In just two weeks the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department’s annual carnival will culminate in the world famous swimming of the horses.  Firemen will become “saltwater cowboys” and drive a herd of wild horses across a narrow channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island and auction off the foals to raise money to support the fire department.  This event was made famous by Marguerite Henry whose 1947 book, Misty of Chincoteague, describes the pony swim and remains a favorite of children today.

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Marguerite Henry and Misty.  From Wikipedia.

I’ve seen the swim covered on the news and I’ve visited the horses at Assateague Island but I’ve never been to see the pony swim.  I wanted to find out more about this interesting event and the herd of horses that lives at the beach.  The Library yielded up several books on the topic.  Most helpful were, Wild Horses of the Dunes by Rich Pomerantz (2004), and Hoofprints in the Sand: Wild Horses of the Atlantic Coast by Bonnie S. Urquhart (2002).  For this week’s blog I thought I’d share some of what I learned.

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Postcard depicting one legend of how horses arrived on the barrier islands.  From The Chincoteague Ponies

Assateague and Chincoteague Islands are part of a long chain of barrier islands that stretches along most of the eastern shore of the United States.  These narrow islands have sandy beaches on their ocean side, and piney forest and marshlands on the side facing the mainland.  Although horses are not native to Assateague Island, they have been there since at least the 17th century.  How they got there is a bit of a mystery.  There are several romantic tales involving herds of pirate’s horses, or horses that survived shipwrecks just off shore and swam to the island, but the more likely solution has to do with tax evasion.  In Colonial times the English levied a tax on fences.  In order to avoid this tax, people moved their herds of horses, cattle, sheep, and even chickens, over to barrier islands like Assateague.  Here the animals had natural “fences,” and were free from both predators and the tax man.  Today there are feral descendants of these hidden herds on many of the barrier islands off the Atlantic coast.

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Horses on Assateague.  From Wild Horses of the Dunes by Rich Pomerantz (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

Assateague Island is divided in half by the state line between Maryland and Virginia.  A fence marks the border and separates the horses into two herds.  The northern Maryland half is a National Seashore and State Park and is maintained by the National Park Service.  The horses here are generally left to their own devices, aside from a birth control system administered by dart.  It is easy to visit and see the horses here and one can even camp among the dunes.

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Map of Assateague Island.  Chincoteague Island is the island between the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and the mainland of Virginia.  The horses swim across the narrow channel at the southern end.  From Pryor Wild.

The southern half in Virginia forms The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, and is run by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service.  It is a frequent stop for migrating birds and to protect the habitat necessary for the birds, the horse herds are restricted to certain areas.  This makes them somewhat more difficult to view than those on the Maryland side.  The Virginia horses are owned by The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, Pony Committee, which actively cares for the herd.

Although animal penning and swimming has been going on at Assateague as long as people have kept animals there, it wasn’t until 1925 that the people of Chincoteague, searching for a way to raise money for their new volunteer fire department, hit upon the idea of adding a pony penning and auction to their annual fund raising carnival.  Today this event is world famous and thousands of spectators attend, hoping to get a good view of the horses as they make the swim across from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island.

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Rounding up the horses.  From Wild Horses of the Dunes by Rich Pomerantz (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

The process begins several days before the swim.  Members of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department trade in their fireman’s helmets and hoses, for cowboy hats and bull whips.  They begin at the northern edge of the refuge and slowly drive the horses south where they are penned together in a large corral.  Each horse is checked by a vet and on Wednesday, after a day or two of rest, the entire herd, excepting pregnant mares, the very old or very young, and any sick animals, is swum across the channel to Chincoteague.  It has become quite the media circus and the horses’ route must be carefully protected from fascinated tourists.

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The horses swimming to Chincoteague.  From Chincoteague Ponies.

