This in an update on a prior series from Oct. ’16 on four beat gaits.
A while back 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 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, and the gallop is certainly not all we see from modern racehorses. The break is likely the root of the splay legged depictions of the gallop. Earlier versions include:
This is something that was “disproven” by Muybridge, but it turns out actually happens. The gap between the hind pair and the front pair becomes much more pronounced, and the hinds occasionally push off together (though often still landing a half beat apart).
Next week at the Society for the History of Technology annual meeting in Philadelphia, I will be presenting “Manufacturing the Horse: Understandings of Inheritance in the Long 18th Century” as part of the Maintaining Natures II panel (and I won’t be the only equine paper! Felicity McWilliams of Kings College London will be presenting “Maintaining Tractors and Caring for Horses: Looking after Draught Power Technologies in Twentieth Century British Farming.”) What began as a simple question– what were the genetics behind the unusual colors of the Hanoverian Cream and Hanoverian White– uncovered some surprising features of early modern horse breeding.
Before returning to academics, I was a horse trainer. When I started out, I was taught to breed ‘like to like.’ You selected for your mare a stallion of same type, the same general size and shape, regardless of whether he was of the same breed. Among thoroughbred breeders the saying goes “breed the best to the best, and hope for the best.” This very unscientific method of breeding selection has been assumed to be the norm prior to advent of modern genetics. Because early modern treatises often included detailed accounts of correct star positions for auspicious breedings, humoral theory, telegony, and even suggestions on how to influence the color of a foal through what the mare saw while being bred or while pregnant, this assumption has seemed well founded. However, there is often a disconnect between canonical knowledge and applied knowledge, and in early modern breeding that disconnect is a gulf. It is clear that a great deal more thought went in to the choosing of well matched mates than in to following the rules of the stars.
If we look only a short time back, it is easy to suggest breeders simply bred like to like. The development of modern breeds (of dogs, cattle, sheep, and other livestock as well as among horses) at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries relied heavily on inbreeding to fix desired traits. The studbooks that were rare in the eighteenth century were not only increasingly common but also increasing closed, moving from recording progeny and achievements to codifying what animals were allowed to belong, and allowed to be bred. However, this was not a continuation of prior practices, but rather a break from them. The creation, and subsequent closing, of studbooks represented new concepts of breeding, relying on the previously taboo “in and in” breeding, being then defined as loosely as mating two animals produced by the same farm. The word “breed” itself changed, from meaning a group bred by a particular person to meaning an animal belonging to a pedigreed, reproducible family.
I was shocked, and dismayed, to hear someone at IMC Leeds 2016 make a comment about monstrously large, draft-horse-like destriers. 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. That was then 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” (forgive me, I was a starry-eyed undergrad). 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).
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), 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 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. 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 Gilbey’s 1888 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 likely also why the SHS is more vocal than any other draft breed about its noble origins.
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, 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. H.J. Hewitt (1983) supposed an average height of “sixteen or seventeen hands.” Livingston & Roberts (2002) describe
these horses as “neither fast nor agile” and “sixteen hands or more and weighing 1,400-plus pounds.” An animal of sixteen hands at that weight would be as thick as the heaviest draft horse today. R.H.C. Davis (1989) goes further, defining the “Great Horse” as an animal of seventeen to eighteen hands. With Davis’ work having been the most recent and thorough by an academic (more on this next), it was heavily relied on. Davis, in turn, used (and appeared to agree with) Gilbey’s 1888 “The Great Horse.“
In the mid nineties, Ann Hyland started publishing equine history (her previous work had been primarily on modern training, especially of endurance horses). Hyland has a multitude of books, but her most referenced are The Medieval Warhorse from Byzantium to the Crusades (1996) and The Horse in the Middle Ages (1999), precisely because they filled a gap in the scholarship. Despite their titles, they do have a good bit of overlap, though the former engages more with non-European cavalries. Because Hyland was not working as a traditional academic, her books are often discarded when they are not the only works available. While her books do sometimes suffer from disorganization, and from working primarily in translation, it does a disservice to the field to not engage with the arguments directly. One of her largest contributions was the measuring of bits, shoes, and barding, primarily those held by the Royal Armouries. She compared these to her own animals, and a variety of others, gives a maximum height of around 16 hands, with many under. These findings were corroborated by John Clark (The Medieval Horse and its Equipment, 1995/2004) based on skeletal evidence and holdings at the Museum of London.
