extent, supported. What exactly "larger" and "heavier" means, and how extreme (or not) the change was is the current debate. It was generally suggested that the final product was akin to the modern Shire, an animal standing as much as eighteen hands at the whither,[1] with legs a foot or more in circumference. Each of these historians point to, as evidence, mentions of “large” horses in chronicles, as well as Henry VIII's notorious "Bill for Great Horses" and further ban on "small" horses.

Earnshaw Ideal, Shire Stallion
   H.J. Hewitt (1983) supposed an average height of “sixteen or seventeen hands.” [2]  Livingston & Roberts (2002) describe these horses as “neither fast nor agile” and “sixteen hands or more and weighing 1,400-plus pounds.” [3] An animal of sixteen hands at that weight would be as thick as the heaviest draft horse today.

Zoe here is just shy of 16hh and weighs 1,400lbs
R.H.C. Davis (1989) goes further, defining the “Great Horse” as an animal of seventeen to eighteen hands. With Davis' work being the most recent and thorough by an academic (more on this next), it is heavily relied on. Davis, in turn, uses (and appears to agree with)  Sir Walter Gibley's 1899 "The Great Horse; Or, The War Horse: from the Time of the Roman Invasion Till Its Development Into the Shire."  

Intro: The Myth That Just Won't Die

Previous: Where Did This Idea Come From?

Up Next: "New" Views

Thursday, July 14, 2016

How Great were Great Horses: Where did this idea come from?

   Hollywood is littered with images, in movies like “A Knights Tale” and “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court,” of medieval knights on mammoth horses, thundering down lists and over battlefields. Lesser characters may ride thoroughbreds or quarter horses (they’re cheaper) but the hero inevitably appears on some sort of draft. Renaissance Faires and dinner theaters use draft horses and draft crosses almost exclusively. As a rider, this always struck me as another Hollywood fiction. These horses, as much as 18 hands high (or more)[1], have heads the size of a human torso, and feet as large as a human head. They are impressive, and they are loud. However, they lack maneuverability, and they lack enough speed to increase to force of a lance hit. And of course, a horse of that size with the aggressive attitude expected of a warhorse would have been an incredibly dangerous animal to train. A smaller, lighter, but faster horse would have been more manageable, have been able to do more damage, while still being able to take his[2] rider to safety. It seems, however, that Hollywood is not alone in this image of the medieval warhorse. Nor do they seem to be the source of it, as I once believed.

   The modern Shire Horse Society supports this myth, as do many other draft breed associations. It's good for business, and there is likely a grain of truth to the idea that they are related to the medieval "Great Horse," though the later was type rather than a breed and bore little resemblance to the modern draft.[3] However, when these registries were being founded in the nineteenth century (the SHS was founded in 1878), histories were created out of the Victorian imagination. Sir Walter Gibley's 1899 publication of "The Great Horse; Or, The War Horse: from the Time of the Roman Invasion Till Its Development Into the Shire" was not likely the origin of the idea, but it is certainly the most quoted, and why the SHS is more vocal than any other draft breed about its noble origins.

Previous: The Myth That Just Won't Die
Up next: The More-Modern Historiography

[1] Six feet tall. One hand is 4 inches, and each “point” is one. 15.2 hands is read fifteen point two hands, equaling fifteen and a half hands or five foot two.

[2] Medieval European warhorses were almost invariably intact males.

[3] The Old English Black (more type than breed, but with a somewhat geographically bounded gene pool) was used for the production of some Great Horses (defined by type and training, not blood). Descendants of the OEB almost certainly contributed to the creation of the modern Shire. However, there are two factors that separate the OEB and the modern Shire. The first is that the OEB was not a breed, and many other types and bloodlines went in to the creation of the Shire. The second is the type itself. While the OEB was considered a tall and heavy type for its time, it was not as tall, as heavy, or precisely the same type as the modern Shire. They are relatives, but not the same animal.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

How Great were Great Horses: The Myth That Just Won't Die

  I was shocked, and dismayed, to hear someone at IMC Leeds make a comment about monstrously large, draft-horse-like destriers.

Not what I'd want to ride to war.