Once across the channel the horses rest and then are herded down the street to the auction pen at the carnival grounds.  The auction of the year’s foals takes place on Thursday.  Each year between 50 and 70 foals are auctioned off both to raise money for the fire department, and to keep the population of the herd under control.  In recent years, the average price of an Assateague pony has been about $2500.  In addition to bidding for purchase, visitors can also bid on “buyback” ponies.  These are auctioned with the stipulation that they will be donated back to the Fire Company and returned to Assateague Island to join the herd.  People that win a buyback pony also win the right to name the pony.

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Horses after the swim, parading through town on the way to the carnival grounds.  From Chincoteague Ponies.

The day following the auction the remaining horses are swum back across the channel and are released for another year.  They quickly form up in their family bands and disappear into the dunes, marshes, and piney forests.

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Horses on Assateague.  From Wild Horses of the Dunes by Rich Pomerantz (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

If you’re interested in getting more detailed information I encourage you to stop by the Library and take a look at our books on the topic.  We have information not only on the Assateague horses but on a variety of feral horse populations.  If you’re in the area and would like information about attending the carnival, the swim, or the auction, you can view the guide to the 2018 event here.


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

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Sir Alfred Munnings was a famous and successful painter and President of the Royal Academy of Arts, but for a time his wife Violet’s pet Pekingese, Black Knight, was equally famous.  Violet took Black Knight with her everywhere and frequently concealed him in a specially designed handbag with a “window” in the end through which he could observe the goings on.

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“The most famous dog in the world.”  Black Knight in his handbag.  Photo courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum. 

He attended exhibition openings, horse shows, and horse races.  In his black velvet evening bag he was smuggled into formal dinners and receptions.  Eventually the press discovered him and after a photo of Black Knight at a reception at the Prime Minister’s residence made the papers, the public became a bit obsessed with the small black dog.

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“Sir Anthony Eden, myself, and Violet Munnings at a party at the P. Minister’s 10 Downing Street, 1949.”  Photo Courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum.

Readers were able to keep abreast of all of Black Knight’s activities as the newspapers regularly reported on the events he attended, what he dined upon, the people he met, and his tips on the outcomes of horse races.  Violet collected the newspaper articles about him, as well as his photos, in a scrapbook.  Most of the photos in this post are from Black Knight’s scrapbook courtesy of The Munnings Museum which was kind enough to share them.

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A collage of newspaper clippings about Black Knight.  Photo from the back dust jacket of Diary of a Freeman.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

His popularity was such that he published an autobiography in which he described his adventures for his fans.  He talks about his activities at home, such as riding the mare Chena, or cuddling on the longest sofa in the library, his favorite room in the house.

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A. J. Munnings, Violet Munnings, and Black Knight.  Photo courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum.

Black Knight’s social calendar was rather full.  He attended many parties and receptions at St. James Palace and Buckingham Palace.  Five different Lords Mayor of London welcomed him as a guest that their banquets, and he was even made an honorary Freeman of the City of London.

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Violet and Black Knight looking through his scrapbook.  Photo courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum.

He was presented to the Queen at the Royal Garden Party, attended the King and Queen’s silver anniversary party at Buckingham Palace, and even attended Princess Elizabeth’s wedding.  According to Black Knight’s account of the event, he stowed away in Violet’s hand muff and was not discovered until she was seated in the Abbey!

He enjoyed attending horse races and would indicate his picks for the winners by barking at them.  He even had his own account with a bookmaker where Violet placed his bets for him.  Black Knight accompanied Violet everywhere for ten years until his death in 1955.  After his death she refused to be parted from him and had him stuffed.

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Black Knight today, on his cushion in Violet’s room.  Photo courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum.

And so he continued accompany her for years afterwards.  Today he resides on a cushion in her room, at the house they lived in, which is now the Munnings Art Museum.

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The Munnings residence, Castle House, now The Munnings Art Museum in Dedham, England.  Photo from the European Museums Network.

If you’d like to read about Black Knight’s exploits and adventures in his own words, his autobiography, The Diary of a Freeman, is available the Main Reading Room here at the Library.  It is quite delightful to read about events from his point of view.

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Black Knight recreating his pose for the portrait that was used as the cover of his book, Diary of a Freeman.  Photo courtesy of The Munnings Art Museum.

