Franklin Brooke Voss counted among his patrons a “Who’s Who” of some of the most successful and affluent people in the United States in the early-to mid-20th century, including the likes of John Hay Whitney, J. Watson Webb, Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney, Alfred Vanderbilt, Walter Jeffords, F. Ambrose Clark, and Emily T. duPont. These patrons, however, had something other than wealth in common. They were all equestrians in a golden age of turf and field sports, and just as importantly, they were supporters of the arts.

Voss was born in New York City in 1880. He began drawing equine subjects while still in school and studied with George Bridgman at the Art Students League of New York in New York City for seven years at the turn of the century. Upon completing his education, Voss began painting by commission. One of his early works, Polo Player, 1909, is believed to be a portrait of one of the members of the Big Four, the indomitable team from the Meadow Brook Polo Club on Long Island that won the Westchester International Cup three times in a row in 1909, 1911, and 1913.

Franklin Brooke Voss (American, 1880–1953), Polo Player, 1909, oil on canvas 24 x 18 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Dr. Betsee Parker, 2011

Voss was commissioned to paint many of the leading steeplechase and flat racehorses of the day. He also painted foxhunting, polo, and coaching compositions; many works featured the portraits of prominent horse owners, trainers, and riders. Voss completed over 500 works, and he undoubtedly became a successful equine portraitist to discerning members of the turf and field because he shared their passion for and knowledge of horses, equine sports, and art.

Franklin Brooke Voss (American, 1880–1953), Tom Allison, Huntsman of Meadow Brook Hounds, 1934, 12 x 16 1/8 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Katrina Hickox Becker, 2020

Voss came from a family of equestrians and grew up on Long Island in the midst of what was then prime foxhunting country. His father was a founder of the Rockaway Hunt Club on Long Island, and his uncle formed the Elkridge Hounds in Monkton, MD, so it is not surprising that Voss was himself a polo player in his youth and an avid foxhunter and horseman. Several members of the Meadow Brook Hounds, the leading pack on Long Island, with whom Voss also subscribed, became his patrons and repeatedly commissioned works from him. Portrait of Mrs. William C. Langley Riding Aside on Sandown, 1921; Sandown, 1927; and Oh Girl, 1928 were all painted for Elida B. and William C. Langley, both members of the Meadow Brook.

Franklin Brooke Voss (American, 1880–1953), (above) Portrait of Mrs. William C. Langley, Aside on Sandown, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Mrs. Eleanor Langley Fletcher, 1962; (below) Oh Girl, 1928, oil on canvas, National Sporting Library & Museum, Bequest of Eleanor Langley Fletcher, 1983; Sandown, 1927, oil on canvas, National Sporting Library & Museum, Bequest of Eleanor Langley Fletcher, 1983

Many of Voss’s works were also reproduced as illustrations, including Mr. Thomas’ Foxhounds in Piedmont Country, 1919, also known as Gone Away Across the Blue Grass in Full Cry. The painting was one of a pair commissioned by the author Joseph B. Thomas and was the frontispiece for Thomas’s 1937 book Hounds and Hunting Through the Ages.

Franklin Brooke Voss (American, 1880–1953), (above) Mr. Thomas’ Foxhounds Leaving Huntland Kennels, November, 1919, oil on canvas, 16 x 24 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Dr. Betsee Parker, 2011; (below) Mr. Thomas’ Foxhounds in the Piedmont Country, 1919, oil on canvas, 16 x 24 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of Dr. Betsee Parker, 2011

Voss painted and hunted in much of the Mid-Atlantic and in England throughout his life, but he continued to have strong ties to and complete many works around Long Island and Maryland. Alligator, 1929, the portrait of the winning steeplechaser remembered for going on to win both the 1929 Maryland Hunt Cup and the 1930 International Gold Cup after falling and being remounted in each race, was painted at the Meadow Brook course for owner Maud K. Stevenson of Long Island. She married S. Bryce Wing, a famous Maryland horseman, foxhunter, and longtime friend and patron of the painter.

Franklin Brooke Voss (American, 1880–1953), Alligator, 1929, oil on canvas, 28 x 36 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Gift of the children of Peter Winants, Sr. (July 31, 2009)

It is fitting that in the end, Voss, a life-long equestrian and artist, would die of a heart attack on a day out with the Elkridge-Harford pack surrounded by his friends and supporters while foxhunting in Monkton, MD in 1953.

Claudia Pfeiffer is the Deputy Director and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at

I am, what could be called, “indoorsy.” I am most content curling up with a book, writing away, or trying out new recipes. So when Marketing & Communications Manager Cynthia Kurtz offered to take me riding, I paused. A very slight pause because, since working at NSLM, I have been eager to try the sporting activities that are encompassed within our mission.

Quick note: Cynthia is a riding instructor so this wasn’t just a friend and co-worker letting me ride her horse. No, this was a real lesson and as a teacher myself, I was all for it.

The first and last time I rode a horse Bill Clinton defeated George H.W. Bush for the presidency, Hurricane Andrew ripped through Florida, and Disney’s Aladdin was in theaters. It’s been a while. Cynthia is an avid rider and her horse, Saint, is used to newbies and is an overall good boy. The perfect pair for my first time out since Bush 41 left office.

Having worn an elastic waistband and Birkenstocks for the last year or so, I was disappointed to learn that I needed to wear jeans and shoes with a heel. But I did and off we went.

We saw Saint as we pulled up. He’s allergic to a lot outside so he wears a fly sheet, mask, and boots that cover him completely. They’re quite darling, really.

There’s a horse under there?

Saint is very well behaved. I was even more impressed when Cynthia told me his background. He was a feral horse for the first five years of his life. When he came to Cynthia as a six-year-old, he was broke in a loose sense of the word. She trained him with hand signals, key phrases, and clicks of the tongue. For instance, Saint did not need to be secured in the cross-ties. She simply said “Stand” and he did.