    I shouldn't really be surprised. This myth is pervasive, heavily supported by prior histories, and catches the urban imagination, all of which makes it difficult to stamp out. The repetition of this exact myth, by a scholar whom I greatly respect, is what convinced me to go into research five years ago. That was more than ten years after the publication of John Clark's The Medieval Horse and its Equipment and Ann Hyland's The Horse in the Middle Ages, which I had thought settled the "argument."  Here I will talk about how this myth developed, how it was perpetuated, and some of the evidence put forth to dismantle it. I am, in part, drawing from my first "real" research paper, but I welcome the opportunity to revisit it and update my thoughts on the topic (despite cringing at old writing and some of my own assumptions and generalizations). Because this is turning out rather longer than I had intended (after all, this is a discussion with a long history of its own) I have broken it into separate posts.

Part 1: Where did this idea come from?

Part 2: The More-Modern Historiography

Part 3: "New" Views


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Bread for my Horses, IMC Leeds 2016

This is the paper I presented at IMC Leeds.
The current research on horse diets between the end of the Roman Empire and the foundation of Purina Mills in 1894 is very sparse. Most of the available research is focused on military animals, both because of the popularity of medieval and early modern military history in the last century, and the simple availability of records. What is remarkably absent from these works is any discussion (or even mention) of “horsebread,” which was a closely regulated commercial horse feed in England from the mid-thirteenth to the mid-seventeenth centuries. Horsebread also appears to have been common on the continent, and may have remained in regular use as late as the nineteenth century in some areas. It is possible that modern practices of feeding horses bread to “fatten” them have survived, despite decades of veterinary research showing this to be not only ineffectual but potentially lethal, because of the long use of horsebread in Europe. Horses are very efficient at digesting fiber, but have a limited capacity for simple starches. An overload, such as from a large quantity of modern white bread, causes excessive fermentation in the gut. This can lead to colic or laminitis, either of which can be fatal.[1]
The nutritional failures of modern bread for equine diets may be why scholars have been loathe to approach the subject. There are no books that deal with the topic, despite a recent surge in equestrian histories (as todays panels exemplify), and only one article. That article, English Horse-bread, 1590-1800 by William Rubel, provides a hint about why bread, a substance today known to cause colic in horses, was commonly fed for so long. While Rubel doesn’t address this issue, he does detail several recipes from the sixteenth century. These recipes are wildly different from modern bread, and not only due to coarser milling or older strains of grain. The primary difference is that horsebreads were made with some form of ground legume, most often fava beans­– commonly enough that favas were known as horsebeans. Many of the available recipes favor rye, even when horsebread started to be refined for feeding to racehorses. Interestingly, rye has a much better calcium to phosphorous ratio than wheat or even oats. Excess phosphorous in the diet causes a number of disorders, which for a time were referred to as “bran disease” due to their association with feeding wheat bran mashes.[2] When wheat was used for horsebread (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 is the calcium deficiency is otherwise addressed.  These horsebreads would not only have been “a denser source of calories and protein,” as Rubel points out, but also have a better vitamin and mineral balance, and (critically) be more digestible.
One of Rubel’s arguments, despite his focus on what he calls “elite” horsebreads, is that horsebreads were made from the byproducts of human food productions, and as such were very cheap. Though this is superficially true, this is what I would like to challenge. Even in the late medieval period, when horsebreads were used to feed the poor and their livestock alike, these breads provided a shockingly balanced diet. For livestock, economy alone would suggest feeding these by-products as mashes rather than taking the time to bake them. Even the peas are still found, dried whole, in commercial grain mixes for horses. Due to the nutritional soundness of horsebreads, I believe the ingredients were chosen equally for their effectiveness, even before the development of the bloodhorse (the early Thoroughbred). In some cases, especially before this, as racehorses were elite animals and needed to be fed in elite ways. Brown bread was common, and unfit for consumption by the aristocracy. This sentiment extended to their horses (and possibly even their dogs) so that horsebreads fed to racehorses needed to look different than horsebreads fed to peasant’s animals.
Given that horsebread seems to have become common by the middle of the thirteenth century, it seems likely that this innovation in livestock feeding occurred as a result of two factors. The first is the increased regulation on breads in general, being a major taxable item (there is a paper on this in session 824 this afternoon). The second is the fairly recent proliferation of farm horses, due to the horse collar and the heavy plough. This first would make horsebread production valuable to anyone in position to collect taxes. The second means horses were suddenly in longer, harder work, which requires more bioavailable nutrition, because of the need for meal density without causing any of the assorted digestive issues horses are prone to.
What is in Horsebread?
An ongoing study by Pennsylvania State University has “revealed surprising similarities in the statistics for bread consumption across class and geographic boundaries, confirming the centrality of this staple food in [all medieval diets]…differences of social status and era present themselves in the composition of that bread.”[3] In this light I would like to provide an overview of the “composition” of horsebreads, their change over time, and how each ingredient fit in to human social ideology.
My apologies, this section is rather dense, but is necessary to understanding the critical nutrition differences between horsebread and other breads. I look for three main nutritional factors: protein, necessary for heavy work. Fiber, which is critical to equine digestion. And the calcium to phosphorous ratio, which for a horses total diet needs to be about 1:1. All grains, including in todays diets, have excessive phosphorous.