The Library also holds numerous books about Sir Alfred Munnings, including his autobiography, which shows the events portrayed in Black Knight’s book from another, taller,  point of view.


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 NSLM Library holds more than a few game books and hunt diaries.  Game books typically tally up the bag for a given day’s hunting while hunt diaries give more detailed information about the participants, the weather, and any interesting events that took place during the hunt.  I recently discovered that the Library also holds a copy of the charming fishing diary of a woman named Muriel Foster.

The diary records over 30 years of Muriel’s fishing activities, and as one might expect, details when and where she fished, her catch, and the flies she used.  What makes the diary unique are the lavish illustrations that she added to embellish it.  The diary would become a family heirloom and it is her great-niece that decided to have it published in 1980.

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Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Muriel was born in in 1884 in Surrey, England.  She was a tomboy and enjoyed many of the activities her brothers participated in, including fencing and fishing.  Demonstrating artistic ability, she was enrolled in the Slade School of Art, where she studied under Henry Tonks.  While Muriel did well and even exhibited a drawing at the Royal Academy, she was not destined to become a professional artist.  Unmarried in her mid-forties she established her own household in a home called Ivy Cottage, in Wiltshire.  Here she spent the rest of her life pursuing her interests in drawing, painting, gardening, and fishing, and here she welcomed her many nieces and nephews.

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Ivy Cottage.  Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The illustrations on the pages of her fishing diary pull the viewer into Muriel’s experience.   She shows us not only the fish and the flies she used to catch them…

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Assorted flies and a fish.  Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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Fish.  Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

but also the other animals she encountered while fishing…

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Seal off the Islands, and “Luna.”  Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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Slavonian Grebes on Loch Farralin.  Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

the landscapes that surrounded her as she fished…

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The river at Hildersham.  Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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Lough Conn, pontoon bridge.  Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

and the people that sometimes joined her on her outings.

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Colin with Bob, Smoke, Ranger and Jandoc.  Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.
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Hector.  Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Her drawings evoke the full experience of fishing, not simply the challenge of hauling in a trout or salmon, but also the enjoyment of spending time out of doors and a love of the countryside.  I imagine her spending cold winter nights illustrating the diary with the same calm and patience required for fishing.  Her paintings and drawings allowing her to relive the days on the river or loch until her next outing.

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The end of the day.  Muriel Foster’s Fishing Diary, (Muriel Foster, 1980).  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Perhaps some of the fishers reading this will be inspired to create a similar record of their adventures.  I’ve only included a few photos of the diary here.  If you’d like to get a closer look just let us know you’re coming and we’ll be happy to get it out for you.


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

This past weekend saw the Royal marriage of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.  In the procession following the ceremony, the happy couple rode through throngs of well-wishers in an Ascot Landau carriage drawn by a team of four Windsor Grey horses, including a father and son team named Storm and Tyrone.

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Prince Harry’s and Meghan’s carriage.

This mode of transportation added to the pageantry and glamour of the event.  Its slow pace gave spectators a good view of the newlyweds, and allowed time for them to wave and cheer the couple along.  The carriages, horses, and coachmen involved in this and other Royal state events are supplied by the royal stables, known as The Royal Mews.

The term “mews” originates in falconry.  It refers to the mewing, or molting, of the birds’ feathers.  During this process the birds were not used to hunt and were kept in a building called a mews.  The King’s Mews was at Charing Cross in London, where the National Gallery now stands, and housed the royal falcons and hawks from Richard II’s reign into Henry VIII’s.  A fire in 1534 destroyed the original building, and when King Henry VIII rebuilt it, he moved the hunting birds out, and instead housed the royal stables there.  The building retained the name “Mews” despite the absence of the hawks.

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The entrance to the Royal Mews.

Over time the buildings at Charing Cross became inadequate and a new mews was built on the grounds of Buckingham Palace.  It was designed by John Nash and completed in 1825.  While the Royal Mews remains in that location today, it has been renovated numerous times in the intervening years.  Today it houses the royal carriages and automobiles, the stables for the horses, an indoor riding arena, and apartments for the staff and their families.

