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:
There’s one problem. The photo series above, “Sallie Gardner,” was taken in 1878. The original photo series, from 1876, was of Abe Edgington, a Morgan. Abe 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.
Note: 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
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.
*See the 1881 article.
This in an update on a prior series from Oct. ’16 on four beat gaits.