This week as the nation recognizes and honors the service and sacrifices of the members of its armed forces we should also honor the many animals that have accompanied our soldiers into war. For as long as people have gone to war they have brought animals with them. Specially trained animals have filled the roles of transportation of both soldiers and equipment, communication, detection, fighter, sentry, mascots, and sadly sometimes as the carriers of explosives – becoming weapons themselves. The list of the types of animals that have filled these roles is long, and each used its special abilities and characteristics to help their human counterparts by doing something the humans couldn’t or by enhancing the skill or effectiveness of the people they worked alongside.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Blake Soller, a Military Working Dog (MWD) handler pets the head of his MWD Rico, at the War Dog Cemetery located on Naval Base Guam. From Wikimedia Commons.

They have lent us their strength, their speed, their agility, their sense of smell, their ability to intimidate and fight, and often their companionship. Some of these animals are familiar such as the horse, mule, and dog. Other animals that have served include, oxen, elephants, camels, birds, reindeer, dolphins, sea lions, pigs, and cats. The Library holds many books describing the roles and heroics of animals in war and I thought I’d share the story of a little mare from Korea that would eventually become a staff sergeant in the US Marine Corps.

A M-20 75 mm recoilless rifle being fired during the Korean War. Wikimedia Commons.

During the Korean War the Recoilless Rifle Platoon, Anti-Tank Company, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division put its large recoilless rifles to good use. Although they were highly effective, the guns were six feet long, weighed over 100 pounds, and fired shells weighing 24 pounds each, making them difficult to move and supply. The platoon leader, Lt. Eric Pedersen had the idea of getting a pack horse to assist his men. The idea was approved and he bought a small chestnut filly with $250 of his own money. The little horse was only 14 hands high and weighed about 900 pounds but she would prove to have a huge impact despite her small stature.

Reckless with her main caretaker, US Marine Sergeant Joseph Latham. Wikimedia Commons.

Once she arrived back at camp several marines, who were also experienced horsemen, were tasked with her training. PFC Monroe Coleman and Sgt. Joe Latham drew the duty. She was dubbed Reckless which was also a nickname for the recoilless gun that the platoon used. PFC Reckless’s “hoof-camp” training began the next morning. She learned to carry the gun and its heavy ammunition, became accustomed to the sounds of the firing of the gun, and learned to ride in a little trailer attached to a jeep.

Hoof-Camp training. From Reckless Pride of the Marines by Andrew Geer (1955). The gift of Mrs. Howard Linn.

She also mastered lying down when under fire, and running for cover to a bunker when “incoming” was yelled. Her training was so effective that she was able to make trips from the ammo supply up to the gun emplacements by herself after being shown the route only a few times. In addition to supplying the guns with ammunition, Reckless assisted with other tasks. She was especially useful stringing out telephone wire from spools carried on her pack. She was able to string more telephone line in a day than 10 men on foot. She also carried wounded soldiers from the front lines back to medical assistance.

Sergeant Reckless pictured with a reel of communication wire. Wikimedia Commons.

The highlight of Reckless’s military career would come in 1953 when she participated in the Battle for Outpost Vegas. During a single day of the battle Reckless traveled back and forth to the front lines 50 times. She traveled 35 miles, carrying nearly 9000 pounds of ammunition, and brought wounded marines back to the supply point. During the battle she was wounded twice, once in the flank and once above her eye, but she continued to make the trek back and forth to the front. Her efforts earned her a promotion to corporal.

Sergeant Reckless under fire during the Korean War. From Reckless Pride of the Marines by Andrew Geer (1955). The gift of Mrs. Howard Linn.

Reckless became a true member of her platoon and was able to wander about camp and into tents freely. She frequently insisted on being the center of attention, and must have had a bit of goat in her as she was known to eat anything and everything. She especially liked scrambled eggs and coffee, and would enjoy a beer with her compatriots. She also ate items such has her blanket, hats, and even poker chips!

Reckless hanging out with her platoon-mates. From Horse Stars Hall of Fame.

In April 1954, Reckless received a battlefield promotion to sergeant from Randolph Pate, the commander of the 1st Marine Division. Later that year she rotated out of Korea and made the journey to her new home at Camp Pendleton in California.  Here she received her final promotion to staff sergeant on August 31, 1959. The ceremony included a 19-gun salute and a 1,700-man parade of Marines from her unit. Her military decorations include, two Purple Hearts, the Dickin Medal, the Navy Presidential Unit Citation, the Navy Unit Commendation, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, the United Nations Korea Medal, and the French Fourragere.