Nearly all of the royal carriage horses are either Windsor Greys or Cleveland Bays.  Windsor Greys are not a breed but rather a type and are named for Windsor, where they were originally stabled.  They are all grey, at least 16.1 hands tall, and must have a calm, placid temperament.

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Windsor Greys.

Cleveland Bays are light draft horses.  The breed originated in the Cleveland District of Yorkshire during the 1600s.  Originally they were a mixture of English draft horses and Spanish Andalusians, bred to be sturdy yet swift pack horses.  Eventually Arabian and Thoroughbred blood was added resulting in the taller carriage horses seen at the Royal Mews today.  Cleveland Bays are now quite rare and the line bred at the Royal Mews is important in preserving the breed.

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Cleveland Bays.

Horses with the correct look and required calm demeanor begin training by being broken to saddle and are gradually introduced to harness work.  The daily routine consists of two exercise and training sessions broken by rest and feedings.  In addition to the typical training of a carriage horse, these horses must also learn to handle the unique challenges faced by royal carriage horses.  They receive intense training to desensitize them to the wide variety of stimuli they will encounter on the job, including loud noises and music, flapping flags, balloons, vehicles, and vast crowds.  Only horses that can remain poised in the face of pandemonium will make the grade and eventually participate in a Royal state event.

The horses reside in loose boxes which are large enough for them to turn around in and lie down.  They are trained and cared for by a team comprised of a head coachman, a deputy coachman, and four other coachmen.  Each coachman is responsible for about eight horses, and is assisted by four liveried helpers, who muck out the stalls, groom, feed, and exercise the horses.

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Windsor Greys in their loose boxes.

The Royal Mews also houses the collection of royal carriages.  This includes a variety of coaches, landaus, phaetons, barouches, broughams and even a sleigh.  The most elaborate is the Gold State Coach.  It was built for King George III and first appeared publicly in 1762.

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The Gold State Coach.  The Royal Mews, Mary Stewart-Wilson (1991), the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

Today it is used only for the most prestigious of occasions.  The coach is huge.  It is 12 feet tall, 24 feet long and weighs in at 4 tons.  It is always drawn by eight horses at a walking pace.  To prepare for pulling the coach, the horses are trained using an empty carriage to which sandbags are added over time, gradually increasing its weight until it matches that of the coach.

The operation of the Royal Mews supports the preservation of a number of artisan professions.  The carriages are maintained by restorers who make repairs and refurbish both the exteriors and interiors of the vehicles.

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“Carriage restorer Erik West with his assistant Martin Oates in the Royal Mews Paint Shop.”  The Royal Mews, Mary Stewart-Wilson (1991), the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

The leatherwork on the bridles, harnesses, and saddles is cared for by saddlers.  While leather is replaced regularly, most of the brass fittings date to the 19th century.  Parts of the harness are still hand stitched with the traditional 15-18 stitches per inch.

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State Harness Room at the Royal Mews in Buckingham Palace. Mr Peter Stark is depicted cleaning the harnesses (Circa 1950).

The livery for the coachmen is as elaborate as the fittings for the horses, and requires specialized tailoring skills to create and maintain.

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“Full State postilion jackets have over 41 metres of gold lace and tubular braid applied to them.”  The Royal Mews, Mary Stewart-Wilson (1991), the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

I hope this brief overview gives you an idea of the amount of work and the range of skills required to stage a Royal carriage procession.  The NSLM Library holds a variety of resources on carriages, coaching, horse breeds, saddlery, and the modern sport of driving.  Most of them are available to the public in the Main Reading Room.  Please consider dropping in to explore this fascinating subject more deeply.


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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

 

The first Saturday in May sees the annual running of the Virginia Gold Cup steeplechase race. This Saturday upwards of 50,000 people with attend the event held at Great Meadow in The Plains, Virginia.