First the Legumes (Pulses), which are the primary difference between horsebreads and other coarse breads.
            Fava beans
            Also called faba beans, broad beans, or horse beans. They are high in fiber and have an approximately 1:3.5 calcium to phosphorous ratio.[4] Fava beans seem to become more popular in livestock feed (cattle as well as horses) and less popular on human tables towards the end of the medieval period, but more research is needed to confirm this trend and, if it is confirmed, to consider possible reasons. While fava beans are higher in fiber than fine wheat flour, they are lower in protein, a nutritionally deficiency that may have helped lead to the downfall of horsebread after the ‘inferior’ pea fell out of fashion.
            Peas usually meant peas, but not always. Peas could also refer to other legumes such as kidney beans, and sometimes what we call peas would generically be termed pulses. However, Thomas de Grey’s 1639 condescending description of how horsebread of the common sort used to be made provided this description: “loaves or Rouls are rowled in ground or rather bruiſed peaſe.”[5] Bruised peas will stick very well to the outside of a loaf, while bruised kidney beans would only make a mess. Others refer to loaves being rolled in spelted peas. Spelting, a process of shelling and splitting, is used for both peas and fava beans, but not applicable to what we call beans. Peas have about a 1:4 calcium to phosphorous ratio and almost twice the protein density of wheat.

And the Grains
    Wheat has, of course, long been a staple of bread making, due both to its long domestication and its higher gluten content compared to other grains. When horsebreads first began to be used, if wheat flour was used at all it was the bran or the chisel (a coarse, mostly bran flour). These were effectively the by-products of bread making, and as such ideal for making lower class breads, including both peasant breads and horse breads. Usually rye was planted over the winter, but in the late middle ages late planting of wheat became more common.[6] It is unclear if this was due to increased demand, improvements in agricultural technology making soft wheat less risky, or the importation of a hard wheat variety.[7] Wheat was not commonly used for livestock feed because of its value in human diets. Whole wheat also has a very problematic calcium to phosphorous ratio of 1:10.[8] Wheat bran is slightly worse as 1:13, and in both cases much of the calcium is not absorbable.[9]
            Next, Rye
       Rye was common in northern Europe because of its ability to withstand cold, damp climates better than wheat. Rubel discusses a number of literary references to rye bread, or dark breads, being suitable for animal feed but not for a respected human.[10] Thomas de Grey’s accounts of “ordinary horsebread” says they used “bran and chiſel for the moſt part with a little courſe Rye-meal, to make it ick together.” Bran and chisel have a lower gluten content than finer flour made from the endosperm, and thus the rye was added to “make it stick together.” Rye flour was less expensive than wheat, due to it being a heartier crop with a lower sowing ratio than wheat, as well as rye being disdained by the aristocracy. Rye grain was (and is) not generally used for livestock feed, but the left over stalks and chaff were used as forage. Like bran, these were effectively byproducts and that significantly reduced the cost. The use of rye hay would also help balance high phosphorous grain diets: rye hay has a calcium to phosphorous ratio of about 2:1.[11] Though better than wheat, Rye grain is as imbalanced as the rest at 1 to about eight & a half, though Rye’s calcium is more bioavailable than wheat’s.[12]
       The use of oats in medieval England was highly regional, based on local climate and economy. Wetter, less populated areas (which tended to grow more livestock) planted more oats.[14] They were not likely commonly used in early horsebreads, though both horsebreads and peasant breads were known as “breads of many grains” and could legally contain oats.[15] However, they did become more common in elite horse breads by the seventeenth century. This may simply be because of the commonality of feeding oats to horses. Oats, as a whole grain, are the safest thing to feed horses due to their fibrous outer hull, which slows digestions and prevents disorders caused by sudden large amounts of starch or masses of food in the hindgut.[16] Oats are also supremely palatable, and oat hay (like rye hay) can be used as forage. Oats have a calcium to phosphorous ratio of about 1:4.25.[17]
       Barley was the most common grain crop in pre-conquest England, likely a holdover from Roman times, but was largely supplanted by wheat.[18] Barley was still used in field rotations, and was valued above rye and below wheat. Although fairly nutritious and very traditional for livestock, the primary use for barley was in brewing beer. Like oats, barley could legally be used in peasant breads and horsebreads, but this would be based on locally available surplus. Barley has a calcium to phosphorous ratio of a bit better than 1:7.[19]
      For the medieval period, the only other likely ingredients were water and ale barm, a brewing byproduct that would provide yeast. When horsebreads later were altered for feeding to early thoroughbreds, milk and eggs or egg whites were also used, which provided both quality protein and perceived richness. At that point, specialized herbs for palatability, medicinal, or supposed nutritional value were also added.