Reckless’s life in retirement was good. Thanks to a pair of Saturday Evening Post articles she was well known before she arrived stateside and she made several public appearances. She was also the guest of honor at the Marine Birthday Ball where she is reported to have eaten both cake and the centerpieces. While at Camp Pendleton she was bred several times and had four foals. In 1957, 1959, and 1964 she had the colts Fearless, Dautnless, and Chesty. She also had a filly in 1965 or 1966 that died only a month after her birth and was never named.

Sampling the centerpieces. From The Camp Pendleton Historical Society.

Reckless died on May 13, 1968, while under sedation to treat injuries from a fall into barbed wire. She was reported to be either 19 or 20 years old. Her resolute determination under fire inspired the love and loyalty of those that knew her and many who had only heard of her. She has been memorialized in a sculpture by Jocelyn Russell at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, a similar sculpture by Russell at Camp Pendleton, and most recently at the Kentucky Horse Park which installed the same bronze sculpture by Russell.

Hundreds of veterans, servicemembers, and civilians gather to view the full-size bronze statue at the close of the dedication ceremony of Korean War Horse Veteran Staff Sgt. Reckless at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, Triangle, Va., July 26, 2013. SSgt Reckless is listed as a National hero and served as a Marine in Korea from 1952-1953. The Commandant of the Marine Corps, Gen. James F. Amos, and Sgt. Maj. of the Marine Corps, Sgt. Maj. Micheal P. Barrett, were in attendance. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Kathy Reesey/Released) Unit: MCB Quantico Combat Camera. Wikimedia Commons.

If you are interested in learning more about Reckless or about other animals that have served in war, drop in to the Main Reading Room and I’d be happy to show you some of our books on the subject.


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.

Visitors to Middleburg earlier this month were met with an interesting sight.  On the afternoon of Sunday, October 6th the NSLM partnered with Emmanuel Episcopal Church to host an interfaith Blessing of the Animals event and the community turned out in force to participate. 

Pastor Gil Gibson, Reverend Gail Epes, Rabbi Rose Lyn Jacob, and Reverend Gene LeCouteur. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

Our front lawn was full of people who brought their animal friends to receive blessings offered by Episcopal priests The Reverends Gene LeCouteur and Gail Epes, Pastor Gil Gibson of Aldie Presbyterian Church, and Rabbi Rose Lyn Jacob of Culpeper. 

Horses waiting for their blessings. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

There was a festive feel to the day as people enjoyed mingling with other animal lovers and meeting their pets.  The clergy circulated through the crowd imparting blessings to many dogs, a cat or two, a rabbit, several horses and ponies, and even a parrot. 

Reverend Gene LeCouteur blessing a dog. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

In addition there were several community partners that had tables at the event.  Blue Ridge Wildlife Center, Middleburg Humane Foundation, War Horses at Rose Bower, and Potomac Cairn Terrier Rescue, all shared information about their programs with attendees.  The afternoon was a celebration of the animals in people’s lives and the joy that comes from those relationships.

Reverend Gail Epes blessing a dog. Photo by Lauren Kraut.

Interestingly none of this would have happened but for a rich Italian kid born more than 830 years ago.  Giovanni di Pietro di Bernardone, later known as Francesco, was born in Assisi, Italy at the end of 1181 or beginning of 1182.  He was the son of a wealthy silk merchant and by all accounts lived a privileged and carefree life, indulging in fine clothing and food, and spending his days listening to singers with his friends.  After a brief career as a soldier Francis began to turn away from his life of material wealth and focused on his religious life.  Eventually he would renounce his former life entirely and would go on to found the Franciscan Order. 

By Andrea Vanni – Web Gallery of Art: Image Info about artwork, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11140810

Among his key beliefs was that humans were but one among the creatures created by God.  He called all creatures his brothers and sisters and is said to have preached to the birds which flocked around him transfixed by his voice.  He believed that nature is an integrated system to which humans belong but also steward. 

