Wednesday, November 28, 2012
When last I was in London, I saw a beautiful coach pulled by four seal brown horses the owner called Thoroughbreds. His best mares, he said, were bred to the Byerley Turk, a stallion captured by Captain Robert Byerley at the Battle of Buda (1686). I believe it will be yet another 20 years, perhaps 1730, before we'll see such horses in the colonies.
While in Europe with my uncle, Davis Owen, we visited a riding school in Napels where the haut école of equitation was practiced.There we saw stocky black horses known as Friesians. Most stand no more than 15 hands high. These well-trained horses, along with the Andalusians, performed airs above the ground (movements involving the horse leaping and kicking out). These movements have been used in warfare for centuries.
The kings of France preferred the Andalusians, a Spanish breed, though I found the Friesians most beautiful. I fear we'd need to sell all our stock to buy one Andalusian.
A team of white marbled horses pulled our heavy wagon from Picardie, France to the Boulonnaise region. We were in search of good horses to improve our stock. Unfortunately, we were unable to bring this team with us to Newport. They were of the Boulonnaise breed and had a good reputation among breeders. Smaller types of these horses were used to transport fresh fish from the Channel coast to Paris in less than 24 hours. Of all the draft horses we saw in Europe, the Boulonnaise were perhaps the most noble. We learned, however, that some Percherons from France were taken to Quebec. Someday, I shall travel north to see these animals. Perhaps they will suit our breeding program.
We, in Rhode Island, have worked hard to breed a horse that is fleet and swift pacing. I have a stallion that will pace a mile in little more than two minutes. Our horses need also to be hardy. 'Tis not unusual to journey sixty, nigh even seventy miles in a day on forest paths. Something uncommon, I am told, in England. We call our horses Narragansett Pacers, and as long as there are narrow paths in which to ride, our horses will serve a purpose. Though I will say Uncle Davis feels our pacers will give way to coach horses when roads improve.
Well now, the barge has made shore, and I must go and collect our mares. Godspeed to you, my friends.
The first Thoroughbred to be brought to America was Bulle Rock. He was imported in 1730 by Samuel Gist of Hanover County, Virginia.
Perhaps the most well known French draft breed is the Percheron. However, in the 17th century the Boulonnaise seemed to be more popular. If I lived then, I would probably chose a Boulonnaise over a Percheron because of the size. Smaller, they would not only be easier to mount but easier to feed than the Percheron. My research seemed to suggest they were faster as well. Having ridden a Percheron, my legs would attest to the discomfort of riding such a broad back. However, I prefer to drive a team of Percherons over Belgians, but that is pure whimsy.
The Narragansett Pacer was the first horse breed developed in the United States and did indeed become well-known. Even George Washington owned one, and some say that Paul Revere's horse was a Narragansett Pacer. The breed did give way to coach horses, and by the end of the 19th century, was extinct. The last one was believed to have died in 1880.
This breed provided the foundation for other pacing breeds like the American Saddlebred, Standardbred, and Tennessee Walking Horse. We, at one time, believed that my own precious Ginger had American Saddlebred blood for she had the ambling gait. She could walk as fast as some horses trotted. The gait is easy to ride and ground covering.
Many breeds influenced our American breeds. However, most colonists would not have any one specific breed but more likely to have a type, such as a saddlehorse, a coach horse, or a wagon horse (draft horse). With the exception of the wealthy, horses were bought and sold based on their abilities not on breed or lineage. Growing up, and through my years as an instructor and trainer, I prided myself in working primarily with 'grade horses'--horses of no specific lineage. Like the colonialists, I was more interested in the tractability, conformation, and physical abilities of the horse than in lineage. My own Ginger frequently out-performed purebred horses worth thousands of dollars more than what we paid for her.
If you get a chance, read the story of Justin Morgan's horse. The story reflects well how a horse of relatively unknown lineage can rise to the top. It also gives a good picture of how the 18th century horse business worked.