The idea of anyone willingly riding a modern draft-horse to war I find farfetched, to say the least. Tournaments are a somewhat different matter, as the primary disadvantage of a draft is their lack of maneuverability– something that is not as critical on the list. While there clearly was a push to breed larger horses, we must keep in mind that the definition of “large” varies with time and place. Often in dismantling the ridiculous image of a knight on a lumbering draft, we then assume that all historical horses were small. This is not the case either. Any discussion of size must be placed in local context, and must also consider the wide variation of heights within even a single breed today. History is not always linear, and neither are genetics.
 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.
 Medieval European warhorses were almost invariably intact males.
 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.
 I am very interested to see these studies https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3394777/ applied to historical samples; while increased feed quality and veterinary (especially dental and vaccination) care does account for the drastic increase in average lifespan, it has only a moderate effect on growth. Certainly, feed alone does not turn a quarterhorse-sized animals into a Shire-sized one; and while there has been great variety through time, our current ability to regularly reproduce horses weighing more than a ton relies in part on the preservation of these mutations.
In modern parlance, baroque breeds are those that are heavier than the typical warmblood, but without being draft-like. The Iberian breeds and the Friesian are easily recognized as “baroque,” despite the former predating that period and the later being comparatively young in its current form. The Knabstrupper has a “baroque” registration category, despite having a well documented 1812 foundation date. Tack and riding styles likewise have forms described as “baroque,” despite often being only tangentially related to that time period.
I am looking for additional presenters for a panel on Baroque Horses and Horsemanship; either the baroque period itself, being the seventeenth and early eighteen centuries, or the remembrance of it in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. This period encompasses many notable equestrian works, including Newcastle (1658), with his fondness for Iberian horses, through Baucher (1842).
E-mail proposals to KatrinBoniface@gmail.com by Sept. 29. EDIT: the WSECS deadline has been re-extended. E-mail proposals to KatrinBoniface@gmail.com by Nov. 10
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: Canelón. – 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.
Head shot of the horse above. The only head shot that was digitized, the only one archived, or the only one taken? If it was the only one taken, what made Canelón special? Was he actually named after where he was born (this may seem careless, but is often an honor: making the horse representative)?
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 awarded “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).
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 immediately 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.
This week for one of my classes we’re reading Robert Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. We are invited to post our musings before class, and considering what I decided to write on this week I thought I would share it here as well:
At *every* conference presentation I’ve given on horse-related topics I have gotten a question about eating horses. So, of necessity, I collect assorted references in order to answer this entirely off topic question.
“horse…which although some countries eat, as Tartars, and they of China; yet  Galen condemns. Young foals are as commonly eaten in Spain as red deer, and to furnish their navies, about Malaga especially, often used; but such meats ask long baking, or seething, to qualify them, and yet all will not serve.” Robert Burton. The Anatomy of Melancholy (Kindle Locations 3815-3818).
Here the eating of horse meat is dismissed as a foreign practice, and the meat considered of lower quality. It is rightly compared to red deer (much larger than white tail), having a similar low fat content and long muscle fibers. Studies by John Clark suggest that horse meat went out of vogue around London in the 14th century, but survived at a lower volume in more remote areas (in those cases possibly indicative of lack of other meat sources, or inability to feed the horses). With Anatomy of Melancholy first published in 1621, it is reasonable that the practice of eating horsemeat was well out of memory, especially in light of the long rhetoric of the Church against the eating of horsemeat as a pagan practice.
“At this day in China the common people live in a manner altogether on roots and herbs, and to the wealthiest, horse, ass, mule, dogs, cat-flesh, is as delightsome as the rest, so  Mat. Riccius the Jesuit relates, who lived many years amongst them. The Tartars eat raw meat, and most commonly  horse-flesh, drink milk and blood, as the nomades of old.” Robert Burton. The Anatomy of Melancholy (Kindle Locations 4043-4046).
Again both China and the “Tartars” (Tatars) are mentioned as eaters of horse. I expect this actually does have basis in fact (although “raw” is a bit of an exaggeration– acid cooked is more likely). Despite being in a section that claims to be fairly moderate in view, suggesting that there are in all parts (including those close to home) dietary customs that others would consider unusual, and each man’s body has its own unique nutritional foibles, the inclusion of cannibalism in this section makes it unlikely that Burton actually supports other unusual practices.