Saint Francis of Assisi, as he is known today, is one of the most popular Christian saints.  He is the patron saint of animals and of ecology.  His feast day in the Christian calendar is October 4th. Blessing of the Animals services are typically held on the Sunday closest to that date in honor of Saint Francis.  If you missed the event on NSLM’s campus this year, mark you calendars for next year’s celebration and bring your favorite animal companion to the party.

*Fun fact: In 1220 Saint Francis is credited with creating the first nativity scene using real animals.


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.

For more than 250 years the name Tattersalls has been synonymous with the buying and selling of bloodstock. Over 13,000 horses are auctioned off annually in 32 sales held at Newmarket, Ascot, and Cheltenham in Britain, and at Fairyhouse in Ireland. Total sales have topped 300 million guineas in each of the last two years.

Entrance to Tattersalls. Photo by Claudia Pfeiffer

The young man that would found this famous firm was Richard Tattersall. Born in 1724 at Hurstwood, Richard showed an affinity for horses at an early age and spent most of his time in the family stables. At about ten he was sent to Burnley Grammar School where he studied Latin, Greek, math, and rhetoric under the guidance of Ellis Nutter. Here he also worked with a writing master and learned basic accounting.

Hurstwood. From Tattersalls: two hundred years of sporting history by Vincent Orchard (1954). The gift of Mrs. Walter D. Fletcher.

At 14, Richard secretly bought his first horse. In actuality an old cart horse, to him it was a treasure. He hid the horse in a vacant byre and sneaked out to care for it and ride it. It wasn’t long before his father spotted him and the secret was out. As a result of this shenanigan Richard was given a choice by his parents. He could either stay in school and seriously pursue a scholarship to Cambridge or he could become an apprentice wool stapler working with a friend of his father’s. In the end it was decided that he would stay in school until he was 16 at which point he would begin his apprenticeship.

Richard Tattersall. From Tattersalls: two hundred years of sporting history by Vincent Orchard (1954). The gift of Mrs. Walter D. Fletcher.

The apprenticeship did not last long as the wool trade, although lucrative, did not interest Richard. By 1745 he had gone south to London to make his fortune. There is some speculation that Richard was a Jacobite supporter and was sent to London by his father to keep him out of the fighting but biographers differ on whether he was actually a supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie or not. In either case Richard went to London and embarked on a career in the horse industry. His first position was with Beevor’s Horse Repository in St. Martin’s Lane, where he would rise to the position of head ostler. He was also always on the lookout for opportunities and wrote to his father about a lucrative trip to Scotland. He had heard of a Scottish nobleman that was selling his stud and Richard convinced a friend to go in with him to purchase it. He bought cheap and sold the stock for a healthy profit in York and London.

In 1753 Richard entered the service of Evelyn Pierrepoint, the 2nd Duke of Kingston, eventually rising to the position of Stud Manager. In this role he not only entered the world of bloodstock breeding but also that of the important and affluent individuals that were organizing and developing the horse racing industry of England. Three years later he married Catherine Somerville, a grand daughter of the 12th Earl of Somerville, and two years after that their only child was born, a son named Edmund. Over the next several years Richard continued to extend his network of friends and acquaintances in the world of horse racing. He developed a reputation for integrity, honesty, and business ability, and is quoted as saying “better to lose commission than a friend.”

Richard Tattersall (1724-95) with ‘Highflyer’ in the background by Beach, Thomas (1738-1806) Private Collection English, out of copyright

In 1766 he had amassed enough capital to enact his dream of building his own bloodstock auction. He entered into a 99 year lease with Lord Grosvenor for a parcel of land at Hyde Park Corner. It was on this tract of land that he would found the Tattersall’s firm. He began conservatively and adapted existing buildings into an office and horse boxes. Eventually he developed the site to include a house, an office, coach houses, kennels, stables, and exercise yards, covering 10 to 15 acres. In 1779 he outfitted two rooms for the use of members of the Jockey Club. These rooms quickly became an important gathering spot for the elite racing group.

Highflyer. From The story of Tattersalls by Peter Willett (1987). NSLM collection.

