Musings on Melancholy

     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 [1354] 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 [1447] Mat. Riccius the Jesuit relates, who lived many years amongst them. The Tartars eat raw meat, and most commonly [1448] 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). 


Because New York was once New Amsterdam

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.

The Origins of America’s Original Horse

        While there were horses in the Americas well before Figure (The Justin Morgan Horse), and even earlier ‘breeds’ developed in what is now the United States (the Narraganset Pacer comes to mind), Figure’s timely birth along the his astounding versatility, and the all-important ability to pass on his traits, are what allowed the Morgan Horse to become the first truly American (as in U.S.) breed. This stud ad was recently posted by The Morgan Horse Museum. The ad is by Justin Morgan himself, when Figure was about five years old.
       There are two things I’d like to point out about this ad. This first is the fee- $1, for a “single leap,” no guaranteeWhile figureadthis seems like a ridiculously tiny fee to us, “full-blooded” (i.e. Thoroughbred) stallions of the time often stood for only $5, and only imported champions were likely to command more than $25. Figure was of course not full blooded, but rather an unregistered and unregisterable “sport,” and at this point still rather young. So with only a couple of seasons of accomplishments, a scant handful of foals on the ground (with possibly none ready to be ridden), and his “strength, beauty, and activity,” he merits a full dollar fee and being stood in two towns in the same season (a common practice for quality studs).

        The second, and related, item is the complete and utter lack of pedigree information. While most stud ads contained at least sire and damsire, Justin Morgan is silent. Given the currently accepted theory that his sire was the stolen True Briton, and his dam a mare by Diamond (great grandson of Cade, via Wildair), this lack is startling.* I have long favored the Dutch theory, most famously supported by the late great Jeanne Mellin, and this ad’s peculiar silence further suggests that Figure was not largely thoroughbred.**

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

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

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

Charles I

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

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

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

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

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

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