For approximately 75 years, from the 1850’s into the 1920’s, horses formed a key element of firefighting companies.  Prior to the introduction of horses, humans pulled the firefighting equipment to blazes.  The superior strength and speed of horses allowed longer ladder wagons, and larger pumpers and chemical wagons to be used, and the equipment and firefighters arrived to the scene of the fire much more quickly.

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Engine Company No. 3.  From Wikimedia Commons.

Horses chosen for service with the fire department had to meet certain criteria.  Often departments had specific weight requirements for horses.  For example, the weight requirements in the Detroit fire department were as follows:  Horses pulling hose wagons must weigh at least 1,100 pounds, to haul a steamer 1,400 pounds, and for a hook and ladder wagon 1,700 pounds.  Both mares and stallions were eligible for service.  The key traits necessary included strength, speed, obedience, intelligence, and fearlessness.

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Working Horses : Looking Back 100 Years to America’s Horse-Drawn Days by Charles Philip Fox (1990).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Little River Foundation.

After their frantic dash to the scene, horses were expected to stand calmly amidst the chaos while their human partners fought the fire.

The team pulling the ladder wagon waiting calmly.  Working Horses : Looking Back 100 Years to America’s Horse-Drawn Days by Charles Philip Fox (1990).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Little River Foundation.

At the fire station, the horses were housed in stalls next to the equipment they were to pull.  When an alarm sounded, the stall doors would open and the horses were trained to dash to their positions in front of the wagons.  Harnesses suspended above them were dropped onto the horses’ backs, specially designed collars were snapped closed, and the team was charging out of the station house in only a few seconds.

A three horse harness ready for horses to dash into position.  Note the stall doors in the background on the right.  Working Horses : Looking Back 100 Years to America’s Horse-Drawn Days by Charles Philip Fox (1990).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Little River Foundation.

This video  from The Aurora Regional Fire Museum’s exhibit, Getting There • Getting Water • Getting Rescued: 150 years of the tools and technology used to fight fires and save lives, shows the fire horses in action.  We can see how quickly the team responds to an alarm, and how excited the horses are to jump into action.  The various types of wagons used can be seen, including pumpers and a ladder truck, as they roll out of the station.

The fire horses were well cared for and received daily exercise and grooming.  Some departments were large enough to employ their own veterinarians and farriers, and some had horse ambulances to support their equine members.  Working together in such strenuous and stressful conditions, it is not surprising that the firefighters developed strong bonds with their horses.  This can be seen in the numerous tributes to specific horses as they retired or died in the line of duty.

Obituary for the popular retired fire horse Chubby.  From “Firefighter Chubby” on the Craft Company No. 6 site.

The members of the Rochester Fire Department petitioned the local cemetery to allow them to bury fallen fire horses in the fireman’s plot.  When the cemetery refused, the local chapter of the American Legion erected a bronze plaque in honor of all the horses that served in the fire department.  It reads,

Our FireHorses
Glorious in beauty and in service;
Faithful Friends
We cannot call them dumb
Because they spoke in deeds
In every hour of danger
Perpetual remembrance
Enshrines their loyalty and courage

By the 1920’s fire departments began exchanging their horses for trucks.  In many towns ceremonial “last runs” were held in which the fire horses responded to a false alarm and the public lined the streets in tribute.

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Last run of Barney, Gene, and Tom, Dist. Fire Dept. horses. From the Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons.

Although their day had passed their contributions to the community were honored and they still feature prominently in many firefighting museums across the country.

Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

The F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room at NSLM houses our rare collections. These collections include more than just books: manuscripts, typescripts, letters, panoramas, and other ephemera are housed there. Over the past 18 months, we have been working hard on reprocessing the collections in Rare Books. This project was brought to completion recently. We’ve certainly made a lot of progress!

A “before” photo from the Rare Book Room. Many collections in the room were disorganized, incorrectly stored, or in need of assessment for condition.
An “after” photo of the same shelf with books reprocessed.
Every volume in the Rare Book Room was cataloged, assessed for condition, and had barcode tickets inserted. The entire space was reorganized to match the organizational structure in Library’s Main Reading Room.

In addition to working on the rare contents of the room, the room itself received some major care.

Cases against the walls were re-anchored and straightened.
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A new section of shelving for folios was built at the back of the room.
The room was repainted sage green, and vinyl lettering was installed.

All told, the project included months of reprocessing, the installation of new storage units, and general maintenance which was due for the space. The Library staff is moving on to other collections maintenance projects: cataloging the contents of the Library Vertical File, as well as loose photographs and ephemera that have gone uncataloged to this point. After that, the Library’s periodicals collection will be cataloged, completing the ability of researchers to find any materials from any Library collection.

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail 

Last month, the Library received a tremendous donation: a lifetime collection of equestrian photographs. The Patricia W. MacVeagh Photo Collection spans from 1939 to 2014. MacVeagh photographed horse shows and races from St. Louis to Virginia.