In addition to his success as a horse dealer, Richard Tattersall was also a successful owner and breeder of horses. In 1779 he bought Highflyer from Lord Bolingbroke for 2,500 pounds. In his three racing seasons, Highflyer was never defeated and pulled in a total of 9,336 pounds in stakes money. Richard retired the horse to the stud barn. At the time everyone was after stock bred by the great Eclipse. Tattersall’s solution was to get as many daughters of Eclipse as he could and breed them with Highflyer thus combining the bloodlines of the two great racers. In addition to Highflyer’s the stud fees, Richard also made money buying Eclipse mares and selling them in foal to Highflyer for top dollar amounts. He also added the best of Highflyer’s daughters to his stud and sold their produce for large profits. Highflyer was champion sire of winners 12 times and his progeny included Derby winners Noble, Sir Peter and Skyscraper, the Oaks winner Volante, and the St. Leger winners Omphale, Cowslip, Spadille and Young Flora. This great success allowed Richard to build a country house he called Highflyer Hall.

Highflyer Hall in the 1950s. From Tattersalls: two hundred years of sporting history by Vincent Orchard (1954). The gift of Mrs. Walter D. Fletcher.

By all accounts Richard Tattersall was excellent company and truly enjoyed hosting his friends. He began a tradition of Monday Dinners at the lavish dining room at his Hyde Park establishment. These dinners were long affairs and often didn’t wrap up until late in the evening. He frequently entertained at Highflyer Hall as well where his friends, including no less than the Prince of Wales, could count on his well stocked wine cellar and excellent conversation. His popularity was so widespread that he was said to be “free of the road, as no highwayman would molest him, and even a pickpocket returned his handkerchief, with compliments.”

On February 21, 1795 Richard Tattersall died after a short illness. He was 71. He left behind a reputation for kindness, honesty, integrity, and geniality. He also left the well established Tattersall’s firm which his son, Edmund, took over. Direct descendants of Richard would continue to guide the development and growth of Tattersall’s until the death of Sommerville Tattersall in 1942. The firm has continued to prosper and is now known as Tattersalls, no apostrophe.

I’ve only touched on the main points of Richard Tattersall’s life. He’s an interesting character particularly because he operated during a time when Thoroughbred racing was getting well organized in Britain. The history of his family and his company are very much tied up with the history of British horse racing. The Library holds several biographies on Tattersall’s the family and the firm if you’d like to get the full story. Or for a more concise version I can point you to chapters in a variety of books on the history of the British turf.


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.

One of the most significant collections held by the Library is the John H. Daniels Collection.  It comprises 5,000 volumes collected over thirty years by John Hancock “Jack” Daniels and was donated to the Library by him and his wife between 1995 and 1999.  The magnitude of the gift required more room for housing than that which was available in the Vine Hill house and spurred the construction of the Library’s current building, including its climate-controlled F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

books
Books in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room.

The collection includes books, periodicals, manuscripts, and ephemera, and covers a variety of sporting topics including sporting art, horsemanship, foxhunting, equestrian sports, shooting, fly fishing, veterinary medicine, and more.  Anyone who has been on a tour of the Rare Book Room will be familiar with items from the Daniels collection such as the handwritten manuscript on fox hunting by Teddy Roosevelt or one of many books featuring a fore-edge painting.

John Daniels
John H. Daniels.

Daniels was a life-long sportsman himself.  He played polo and was MFH of the Camden Hunt in South Carolina.  He co-founded and served as Joint-MFH of the Long Lake Hounds in Minnesota, and the Old Stonington Hunt in Illinois. He also served on the boards of the Carolina and Colonial Cup Steeplechases, and the National Steeplechase Museum.  He was a member of the board of directors here at the National Sporting Library from 1987 to 2004.

JH Daniels with family Long Lake Hounds
John H. Daniels and family with the Long Lake Hounds.

By donating his impressive collection of sporting books to the NSLM, John Daniels preserved the books themselves and shared the knowledge contained within them.  He was adamant that his books should be used.  He envisioned scholars developing new research from and about these books and sharing it with the larger world.  In 2007 the NSLM realized that vision though the creation of a fellowship program named in his honor, The John H. Daniels Fellowship.  This September we will welcome our 80th Daniels Fellow.

The program is open to university faculty, graduate students, museum professionals, librarians, independent researchers, writers, and interested others.  Recipients of a Daniels Fellowship have come to the NSLM from across the country and around the world.  They are supported during their research through stipends, and out of town researchers are frequently housed in a cottage on the NSLM campus.  Research conducted through the program has resulted in the publication of books and articles, and scholars frequently share their research with the public through the NSLM’s lecture series.  Their research topics have been as varied as the Collection, including horsemanship and equestrian sport, art, fly fishing, shooting, and literature, just to name a few.