Cynthia started me off with the basics: how to brush a horse. She showed me the different types of brushes and when to use them. I started with the curry comb, getting the large clumps off him, followed by the softer brushes.

I then got a lesson cleaning hooves. I learned that not all their hooves need shoes – Saint’s back legs don’t need them since he moves fine without them. But his shoes did need to be cleaned. Cynthia did the first one, pointing out the different parts of the hoof and how to get in there with the hoof pick. Then it was my turn. I ran my hand down his leg so he wouldn’t be surprised and picked up his hoof. See my hand position below?

I had forgotten to take my allergy medicine (as I, like Saint, am also allergic to everything outside) so my mask was also helpful for that.

It was incorrect and resulted in a bruised toe on my right foot. I was nervous that the pick would hit a sensitive spot, and having just had a hoof to the toe, I wasn’t eager for another, so I didn’t dig in there the way Cynthia told me. But she encouraged me and eventually got him all cleaned up.

It was almost time! Cynthia showed me how to position the saddle blanket and then “gently” warned me not to drop the 40-pound saddle on her horse’s back. Gotcha. Next was tying all the straps – it took me a couple tries but I eventually secured the cinch underneath and tied the latigo.

Saint only rides in style

Helmet in hand, we led Saint to the mounting block in the ring. Up I went! What a weird feeling. I wanted my feet to go further in the stirrups so that they would be closer to my heels, but Cynthia explained why this is a bad idea – if I fall, they won’t be able to slip out and could cause further injury. I initially held the reins in a death grip and very high up. Cynthia told me to pretend I was holding a glass of champagne – I don’t want to hold it too tight that I break the glass and not too feebly that the drink pours out. I ended up staring at my hands half the time to ensure that they were in the correct position.

Me verifying my hand positions, but more importantly, Saint laughing at me. I know he’s yawning, but it’s fitting, really.

Cynthia led me around the ring, showing me how the slightest turn of my body guided Saint. A constant refrain was “heels down!” And my constant response, “they are!” Cynthia would walk over and somehow pull my heels lower.

There were only a couple other people in the ring. As I was reveling in my small victories of guiding Saint in a turn, I was treated to a heated debate between Cynthia and another instructor of Thoroughbred vs. Quarter Horse. They may as well have been talking Greek.

At one point, we did a little jogging which was pretty uncomfortable. Eventually Cynthia dropped her lead and I continued on with Saint. We then went for a little walk outside where Saint, being the typical eight-year-old, stopped to smell and investigate every branch, pile, and fence.

Note to self: pack different glasses. Cat eyes are not conducive to horseback riding.

Dismounting – turns out, we don’t use the mounting block. No. “Lean forward, kick your leg over, and slide down.” My legs and feet were like jelly at that point. There was no way I was going to get my leg over the cantle and land safely on two feet. No, they were going to collapse right under me, and I was going to end up in a heap like a literal sack of potatoes. I made her wait a few minutes as I worked the feeling back into them and then, three tries later, I was down.

Wow. How about that? Again, what a weird feeling.

Thighs. Burning.

We led Saint back to the barn for his last bit of grooming and to put all his gear back on.

Friends forever

And then it was time to literally walk into the sunset.

Cynthia and Saint, Dynamic Duo

It was a great crash course in Horse 101. I had a lot of fun learning terminology and actually doing some of the work and, of course, taking Saint for a spin. Thank you to Saint for trusting me and to Cynthia for taking the time and energy to teach a new student. I’m sure I’ll be back out there one of these days, once my toe stops tingling…


Lauren Kraut is the Sr. Collections Manager & Registrar at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at

When one thinks of the circus, one’s mind immediately goes to thoughts of clowns and oddities, cheap tricks, and lavish sets. It may be odd, then, to think of the circus as a center of elite horsemanship and a historically essential venue for the development of modern dressage. Indeed, the horses and other equines of late-19th– and early-20th-century circuses were highly trained and expected to perform at a level on par with the Lipizzaners of the Spanish Riding School and warmbloods competing at the highest levels of Grand Prix.

An exhaustive manual of circus-horse training was published in 1949 by Dutch trainer and circus-man Henrik Jan Lijsen: De Hooge School, or “High School,” referring to the series of movements classified as the most difficult in Dressage and frequent attractions at the circus. The book provided step-by-step instructions to train horses to perform various tricks and movements, such as the pesade, piaffe, and rearing, both under saddle and at liberty, as well as detailed diagrams on tack, training methods, and care of the horse. Other chapters taught vaulting, trick-riding, and group performances such as the quadrille, pas de deux, and carousels. There are even tips for composing good sets and calming your nerves at your first performance! Lijsen dedicated his life to studying equitation and referred in his book to anatomy, psychology, and husbandry of the horse in support of his methods.

De Hooge School
Charts for carousel performances in De Hooge School

De Hooge School was translated in 1956 by Antony Hippisley-Coxe and released as four manuals: Training Horses at Liberty, Quadrilles and Carrousels, High School Riding, and Trick-Riding and Voltige. This brought Lijsen’s techniques to the English-speaking world, where they are still studied by trainers and amateur hobbyists alike. Lijsen’s approaches are unique in their emphasis on patience and kindness: the horse is never forced into any position for which he is not ready. The author has a simple way of explaining even the most difficult tricks in such a way that even the average horse owner can at least attempt them.

