Four-beat Follow-up, Part III: Muybridge Myths

horse-race-19th-century (1)     Way back in 1878 Eadweard Muybridge disproved the idea that that a horse gallops with its front and hind legs in pairs, stretched out. Or so the story goes. That is the version most tossed around barns, and occasionally makes it into academic circles. In 2012, one of Muybridge’s series was the subject of a Google Doodle, and he briefly re-entered the spotlight. Since then, the version that has become common is that he sought to prove that there was a moment of suspension in the gallop. Stanford University calls this their “first research project,” because Muybridge used Leland Stanford’s racehorses as his models, allegedly to assist Stanford in winning a bet on the topic.

     But, wait, let’s talk about this “racehorse” term that gets bandied about. Muybridge’s first “horse in motion” photos were, indeed, of one of Stanford’s “racehorses.”

“In 1876, the experimental photographer Eadweard Muybridge captured on film Leland Stanford’s prized horse, Abe Edgington, at full gallop in an attempt to prove Stanford’s theory of “unsupported transit”, the idea that all four hooves of a horse at speed leave the ground. The plate itself was fuzzy and unsuitable for publication, so it was left to a little-known painter of horses to strengthen the image. Thomas Kirby Van Zandt reproduced the image twice, first as drawing of “crayon and ink wash” dated September 16, 1876, and again as the finished canvas, Abe Edgington (Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts, Stanford University), dated February 1877 (1).” Cooley Gallery, emphasis mine.

Stanford University’s account of the “first research project” concurs that this test was conducted at a gallop, and provides this picture:

Screen Shot 2017-11-04 at 2.44.54 PM

     There’s one problem. The photo series above, “Sallie Gardner,” was taken in 1878. The original photo series, from 1876, was of Abe Edgington, MorganAbe Edgington did race, but in harness at a trot. Whether or not Stanford had made a bet about the results, the first trial was at a trot, and he used the results to adjust the training of his harness horses.


     Now that’s what I call a road horse! While there was some discussion as to whether or not all four feet left left the ground in the gallop, it was generally accepted that they did; the question was when. 

canterdefNote: what they call canter, we would consider a collected canter or park canter.
Every Horse Owner’s Cyclopedia, 1871, pg 89
Courtesy of the NSLM

See also Pantologia: A New Cabinet Cyclopaedia, 1819, pg 133:

   But, that question of timing was not Muybridge & Stanford’s original inquest. Stanford, being more owner than rider, may not have been aware of the consensus. Or, just as likely, he was, and that is why his first efforts focused on the trot. He was aware of Prof. Marey‘s work, but commented on his depiction of the walk, not the idea of suspension in the gallop.*  It was photos of the trot suspension that were submitted to newspapers as proof, and even by 1881, after Sallie Gardner was photographed at the gallop, the trot continued to receive the greatest amount of column space. Finally, Muybridge’s own Animals in Motion, finished in 1885, made much of the trot suspension, and little of that in the gallop.


No such dispute was mentioned for the gallop. To the contrary, some surprise was expressed at maintaining a slow enough canter (what we might call a lope, though far more upheaded) to remove the moment of suspension.

*See the 1881 article.

This in an update on a prior series from Oct. ’16 on four beat gaits.


Four beat canters & lopes

Four-beat follow-up, Part I: The Break 

Four-beat follow-up, Part II: Non-standard canters & gallops



Four-beat Follow-up, Part II: Non-standard canters & gallops

This in an update on a prior series from Oct. ’16 on four beat gaits.

This “second suspension” is usually missing from a horse’s gallop

    First, let’s talk about an anomalous form of the gallop whose existence is still, with todays slow motion video technology, debated. That is the double suspension gallop. In this, there are two moments of suspension, similar to a running greyhound. The hoof-falls would be hind, hind, suspension, opposite fore, fore, secretariatsuspension.  Secretariats immense stride is sometimes credited to his use of this gait. His winning photo from the Belmont Stakes shows him in a strange position, with all feet off the ground but legs outstretched. His outside fore hangs slightly, much like the dog in the photo above. It looks so strange that I, like many, wondered if it was a glitch. Then I realized that foreleg, and the opposite hind, could still be in the process of moving forward. He is on the left lead, with his left (inside) fore about to land. So I looked around to see if this glitch was repeated anywhere.