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Dr. David Gerleman, Professor at George Mason University and one of NSLM’s 2019 John H. Daniels Fellows discusses his research during a lecture in June 2019.

The application period for the 2020 John H. Daniels Fellowship program closes on August 15th.  I would like to encourage researchers whose projects touch on field sports or sporting art to look at our collections, and if they can identify useful resources, to apply for a John H. Daniels Fellowship.


SONY DSCErica 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

This past week Sea Hero, the oldest living winner of the Kentucky Derby died of old age in Turkey.  He was 29 years old.

sea hero kelly
Sea Hero.  Sketch by Lloyd Kelly in his book, Sea Hero 1993.  The gift of Lloyd Kelly, NSLM Rare Books Collection.

Sea Hero was bred in Virginia by Paul Mellon who had a long and successful career in horse racing on both sides of the Atlantic, but had so far been denied a win in the Kentucky Derby.  Sea Hero’s trainer, Mack Miller, was a member of the hall of fame but he too had yet to have a Kentucky Derby winner.  That would change for both men in May 1993.

sea hero
Jockey Jerry Bailey hoisted the trophy with trainer MacKenzie “Mack” Miller, left, and owner Paul Mellon after Sea Hero won the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 1993. ASSOCIATED PRESS.  From the Lexington Herald Leader

Although Sea Hero had put up some excellent performances, his record did not make him a favorite in the run for the roses.  He was 9th in a field of 19 with odds of 12.90-1.  Watch video of the race here.  Late in the race jockey Jerry Bailey makes an exciting move and Sea Hero dashes through a gap on the inside and charges down the rail for the win.  Sea Hero did not manage to repeat his performance in the Preakness or the Belmont Stakes but he had one last flash of glory later that summer, winning the Travers Stakes.  It had been 51 years since a Kentucky Derby winner had done so.  After the 1994 season he was retired to stud with a career record of 6-3-4 in 24 starts and earnings of $2,929,869.

travers
Mack Miller, Paul Mellon, and Sea Hero winning the 1993 Travers Stakes.  Image from the Blood-Horse article on the race in the August 28, 1993 issue.  NSLM periodicals collection.

His stud career began in 1995 at Lane’s End in Versailles, Kentucky, but didn’t fully develop until after he was purchased by the Turkey Jockey Club and relocated to Karacabey Pension Stud in 2000 where he stood at stud until being pensioned out in 2015.  According to Blood-Horse his lifetime progeny earnings worldwide total $19,165,928.

Sea-Hero-at-NSLM
Sea Hero statue in the boxwood garden at NSLM.

Sea Hero has been immortalized in two statues.  One at the Saratoga Race Course, and one right here at the National Sporting Library and Museum, just down the road from Paul Mellon’s Rokeby Stables.  Our Sea Hero resides in the boxwood garden between the Museum and Library and is sometimes called upon to assist with educational programming.

tour-am.jpg
Children’s workshop at NSLM.

Here he is surrounded by children learning about proportion.  If you’d like to view our statue or learn more about the Kentucky Derby and the horses and personalities that make it the most glamorous of American horse races, come and visit the Library.


SONY DSCErica 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

Coming from a non-sporting background I’ve learned a great deal about sporting topics since I joined NSLM three years ago.  One of my favorite discoveries is an American game bird, Scolopax minor, or the American Woodcock.  This bizarre bird also goes by a large number of colloquial names such as the Timberdoodle, the Whistledoodle, the Labrador twister, the Bogsucker, the Mudsnipe, and the Hokumpoke, just to name a few.

woodcock1
Photo: Fyn Kynd/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

The timberdoodle is a small bird with a well-camouflaged chunky body, a short neck and tail, and a very long, narrow, bill that ends in a prehensile tip.  This mobile tip allows it to find and grasp earthworms, the woodcock’s preferred food, as it probes underground with its bill.  The ears are positioned ahead of its eyes, between the eye socket and the base of its bill.  Its large eyes are located high and far back on its head giving it one of the broadest fields of vision of any vertebrate.   In order to provide space for this configuration, the woodcock’s brain is essentially upside down.  Its cerebellum is found under the rest of the brain, just above its spine, rather than in the usual position in the rear of the brain case.  No other bird sports this configuration.