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Spectators at the race. From the Virginia Gold Cup website

This year the day features seven races, both steeplechases and flat races, in addition to the Gold Cup race. Besides the main attraction of the horse races, visitors can enjoy tailgating, witness the terrier race, and participate in a variety of hat contests, or the tailgate contest. The day closes with a live broadcast of the Kentucky Derby on Jumbo-trons.

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Jack Russell Terriers soar. From Photowalkpro blog

The Virginia Gold Cup was first run in 1922. The single race event was run on the Oakwood estate near Warrenton. The course covered four miles and included the fences and walls already existing in the countryside.

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The original Gold Cup course. From History and Origins of the Virginia Gold Cup by William Myzk, edited by Raymond Woolfe (1987)

The organizers contributed $1000 each to purchase a trophy to be given to the owner of the winning horse. The trophy would be retired and become the property of any owner that won the race three times. The wins did not need to be consecutive nor accomplished by the same horse.

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The first Virginia Gold Cup. From History and Origins of the Virginia Gold Cup by William Myzk, edited by Raymond Woolfe (1987)

In 1924 the race would be moved to Broadview Farm where it would be run through the mid-1980s. Even in the beginning the race was a big draw. Along with the Maryland Hunt Cup, it would become known as one of the two most challenging timber races in the United States.

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Race day crowd at Broadview in 1927. From From History and Origins of the Virginia Gold Cup by William Myzk, edited by Raymond Woolfe (1987)

Eventually development of the land surrounding Broadview necessitated a move for the race. In 1982 Nick Arundel located a 500 acre site near The Plains. To be known as Great Meadow, he purchased it as both a preserved green space and a permanent location for the Gold Cup. At the same time, he founded the Meadows Outdoor Foundation, later renamed Great Meadow Foundation, which organized the support of others that believed it was critical to preserve park land for the community.

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Great Meadow. From Weddingspot.com

Unlike the prior Gold Cup racecourses which utilized the existing countryside, Great Meadow was designed as a racecourse. It provides challenging but ideal conditions for the horses and excellent conditions for spectators.

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Virginia Gold Cup at Great Meadow. From Our Community Now

The horses that succeeded on this new course were of such quality that in 1993 the British Jockey Club automatically qualified the winner of the Virginia Gold Cup for entry in the world famous Aintree Grand National. This is a distinction previously granted only to the annual winner of The Pardubice in Czechoslovakia and the Maryland Hunt Cup.

Although the race has evolved over the years into a more elaborate event, at its core it remains true to the traditions of the past. It celebrates hunt riding, hunt country, and the equine history of Northern Virginia, and carries those traditions into the future.


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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

Earlier this year I wrote about a few of our many Presidential horsemen.  As a group, the Presidents have nearly all been involved in some sort of sporting activity.  Holders of our highest office have been swimmers, golfers, runners, bicyclists, hunters, card players, sailors, and basketball players.  As young men, quite a few played football or baseball; and along with tens of millions of their fellow Americans, many Presidents have enjoyed angling.

George Washington’s diaries have numerous entries describing days spent fishing.  During the Constitutional Convention in 1787 he went fishing between sessions no less than three times.

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George Washington.  From Wikimeida Commons.

Before becoming President, Chester A. Arthur once held the record for an Atlantic Salmon of fifty-one pounds on the Cascapedia River in Quebec.

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Chester A. Arthur (1830-1886) Twenty-first President (1881-1885), in his late twenties.  By Rufus Anson (Smithsonian Institution National Portrait Gallery) via Wikimedia Commons.

President Carter and his wife frequently fished together.

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President and Mrs. Carter.  Fishing with the Presidents: an Anecdotal History by Bill Mares (1999). The Gift of George Chapman.

Grover Cleveland was an avid fisherman and spent so much time on the water that the press complained about it.  He even wrote a book about fishing,  Fishing and Shooting Sketches, which is available in the Library’s Main Reading Room.

While there are numerous Presidential fisherman, the Library holds interesting objects in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room specific to two of them, Presidents Hoover and Eisenhower.