The four volumes translated by Hippisley-Coxe

The training of a circus horse is unique from that of a competitive horse in several key aspects. While they may both be learning the same movement, the horse destined for competition must be precise and measured in his performance. The circus horse, however, must entertain a crowd who likely knows nothing about horses and their abilities. The emphasis then is less on the technical correctness of the movement and more on the flashiness and showmanship which please the crowd. This freedom and artistic license make the foundation of High School Dressage infinitely more accessible to the common crowd merely seeking entertainment but admiring the ability of a finely trained animal; similarly today, the musical freestyle Dressage test remains one of the more popular forms of competition among non-equestrians.

Images of Lijsen working with his horses as published in De Hooge School

This style of training is partly responsible for the ability of modern hobbyists to attempt the high school movements and other tricks with their own horses. They may never reach the Olympics, nor may they even want to, but given the many benefits of Dressage training in all disciplines of riding it is fortunate to see them being pursued to this day outside of competition.

The relative freedom from conformity in circus performances has also inspired artists. As circus work was a celebration of the natural beauty of the horse, especially liberty work which emphasized his free will and bond with mankind, it is no wonder that Degas, Seurat, Haseltine, Winans, Chegall, and others have all at one time or another found their inspiration in the dancing horses. Even contemporary artist Diana Reuter-Twining seems to channel the spirit of the circus horse in her piece, Equipoise.

The use of animals has fallen out of style in today’s circuses—and rightfully so—but the skills and values taught by the circus masters of yesteryear still have a place in modern equitation. In fact, it is doubtful that so many hobbyists today would entertain the notion of practicing higher-level Dressage movements were it not for its prevalence in circuses, accessible to those who may not have otherwise engaged with the sport in traditional European fashion.

Referenced works:
Lijsen, H. J. De Hooge School, c. 1943, La Rivière & Voorhoeve
Lijsen, H. J. and Antony Hippisley Coxe High School Riding, c. 1957, J. A. Allen
Lijsen, H. J. and Antony Hippisley Coxe Quadrilles & Carrousels, c. 1957, J. A. Allen
Lijsen, H. J. and Antony Hippisley Coxe Training Horses at Liberty, c. 1957, J. A. Allen
Lijsen, H. J. and Antony Hippisley Coxe Trick Riding and Voltige, c. 1957, J. A. Allen

Cynthia Kurtz received her M.A. in Museum Studies from The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and her B.A. from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. She is responsible for marketing, social media, and graphic design to support the entire NSLM. When not working, she enjoys trail riding in the woods of Loudoun County.

She can be reached at

The 19th century was the golden age of horsewomanship. Progress made on roads and carriages had turned horseback-riding into a leisure rather than a necessity. The lighter all-leather sidesaddle with two horns, invented in England around the middle of the 18th century and derived from the novelty hunting saddle, had become very fashionable with ladies. Around 1830, the addition of the leaping head revolutionized riding aside by allowing high jumps and greater safety in the saddle. 

Women’s equestrian portraits closely followed this fashion, and mirrored the rapid spread of sidesaddle riding: there seems to be no portrait of a lady sitting astride painted during the 19th century. 

Lady Alexandrina Octavia Maria Vane, Countess of Portarlington, Charles Hancock, 1845, Mount Stewart.

Members of royal households still commissioned traditional portraits in pairs, such as Queen Victoria did when she asked Sir Francis Grant in 1845 to paint a pair of her and Prince Albert. Interestingly, these official portraits show the queen active on her horse, in the levade— reminiscent of the powerful statement made by the 17th-century kings’ portraits by Diego Velzáquez —whereas Albert is standing next to his horse. Queen Victoria shows herself, without any ambiguity, as the sole ruler, the one holding the reins. 

Victoria was probably the first queen to have ever been represented on equestrian statues—a genre so exclusively male it has to be noted. She was also the first to use photographs as models for an equestrian portrait she commissioned to Edwin Landseer in 1861, painted to illustrate the dark and painful times of her widowhood. 

Queen Victoria at Osborne, Edwin Landseer, 1865-67, Royal Collection. Source
Queen Victoria and John Brown at Osborne, Royal Collection. Source

Painted equestrian portraits were hugely popular among the elites of the 19th century as they were still an expression of high social status. In 1864, the Countess of Yarborough was given her equestrian portrait as a gift from the gentlemen of the Brocklesby Hunt. This gracious gift, honoring the Countess as a member of her social class and her keen interest in the hunt, was seen as “a gratifying testimonial of public and private respect.” The Illustrated London News reported that “the portrait is of life size, the picture measuring 10 ft. by 6 ft. The Countess is represented on her favorite hunter Brilliant, with two favorite hounds, named Gambler and Charity, at its feet. It is a striking and pleasing likeness, and was executed by F. Grant, Esq., at a cost of five hundred guineas.”

Presentation to the Countess of Yarborough of her equestrian portrait, Illustrated London News, January 9 1864. Source
Equestrian portrait of the Countess of Yarborough, print by William Henry Simmons after the painting by Sir Francis Grant, British Museum. Source

Equestrian portraits held the same prestige for families of the nobility, as they had for two centuries, but were also a way for the new upper class coming out of commerce or industry to anchor themselves in the aristocratic tradition of painted portraits. When photography came along, it also became a way to differentiate themselves from a growing middle class that had easier access to this more affordable medium. Equestrian photography portraits were very popular among ladies from the 1860s to the 1890s, with some photographers like the Deltons in Paris even making it their specialty and setting up a large studio capable of accomodating horses and carriages. 

When the work of Eadweard Muybridge, experimenting on motion with photography in Palo Alto at the very end of the 1870s, showed the world how a horse actually placed his legs while at a canter, painters seem to have lost interest in representing fast gaits in their equestrian portraits. Photography was better at catching the intricacies of movements, but there were two things it could not do very well yet: capture color—even later autochromes—and especially mood. Painters like Alfred Munnings became masters at creating vibrant and luminous equestrian portraits, in which ladies showcased the perfection to which side-saddle riding had risen at the beginning of the 20th century. These women did not sit awkwardly or twisted anymore on the side of their horse, but had visually achieved what men had already acquired centuries ago: a correct position in the saddle depicting them as skillful and distinctive horsewomen.

