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Xenophon Marmorbüste im Kgl. Museum, Berlin, 1905. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Some things just never change. The visitors to our Museum who ride horses are often impressed how timeless is the wisdom in the equestrian literature of years past: advice given 200 years ago is usually as pertinent to handling horses today as it was when it was written. Equestrian literature is extremely traditional, and most are unaware how far back the chain runs. When it comes to the written word, what we know and practice today truly began with the Greek soldier, historian, and philosopher Xenophon.

Xenophon of Athens (c. 430-354 BCE) was born to a wealthy Athenian family and served as a mercenary cavalry officer under Cyrus the Younger during his campaign against the Persians. After a complicated series of military misadventures, Xenophon and his fellow mercenaries were recruited to fight for Sparta, the enemies of Athens.

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Plate 8-I, from Richard Berenger’s translation of Xenophon, The History and Art of Horsemanship (1771). National Sporting Library & Museum.

“The same care which is given to the horse’s food and exercise, to make his body grow strong, should also be devoted to keeping his feet in condition. Even naturally sound hoofs get spoiled in stalls with moist, smooth floors.”

 

For this (and possibly for his admiration of Socrates) Xenophon was exiled from Athens and settled into a life of writing in Scillus. It was here that Xenophon penned his treatise On Horsemanship, widely credited as one of the earliest works on the selection, care, and management of horses.

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Plate 4, from Richard Berenger’s translation of Xenophon, The History and Art of Horsemanship (1771). National Sporting Library & Museum.

The earliest printing of Xenophon appears to have been around 1516. On Horsemanship was widely re-popularized during the Renaissance with the explosion of equestrian literature from the mid-1500s forward.

“If you desire to handle a good war-horse so as to make his action the more magnificent and striking, you must refrain from pulling at his mouth with the bit as well as from spurring and whipping him.” — Xenophon, On Horsemanship Morris Morgan translation, 1893.

By the 1580s, authors were debating fine points of the precepts laid down by Xenophon. On Horsemanship was translated into English by Richard Berenger in 1771.

“[I]t is evident that by word of mouth you can teach a horse nothing. If, however, you reward him with kindness after he has done as you wish, and punish him when he disobeys, he will be most likely to learn to obey as he ought.” — Xenophon, On Horsemanship Morris Morgan translation, 1893.

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Left: Greek (Cretan), Fragment from Pithos or Relief Amphora, ca. 660-630 BCE, terracotta, Tampa Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William Knight Zewadski in honor of Dr. J. Michael Padgett, Curator of Classical Art, 1990-1992. (1991.023.001). Photo Credit: Courtesy Tampa Museum of Art Right: Plate 5-I from Richard Berenger’s translation of Xenophon, The History and Art of Horsemanship (1771). National Sporting Library & Museum.

“When the horse bolts suddenly off, the rider should lean forward, for then the horse would be less likely to draw in under the rider and jolt him up; but he should bend back when the horse is being brought to a poise, as he would then be less jolted.”

On view in the Museum right now is The Horse in Ancient Greek Art, an exhibition of Greek pottery depicting horses from the time of Xenophon and beyond. Visitors to the Museum can experience the unbroken chain from the ancient world to today by visiting this great exhibition and our permanent collection works on view.


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

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One of the valuable research resources at NSLM is The Thoroughbred Record, a major periodical of record for the horse racing world. NSLM holds issues of The Thoroughbred Record dating back to 1895, and each issue tells some story from the history of racing.

In January of 1896, the American champion money winning racehorse retired. Domino, “The Black Whirlwind,” was being put out to stud by his owner, Foxhall Keene (1867-1941). Domino had been bred by Keene’s father, James R. Keene (1838-1913). Foxhall bought the yearling Domino from his father for $3,000 and the stallion went on a three-year tear through United States racing.

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Portrait of James Robert Keene, 1901, from The World’s Work. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Domino was a sprinter, benefiting from the development away from timed heats in American racing. With less emphasis on stamina and more on outright speed, Domino won (among others) the Belmont Futurity, the Belmont Stakes, and the Great American Stakes.

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Foxhall P. Keene, 1909. Keene was a successful racehorse owner and breeder, and a World and Olympic Gold Medallist in polo. He purchased Domino from his father, James Keene, in 1892 for $3,000. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

During Domino’s two-year-old campaign in 1893, he split his hoof and never completely recovered, often racing in bandages. Consistent injuries to his feet interrupted his training following his 1895 campaign, and in early 1896, he was retired to Castleton Stud with career earnings of over $190,000.