Hoover was a life long angler and continued fishing into his late eighties.  Prior to becoming President of the United States he had been president of the Izaak Walton League.  While in that post he supported legislation and agreements to regulate fishing and control pollution of the nation’s waterways.

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President Hoover fishing.  White House Sportsmen by Edmund Lindop and Joseph Jares (1964)

He enjoyed the solitude of fishing, and used it  as a way to relieve the stress of the Presidency.  He’s quoted as saying fishing gave him, “the chance to wash one’s soul with pure air, with the rush of the brook, or with the shimmer of the sun on the blue water.  It brings meekness and inspiration from the decency of nature, charity toward tackle-makers, patience toward fish, a mockery of profits and egos, a quieting of hate, a  rejoicing that you do not have to decide a darned thing until next week.  And it is discipline in the equality of men — for all men are equal before fish” (White House Sportsmen, p. 70-71).

To facilitate this need to get away, the President had a fishing camp built in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia.  The site he eventually selected was on the Rapidan River in what is now the Shenandoah National Park.  The book, The President’s Camp on the Rapidan by Thomas Lomax Hunter, housed in the Rare Book Room, describes the camp and the surrounding area.  It features drawings of scenes from the camp and a wonderful map.

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Map of the camp.  The President’s Camp on the Rapidan, the gift of John H. Daniels.

Hoover bought the 164 acre site and leased surrounding land with his own money.  His wife took charge of construction and transformed the camp from a group of tents to a collection of rustic cabins and community buildings.  Visitors to the camp found it remarkable that such an extreme wilderness existed so close to Washington.  The difficulty of getting to the site guaranteed the President the tranquility he was seeking.  Writing in his book Fishing for Fun, Hoover said, “Presidents have only two moments of personal seclusion.  One is prayer; the other is fishing — and they cannot pray all the time.”  The camp on the Rapidan gave him just the secluded venue he desired.

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President and Mrs. Hoover at the Rapidan Camp.  Fishing with the Presidents: an Anecdotal History by Bill Mares (1999)  Gift of George Chapman.

Unlike Hoover, Eisenhower enjoyed the fellowship of fishing with companions.  His vacations tended to be trips with friends and family, focused on golfing, fishing, hunting, and cards.  Although he differed from Hoover in this, he had similar reasons for enjoying fishing…

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Eisenhower fishing with friends.  From http://www.myusualgame.com/tag/dwight-eisenhower/

“There are three [sports] that I like all for the same reason — golf, fishing, and shooting– because they take you into the fields… They induce you to take at any one time two or three hours, when you are thinking of the bird or the ball or the wily trout.  Now, to my mind, it is a very healthful, beneficial kind of thing, and I do it whenever I get a chance. (Fishing with the Presidents, p. 82)

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Eisenhower casting.  The Sports of Our Presidents by John Durant (1964)

In June, 1955, President Eisenhower visited The Parmachenee Club at Parmachenee Lake in Maine.  The Library holds a commemorative scrap book of the fishing trip which features a history of the Club and includes 17 photographs of the President relaxing with friends and fishing in the stream.

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The President relaxing on the porch.  President Eisenhower at the Parmachenee Club 1955

In addition to preferring to fish with friends, rather than alone, Eisenhower also differed from Hoover in his choice of attire.  He had a much more relaxed fishing costume than Hoover, who always fished in a coat and tie.  Regardless of their different approaches to the sport, angling clearly helped both men deal with the stress of the Presidency, and they both enjoyed its challenges and rewards.

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Eisenhower and a fishing guide.  President Eisenhower at the Parmachenee Club 1955

The Library holds several titles describing the sporting activities, fishing and otherwise, of the Presidents.  Most of them are available anytime in the Main Reading Room.  For starters I suggest, The Sports of our Presidents by John Durant, White House Sportsmen by Edmund Lindop and Joseph Jares, The Games Presidents Play by John Sayle Watterson, and Fishing with the Presidents by Bill Mares.  The book about Hoover’s camp on the Rapidan, and Eisenhower’s fishing trip scrap book are both housed in the Rare Book Room so you’ll need to make an appointment to see them, but I’d be happy to get them out for you to take a look at.