In the 1920s and 1930s, women sometimes appeared astride, but it was short-lived. The genre of equestrian portrait barely survived the Second World War, swept away with the ruins of an era.

Portrait of Mrs. William C. Langley, aside on Sandown, Franklin Brooke Voss, 1921, National Sporting Library & Museum. Source
Ethel Mary, Countess of Lauderdale, Lucy Lockwood, 1928, Thirlestane Castle. Source

Through the 1920s and 1930s, women’s equestrian portraits were mostly painted with the horse standing still or at a walk, and almost always from the side. One could say the circle was complete, women’s portraits on horseback having started with seals where they would also appear in a profile. In both cases, centuries apart, they held the same message: women could be powerful queens or gracious socialites. They were mesmerizing, unique models for any equestrian art.

Anita Ready for a Ride, Alice Pike Barney, c. 1896, Smithsonian. Source

Adélaïde de Savray graduated from Sorbonne-Nouvelle University and the Institut d’Études Supérieures des Arts in Paris. She focuses her research on the history of female equitation from the Middle-Ages to the 18th century, with a strong interest in sidesaddle and women’s equestrian portraits.

You may have noticed seven new large sculptures by Walter T. Matia (American, born 1953) installed along the pathway and in front of the Museum building last month. The striking animal bronzes are the outdoor portion of the exhibition, Field Notes | Walter Matia, and will be on view through January 9, 2022.

We speculate they may have been responsible for a vehicular hit and run which took out about 6 feet of our stone wall on The Plains Road. You read that right. Someone missed completing the turn from W. Federal Street. I’ve never understood people who are able to flee from something like that without taking responsibility, but that’s a conversation for another blog.

Where was I? I’m not going to lie. Installation was an absolute spectacle for me. It was, however, another day at the office for Walter and his right-hand Leeann Krautwurst, albeit a stressful and long one for them. I got a call from Leeann in the morning on June 1st that they would be 45 minutes late. They had everything planned to a tee, but the load turned out to be too heavy: a second truck needed to be arranged that morning. I was thankful because our tractor/forklift order had fallen through, and Facilities and Grounds Manager Nick Greenwell was able to procure a local one. (Apologies to all who got stuck behind us as we crawled along Zulla Road.)

The two trucks arrived at 10:45 am on the dot with Tennessee stone bases, pavers, and bronzes. A lot of heavy lifting and a bit of digging ensued to create level bases. We started with the sculptures that did not require a forklift. International Harvester, the English pointer in a corn field, was the first to be mounted.

International Harvester, 2016, bronze, 38 x 47 x 14 inches, Collection of the artist; left to right: Leeann Krautwurst, Walter Matia, Nick Greenwell and Facilities Assistants Alex Orfila, Jacob Lewis, and Gary Stout

Cry Havoc, the swooping Peregrine Falcon, was not made as a mate to Crossing to Safety, the Greenwing Teals, but Walter had the vision to install them together as a pair. It makes for a dramatic introduction from the rear parking lot.

Crossing to Safety, 2017, bronze, 68 x 18 x 12 inches, Collection of the artist; Cry Havoc, 2019, bronze, 88 x 30 x 18 inches, Collection of the artist

We had selected and marked the installation locations in April. You may have spotted the spray-painted numbers on the ground and wondered what they were for.

Then the nail biting started for me, but we were in good hands. For each of the next sculptures, Nick carefully approached the palettes with precision…

The Finalist, 2020, bronze, 42 x 26 x 29 inches, Collection of Mr. Paul Tudor Jones

…lifted them out of the truck…

Rewards of First Light, 2012, bronze, 46 x 56 x 17 inches, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. John Mullin

…lowered them, and drove them to their places.

Whooping Crane, 1992, bronze, 59 x 48 x 27 inches, Collection of the American Bird Conservancy

Mounting the sculptures to the stone bases required more elbow grease and heavy lifting. Astoundingly, within four hours all the bronzes were safely and securely in place, thanks to everyone’s cooperation and a lot of hard work. Afterwards we added labels and a QR code that points to an online description of the pieces and a campus map to orient visitors.

Custom google map of Field Notes | Walter Matia outdoor installation

The night before the opening celebrations, I called Walter with some bad news. The elderberries had ripened, and a mockingbird was desecrating the sculptures and bases with deep purple scat. He burst out laughing and said, “Well, there’s the sh*t you can control and the sh*t you can’t.” Nature will have its way. We discussed again the pros and cons of outdoor installations.

The artist’s vision for these animal sculptures is to experience them outdoors, much in the same way he interacts with the living creatures that inspire him. You see, this is why we can have and enjoy nice things. We just need to clean them regularly.

Claudia Pfeiffer is the Deputy Director and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at

Written by John H. Daniels Fellow Adélaïde de Savray

When I first started working on the history of women’s equitation, I hadn’t realized to what little extent it had been researched, and how much it was marred by myths and misconceptions. Women have almost completely been left out of horsemanship history, mostly seen by modern scholars as passive riders lagging behind accomplished horsemen, forced to sit on special sidesaddles supposedly made to protect their virginity and keep them estranged from power. The earliest pages printed addressing women’s equitation in horsemanship literature, published in Germany in 1678 and 1729, show otherwise. Women rode both aside and astride and had access to quality training by the same riding-masters who taught men, in the Manège – the riding ring, a place arguably as useful to power at the time as could have been a great hall. Women’s equestrian portraits mirror riding practices:  they prove women were not left out of the brilliant horse culture of the time but suffer from the same lack of research.

