Best Breeds?

A post tonight by the fabulous DocHollandD about an ag class exploded, and quickly involved into a discussion of everyones fave breeds and crosses, and the dreams of what we we chose to raise.

For me that’s California Red sheep, mini Jersey cows (about three), and a complex assortment of horses. Oh, and a herd of fertile mules. You read that right. It’s been an obsession of mine since freshman bio.

Most animal folks can answer in a heart beat.

But what informs our choices? How do those choices effect conservation…and the communities those breeds and types are imbedded in? I touched on this in ASEH 2018 Tweets, and it has been central to a lot of my public history coursework. It was even a large part of my comprehensive exams. And it is part of why I explore what breed has meant in the past.

What, to you, makes a breed worth having?

What makes them worth conserving?

Header image: GF Hamids Tamora with colt GF Brigadoon, by the Al Khamsa stallion Mohummed Kazam, at Four Oaks Arabians, Breezewood, PA.

#EqHist2019 Speakers: Genetics and History — Equine History Collective

The panel will be at 9:00a.m. on Thursday November 14th, opening the second day of the conference. It will be chaired by Alyssa V. Loera from Cal Poly Pomona. This is a new feature this year, and we are delighted to include more methodological variety for investigating the past. Two of these papers have agreed […]

#EqHist2019 Speakers: Genetics and History — Equine History Collective

This was the panel I was on. My presentation is being called the “Dead Pony Manifesto” and argues for interdisciplinary collaboration and communication. Let me know if you want a copy of the paper or the video!

That’s Ag Hist

I just returned for the Agricultural History Society Centennial meeting in D.C. It was my first year at AHS, and I expect I will be back! I shouldn’t have been surprised that I already knew so many scholars there, either digitally or from other conference. It was a very collegial conference, and absolutely packed with papers of interest. I was, of course, especially happy to see that our roundtable was not the only equine history being represented, and AHS kindly scheduled the other equine panel back to back in the same room.

And, of course, we did pop over to the museums.

Global Gaits: 19th-century World Trade in ‘Vermont Trotting Horses.’

Or, A Trotter is a Trotter of course, of course.


Take a look at my presentation on 19th century trotting horses for ASEH 2019 Tweets here.

The full ASEH 2019 Tweets program is here.

Mr. Ed, aka Bamboo Harvester, would have been called (unsurprisingly) a saddle-horse, not a trotter. He was, however, descended (like many American Saddlebreds) from a number of trotters, including Hambletonian 10 discussed in the presentation.

#EqHist2018: Why Equine History Matters

     This past weekend, seventy people from six countries gathered at CalPoly Pomona– once the site of the Kellogg Arabian Horse Ranch and the Pomona Quartermaster Remount Depot– to discuss “why equine history matters.” It was a spectacular weekend, with twenty-six papers on horses, mules, donkeys, and the occasional zebra, ranging from ancient Egypt to the effects of cloning and genomics on highly traditional industries. We had tours of the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library and the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse, and were able to consider the effects of history on practice. In all, presenter agreed equine history matters because it is our history, and because it makes us look outside ourselves. We had the first official meeting of the Equine History Collective. The future of equine history is wide open, and as an organization we will be “cheeky” and aim high.

     Equine History 2018 was made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library (and their spectacular staff), the Don B. Huntley College of Agriculture & W.K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Center, UCLA Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, UCLA 17th & 18th Century Studies, and the Western History Association. Because many of us are horsefolk, and because as an organization we are committed to making historical research available and accessible to the public and the equine industry, we were also thrilled to have donations from SmartPak, Cowboy Magic, Mane ‘n Tail, and Exhibitor Labs. And, as our keynote Richard Nash noted: it’s hard to top being serenaded over lunch by one of the conference organizers!

Mariachi Los Broncos
Mariachi Los Broncos called EHC Treasurer Kathryn Renton up to perform with them