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

For over half the existence of the United States, horses were ubiquitous.  They served as the main source of transportation, and were essential to the military and to speedy communication.  They labored in agriculture, and as freight haulers.  Horses were common in everyday life.  It wasn’t until 1909 that President Taft replaced the Presidential horses and carriages with cars, and transformed the White House stable into a garage.  It is natural therefore, that many of our Presidents have been horsemen.  Some were indifferent or reluctant equestrians, but quite a few were true aficionados, obsessed with their horses, riding, racing, and driving them in every spare moment.  While there have been too many Presidents to cover in a short blog post, I’d like to highlight a few.

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Washington at Verplanck’s Point on the North River on September 14, 1782, reviewing the French troops under General Rochambeau on their return from Virginia after the victory at Yorktown.  By John Trumbull – Winterthur Museum, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57115499

George Washington was a highly accomplished horseman, and a founding member of the Alexandria Jockey Club.  As a general he relied on his mounts and his skill as a rider to lead his men.  His favorite horse during the American Revolution was called Nelson.  Washington was an avid fox hunter and before the war Nelson was his primary mount in this activity.  Nelson survived the war and eventually retired to Mount Vernon with the former President (Horses of the Presidents by Leah C. Taylor (2006), the gift of Leah Taylor).

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President Theodore Roosevelt on Bleistein, 1902. (Presidential Horses, White House History No. 19, Fall 2006)

Another Presidential fox hunter was Teddy Roosevelt.  The Library holds an original, handwritten manuscript of “Riding to Hounds on Long Island,” an essay written by Theodore Roosevelt in July 1886 for the Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine. The sport was under attack for being “too English” for Americans to participate in, but Roosevelt advocates for fox hunting as excellent exercise and military training.  He also points out that George Washington, an iconic American, was a fox hunter.  If it was good enough for Washington, why wouldn’t it be good enough for average Americans?

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Major General Andrew Jackson, engraved by James B. Longacre after painting by Thomas Sulley c. 1820. (Presidential Horses, White House History No. 19, Fall 2006)

Andrew Jackson’s favorite horses were race horses.  While his passion for racing horses is not unique among Presidents, he is the only President to have run a racing stable out of the White House grounds.  His thoroughbreds raced at courses in Washington and Baltimore.  To avoid the possible scandal of the President participating in a sport that much of the public viewed negatively, his horses were raced under the name of his nephew and private secretary, Andrew Jackson Donelson.  One of his most successful horses, Bolivia, was painted by Edward Troye (Presidential Horses, White House History No. 19, Fall 2006).

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Bolivia by Edward Troye (1836).  Retrieved from Clark Art Institute, http://www.clarkart.edu/Art-Pieces/10996

As yet another military President, Ulysses S. Grant was also an accomplished rider.  It turns out, he was also a bit of a speed demon.  He was actually arrested for exceeding the speed limit while driving his team through the streets of Washington.  He paid a $20 fine on the spot and commended the police officer, but it doesn’t seem that he changed his ways.  There are several more stories of him racing in the streets, including one about a race with a butcher’s delivery wagon.  The butcher’s horse won and Grant eventually purchased the horse for his own stable (Presidents on Wheels by Herbert Ridgeway Collins, 1971).

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Ulysses S. Grant in a carriage pulled by Dexter
Dexter, famed for his ideal trotting action called the “Dexter stroke,” won 46 of 50 races and trotted the mile in a record 2:17.1/4 during the 1860s. Robert Bonner bought and retired the horse, but allowed presidential candidate Ulysses S. Grant the thrill of taking the reins at top speed in this popular 1868 lithograph by Currier & Ives. (White House Horses [exhibition postcard], The White House Historical Association.)
 Even after the great age of the horse had been replaced by the automobile, and horses had been relegated to ceremonial and leisure roles, the occupants of the White House and their families continued to ride.  To learn more about Presidents, both historical and modern, and their relationships with horses I encourage you come visit the Main Reading Room and look through our books on the topic.


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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