Patricia Williams MacVeagh photographed in 1941. MacVeagh was a lifelong equestrian and photographer; her photograph collection has been donated to NSLM. Photograph by  J. Wayman Williams, used with permission.

Born June 16, 1929, as Patricia Kathryn Williams, MacVeagh graduated high school in 1947, attended Cornell University in Ithaca, NY, where she graduated with a degree in Spanish in 1951. She became a stewardess for Pan American Airlines on South American flights. After two years working on the airline, she returned to St. Louis and married Charles “Pete” MacVeagh in 1956.

Beth Rasin on Street Smart, Middleburg Horse Trials – O.P. September 26, 1999. Photo by Patricia W. MacVeagh.

The MacVeaghs had two children, Charles “Chip” MacVeagh, and Martha Williams MacVeagh. Their family moved to the Washington, D.C. area in July 1976, where they boarded horses at Southdown Farm in Great Falls. Patricia died from pancreatic cancer on April 28, 2014. She was a charter member of Vienna Photographic Society (Vienna, VA) and served in various volunteer roles and was active in the photo competitions of the Society. Patricia took regular riding lessons throughout life; her last riding lesson was in January 2014, four months before her death.

Jimmy Scarborough on Chanalis, outside course, Bridlespur Horse Show, St. Louis, MO May 13, 1945. Photo by Patricia W. MacVeagh.

The collection is remarkable in several ways. First, because of its size: over 17,000 images will be added to NSLM’s collection. Second, because the donors are also giving NSLM the rights to the photographs, making it possible for NSLM to use, reproduce, and print the photos without seeking additional permissions. Third, Patricia’s daughter Martha has comprehensively documented the collection: horse names, rider names, and locations have all been compiled into a massive spreadsheet that can be converted into an archival finding aid. She also had the entire collection digitized, making it possible for NSLM to host the photographs online in the future.


Finally, the family is making a monetary contribution of $5,000 to help maintain the collection. It’s highly unusual that we receive funds along with materials; there’s always a cost to bring a collection of books or archival materials into the collection and we’re extremely grateful to Patricia’s family for this donation.

Steve Green and Ben Swope (7th race, 1st div.) on Forever Gleaming (#3) and Incaseyouraminer (#2) at the Old Dominion Point to Point at Ben Venue, April 7, 2012. Photo by Patricia W. MacVeagh.

We’ve been blown away by this generous donation, and look forward to getting it online in the future for our researchers to view and use!

Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Head Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2014. He is responsible for the care of the Library collections, including books, magazines, photographs, diaries, letters, and much more. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact John by e-mail 

This last spring, I was accepted into the Attingham Trust’s The Horse and the Country House course: “This intensive, ten-day study programme, will examine the country house as a setting for outdoor pursuits, such as hunting and racing, and as a focus for horse-drawn travel.” Looking back after returning from the two-week program in England at the end of September, this verbiage was an understatement. It was not only the most intensive, but the most immersive and well-planned course I have ever taken. It also afforded me the privilege of meeting a group of amazing and knowledgeable people, and it is a trip that I will cherish for the rest of my life.

Days were filled to the brim with private tours at different venues, lectures, engaging conversation with approximately thirty international course participants, and more (delicious) food than is advisable. (I ate far more “bangers and mash” with onion gravy than I care to admit.) We began our whirlwind tour in Newmarket, the mecca of British horseracing, staying at the historic Jockey Club founded in the mid-18th century.

Nighttime view of the Hyperion sculpture by John Skeaping (English, 1901-1980) in front of the Jockey Club, High Street.
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The Jockey Club rooms

Visits to the National Heritage Center for Horseracing and Sporting Art with Director Christopher Garibaldi who was also a course participant and planner, to The Gallops training ground, and to trainer’s yards highlighted over three centuries of tradition in breeding, racing, and art. The museum, for example, has on display a painting by John Wootton, Queen Anne and her Entourage on Warren Hill Newmarket, c. 1707 – 1713. The exaggerated slope of the composition in no way diminished the impact of standing in the grass watching horses and jockeys train on that very same hill over three-hundred years later.

John Wootton (British, c. 1682-1764), Queen Anne and Her Entourage on Warren Hill, Newmarket, c.1707-1713, Private Collection loan to National Heritage Center for Horseracing and Sporting Art, Newmarket
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Warren Hill canter at The Gallops training ground, Newmarket

The Munnings Art Museum in Dedham in England, location of the former home of famed sporting artist Sir Alfred Munnings and his wife Violet, was another highlight. We were invited for a private viewing of Castle House with 150 works displayed chronologically, Munnings’ studio, the archives, and a tented reception. Director Jenny Hand and staff made us imagine that we were honored guests of the Munnings.