Besides being odd looking the timberdoodle is also oddly behaved.  They have a very distinctive walk that resembles the inverse of a pigeon’s.  They step forward heavily with the front foot and rock their body back and forth while keeping their head still.  It is speculated that this disturbs worms in the ground allowing the woodcock to target them.  Regardless of function it is quite entertaining to watch.  Their vocalizations are also unusual.  The most common sound is described as a “peent,” and more closely resembles the call of an insect than of a bird.

Woodcocks eat their weight daily in earthworms and other invertebrates.  This diet requires moist ground and woodcock cover usually consists of young, dense forest with  plenty of damp, brambly, and brushy areas.  They drink a lot of water and rather than tilting the head back in the fashion of other birds, the timberdoodle uses its bill like a straw and sucks up a drink.

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Woodcock range map by Lang Elliott.

The range of the American woodcock covers the eastern half of North America from southern Canada to the Gulf of Mexico.  They breed in the north and migrate south for the winter.  They are crepuscular, active at dawn and dusk, and migrate by night.

In breeding season males sing and perform aerial displays to attract females.  Females brood and raise the chicks, usually four, alone.  Her nest is a simple hollow on the ground.

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Woodcock eggs.  From the Missouri Department of Conservation

After 21 days of brooding the eggs split longitudinally and chicks, which are able to travel within just a few hours, emerge.  The chicks are born with nearly adult sized feet and their bills start out at 15 mm and grow 2 mm a day.  They will begin probing for worms after two days, are nearly full grown and flying in less than a month, and the family breaks up at 6 to 8 weeks.

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Hen and chicks.  From Linda Rockwell’s Photo Feathers blog.

The enemies of the woodcock include domestic dogs and cats, foxes, and various raptors.  Their eggs are sought after by opossums, raccoons, skunks, and snakes.  In order to lure a predator away from her nest, the hen will create a distraction by faking a broken wing some distance from the nest and then breaking into flight at the last second as the predator attacks.  There have also been rare but persistent reports of woodcock hens flying out of harms way with their chicks clutched between their thighs.  Most modern authorities are skeptical of this behavior but the tales of witnesses continue to come in.

The American woodcock is a game bird whose hunting is regulated to a short period of time and a low bag limit.  The hunting can be challenging due not only to the woodcock’s preferred environment but also to its sometimes stubborn refusal to flush from cover.  One author I read said that he had to practically kick the bird out of cover.  Due to this predisposition to freeze in place and to it’s excellent camouflage, it is best to use a good bird dog, a pointer, retriever, or setter, to flush the birds from their cover. 

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Two hunters and their dog in classic woodcock terrain.  From Living Water Guide

Finding them is not the only challenge.  Once flushed, they burst from practically underfoot in heavy cover and then fly rather erratically, zigging and zagging or suddenly dropping back to the earth.  Getting a good shot off is not easy.  If a hunter manages to bag a woodcock or two the birds make a dinner that is either adored or hated, there is no middle ground.  They are said to have a liver-like flavor.

The Library has numerous books about woodcocks and woodcock hunting.  In addition, the woodcock has been featured frequently in sporting art.  In fact, the Library’s annual auction this year (May 29-June 5) has two woodcock etchings.  The first is by Roland Clark (1943)…

roland clark

and the second is by William Schaldach (1940).

Schaldaach

For more information about this unusual bird drop by the Library and I’d be pleased to share our books about the Timberdoodle with you.  Or read more about them at the various sites I’ve linked to in this week’s blog.


SONY DSCErica 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

This year marks the 500th running of the Kiplingcotes Derby, the oldest continuously run horse race in England.  It is a grueling four and a half mile, cross country race over the Wolds of Yorkshire that has been run annually on the third Thursday of March since 1519.  The Library holds a copy of The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race by Alison Ellerington which can shed some light on the history of this ancient race.

It was founded by 48 hunting gentlemen who all contributed between 5 and 30 pounds.  The rules drawn up by this group are dated 1519 so one assumes that the race began that year.  However, the earliest recorded mention of the race that Ellerington could locate was found in testimony dated 1556 which refers to the previous year, 1555.  The account books of the Earl of Burlington show entrance fees for the race in 1679, and the race appears regularly in the Racing Calendar during the 1700s.