What is in a Strike?

            Most of the available recipes give measurements in terms of bushels, strikes, and pecks; clearly these recipes are meant to make large volumes. In determining the nutritional makeup of each recipe, the ratios of ingredients are critical. Unfortunately, the term ‘strike,’ as Rubel points out, is a “unit of measure often used for beans that varied in size from half a bushel to four bushels.”[20] This is problematic when other measurements in the recipe are given in pecks, and, in the case of Gervase Markham, when there is no mention of a bushel for comparison.[21] Rubel suggest that a strike of beans is equal to two bushels. This seems entirely reasonable, considering the range of measurements a strike was used for, from two pecks to four bushels. I, however, am accustomed to a strike being one level bushel. A “strike” is the tool used to level a bushel, and a strike was also known as a “London bushel” at the time Markham was writing.[22] Markham spent a great deal of time in London and was buried there. I believe Rubel chose the two bushel measure in order to line Markham's recipes up with John Halfpenny's (1696), who he also discusses. Halfpenny appears to have based his recipes on Markham's. Thomas de Grey (1639), unlike Halfpenny, clearly favors a large amount of grain compared to legumes, and in general there appears to be a trend towards using more flour, more refined flours, and more wheat specifically, all couched in class terms.
            For Rubel's purposes, it doesn't make a large difference. However, since many of my questions revolve around nutritional content (specifically calories, crude protein, and certain mineral ratios), that is a critical difference. And, looking at the recipes, I thought it unusual that Gervase Markham's (1607) first two recipes called for more than twice as much, by volume, of beans than of grain, while his third called for three times more grain than beans (if the measurement of a strike as two bushels were used). If you consider a strike to instead be a single bushel, it is a much less drastic change (being then 4:3 to 3:1, rather than 8:3 to 3:1). Few things will make a horse sick faster than a drastic change in diet.
            I was also convinced that legumes couldn't bake into a loaf without more grain flour. In this, I was wrong. Using the same ratios as Gervase Markham’s “first bread,” with Rubel’s suggestion of the strike being equal to two bushels, I baked a small loaf. It was very hard on the outside, though with almost no defined crust and a complete lack of crumb (the inside was solid, no air pockets). The pea flour to high bran wheat flour at a ration of 8 to 3 had absolutely no trouble maintaining a loaf shape, even without a bread pan (which would not have been used). If anything, the pea flour was too sticky. However, a few things still suggest that the single level bushel measure may be accurate. First is the lack of crumb, a textual quality that is mentioned both in the Assize of Bread and in man of the recipes mentioned. Second is De Grey’s mention of the necessity of whole rye flour to make the loaf stick together. If peas and bran are the only other ingredients, the whole rye flour would only be needed as a binder if the bran was a larger percentage. And lastly, the loaf I baked using the strike as two bushels measurement was a very bright green color. Fava beans are similarly colored, if sometimes paler. Horsebreads, by contrast, are consistently called brown or dark breads.
As a final note
            In cases where traditional horse keeping has not been severed from its roots– i.e., passed from one stablemaster to the next, rather than someone remembering what their grandparents said they did– those that still feed bread feed it stale.[23] This is something that every one of the early modern treatises repeatedly insist on. Fresh bread is less palatable, and apt to cause intestinal upset. Likewise, sourdoughs are preferred, which are closer to traditional horsebreads. Both cases have an effect on both the gluten and the simple starches in the bread, increasing digestibility for the horse.