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Paintings by Sir Alfred Munnings of Violet Munnings on view at Castle House, the Munnings Art Museum in Dedham

At Euston Hall and Pleasure Grounds, we were again made to feel like cherished guests during the intimate visit. The 6,200-acre property was inspiring, emphasizing the past of the English country house while serving as a sustainable model for the present and future. The 12th Duke and Duchess of Grafton undertook the painstaking conservation and restoration of the grounds and house beginning in 2012. The Duke spoke with pride of reestablishing waterways designed in centuries past and the regional breeds being kept by the family – the Red Poll cattle, Suffolk sheep, and the Suffolk Punch, now a very rare heavy horse breed. In the timelessly-restored interior, the Duchess expanded on their magnificent art collection and the rich, multi-generational history that the works represent.

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The Duke of Grafton discusses the widening of the River Blackbourn in recent years to the original width in the designs by William Kent in 1731.
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A Suffolk Punch bred by Lady Euston, mother of the current Duke, and a groom

At Bolsover Castle, we were treated to a private reenactment of manège (the ancestor of modern dressage) riding and training in the historic riding house, bringing static 16th– and 17th-century book illustrations to life. The much smaller area ably navigated by the Spanish horse breeds was also a striking contrast to the showing the day before of para-equestrian dressage rider Charlotte Cundall at the Bishop Burton College arena.

Para-equestrian dressage rider Charlotte Cundall with BamBam at the Bishop Burton College

During the discussion after the manège demonstration, Dominic Sewell was asked how he trained his horses. He answered that the “excellent translation of Frederico Grisone’s Gli Ordini de Cavalcare by Elizabeth Tobey” with practical descriptions was instrumental in deciphering the antiquated techniques. It gave me chills. Tobey was the National Sporting Library & Museum’s first John H. Daniels Fellow in 2007. Her research of the Library’s 1550 first edition Grisone – the first manual on manège riding – and others led to her translated and annotated version published in 2014 along with translator Federica Deigan. To see her work in practice was awe-inspiring.

Participants of the 2018 Attingham Trust Programme, The Horse and the Country House, at Hovingham Hall, photo © Alexandra Lotz (

These are just some of the moments over the past two weeks that reminded me again and again why I fell in love with country life and its devotees, art, traditions, culture so long ago. I am humbled and honored to have had the opportunity to be enriched by such diverse and inspiring participants and presenters who all generously shared their unique perspectives on the horse and the country house.


Claudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was 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

There is a phenomenon that occurs in almost every museum: from a collection of thousands, a few works of art or historical objects emerge as a set of ‘fan favorites’. At NSLM, one such popular piece is Foxhounds and a Terrier in a Stable Interior, by John Emms. Each subject is painted with a keen eye for detail, the scene is restful, informal, and dignified. In fact, Emms’ low vantage point prompts the viewer to see these hounds (and terrier) as equals. It quickly becomes clear which animals have the larger personalities.

Foxhounds and a Terrier in a Stable Interior, 1878, John Emms (English, 1841-1912), oil on canvas, 39 x 52 inches, Gift of Mrs. Felicia Warburg Rogan, 2008

Viewers love this painting for a multitude of reasons, including the colors, textures, and the hounds’ expressions. My favorite thing about this piece is that Emms uses triangular composition here in much the same ways that Renaissance artists did centuries before.

The triangle lends a sense of stability to traditional compositions. The wide base helps to ground the eye while the narrow peak draws the viewer’s gaze upwards, usually to a face. Even though the subject itself may not be symmetrical, a triangular composition suggests balance. Emms uses an intricate arrangement of paws, noses, tails, and ears to construct triangles in Foxhounds and Terrier in a Stable Interior, while Leonardo Da Vinci only used one figure in Mona Lisa. My favorite little scene in Emms’ piece is a grouping of three hounds in the back of the kennel. The downward gaze of the hound at the top, with the other two gazing across at each other, is strikingly similar to many Madonna and Child paintings of the Renaissance era.

In particular, one of my favorite comparisons is to Raphael’s The Madonna and Child. In this piece, a young Mary extends both of her arms outwards: her left arm reaches down to bring St. John the Baptist closer to herself, while her right hand is raised to wrap the infant Christ in her garment. The motion is at once maternal and deferential. Meanwhile, in Emms’ painting, we see a similarly intimate moment caught between three hounds. Though probably not a maternal scene, the two hounds lying in the hay regard the sitting hound somewhat respectfully. The sitting hound is pale in color, and his or her down-turned eyes suggest a kind of long-suffering piety recognized in older dogs who live around rambunctious puppies or children. In both paintings, the grouping of subjects creates a very clear triangle between the seated figures and two smaller or reposed figures in their charge.

Once you start recognizing triangles in painting compositions, it is very difficult to stop! I encourage you all to take a stroll through our galleries to see how many more examples you can find of sporting artwork that shares compositional geometry with Italian Renaissance masters.


Anne Marie Paquette is the Clarice & Robert H. Smith Educator at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM). Her passion for museum work began shortly after graduation with a Bachelor’s degree in History from James Madison University. Between her expeience working at the Fredericksburg Area Museum & Cultural Center and the Washington Heritage Museums, she has done everything from designing summer camps to formulating major fundraisers. Have a question? Contact Anne Marie by e-mail