T-shirt Time!


  I noticed this year at WSECS and ASEH that my conference horse shirts are getting a bit old, and I no longer had enough to keep up with a busy conference schedule (and how else will folks recognize me?) Luckily, the Equine History Collective is running a t-shirt fundraiser.

   For the “heads” design, featuring zebra, horse, and donkey heads, order here: https://www.bonfire.com/ehc-equine-heads/ 

   For the #AndBurros shirt (courtesy of Abbie Harlow, ASU) order here: https://www.bonfire.com/andburros/ 

   Direct donations can be made here: https://squareup.com/store/equine-history-collective… Please feel free to share!

How Great were Great Horses?

The Myth That Just Won’t Die

Not what I’d want to ride to war

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),[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 Screen Shot 2017-10-08 at 4.39.35 PMregistries 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

Earnshaw Ideal, Shire Stallion

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,[4] 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.”[5] Livingston & Roberts (2002) describe 

Zoe here is just shy of 16hh and weighs 1,400lbs

these horses as “neither fast nor agile” and “sixteen hands or more and weighing 1,400-plus pounds.”[6] 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.

“New” Views

     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.[7]

[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.

[4] Highest point above the shoulder.

[5] The Horse in Medieval England.

[6] War Horse: Mounting the Cavalry with America’s Finest Horses

[7] 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.

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 startedblogblog 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. zombieIn 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 was rather 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.

By Kat Boniface With the Thoroughbred Makeover wrapping up at the Kentucky Horse Park, and the Breeder’s Cup coming up this weekend, now is a great time to consider the place of thoroughbreds in our history. Racehorses have not just been seen as animal athletes. Many have become public figures. This month marks the anniversary […]

via Death of a Hero: Observing Secretariat’s Passing — Sport in American History

“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: 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.



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). 

Is the MA dead?

I presented this paper at Drew University’s Crossroads: The Future of History Graduate Education

     The call for papers for this (thus far fantastic) conference asked for graduate perspectives. I am a first year PhD student, and this is my perspective. Or rather, my story, from which I hope a very familiar perspective can be seen. I would like to give you a bit of my history as a student to show why a terminal MA program was both necessary and beneficial for me, even though when I entered my MA I intended to continue to the PhD. Perhaps less entertainingly, I will present some of the issues students seeking MAs face, and the value I see in the masters as a separate degree.

     Yesterday, Dr.Cassuto mentioned that most students who go on to graduate school did so because they were inspired by a professor. I am no different. Six and a half years ago, I returned to academia after an interlude in horse farming (long story). I was, officially, a psychology major. That is what I had been six years before that when I was barely managing to not fail out, simply for lack of caring. That first semester back, I took a medieval history class. For fun. Literally. I called it my fluff class. It happened to fit my schedule. And, hey, I liked the renn faire as a kid.

     Well, it was fun. But, more than that, it was inspirational. There was something I cared about studying. It wasn’t just the past, it was a study of humanity. I walked out of that class, into the history office, and immediately changed my major. Even so, I had no further ambitions. I was in school because I’d always felt bad about leaving my degree unfinished, and I needed something to do. But after a year or so in the program, I started thinking about teaching. I had taught riding lessons, and loved it. I was enthralled by my history classes, and admired professors that could somehow marry critical thought with technocolor storytelling, and who could engage with difficult topics through the lens of the past. But, I had many, many friends who taught high school, and they all told many of the same horror stories about the job market that we have heard here. And, more importantly, I didn’t really want to teach high school. I didn’t even consider graduate school ­– I am a first generation college graduate. But I kept taking classes with the professor from that first medieval class, (I was not alone. There were a few of us who joked we majored in Dr. Lipton, not history) and realized that I would really love to be able to have a job like hers. So, at the tail end of spring before my senior year, graduate school was very suddenly something to consider.

There was one problem.

     I didn’t know Latin. And Latin wasn’t offered that year. I was a medievalist. This was a death knell.

     There was no way I was getting into a doctoral program without Latin, and with my initial, though far out of date, poor grades. I had been considering my school’s 5-year BA/MA program, which might have helped me solve these problems, but I was advised by several faculty members that I would benefit both as a scholar and on the job market if I went to a different school for my MA. They also suggested that going to separate institutions for my MA & PhD would be an advantage, even if I was lucky enough to be admitted straight to a PhD.

So– I had a plan! I finally had a goal for my own education. I started gathering information on masters programs.

     And was very distressed by what I found. There were very, very few stand alone History MA programs out there. Even fewer that weren’t tailored exclusively to high school teachers. Only a handful of the rest had medieval programs. And forget about funding, so that further limited both the number and quality of programs I could apply to.

Sounds a little grim, right?

It got grimmer.

     Several programs I contacted, who did have MA programs listed, apologized and informed me they were no longer offering terminal MAs. One told me directly that “the MA was dead” and all separate MA programs would soon be closed. I ended up applying mostly to California State Universities, which did not at all upset me, and did receive a few admittances- San Jose’s came with apology that they were no longer offering a medieval program, though they would be happy to have me in world history since they closed the program after my application was in.