The Research Trail

   Two years ago I went to the National Sporting Library with a mission. I was looking for more information on the Hanoverian Creams and Whites; I was convinced that early modern breeders could meet their own production goals– which meant not indiscriminately crossing these two pale phenotypes. And more, I suspected they had a greater understanding of trait inheritance than we generally attribute to breeders before Darwin and Mendel. I did find suggestions of an understanding of multigenerational inheritance; usually in terms of an animal taking after its sire or grandsire, but also with occasional asides about individual animals being more or less likely to have offspring that resembled themselves. And I found dozens of tantalizing mentions of my unusual case studies, but not a huge amount of new information on the unusual Hanoverian horses. What I did find was not only an aversion to inbreeding (for more on trends in inbreeding, see Margaret Derry’s Bred for Perfection), but also an avoidance of breeding “like to like.” While this was about type, rather than color, it was still startling. These breeders, mostly late eighteenth and early nineteenth century English breeders of animals other than Thoroughbreds, employed a method of crossing that is still common in the production of warmbloods; indeed, their discussions of mare and stallion selection– the one heavy, the other light, unrelated for several generations, and preferences for certain production regions– was not unlike my own choices in Morgan breeding. The “golden cross” in Morgans has long been Government stallions with Lippitt mares. I also started formulating my definition for early modern usage of the word “breed” as one predicated on land, not blood. The word was used in the early eighteenth century primarily as a gerundive: “to have been bred, to have been produced by or at.”

   At the Linda Hall Library this summer I once again had to reorder my thoughts on the history of breeding. I had been focusing pre-1866: before Darwin and Mendel. While I had evidence prior breeders had some understanding of inheritance, I still expected the development of evolutionary science and genetics to effect the choices breeders made. Instead, I found that Robert Bakewell– the sheep breeder who popularized inbreeding, as discussed by Derry– had a much greater effect. And, that breeders in the early twentieth (yes, 20th!) century still used the land-based conception of breed, even in the same treatises in which they discuss the new Mendelian model of inheritance.

  Like fine wines and cheeses, the land lent unique “flavors” to the animals raised on it. This was a concept that pre-dated Darwin, and one that his studies could not challenge; rather, they reinforced the idea that the land itself selected certain strengths in animals, making the selection and arrangement of place as important to breeders as the selection of broodstock. Because the new science supported these views, they survived through the tumultuous rise of eugenics, with breeders of the mid 20th c. selecting desert landscapes on which to raise Arabians, and setting down on paper the breeds produced in each region, from the bluegrass to the Rockies. This reliance on terrain was not unscientific. Adequate fodder, suitable hoof wear, and space encouraging exercise in youngstock is as important to raising sound, healthy animals as genetics. Early modern breeders understood both were necessary for a program to produce consistent quality.

   Today I start research at the National Museum of the Morgan Horse. Morgans developed a separate breed identity much earlier than other non-Thoroughbreds. And the early American “golden cross,” for trotters to saddlers to quarter mile horses, was “Kentucky” or Thoroughbred stallions and “Vermont” or Morgan mares. I love the breed, but I never expected them to be so central to my research!



Equine History Conference

Registration is open! “This conference was the brain-child of the Equine History Collective (EHC), a recently incorporated federal 501(c)3 public charity, with the enthusiastic support and sponsorship of the W. K. Kellogg Arabian Horse Library at California State Polytechnic University in Pomona, California. Thanks to your invaluable participation, this conference brings together scholars, public historians, […]

The Linda Hall Library

   I spent the last week and change as a travel fellow at the Linda Hall Library. I highly recommend them, especially for agricultural or early 20th century history.

General Information:
Deadline: this year was Jan. 19. Keep an eye on their fellowship page.
Letters: three.
Response time: Fast. I heard back March 12.
Who is eligible: pretty much everyone. Concerned? Ask the staff. They’re fabulous.
Dates: Up to two months in the following calendar year; you list two choices on your applications.
Funding: varies, see the fellowship page.
Housing: I stayed in an airBnB. For short term, this is probably your best bet.
Travel: Kansas City Airport is about a 25 minutes drive from the library. There is a bus that goes from the airport to downtown, but its and hour+ and does not run late. For around town, buses are generally clean and on time, but things are spread out. A car is recommended if you’re a long term fellow.

Application Process:
   No surprises here. Check out their catalog, but don’t hesitate to send an e-mail for recommendations before you apply. Their collections are IMMENSE. Some things you don’t see a lot of elsewhere: full runs of historical journals and magazines, and a ton of government documents, including pamphlets and reports from the Bureau of Animal Industry.

   Very flexible. Check out what exhibits and events are on, and ask about other fellows. Chatting with staff and fellows, and looking at your research from a new point of view, is incredibly helpful as well as fun. Plus, you might discover projects in common (welcome to the
EHC, Dr. Peter Soppelsa)! The Library is generally closed on weekends, so plan your travel and exploration accordingly.

Below are links to my twitter threads from each day, and a few highlights.