It has also not been decided whether Domino will ever return to the turf; he probably will not, though “Billy” Lakeland, his trainer, during his visit here this week, stated that he was absolutely sound — that is, as sound as he has ever been since he split his hoof during his two-year-old campaign. This foot has always been under suspicion since, and to it more than to any other cause is attributed the comparative failure of his subsequent form compared with his wonderful two-year-old record.
–The Thoroughbred Record, January 25, 1896.

The following month, Domino arrived in Lexington to overwhelming acclaim. Huge crowds of onlookers, upon hearing about Domino’s arrival, swarmed the stable where he was being kept. So great was the demand to see “the great black” horse that Domino’s handlers spent an entire day parading him for onlookers. The Thoroughbred Record of February 8, 1896, describes the horse’s appearance for its national readership.

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Domino’s general appearance seems to have been a bit of a letdown. Apparently, eastern newspapers played up Domino as a dashing figure, a myth dispelled upon his arrival in Kentucky. Nevertheless, The Thoroughbred Record admits his many other anatomical advantages as a racer, and he is named “beautifully balanced” and “perfectly sound,” except for his nagging feet injuries.

Domino produced 20 foals before succumbing to spinal meningitis in July 1897. Of those 20 foals, eight became stakes winners and his most famous descendants include War Admiral, Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Gallant Fox, Omaha, Native Dancer and American Pharoah.

Domino was inducted into the National Museum of Racing and Hall of Fame in 1955.


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

Here in Virginia, we’re excited at the approach of a total solar eclipse which will occur in North America on August 21. While everybody is preparing to view this event, we were also reminded of another solar eclipse that left a major mark on the equestrian world.

On April 1, 1764, a solar eclipse occurred in Europe, with the maximum effect best seen in southeastern England and northern France. Viewing conditions were not ideal in London, leading observers to travel to Edinburgh to avoid cloud cover and get the best view. The eclipse began at 9:09 a.m., and continued until 11:53 a.m. Maximum obscuration was reported at 10:24 a.m. During the eclipse, the most valuable and influential horse in history was foaled.

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Daniel Quigley (Irish, 18th Century) The Godolphin Arabian, late 18th Century, oil on canvas, 38 x 48 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection. This piece was view at NSLM as part of The Chronicle of the Horse in Art.

The horse, who was named Eclipse for his foaling day, was bred by Prince William, Duke of Cumberland (1721-1765) and son of George II. Eclipse’s dam, Spilletta, was a granddaughter of the Godolphin Arabian, a foundational sire of the Thoroughbred breed.

Eclipse was headstrong and temperamental, and the chestnut stallion was renowned for his temper. We was worked constantly to tire him out, and the exercise made him easier to handle. Eclipse was large (sometimes criticized for having a big, unattractive head), and had great endurance for an era where horse racing was done in heats of two and four miles.

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Eclipse At New Market With Groom, by George Stubbs (1724-1806). Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

The racing career of Eclipse is remarkable, as the horse went undefeated in 18 races over two years. His jockey, Jack Oakley, habitually let Eclipse run as he pleased, and made few attempts to hold him back. After Eclipse’s second victory, he was purchased by Dennis O’Kelly (1725-1787), an adroit horse breeder and bettor who was renowned for winning a bet that placed “Eclipse first, the rest nowhere,” meaning no other horse would finish within 240 yards of Eclipse.

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Illustration of geometric measurements of Eclipse by Charles Vial de Sanibel. From Essai sur les proportions Geometrales de l’Eclipse, 1791, National Sporting Library & Museum.

After two unbeaten campaigns, Eclipse was retired in large part because of a lack of challengers. It was impossible to find better odds against him than 20 to 1, and his value now resided at stud. His stud fee began at 50 guineas, and he went on to become the most successful sire in history, siring 344 winners of more than 158,000 pounds. It’s far easier to list Thoroughbreds that don’t count Eclipse in their background than those that do. It’s estimated that over 95% of Thoroughbreds can trace their pedigrees to Eclipse in the male line.

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Skeleton of Eclipse. Photo number L0000443, Wellcome Library. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Eclipse died on February 27, 1789 of a violent colic. Dennis O’Kelly’s nephew Andrew contracted famous veterinary surgeon Charles Vial de Sanibel (1753-1793) to dissect the body. Sanibel wrote a book on Eclipse from his anatomical findings, measuring the horse in geometric relation to the size of his head in order to establish ideal proportions for representation in artwork and selection of animals for breeding. His skeleton is now housed at the Royal Veterinary College in Hertfordshire.


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

Two of the NSLM’s John H. Daniels Fellows have completed new book projects, and they’re both available for purchase now. These books are exciting projects and we’re thrilled to see them completed.

