This is the second in a series of four guest posts by 2016 Daniels Fellow Martha Wolfe. Martha’s 2016 Fellowship focused on studying The Life of an American Sportsman: Being Reminiscences by Harry Worcerster Smith, an unpublished autobiography. Many fascinating things came out of NSLM’s extensive archive collection of Smith’s papers, including today’s highlight, The Grafton Long Jump.
Harry Worcester Smith was an inventor. He held dozens of patents associated with the cotton weaving industry where he worked as a mill owner and patent expert until he retired in his forties to foxhunt and live the life of a sportsman. But his retirement from industry didn’t mean that he retired his brain from invention. Take, for instance, “The Grafton Long Jump.”
“For many years at Lordvale,” he writes, referring to his country estate in Grafton, Massachusetts, just outside Worcester, “I had been trying to work out a method to teach my steeplechasers and hunters to jump over a distance of ground so that when they met a ditch, brook or water jump, they would cover it.”
Well, anyone who has approached a ditch or a brook or a strange (to a young horse) looking gap in the ground can understand Harry’s inclination toward a better training method. “A shallow water jump proved useless as they [his horses] soon paid no attention to it; a deep one was difficult to arrange and dangerous, and an open ditch of depth enough to be of service proved still more dangerous.”
Enter the common cardboard box.
“The boxes being white, when the horses are first shown them over the other side of the hedge they take good notice, and when they are put at them they invariably jump cleanly out to 10 or 12 feet.” If your horse happens to be “badly ridden or not taking off just right,” not to worry, he will land amidst the harmless boxes, “which scares them as much as jumping into a melon frame, as the expression of their faces clearly shows, and their wild desire to rid themselves of the boxes, which often times hang about their legs for a few yards.”
It’s easy to picture a horse with a couple of white cardboard boxes up around his fetlocks, trying to get free of the horrible things; the boxes would soon be shredded and come off safely. “In using the long jump [training method] for five years,” Harry assures his readers, “no hunter has ever been hurt.”
Harry had such great success with his long-jump invention that he published a white paper and sent it to his sporting friends “around the world, believing that perhaps it will be a benefit not only to many who wish to train their horses to jump a distance but also as a clean-cut sporting contest at Exhibitions and Hippiques.”
Never satisfied with simplicity, Harry took his show on the road. June, 1914, in front of twenty thousand people at the Fall River Horse Show, “we had a cracking Long Jump contest” with Peter Roche winning, jumping twenty-four feet. At the Barre [MA] fair in 1912, Harry and friends took his “crack” hunters Success, Sir Ritchie and The Cad over the same span three abreast. (Ok, that’s about as long as my living room!)
Of course this is no big deal for you eventers and show jumpers out there. It’s the method in the madness that piqued Harry’s imagination and made his Grafton Long Jump a good bet “For the Sake of Sport in America.”
Martha Wolfe is an independent scholar, author, and three-time John H. Daniels Fellow at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her most recent book is The Great Hound Match of 1905, chronicling the hunting competition between A. Henry Higginson and Harry Worcester Smith. Read more about Martha and her research at www.marthawolfe.net.