July 11 (thread):
Screen Shot 2018-07-20 at 4.44.42 PM   I had a stack of recommendations waiting for me when I arrived. Librarians are your friend! Truly, all the staff at the Linda Hall is amazing. Some were books I already had on my list, others were ones I hadn’t thought to look for, but proved useful. I planned my research to go semi-chronologically, semi-thematically. I spent this first day in natural histories up through Darwin.

July 12 (thread):
  Goodrich’s 1859 Animal Kingdom has three sorts of horses that stand apart: Thoroughbreds, Arabians, and Morgans; the rest are listed primarily by the jobs they do. I have already planned a trip to the National Museum of the Morgan Horse for the end of the summer, largely because the Morgan developed at such a critical time, but over this week I have discovered how uniquely useful they are to my research. This is because they develop a cohesive modern breed identity and reputation much earlier than other non “blooded” horses.

stubbs   I took a “break” and pulled a book that really wasn’t related to my dissertation, or any of the million side projects I have brewing. They have an original binding of Stubbs’ Anatomy (price marked £4 4s.), and I couldn’t not. It was well worthwhile. I then got started on A General View of Agriculture, an absolutely AMAZING series that was recommended which surveys all forms of agriculture– livestock, crops, game, enclosures, ploughing technologies, lease agreements, cheese making, and on and on– county by county in the U.K. around the turn of the 19th century. It was magnificent. It also showed that Bakewell’s methods were widely accepted much earlier in cattle and sheep than in horses; Bakewell did also breed horses, but did not achieve the same success or notoriety with them. For more on Bakewellian breeding, see Derry, Bred for Perfection.

July 13 (thread):
   A few more counties. Cattle and sheep have some groups that are almost discussed like what we would call a breed. Horses do not. This may be Bakewell’s fault, as Leicester sheep– the sheep he focused on– had the firmest breed identity. Clydesdale is said to generally produce good draft horses, but they are still discussed as the horses of that place, not the horses of a certain family or type. I also jumped forward a century and a half to look at the first two volumes of the AQHA stud book, and a few years of the National Quarter Horse Breeder’s Association magazine; both registries laid claims to Figure aka Justin Morgan being a Quarter Horse as part of efforts to establish antiquity. Between reading these, and chatting with another fellow, I decided on what will likely be my AHS paper: the splintering of registries based on ideas of how best to maintain foundation type and bloodline.

July 14 (thread):
   Spent the morning back in Ag Views, especially Clydesdale, Yorkshire, and Hereford (extra thanks to Ben Gross, who came in on Saturday so that I could). Many mentions of recent extreme increases in the size of draft animals. We do not yet have a satisfactory reason as to why or how this happened; while nutrition and dentition had important advances, most of those came later and so that common narrative does not hold up to scrutiny. There were a few complaints about how large draft horses were getting, that they were unwieldy and harder to feed; selection is likely a major factor. Earlier drives to breed larger horses did not necessarily want 18hh animals, and so would not have used those animals preferentially for breeding. 
   I spent the afternoon across the street at the University of Missouri-Kansas City’s Miller Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 2.21.09 PMNichols Library. The Linda Hall is not part of UMKC (despite being nestled in the center of campus: the campus grew around the library), but fellows do get a courtesy card for the UMKC library (and a few others). Sadly, their special collections were closed for the summer; there is a great deal on horse history stored there, including some unique items on local standardbred racing and some un-digitized Gilbey’s. There were also some items worth pulling from the regular shelves, though, or rather from the Robot. They had a bound copy of Magner’s Stock Book, and a number of late 19th century racing yearbooks.

July 15 (thread):
   In the morning I explored the city a bit, and visited some of the many equestrian fountains (thanks to Grant Wekesser for the recommendation). I then returned to the UMKC library for more Magner. Something I hadn’t caught before, as I’m usually thinking about the mechanics of his various gadgets: Magner predicted the Remount breeding program.

July 16 (thread):
   Monday I started with Vol. 6 of the Percheron Stud Book, because this was something I didn’t want to miss. A bunch of the early PSBs are digitized, but the scans aren’t always great, and the meta data– like dates– is sometimes absent or incorrect. Vol. 6 was the first Percheron Stud Book issued by the Percheron Society of America. Like the Weatherbys General Stud Book for TBs, or Battell’s Morgan Register, the early Percheron books were private compilations. The Linda Hall has Vol. 6-13. These, by way of the introductions and meeting minutes rather than the mountains of pedigrees, provided a view of a booming draft horse industry that was greatly concerned with differences between locally bred and imported animals. I often call the Percheron the “thoroughbred of drafts” for it’s use in “improving” U.S. horses of middle and heavy weights, and these early breeders explicitly drew the connection to the bloodhorse.