Equestrian portraits could be traced back to the art of aristocratic seals in the Middle Ages, upon which men were sometimes depicted on horseback as a sign of military power. Women had no need for this martial representation but expressed their own power on equestrian seals by showing themselves in the noble pastime of falconry—a theme that would survive in painted portraits. Even if they usually rode astride, the sidesaddle position guaranteed that anyone, upon seeing the seal, would immediately identify a woman. This artistic convention might have led to representing women mostly sideways in later painted portraits, even if they rode like men in everyday life. 

Seal of Elizabeth de Sevorc, 13th century, British Museum

In the 16th and 17th centuries, especially, horses were instruments of royal magnificence and glory. Dressage and hunting had become courtly arts.  A well-bred, well-schooled horse was expensive to buy, train, and maintain. Capturing this in a painting was a luxury available only to the highest aristocracy, as equestrian portraits conveyed a complex message of power from which women of royal and princely households could not be left out. Official commissioned portraits of royal couples made as pairs served political and court rhetoric as much as individual ones did. Instances, especially with the horse in a pesade, quickly spread in European courts through painted portraits given as gifts, richly illustrated books on horsemanship, and popular engravings.

Portrait of a princess from the House of Savoy, maybe Margaret Yolande, c.1660, Castello Racconigi.

Most women’s equestrian portraits from these centuries, even if they survived independently, were painted as a mate to a man’s portrait. Very few portraits were made as individual ones for women in the 17th century. Those which were all strictly copied the same codified devices depicting men, legitimizing these women in their position of authority, sometimes showing them as accomplished horsewomen, like Madame de Saint-Baslemont by Déruet and Christina of Sweden by Bourdon.

No one seems to have objected much to these portraits at the time, implying that the appropriation of male codes for the representation of exceptionally courageous or powerful women was not seen as inappropriate. It had no reason to be. Women often found themselves carrying the crown, in their own name or through a regency, and they hunted alongside men, even though it was considered training for the harshness of war. In 1761, at the death of her husband, Madame de Brionne even served as Grand Écuyer de France—equivalent to the Master of the Horse in England—one of the highest and most prestigious positions in the King’s Household. She held the reins of the royal stables for ten years until her son was old enough to be sworn in.

Wilhelmina of Prussia, Tethart Philipp Christian Haag, 1789, Rijksmuseum

By the middle of the 18th century, the genre of equestrian portraiture had seeped into the lower ranks of aristocracy, but on the Continent, it mostly stayed an instrument of court culture. In England, where horse riding truly became a sport, it took a different turn and became a staple of the landed gentry’s image. Painted in front of the gently rolling hills of their country estates, out hunting, or for a walk, these equestrian portraits were made to express social status and family values more than authority. Portraits were not designed in pairs anymore, but oftentimes individually or in a group—usually with a groom—and family portraits, showing women as active members of upper-class country life and accomplished hunters. 

English school, second half of the 18th century, DE BAECQUE & Associés
The Countess of Coningsby in the Costume of the Charlton Hunt, George Stubbs, c.1760, Yale Center for British Arts

Equestrian portraits of the 17th and 18th centuries reveal women as powerful aristocrats and excellent horsewomen, but they also prove that riding aside was not yet a widespread practice in Europe. Still, astride riding fell out of grace soon after, and the picturesque elegance of a woman sitting sidesaddle would truly shine in 19th-century portraits. 

Adélaïde de Savray graduated from Sorbonne-Nouvelle University and the Institut d’Études Supérieures des Arts in Paris. She focuses her research on the history of female equitation from the Middle-Ages to the 18th century, with a strong interest in sidesaddle and women’s equestrian portraits.

A friend of mine is coming to Northern Virginia for a few weeks, so I’ve been helping her look for a horse to ride while she’s here. Our conversations can be summarized as follows:

“What about this one? It’s a bay Thoroughbred gelding.”

“Oh wait! I found another one, it’s a bay Thoroughbred gelding.”

“How about a bay Thoroughbred mare? Oh wait, sorry, brown Thoroughbred…”

Indeed, driving down Rt. 50 through Aldie, Middleburg, and Upperville, you will see a plethora of shades of bay and brown, with the occasional chestnut thrown in for good measure. Every once in a while, a big gray sporthorse will dot the field, strikingly contrasted against his herdmates. This occurrence is not isolated to Virginia hunt country either: out of 147 Kentucky Derby winners in the history of the race, 87 have been bay or brown and 48 have been chestnut, leaving just 12 winners of different colors (eight were gray/roan, four were black). A gray or black horse has never won the Triple Crown.

It might surprise readers, then, that the Jockey Club recognizes several more colors and coat patterns than are commonly reflected in American horse racing. Thoroughbreds may be white or palomino, and can display tobiano, overo, or sabino markings. Recently, Sodashi, a pure white filly, has been causing quite a stir in Japan, where she is a graded stakes-winner with a record of 6: 5-0-0. Her dam, Buchiko, is loudly colored with a blanket of spots across her back.

Sodashi surges to the lead. Image Source
Buchiko in her racing days. Image Source

Buchiko’s dam was a pure-white mare sired by 1989 Kentucky Derby winner Sunday Silence, whose stunning black coat made him stand out on American tracks in the ‘80s and ‘90s.  (Interestingly, despite being a true black horse, Sunday Silence was registered as dark bay).

Thoroughbreds are not the only breed that can come in surprising colors. Standardbreds are known for being similarly colored, with bay and brown being the overwhelming default, but pinto markings have appeared. In Ireland, some tracks have even begun hosting “colored” races exclusively for piebald and skewbald standardbreds.