     Despite the daunting search, I did land in an MA program, at California State Universtiy, Fresno (where I met my co-panelist Greta Bell). And of course, I did take Latin and had a much cleaner transcript to send with my PhD application, so my goals were met. I am far from alone in not considering graduate school until late in my undergrad career, and many students have these gaps that MA programs fit perfectly.

     So, were they right? Did it benefit me on the job market and as a scholar? Well, as to the first, I don’t know yet, though it seems likely from everything I have heard here, as well as from speaking with job candidates interviewing at UC Riverside. As a scholar? Without a doubt. I had new professors to work with and learn from. But I also had new students, and their perspectives had just as much effect on me as a researcher and as a student. My partner was in the English program at Fresno State (I know we were beyond lucky to get in to the same school in the same year). The English students, being for some reason more interested in writing than History students, had graduate writing group. I tagged along one day, and they very kindly let me stay. The lone medievalist in the group was actually thrilled to have someone who had some context for his writing. Eventually, since my research relied very heavily on literary sources, I even submitted my own writing. Having their extra-departmental comments on my work helped me immeasurably.

     I had a writing group at the end of my BA, and my current cohort is putting one together. So that wasn’t really unique to the MA. Except each one has been different, and as Greta has discussed, simply getting out and talking with other students is invaluable. The more perspectives the better. Through that writing group, I got a job at the Graduate Writing Studio, and encouraged Greta to apply there as well. Good programs talk about networking at conferences, but often these internal networks are taken for granted. From one day of having an hour to kill and attending another department’s writing group, a cascade of connections was formed. The following year we put together both a history writing group to focus on our own discipline, and a humanities writing group where we came together to make sure we weren’t living in an echo chamber. At the time it was just English, history, and a lone classicist I had met TAing for my Latin professor– another network connection–, but we all had something to add, and so much to learn. These opportunities multiply when we attend a variety of institutions.

     What was more unexpected was how the MA prepared me as a student. It shouldn’t have been surprising, but it was. There is a large difference between a terminal MA, and an MA enroute to a PhD.  The step from my intensive senior year with my undergraduate thesis into a masters program was very manageable. The step from my MA to my first year in a doctoral program has been manageable. I think, had I leaped directly from undergrad to PhD, I would have broken something. I am lucky that my current department is fantastic and supportive and cares about its students, and that my undergraduate program was rigorous, but even so the difference in culture, in responsibilities, in research skills, and in writing skills, is immense. I look around at the other students in my cohort, and though we are as yet all staying afloat, most of those who came straight out of BAs are struggling and stressed almost to breaking. Those who have come out of MAs or postbac programs have largely hit their stride, just two quarters in.

     MA programs, thankfully, are not actually dead. However, they are dwindling, and often the unique needs of MA students are overlooked. MA students, even more than PhDs, are there for a wide variety of reasons. One plan does not fit all. Some want to teach k-12, some want to fill gaps in order to prepare for a PhD program, some want to do public history or go into business. Many of the remaining MA programs seek to specialize in just one of these tracks. I find three problems with this. The first is that this prevents MA students from learning from those in other tracks, or broadening their professional skills­– something that is critical in the current unpredictable job market. The second is that some MAs have goals entirely outside these tracks. And the last being that some MA students don’t know what they want to do, or don’t have a clear idea of the options when they enter the program.

     For example, our third panelist, Katy Hogue (who was not able to make it) had gone into the MA planning to teach k-12. However, through an internship with the Fresno Historical Society, at the time just a way to earn a few dollars, she discovered she loved public history and had a lot to offer the local community. That internship turned into a full time position, which is why she is not here today. MA programs are a valuable part of both graduate education and community development. They serve a unique purpose for both “traditional” and professional track academics, and deserve to have their own renaissance.

Reconstituting History

    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?”

Any conference that feeds me this much cheese is awesome.
In this case, it was just a bonus.

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.

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 Morgan Horse Club

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

Breeders Talk Heavy Harness
     The American Association of Trotting Horse breeders, which organization has already assumed a truly national character, and is recognized, by reason of the extent and character of its membership, as an important factor in all matters pertaining to the breeding and racing of harness horses, has decided to appoint a special committee to work actively on matters Interesting to those breeding a type of horse for heavy harness work.
     This committee will be composed of Mtr. George Romiel, of the department of animal Industry, Washington, D. C., as chairman; A. T. Cole, Chicago, Gen, J. B. Castleman, Louisville, Ky., Joseph Battell of Middlebury, i’t., and II. K. Devereux of Cleveland. The idea Is to the development and advancement of our native horses In a line heretofore given over without opposition to animals of foreign birth, and that a great deal or good will be accomplished is not a matter of doubt.

     Although Battell had published volume one of his Morgan Horse Register in 1894, the Morgan Horse Club was not founded until 1909– two years after the formation of this committee. One of the reasons that many early Morgans were registered with other breeds is simply because America’s oldest breed was willing to compete in any and all rings, and did not enforce a separate registry. Saddlebreds began to be registered in 1891 and trotters (and later pacers) who could meet the “standard” for a mile in 1876.