   I then went back to the Ag Views, with Leicester, Galloway, and South Wales. Bakewell was everywhere, especially (no surprise) in Leicester; some notes on Bakewell’s horses, which are often omitted. These, like his other livestock, were heavily inbred. He was however apparently unsuccessful at producing better draft horses than his neighbors, and resorted to importing black mares from Friezland. No, we cannot call these Friesians, but yes they are of the same vague rootstock. At the end of the day I cracked open the archival boxes holding literally hundreds of American Horse Breeder papers. This publication was concerned primarily with harness racing, and published weekly. They have most of them for the 1920s. In here, several ads for the Patchen Wilkes farm when it was famous for trotters rather than white horses, and an ad for an equine eugenics book written by that farm’s president. 

July 17 (thread):
   So many AHBs! Most notably, early advertisements for Dr. Bristol bits, and the formation of the Morgan Horse Club. A contest was held to decide the motto: The Pride and Product of America. A few years ago, a new contest was held, and it became “the horse that chooses you,” referring to their propensity to form strong attachments with their handlers, but Pride & Product is still in circulation.

July 18 (thread):
toeweight   More AHBs! First up was an add for a type of action device I hadn’t seen before. This doesn’t mean it isn’t in use, because this particular toe weight changes the flight so that there is less interference in an extended gait, rather than to increase the knee action. Sir Barton had passed without mention, but the California “supercolt” Morvich made the front page. 
   There was an extended account of the Ft. Ethan Allen endurance test, which I believe is what the Green Mountain Endurance Ride is based on. In the early days of the remount, there was a good amount of competition between Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Morgans, and Standardbreds. These, along with the Percheron, were the bulk of the U.S.’s “pure breds” at the time, though except for the Thoroughbred those registries were still a little bit loose. A few saddlers were represented, but this was well before the different easy gaited horses where bred or registered as distinctly separate animals. I scooted back a decade or two and ended the day looking through some Bureau of Animal Industry pamphlets, including one the is not given much credit in the breed but is likely as important as Joseph Battell to the survival of the breed: George Rommel’s “Regeneration of the Morgan Horse.” Rommel’s goal was to ‘save’ the Morgan type– he emphasized form over pedigree– from disappearing into the new standard-bred. The following year he wrote his recommendations for the remount, which would both concentrate Morgan blood at depots, and send stallions out to influence to saddlers and ranch horses around the country.

July 19 (thread): 
   Started with early 20th century saddle horses. Like the standard-bred, the first saddle horse registry was a performance registry, not a pedigree one. Any five gaited horse was eligible. 

Rex McDonald
Rex McDonald

This is part of why the early pedigrees of Standardbreds, Morgans, Saddlebreds, Walkers, and Foxtrotters are so similar (fun note- the NQHBA encouraged the foxtrot in ranch horses, while the saddle horse folks note that many five gaited horses also raced the quarter mile). What I hadn’t picked up on before is the consistency, across the progenitors in all those breeds, of the the Hambletonian/Black Hawk nick (also found a few uses of that term). Morgan mares were exceedingly popular, and Hambletonian stallions. Found an anti-soring argument pre-dating the TWBEA. The “slow gait,” today being the stepped pace of the Saddlebred, including any four beat gait done, well, slowly.
   Found a lot of weird claims (my favorite is the claim the Justin Morgan was a Fjord cross); some photos of George Morris as a student; and then shifted gears into some Arabian books. Unlike the saddle horse and standardbred, the Arabian registry in 1908 was very concerned with pedigree; but there is still some disagreement: historic horses claimed as Arabian included many coat colors that the same registry claimed as proof of non-Arabian ancestry.

July 20 (thread):
   Arabians, dog, cattle, sheep, and fish. Yes, fish (no, that wasn’t helpful; lots of technical specs on breeding trout and salmon, but any old fish would do). This perfect quote from a 1951 dog book: “One of the great lessons taught by genetics is the falsity of the belief that like begets like.” It is perfect both because the inference is that before genetics, breeders bred like to like (they didn’t), and because it is absolutely true. The fear of unidentified recessives is why breeders have largely returned to an 18th century model of selection. 
   One of the last books I looked at was an 1845 book on dogs that was spectacular in terms of pre-modern conceptions and definitions of breed:

Screen Shot 2018-07-21 at 5.29.28 PM

   So, my fellow animal historians, check out the Linda Hall Library. They may surprise you.