[1] Laminitis is an inflammation of the tissue within the hoof capsule, which can permanently damage critical structures. For more information see: Lon D. Lewis et al., Equine Clinical Nutrition: Feedings and Care, 1 edition (Baltimore: Wiley-Blackwell, 1995); Lon D. Lewis, Feeding and Care of the Horse, 2 edition (Baltimore: Wiley-Blackwell, 1996); Melyni Worth Ph.D, Storey’s Guide to Feeding Horses: Lifelong Nutrition, Feed Storage, Feeding Tips, Pasture Management (North Adams, MA: Storey Publishing, LLC, 2004).

[2] Worth, Storey’s Guide to Feeding Horses.
[3] “Medieval Technology and American History - In-Depth Articles - The Flower of Wheat: Bread in the Middle and Colonial Ages,” accessed June 10, 2016,
[4] “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Broadbeans (fava Beans), Mature Seeds, Cooked, Boiled, without Salt,” accessed June 10, 2016,
[5] Thomas De Grey, The Complete Horse-Man, and Expert Ferrier (London, 1639).
[6] Ronald H. Fritze and William B. Robison, eds., Historical Dictionary of Late Medieval England, 1272-1485, First Edition edition (Westport, Conn: Greenwood, 2002).
[7] Hard wheats are also called winter wheats, because of their ability to survive over winter.
[8] “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Wheat Flour, Whole-Grain,” accessed June 10, 2016,; this is problematic for humans as well: “Oats, Wheat, Calcium and Phosphorus | The Well Fed Homestead,” accessed June 10, 2016,
[9]“Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Wheat Bran, Crude,” accessed June 10, 2016,; “Keep an Eye on Calcium Balance,” Equinews, May 15, 2012,
[10] William Rubel, “English Horse-Bread, 1590?1800,” Gastronomica 6, no. 3 (August 2006): 40–51, doi:10.1525/gfc.2006.6.3.40.
[11] Worth, Storey’s Guide to Feeding Horses.
[12] “Nutrition Facts and Analysis for Wheat Bran, Crude.”
[13] An interesting etymological argument could be made based on wheat and rye being singular, but oats being plural.
[14] For more on this, see Charles Gladitz, Horse Breeding in the Medieval World (Dublin ; Portland OR: Four Courts Press, 1997).
[15] Assize of Bread
[16] Worth, Storey’s Guide to Feeding Horses.
[17] Ibid., pg. 204-205.
[18] H. E. Hallam, Joan Thirsk. The Agrarian History of England and Wales:, Volume 2, Cambridge University Press, 1988, pg. 41.
[19] Worth, Storey’s Guide to Feeding Horses., pg. 204-205.
[20] Rubel, “English Horse-Bread, 1590?”
[21] Gervase Markham, Markhams Faithful Farrier: Wherein the Depth of His Skill Is Laid Open in All Those Principal and Approved Secrets of Horsemanship: Which the Author Never Published,but Hath Kept in His Breast, and Hath Been the Glory of His Practise: To Which Is Added Divers Choice Receipts Found in the Authors Closet since His Decease (London? Printed by J. Deacon and are to be sold by W.Thackeray, 1687).
[22] See OED
[23] Pers. Comm. Suzie Peacock, USDF Silver Medalist, et al.