2018 Painted Mile at Portmarnock. Image Source

Friesians are known for being exclusively black with no white markings, which is a requirement for registration, but surprisingly some still carry the gene for chestnut coloring. Carriers of the gene can inadvertently be bred to each other, resulting in chestnut foals. One colt, Fire Magic, was the only chestnut stallion to be granted registration; he became famous as a performer in The Magical World of Dancing Horses and was even memorialized as a Breyer model. Today, thanks to the availability of genetic testing, a stallion must also be proven to be homozygous black in order to be registered, meaning he cannot produce chestnut offspring. Some enthusiasts are still breeding for the golden chestnut color, however, with stock not in the official studbook and a handful of heterozygous studs who were granted inclusion in the stallion book before the genetic testing requirement. These horses are affectionately referred to as “Fire Friesians” or “Fox Friesians,” and may be eligible for certain registries outside of the main stud book.

Fire Magic performing in “The Magical World of Dancing Horses” with owner Diane Rossi. Image Source

The Norwegian Fjord Horse is another breed characterized by its color; the horse is traditionally dun with a distinctly patterned mane. Many will be familiar with this breed from its depiction in the movie Frozen. While this dun color, or brunblakk,is the most common, the registry recognizes five color variations. A sixth color, kvit, is extremely rare, but genetically possible. These horses’ coats are so diluted their primitive markings are barely distinguishable.  

The five accepted colors of the Fjord horse, from left to right: brunblakk, ulsblakk, rødblakk, gulblakk, and grå.
. Image Source
A rare kvit Fjord Horse. Image Source

Finally, while Appaloosas are known for vibrant and flashy coats, even they can throw a few colorful surprises. Cs Arrogant Playboy (a.k.a. “Wicket”) boasts a rare pattern called “peacock leopard,” a variation of the standard leopard coat in which the dark spots are circled by a white halo and resemble blots of ink. His coat is so spectacular he graced the cover of the most recent edition of the Appaloosa Journal.

Cs Arrogant Playboy “Wicket,” owned by GWS Appaloosas. Image Source

Cynthia Kurtz received her M.A. in Museum Studies from The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and her B.A. from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. She is responsible for marketing, social media, and graphic design to support the entire NSLM. When not working, she enjoys trail riding in the woods of Loudoun County.

She can be reached at

There’s a lot happening right now. Currently on view is Tucker Smith: A Celebration of Nature and upcoming is Field Notes | Walter Matia. In between the two was a mini reveal which you may have seen on social media two weeks ago.

NSLM Facebook post, May 24, 2021

We recently received a donation of two large equine sculptures by artist Diana Reuter-Twining, Maestro and Equipoise. First, a hearty kudos to everyone involved with this. It was a very exciting, hold-your-breath few minutes as they were rolled into the gallery. Second, we are beyond delighted to have these join our permanent collection.

Though I had seen pictures of both, it did not quite prepare me for seeing them in person. Maestro depicts a horse with a leg outstretched on top of a ball and on its base is the Fibonacci spiral. As I much as I enjoy both sculptures equally, this blog will be devoted to Equipoise.

Equipoise shows a horse on one end of a balance beam and a dancer on the other. It struck me immediately. The dancer, in particular, with her bare feet, outstretched hands, and wild hair just put a smile on my face. My mind, then, started jumping all around my art history textbook. Hold on tight and follow this crazy train if you can.

Diana Reuter-Twining (American, b. 1951), Equipoise, 2019 bronze, 76 x 52 x 16 inches, Gift of the artist, 2021

Association 1: Verrocchio’s David has always fascinated me because there does not seem to be any way to distinguish between the top half of the subject’s armor and his skin. I understand that a cuirass often had extraordinary detail on it, from emphasizing musculature to military campaign highlights and mythological lineage (looking at you, Augustus), but this goes beyond that. There are visible straps but you can also see his belly button and rib cage.

It seems to be one in a way that is very similar to Reuter-Twining’s dancer and her leotard. We do not see where one stops and one begins.

Association 2:

My brain then skipped ahead to Paris at the turn of the 20th century, the dancer Loie Fuller, and a poster of her by French artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901).

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (French, 1864-1901). Miss Loïe Fuller, 1893. Color lithograph on wove paper, Sheet: 15 × 10 1/4 in. (38.1 × 26 cm). Brooklyn Museum, Museum Collection Fund, 39.25 

It is one of the many advertisement posters he created of various dancers and singers. Though posters had been around for a while, this era of the fin de siècle is when it really develops as an art form. They were also cheap to produce, which was important as performances were often limited engagements. Their size and format were made to fit lamp poles and posts. How else does one attract the attention of the passersby?

Loie Fuller was a solo artist who was known for elaborate routines that choreographed the movement of her body and her long dresses with that of light and color. Her costumes included long skirts and sleeves that billowed as she twisted and turned.

Here is a link a video of someone performing in her style, sometimes called a “serpentine dance.” Though the beginning of the video says it is of her, it actually is not. There is no video in existence of her performing.

What made me think of this poster in particular though is the similarity between the hair of Reuter-Twining’s dancer and Fuller’s expansive costume. The hair looks like it is swept in a frenzy much like Fuller’s dress.

Equipoise (detail)

Association 2.5:

In another five seconds, my mind jumped from Toulouse-Lautrec’s poster to his depictions of circuses…

Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, At the Circus,
late 19th century

…which then took me to Association 3: George Seurat.

Georges Seurat (French. 1859-1891), Le Cirque, 1891,
oil on canvas, 72 x 60 inches, Musée d’Orsay

The connection here is probably a lot more obvious. It was like my mind was whirring through a rolodex – going all the way to “V”, skipping up a bit and alighting on “T” (“not quite what I’m looking for”) and then flipped back to “S” (“ah yes, there you are.”).