     I looked at some “most obvious suspects.” California Chrome. American Pharoah. Cigar. Zenyatta. All had huge closing strides– and acceleration within the gallop is where the double suspension seems to show– and none of them seem to exhibit this gait. And RedCadeauxthen I stumbled across this photo finish from the 2011 Melbourne Cup.  Red Cadeaux, the chestnut on the inside, is in almost the exact strange position that Secretariat was in at his Belmont finish. The photo IS distorted– the larger version shows one horse with a ridiculously large hock– but the distortion seems greatest the furthest from the finish line. And there are now a handful of interesting non-finish line photos floating around, like mrpremierthis Quarter Horse Mr Premier LVThis photo could be the moment after the phase shown above. The left fore has just touched the ground, but both hinds are already well in the air. The double suspension gallop’s effects on speed and soundness, as well as it’s possible heritability, are all conjecture at this point, as is its very existence. Finding evidence of horses galloping with out fulling weighting the diagonal at the same time is easy. Evidence of a second true suspension is inconclusive. Studies are ongoing.

     Now, back to the greyhound. The greyhound tends to employ a rotary gallop, with the hind-fore pair being lateral (usually the outside pair). The second non-standard hoofbeat pattern is what is often called the “gaited canter,” which is a rotary canter. The hoofbeats are hind, lateral pair, fore, which the pair occasionally exhibiting a slight break. It is often seen as just another crosscanter (i.e., disunited, with the fore and hind legs on opposite leads), but the tendency of gaited horses– especially those who exhibit lateral gaits– is strong, and the pairing of the lateral in the canter is not generally seen in other crosscanters. It is not a gait I would encourage, but for these horses it appears to be “natural.” I find that strengthening these horses diagonal gaits, if any, a great deal of working on circles, and is possible introducing haunches-in, helps to develop a standard canter, which is both more comfortable and better for long term soundness.


Read the rest of the series: 

Four-beat Follow-up, Part I: The Break

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 horserun 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 then, of course, came Muybridge’s stop motion photography study. This instantly “disproved” the common depiction, which quickly went out of fashion.

Muybridge’s The Horse in Motion, 1878

    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: 

ramses Mar14_stubbs1500x1053

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: different footfall patterns?

Manufacturing the Horse


Royal Armouries Object XVII.18

    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.”[1] 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.

Stop by Maintaining Natures II, or follow #SHOT2017 and #HorseHistory, to hear more.

[1] I’ve dated a version of this phrase to 1893 Agricultural Journal of the Cape of Good Hope, Volume 6 By Cape of Good Hope (Colony). Dept. of Agriculture

Colors In Translation

     I had to share a few of these. Our names for coat colors seem so normal until we look at them in translation (or try to explain them to a non-horse person! “What do you mean he’s not brown?”). We think nothing of calling a horse mouse dun, but pél de rata- coat of rat- elicits a giggle. 

Mohrenkopf = German “moor head,” for blue roan.
Windfarben = German “wind colored,” for silver dapple.
Alézan Brulé = French “burnt chestnut,” for liver chestnut.
Valk = Dutch “falcon,” for buckskin.
Schimmel = German “mold,” usually for grey but also roan, varnish.

And, if google translate can be trusted (hmm), “svartskäck,” the Swedish for piebald (i.e., magpie colored) means “perky black.”

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 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.

CFP: Baroque Horses & Horsemanship

The theme for WSECS 2018, to be held Feb. 16 & 17, 2018 in Las Vegas, is Conversing among the Ruins: the Persistence of the Baroque. 


   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 by Sept. 29. EDIT: the WSECS deadline has been re-extended.  E-mail proposals to by Nov. 10

This young Andalusian developed the “baroque” neck early