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Two entries for the Kiplingcotes Derby in the Library’s collection.  The upper is from An Historical List of Horse-Matches Run, and of Plates and Prizes, Run for in Great Britain and Ireland in 1746. (Gift of Russell Arundel).  The lower is from Racing Calendar: Containing an Account of the Plates, Matches, and Sweepstakes Run for in Great Britain and Ireland &c. in the year 1773 by James Weatherby (Gift of Edmund Twining III).

Among the fifteen rules governing the race are some rather specific requirements.  Any horse, gelding, or mare of any age is eligible to run but all entrants to the race must appear at the Winning Post and submit their stakes money to the clerk at or before 11am.  Anyone that misses this deadline is not eligible to race.  The race must be completed before 2pm.

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Winning Post. Image taken from Hull & East Yorkshire History Calendar. 

All horses must carry a rider weighing 10 stone, or 140 pounds.  Riders lighter than this will have to carry weights upon their person in order to meet the requirement as opposed to carrying additional weight in a saddle cloth as is common in the present day.  Ellerington notes at least one winner that ran into trouble with weights and was disqualified as a result.  In 1961, Jean Cole-Walton carried 11 pounds of lead weights in her pockets in order to meet the 10 stone requirement.  During the race they fell from her pockets.  Although she was the first to pass the winning post, she ended up weighing 11 pounds under the minimum and was disqualified as a result.

The winner of the race is awarded prize money and the Kiplingcotes Plate.  The original plate later became known as the East Yorkshire Plate and has since been lost to history.  Today winners get prize money and a trophy.  According to the rules the second rider to pass the winning post wins the stakes money or entry fees.  Depending on how many horses are entered this could, and frequently does, result in the second place rider winning more money than the first place rider.

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Kiplingcotes Derby trophy. Image taken from Driffords and Wolds Weekly.

On the day of the race, horses and riders present themselves at the Winning Post to register, pay their fees, and get weighed.  After the 11:00 cutoff time for registration, the rules of the race are read to the riders, following which the participants walk the course back to the starting point which is a stone post in the parish of Etton.  The race is run from this starting stone back to the Winning Post.  Alison Ellerington’s map and description of the course are worth quoting in full:

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The Kiplingcotes course from The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race by Alison Ellerington (1990).

“The course starts 160 feet above sea level and heads in a north westerly direction.  Following the road, the horses galloping along the grass verge climb steadily to 368 feet over Goodmanham Wold.  Galloping towards Enthorpe Woods, over the old railway bridge, the going is slightly downhill, dropping 303 feet — a lull before the hard climb towards the finish.  At Enthorpe Woods the course is now on a green lane left by the commissioners after the enclosures during the 1800s.  From here horse and rider drop a little before the long steady climb up to 438 feet above sea level.  This part of the course is usually thick pulling mud, which tires a horse even more should one make the mistake of riding along the middle of the track instead of trying to keep well into the side by the field.  The course from here is a steady pull up to the main A163, where it levels out with a straight gallop down the grass verge to the winning post over on Londesborough Wold: a hard testing four and a half miles.  Not only do the contours of the Wolds make the race tough, the weather does not usually help; a cold biting wind normally blows and it is not uncommon for snow to be present still, or, failing that, a stinging rain” (p. 15).

Since 1519 there have been at least a few years when the race was only technically run.  In 1947 deep snows prevented entrants from reaching the Winning Post.  A local farmer, Fred Stephenson, was read the rules by the clerk of the race and proceeded to walk his horse through the course in order to maintain tradition.  Stephen Crawford did the same thing in 2001 when an outbreak of foot and mouth disease prevented the running of the race.  He kept the tradition alive again last year when the condition of the course was deemed too dangerous for racing.  Hopefully this week will see good weather and a successful race to mark the 500th anniversary.

If you’d like to take a look at Alison Ellerington’s book, The Kiplingcotes Derby: England’s Oldest Horse Race, you can find it in the Library’s Main Reading Room.

*Update:  The 500th running of the Kiplingcotes Derby was won by Tracey Corrigan on her horse Frog.  They triumphed over a field of 36 competitors and it was her fourth time winning the race.


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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