With all that said though, Reuter-Twining’s sculpture is its own tour de force. Her dancer is visibly all muscle, unlike Seurat’s lithe bareback rider. Our dancer’s legs are thicker, which is testament to her training. Her bare feet make this very spontaneous for me and as someone who removes her shoes at every opportunity (including sitting at my desk writing blogs…), I appreciate another bare footed individual. The dancer’s nose is slightly upturned giving her a spritely look.

The horse was influenced by the Lipizzaner breed, which can be seen in the stalwart pose, again the opposite of Seurat. Whereas his looks weightless and ethereal, Reuter-Twining’s is solid and strong.

Equipoise (detail)

On the dancer and horse are circles traced into the patina that adds texture and a dynamism to the figures.

It also, for me, subtly reinforces the circus, as does the balance beam. But it also goes deeper than that. I like to think that the force of the dancer is what keeps her from flying off, which is technically what should happen when there is a 1,000-pound horse on the other end. Instead, she remains deftly and firmly on her side.

Make sure to stop by and see Reuter-Twining’s sculptures in the Intro Gallery. The Museum is open between 10 am and 4:30 pm. Ticketed access is still recommended but walk-ups are welcome!

Thank you for sticking with me through this art stream of consciousness (though I may have revealed too much of my inner workings). I mostly blame the allergy meds. Stay tuned for Part 2 on my more coherent discussion on Maestro.

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at

A frequent question I receive in my work is in which country sports I participate. Some people are surprised to learn that I have not focused on any of the disciplines myself, learning about them by observing, reading, and asking lots of questions of experts.

I have not been riding since I was 8 years old. Like any self-respecting little girl, however, I was obsessed with horses but tragically lived in the suburbs of New Jersey with no farms nearby. I grew up in an outdoorsy and adventurous family though, spending summers camping across the U.S. and parts of Canada or visiting relatives in Austria and Germany and winters skiing. Hiking, biking, swimming, sailing, row boating, and the occasional alpine slide ride were standard fare on trips, and we even tried three-wheeling and another time parasailing over Lake George.  

My big chance to ride came on one of our family vacations when the Martha’s Vineyard KOA Campground sign was in sight after a long drive. A nearby hand-spray-painted piece of plywood beckoned, “Horseback Riding Lessons.” I knew it would be an expensive undertaking, so the balancing act of asking nicely without being too much of a pest commenced. My brother wanted to ride too: our parents caved!

Horseback Riding Lesson on Martha’s Vineyard, 1980

Although the Kodachrome 64 slides my dad took do not show it, it is one of the most exhilarating memories of my childhood. I now laugh at the not-so-subtle reminder of the haircut I gave myself the winter before and the annoying wisp of hair that was growing out. A la 1980, we did not wear helmets during our lesson. My brother was almost bucked off. I tried not to laugh while astride my strawberry roan, whose name I surprisingly cannot remember, feeling like I was sitting on top of the world. She was a stubborn cuss who liked to eat grass. The sage advice that echoes in memory from my riding instructor is, “Feel the rhythm of the horse.”

My family is competitive, so every activity required 100% effort and engagement. It was usually fun but sometimes frustrating being the youngest by four years always trying to keep up. When we were not outside, we expended pent up energy playing ping pong in the enclosed porch.  Then my brother got a pellet rifle from our uncle, and we had a new indoor pastime—target shooting in the basement. We quickly fashioned ourselves crack shots, and I distinctly remember attracting a small crowd of teenagers at a volksfest watergun game booth once.

As an adult, I have enjoyed going to the gun range but never aimed at a moving target until a recent staff outing to take a beginner lesson with National Sporting Clays Association (NSCA) certified shooting instructor Isobel Ziluca at her Crockett’s Shooting Club in Upperville, VA. Sporting clay clubs and tournaments are set up with several machines that throw different size clay targets to simulate shooting waterfowl, upland birds, and rabbit. The sport was brought to the United States from England in the 1980s, and the NSCA was founded in 1989.

Left to right: Claudia Pfeiffer, NSCA Instructor Isobel Ziluca, NSLM Executive Director Elizabeth von Hassell, NSLM Director of Development Reid O’Connor. photography NSLM Marketing Manager Cynthia Kurtz

Isobel asked about my experience and offered the first bit of advice, “You’ll need to keep both eyes open.” She let me use her Beretta .20 gauge, a great beginner gun. She explained the benefit of reduced recoil of the semi-automatic action: no shoulder or chin bruises in learning to hold the stock against the shoulder and firmly rest the cheek on it.

photography Cynthia Kurtz

Isobel’s range is set up in a semi-circle with the shooter at a stationary location. Most machines throw targets in the air and one on the ground at a set arc and direction across the field, away, or toward the shooter. No two trajectories are exactly the same, being affected by wind and weather. We started with thrower 1A which sends a clay away from the shooter in an arc from the left. I was not scared, but nervous adrenaline was pumping a bit too strongly. I hoped she did not notice that was I was shaking.

There is a lot to remember: point your body, one foot behind the other leaning forward, in the direction where you will want to pull the trigger but aim where the clay will leave the machine. Maintain soft focus, find and trace the path of the clay, sharpen focus, aim at the “belly of the bird,” and pull the trigger when your instincts say, “Go!” I had a hard time focusing past the gun barrel at the clay at first and following my gut. It was an entirely new concept instead of aligning the post and notch with a target.

Isobel was patient and encouraging as I missed several clays. Then it all came together for the first time. I leaned into it and pulverized a target. It was an accident, but it still felt good. My colleague captured the moment. After that, I found myself wanting to analyze and recreate the moment over and over. It is highly addictive.

After several tries, Claudia Pfeiffer gets a solid hit. photography Cynthia Kurtz

I have already had a second lesson (wearing a dress no less) and I got moldable earplugs as a gift for Mother’s Day. I think it is safe to say that I see more clay target lessons in my future.