CROPPEDIn Search of the Kerry Beagle
In Search of the Kerry Beagle

By Stanislaus Lynch, edited by Noel Mullins, 2008 John H. Daniels Fellow

Stanislaus Lynch (1907-1983) was a huntsman, journalist, author, broadcaster, poet and producer of Irish Draught Horses and Connemara Ponies. His works have been translated into 10 languages in 16 countries.

The book was written by Lynch but went unpublished after his death in 1983. While working on a feature article on Lynch, Mullins agreed to edit and publish the work. The book tells the story of Lynch’s travels from Dublin through the Irish Midlands to the Hills of Kerry and Limerick in his quest to discover the origins of the Kerry Beagle. The book sifts through historical and legendary accounts, blending them with Lynch’s own memories and observations. The book features a foreword by Chris Ryan, Master of the Scarteen Hounds.

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Six Centuries of Foxhunting: An Annotated Bibliography
By M. L. Biscotti, 2015 John H. Daniels Fellow

Matthew L. “Duke” Biscotti has undertaken the mammoth task of compiling, listing, and annotating 600 years of foxhunting literature. His 2015 fellowship included extensive research in the NSLM’s F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room with special focus on the materials in the John H. and Martha Daniels book collections.

The end result is a publication as useful as it is impressive. The 500 pages of annotated listings could just as easily serve as an introduction to the leading lights of hunting literature, and expansive title and author indexes make this work an immediate go-to reference for anybody interested in country sport. The book’s foreword is penned by Norman Fine.


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

While our manuscript by Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919) comes out for every tour of the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room, there are some equally fascinating pieces about our nation’s 26th president at the National Sporting Library & Museum. An intimate glimpse into Roosevelt’s private life can be found in the book Letters to Kermit by Theodore Roosevelt, a 1946 publication of letters Roosevelt wrote to his son, Kermit Roosevelt (1889-1943), between 1902 and 1908.

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President and Mrs. Theodore Roosevelt seated on lawn, surrounded by their family, 1903. From left to right: Quentin, Theodore Sr., Theodore Jr., Archie, Alice, Kermit, Edith, and Ethel. From Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs division, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Theodore Roosevelt is widely credited as a founder of the modern environmental conservation movement. He and Kermit had a close relationship, most notably in their 1913-14 adventure exploring the “River of Doubt,” today named Rio Roosevelt. Kermit, newly engaged, put off his marriage to accompany his father at the request of his mother. Both Kermit and Teddy nearly died on the expedition.

Kermit was away at boarding school during many of the years chronicled in the letters.

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“Father and Mr. Burroughs galloping up on some elk — bulls and cows. The elk are tired and have begun to open their mouths and pant. You can tell Mr. Burroughs by the beard. There are a great many rocks on the ground. The pine tree is small and Scraggly.” Letter of April 16, 1903, from Letters to Kermit by Theodore Roosevelt, 1946.

Letters chronicle family illnesses and general news, as well as Teddy’s adventures touring the United States as President. Teddy would note anything of interest in his letters, such as “To-day, by the way, as I rode along the beach I saw seals, cormorants, gulls and ducks, all astonishingly tame.” Roosevelt would almost always sign, “Your loving father, T. R.”

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Kermit Roosevelt and his dog, Jack, 1902. From Library of Congress’ Prints and Photographs division, accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Quite a few of the letters belie Teddy’s sense of humor:

Oyster Bay, N. Y.
September 23, 1903

Blessed Kermit:
The house seems very empty without you and Ted; although I cannot conscientiously say that it is quiet — Archie and Quentin attend to that. Archie, bare-footed, bareheaded, and with his usual faded blue overalls much torn and patched, has just returned from a morning with his beloved Nick. Quentin has passed the morning in sports and pastimes with the long-suffering secret service men. Allan has been associating closely with Mother and me. Yesterday, Ethel went off riding with Loraine. She rode Wyoming, who is really turning out a very good family horse. This evening, I expect Grant La Farge and Owen Wister, who are coming to spend the night. Mother is as busy as possible putting up the house; Ethel and I insist that she now eyes us both with a purely professional gaze, and secretly wishes that she could wrap us up in a neatly pinned sheet with camphor balls inside. Good by, blessed fellow!

Your loving father,
T. R.

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“Today I took Rusty jumping.” Letter of June 12, 1904, from Letters to Kermit by Theodore Roosevelt, 1946.

Letters to Kermit by Theodore Roosevelt shows the sweet, funny, and affectionate relationship between the president and his second son. It can be accessed in the Main Reading Room during NSLM’s open hours.


