Because New York was once New Amsterdam

trot
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.

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 with 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! 

Purple Potions

gentia4     Thomas de Grey’s 1684 “The Compleat Horse-man” includes a number of applications for gentians, including as a partial treatment for what sounds like heaves. He gives many possible treatments, ranging from vinegar soaked eggs to the “excrements of a sucking child” – yes, that means baby poop. Attached to all is the sound advice that the horse’s hay and “meat” (i.e., dinner) be wet. Other uses of gentian, he claimed, were the treatment of glanders and as a “purgative.”
    The variety in Grey’s work barely touches the wild array of uses to which gentians have been put, from treatment of thrush in humans and horses, to chicken feed preservative, to use as a histological stain to study bacteria, to treating WWI soldiers for venereal disease. Most barns probably have at least one gentian compound laying around, in the form of either Blu Kote or Thrush Buster. I’ll leave the glanders treatments to the vet, though, especially since mis-applied gentian can cause tattooing.

Historical Horse Tack: The Science of Gagging

patentbridle

    This is the “Patent Bridle,” invented by Dennis Magner, a popular and prolific 19th century author on ‘scientific’ horse training. This illustration is from his 1886 “The Art of Taming and Educating the Horse.” This may be the earliest gag bit, at least of the strap style. Anyone know of (or suspect) an earlier one?
   It is slightly different from modern gags in two effective way. First, the pulley gives a little bit more leverage (re: stronger upward pull) than a modern strap. And second, “a rubber connecting the ends of the bit to the rings on the pulley reins makes the action of the bit upon the mouth the same as any ordinary bit. But if at any time there should be much resistance, the rubbers stretch sufficiently to give play to the reins upon the pulleys.” If true, a very neat innovation, though I’m not a fan of gag bits, especially ones with as long a strap as this (a stopper could be added to prevent maximum engagement and the possibility of severe lip damage).

Equine Etymology: Grab Mane!

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“MANE, (of horse &c) Dut. Maene Ger. Maene Sw. Maan. Minshew derives – because it flows from his neck. Wachter from Lat. (of the Lower Ages) Minare to lead, to guide, because the horse was guided by means it before the bridle was invented. Junius the Gr. Mavvos or uavos a kind of adapted to the neck. Kilian says that it is so from its resemblance to the moon, whence it called by Martial juba lunata, and by Catullus rutila. May it not be from A.S. Magen, magn, main strength?”

    Excerpted from “A New Dictionary of the English Language, Volume 2,” by Charles Richardson, 1855. I love this poor dead scholar for for his literary eyeroll at so many false cognates.

    Like most of our baser equestrian words, ‘mane’ does come from the Anglo-Saxon, though I am inclined to believe it is from gemáne, for maned. Curious, though, is this idea that somewhere in the mists of time, people dared to get on an unbroke horse without even the benefit of the headgear used for the previously domesticated sheep, goats, or cattle (and possibly even donkeys)!