Claudia Pfeiffer is the Deputy Director and George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator at the National Sporting Library & Museum and has been with the organization since the position was first underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at

I have always been an equestrian. I took my first riding lesson when I was eight years old and spent the next ten years as an eventer and dressage rider, riding with some of the best trainers in New England. I’ve ridden a half-dozen Grand Prix trained dressage horses, bragging rights that are not common among adult amateurs. In my teen years I began slowly transitioning to riding western, the discipline I find myself in today. My fondness for English sport has never left me, as evidenced by my current position at the National Sporting Library & Museum, but the comfort of a western saddle and the ability to leave all four feet on the ground has enormous appeal.

This varied background has given me a unique perspective on the two disciplines, and some observations I will now share with you.

Please note, the division of English and western riding is far more complicated than just a difference in saddle, and even within those categories individual disciplines are as varied as can be; reining and barrel racing are as different as dressage and foxhunting.

Western and English styles of riding were both born out of necessity. In Europe, after the invention of the saddle with stirrups, the mounted soldier was a formidable weapon on the field of battle. A method of riding where the rider had complete control of the horse and all his limbs was paramount for successful waging of war. The animal had to be nimble and strong and completely broken of any habits which might interfere with the soldier’s ability to ride and brandish a sword. The saddle had to be secure enough to assist the rider in staying on, but minimalistic enough to allow a great range of movement. The horse and rider had to be able to clear obstacles in the varied European terrain. Athleticism in the moment was more important than endurance; the horse had to be powerful, but only had to last long enough to win or be replaced by reinforcements. Communication between human and equine was constant, allowing for minute adjustments and instant changes in action to respond to attacks.

Painting of a gray horse performing a levade with a rider and two handlers on the ground
(after) James Seymour, (English, 1702-1752), Four-Panel Sporting Screen (detail), c. 1860, hand-colored engravings mounted on canvas, and oil on canvas mounted on a wooden frame , each panel 81 ½ x 27 inches, Bequest of Sonia Phipps Seherr-Thoss, 2006

The horse here is depicted schooling the levade, a movement that in battle would have intimidated the enemy and moved the rider up and out of sword’s reach. Today the movement is considered one of the most difficult in dressage and is one of the famed “airs above the ground.”

As war became leisure for the aristocracy, disciplines such as dressage and hunting developed to demonstrate a horse and rider’s abilities to fight successfully in facsimile. The enemy was replaced by a wily fox or a distinguished audience, and the movements once used on the battlefield were fine-tuned for less bloody competition.

Western riding developed similarly out of necessity. In the wild west, vast expanses of land allowed for the cultivation of cattle while necessitating a mode of transportation that was efficient and comfortable. Horses, not requiring roads, paths, or rails, were naturally the mode of choice. Riding for hours and hours tending cattle required a method of riding that was comfortable and long-lasting, but athletic when needed. The trot, a jarring and inefficient gait, was transformed into the jog, a slow but smooth manner of moving for the horse that can be maintained by man and beast for hours. The horse also had to be able to react quickly in case of emergency, hence the development of the American Quarter Horse who can run faster than any other breed but only for short distances. While the cowboy’s attention was on the cattle or scanning the horizon for danger, the horse had to fend for themselves, leading to a style of training in which the horse is more responsible for its own carriage and propulsion. There were no pages, squires, or grooms; a horse left tied had to reliably stay tied, often for hours at a time.

Phoebe Phipps (English/American,? – 1993), The Quail Hunter, 1986, acrylic on canvas, 18 x 24 inches, Gift of Mrs. Mimi Abel Smith, 2012

In this image by Phoebe Phipps, the western discipline is showing its usefulness in modern times. This rider is able to traverse difficult terrain inaccessible by vehicle during the course of the quail hunt. His horse is wearing saddle bags, likely holding supplies. The western saddle is designed to hold a variety of equipment and typically has ties and rings throughout the skirt for attaching such.

The difference is well-illustrated in this clip from the 2015 World Cup “Duel in the Desert,” where a reiner and showjumper swapped horses and disciplines for an exhibition. The western rider steers the horse towards each jump, then effectively gets out of the horse’s way. Without the minute adjustments provided by the English rider, the horse rushes the fences and knocks most of them over. The horse is also on the wrong lead for a few turns, suggesting the rider did not direct him to change and the horse did not manage to change on his own. The English rider maintains strong rein contact while attempting to cut the cow, trying to steer the horse by hand to follow the cow. Unfortunately, the delay between the rider noticing the cow’s movement and directing the horse to follow is too long and the horse misses the cow at every turn; the western rider would have dropped the reins and allowed the horse more freedom to watch and follow the cow on its own, eliminating this reaction time. Both riders are very good; they both stayed on despite being thrown out of their comfort zone, but they ride in ways their horses are not accustomed to, accentuating the differences between them.

I will stop short of suggesting which discipline is superior (although I will assert that the western saddle is far more comfortable, and no one can change my mind on that). Both approaches to horsemanship accomplish what they set out to do through specializations of tack, training, and even breed of horse, developed over the centuries as horseback riding transitioned from necessary task to enjoyable endeavor.

Tucker Smith: A Celebration of Nature, on view now at the NSLM, features a wide variety of paintings by the artist inspired by his life in the American outback. The horse is still a widely used tool in the region and Smith’s work often features the working western mount. Be sure to visit and learn more about the western discipline in everyday use.

Cynthia Kurtz received her M.A. in Museum Studies from The George Washington University in Washington, DC, and her B.A. from Tulane University in New Orleans, LA. She is responsible for marketing, social media, and graphic design to support the entire NSLM. When not working, she enjoys trail riding in the woods of Loudoun County.

She can be reached at