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

We just finished a shift of materials in the Library this week. Why is that such a big deal? Well, it means that the first leg of our collections maintenance project is drawing to a close.

From a practical point of view, the way our collections used to be organized created challenges to Library users and staff alike. Since Erica joined the NSLM staff last year, we have made tremendous headway to implementing full cataloging for our collections. That means you can find all of the 12,000 titles in the Main Reading Room on the Library’s catalog.

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A new call numbering system has been put in place at NSLM. As new signage is designed, the public is adopting individual stacks to commemorate friends or family. New signs will be ordered soon, and each will display the new system to help researchers find materials.

As we rearranged our books and made more efficient use of space, it became apparent that juggling gaps in the collection and keeping things tidy would be a challenge. The project produced more space, meaning sizable gaps.

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Olivia, our Library intern, was instrumental in helping us shift books. The massive gap was the product of three years of work on the project.
In addition to ease of access and improved findability, we saved enough space to bring the Library’s fiction collections back to the Main Reading Room. These collections had been stored on the Library’s Lower Level, which is restricted access.

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We finally have room for favorite fiction titles by Dick Francis, R. S. Surtees, Marguerite Henry, Paul Brown, and more in the Main Reading Room.
Lastly, the project creates a much more orderly space, with a cleaner feel. It will be easier to keep track of which books are being used or in need of repair. It will also be easier to read the shelves and keep them in order.

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A place for everything and everything in its place!
So what’s next? We’re currently working on cataloging our ephemera, photograph, and vertical file collections. Our Library volunteers Diane and Gale have been tremendously helpful to make progress there. We’re also preparing to begin a similar reprocessing project for our Rare Book Room collections. And after that, we’ll tackle our periodical backfile, much of which is completely uncataloged.


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

A few weeks ago, I discovered that the National Museum of American History has a horse halter in its collection. The halter belonged to a horse named First Flight, and after browsing the catalog entry, I was stunned to discover how horses have helped save thousands of lives.

First Flight’s story is remarkable: he was bred to be a racehorse, but doesn’t appear to have ever raced (I couldn’t find him listed in any race records in the NSLM collection) and then went into service as a caisson horse in military funerals at Arlington National Ceremony. It appears that large crowds didn’t agree with him, and we was soon reassigned for being too skittish. In 1978, First Flight went to the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases at Fort Detrick, Maryland where he became a “living factory” to produce botulism antitoxin.

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The St. Andrew’s Society Pipes & Drums precedes the Mounted Army Color Guard from the Caisson Platoon of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment at NSLM’s 6th Annual Polo Classic in 2016. First Flight was a caisson horse before being transferred to Fort Detrick to serve as a “living factory” of antitoxin. Photo courtesy of Chris Weber Studios.

Botulism is one of the most potent natural toxins, produced by a variety of strains of botulinum bacteria. First Flight was infected with each strain in succession, and as his immune system produced antibodies, his blood could be harvested to produce an effective remedy to botulism. First Flight’s serum was stockpiled during the Gulf War to protect against biological attacks using botulinum. Between Fort Detrick and a long stay at the University of Minnesota, First Flight gave over 16,000 liters of blood for botulism antitoxin.

 

 

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Horses Used in Serum Production, Wellcome Library, Archives and Manuscripts SA/LIS/R.188, Photo Number L0051725.

 

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One of the first bottles (1895) of diphtheria antitoxin produced at the Hygienic Laboratory, which became the NIH in 1930. Diphtheria antitoxin, was produced by inoculating horses or goats with increasingly concentrated doses of diphtheria bacteria. Image accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

The practice of using horses to derive antitoxin serum dates back to the 19th Century, and has been used to combat rabies, tetanus, and diphtheria. The innovation of serum treatment by Emil Adolf von Behring in 1890 was a huge step toward curing diphtheria and thousands of lives were saved. Horses, due to their hardiness and size, were ideal candidates for serum production. Unfortunately, the new treatment brought its own dangers.

One of the early equine stars of diphtheria serum production was Jim, a former milk wagon horse who produced 30 quarts of antitoxin over his career. In 1901, he showed signs of tetanus and was put down, but mislabeled antitoxin and poor record-keeping allowed tainted serum to be distributed to children, resulting in 13 deaths. The tragedy was a major catalyst behind passage of the Biologics Control Act in 1902, the first broad U. S. regulation of pharmaceuticals. The precedent led to the establishment of the Food and Drug Administration in 1906.

Production of antitoxin serum is more than a little unusual today. But it’s another fascinating way that horses have been instrumental to human progress over the years.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

John Connolly has served as the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. 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