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.

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     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:

gallopdef
   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.

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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.

Read:

Four beat canters & lopes

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

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

 

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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!