Also of note:
On November 20th 1627, Charles I of England issued a proclamation outlawing snaffle bits for horses “employed for [military] service.” Had Charles I not been deposed, he would likely be credited with the creation of the Thoroughbred horse; the General Studbook was published in 1791, but despite the dispersal of Charles I’s herd and brief suppression of racing, horses he imported still had a large effect on the new breed. The outlawing of snaffles for military use suggests than many lords were employing their race or hunt horses (ineffectually) for service. Burton seems to have a comfortable familiarity with “modern” racing (despite sometimes trying to shoehorn in ancient comparisons), but still upholds the hunt and the height of gentlemanly “disport”; I’ve been wondering at why, and these are some possibilities: hunting was still more in vogue; hunting was a more “active” and therefore healthful sport (air & exercise); or the possibility of “real” racing still being reserved to the most elite, while hunting was available to the gentry.
And a final fun note: “To see horses ride in a coach, [and] men draw it.” Robert Burton. The Anatomy of Melancholy (Kindle Location 1204).
This past weekend I presented at WSECS, which ended up being an absolutely lovely conference (I’m already trying to come up with an abstract for next year!). The reception on Friday included a demo/lesson in English country dance, which was great fun and sparked plenty of conversation about eighteenth century social structures. Dr. Tomko, who had arranged the program and patiently instructed a large group of novices, afterwards commented on the differences between studying modern dance, where there are often films, and historical dance.
“What happens when we have to reconstitute the dance in order to study it?”
I feel this is pertinent to any number of historical inquiries, but most especially kinetic “objects” like dance…and of course, riding. Simple things like why riders remained perpendicular to their horse in levade (which today seems an odd and dangerous habit), become clear when you sit in their high-pommeled saddles (no one wants to be punched in the gut by their saddle). The more complex the movement, the more likely we are to miss something examining it purely in the theoretical. Ideas of “personal space” and social connections become concrete experiences in reconstituting dance. The difficulty, of course, is being precise as to what, from whom and when, is being reconstituted.
We could all learn a little from dance historians.
My wonderful girlfriend got me my own, mine-to-keep (and not stay at the barn), copy of Jeanne Mellin’s Morgan Horse Handbook. I haven’t had access to this treasure for some seven years, and that was before I became an “official” “historian” (whatever that means). It did not lose its shine. Although I had been enthralled with her history (particularly the Dutch theory of Figure’s origins, having noted the similarities between Morgan and Friesian skulls and legs the first day I met a Morgan), I had been more focused on her exacting and uncompromising descriptions of conformation, correct movement, and proper handling.
Her standards were precise, with detailed descriptions, invaluable illustrations, and firm ethics that are sometimes hard to see at horse shows (in any breed or discipline!), as good trainers are often quiet and the questionable ones are often the loudest. But, back to the history! The True Briton (Thoroughbred) theory of Figure’s (Justin Morgan, the Horse) parentage, I believe, gained traction because of it’s inclusion in Joseph Battell’s 1894 Morgan Horse Register. However, even Battell presents the idea as hearsay. Re-reading Mellin’s book gave me enough information to do some further digging, and I found this (see page 12) from 1879. I highly recommend Morgan history enthusiasts read the whole article (it is delightfully and entertainingly written!), but here are some key points: Justin Morgan (the owner, not the horse) did have True Briton at his farm for two seasons, and his nearby cousin for one. However, all three seasons were several years prior to Figure’s conception. The article then sets out that “Young Bulrock,” a Dutch horse (presumed from the Hudson colonies), who stood at Church’s farm the year before Figure’s birth, and being the only nearby Dutch stud advertised, must logically be the sire of the sport colt whom Justin Morgan himself referred to as a Dutch horse. I’m not ready to write Young Bulrock on that pedigree, but I find it much more plausible than True Briton.
“If the Justin Morgan’s pedigree be corrected in the third vol. of the Trotting Register*, it may be hoped that the parroting second-hand stock journals will, some time in the far future, cease to inform the everlasting enquiring correspondent that ‘Justin Morgan was sired by True Briton, dam a Wildair mare.'” Wallace’s Monthly: An Illustrated Magazine Devoted to Domesticated Animal Nature, Volume 5 (1879), pg 14
Sadly, the far future has not yet come.
*in the days before the foundation of the Morgan Horse Club, and indeed here before Battell’s landmark Register, many horses of Morgan breeding were registered as Trotters.
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.
It’s 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 its late date this is still just hearsay.