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.

A recent reference question sent me on a hunt to find out if any fillies had ever won the Kentucky Derby.  It turns out that three ladies have won the fabled race at Churchill Downs.  The first was a chestnut mare with a white blaze named Regret who won the 1915 contest.

Regret was bred and owned by Harry Payne Whitney, a member of America’s horse racing royalty.  He was the leading American owner by earnings six times between 1905 and 1930, as well as the leading American breeder from 1926 to 1932.  Her trainer was James G. Rowe, Sr., a former jockey who had an illustrious second career as a trainer of racehorses.  Over his career he trained more than 30 champions.

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Regret at Saratoga.  From Women of the Year by Avalyn Hunter (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

For her debut season in 1914, Regret ran in and won a series of three races at Saratoga.  The first was the Saratoga Special, the second was the Sanford Memorial, and the third was the Hopeful Stakes.  In all these races she ran against colts, including the season’s best juvenile colt, Pebbles, in the final two.  Following this brilliant first season she was rested until the Kentucky Derby in May 1915.

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Regret with trainer James Rowe (left) and owner Harry Payne Whitney (right).  From Women of the Year by Avalyn Hunter (2004).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Chronicle of the Horse.

At the time, the Kentucky Derby was not the iconic American race that it is today.  Most of the prestigious races were based in New York.  Matt Winn, the general manager of Churchill Downs, was working hard to raise the cachet of the track.  In order to lure top competitors to the Derby, he decided to make it the richest race of the season.  The winner’s purse was $11,450 and a gold cup.  This outstripped the purses at eastern races, where the Preakness Stakes purse was $1,275 and the Belmont’s was $1,825 that year.

Regret led the field from the start and won the race by two lengths in 2:05 2/5.  The sensation of a filly beating the boys, the incredible purse, and Whitney’s statement following the race that, “She has won the greatest race in America, and I am satisfied,” all combined to help launch the Kentucky Derby on the path to in fact becoming the greatest race in America.  It would be 65 years until Regret had company.

Oddly enough it would be another chestnut filly with a white blaze that would finally join Regret as a lady of the Kentucky Derby.  The horse that would become known as Genuine Risk was born on February 15th, 1977.  At the Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale of yearlings 14-year-old Matthew Firestone spotted her and lobbied his parents, Bert and Diana Firestone, to purchase the filly.  They agreed and Genuine Risk began schooling at the Firestone’s farm near Waterford, Virginia.  She is described as generally gentle but opinionated, and was known to sometimes run off with exercise riders.

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Genuine Risk following the Kentucky Derby.  From The Blood-Horse, May 10, 1980, pg. 2508.

As a two year old, she began training with LeRoy Jolley and made her debut on September 30, 1978 at Belmont Park.  She was undefeated in this first season of racing, and her winning streak continued into her second season.  She was doing so well it was decided to test her against colts in the Wood Memorial Stakes, a race that is often a precursor to Kentucky Derby appearances.  She ran the entire race just behind Plugged Nickle and Colonel Moran and finished in third, 1 and 3/4 lengths behind the boys.  There was a bit of drama when her jockey claimed a foul but in the end the stewards did not agree and the results stood.

This loss cast doubt on whether running with the boys was too much for Genuine Risk and her appearance in the Kentucky Derby was doubted by many.  However, she recovered well from Wood Memorial race and the Firestones, her trainer, and her jockey all felt she would be competitive in the Derby and she was entered.  As the big day approached speculation abounded about all the contestants.  The Lexinton Herald polled 44 members of the media and only five predicted Genuine Risk as the winner.  Twenty-six of them predicted that she would finish out of the money altogether.

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Genuine Risk winning the Kentucky Derby.  From The Blood-Horse, May 10, 1980, cover.

As it happened, she held back for the first half of the race and then moved to the outside,  charged to the lead, and stayed there through the finish line where she joined Regret in a very exclusive club.  After 65 years there were now two Ladies that owned the Kentucky Derby.  Later Harper’s Bazaar named Genuine Risk one of its seven top women achievers for 1980.

The most recent filly to win the roses was aptly named, Winning Colors.  She accomplished the feat in 1988.  Like the two fillies that preceded her, she had a white blaze, but she had a roan rather than a chestnut coat.  She was bred by Don Sucher at Echo Valley Horse Farm in Kentucky.  At the July auction in 1986, trainer D. Wayne Lukas liked the looks of her and purchased her for an owner he represented, Eugene Klein.  Lukas and his son Jeff began training her among a stable of talented horses.  Her first race was at Saratoga on August 13.  She won by 2 1/2 lengths over Epitome, who would go on to become the champion of the two year old filly division.  She continued her racing career on the west coast of the United States winning all but one of the races she entered.  On April 9th 1988 in the Santa Anita Derby, she easily led a field of 3 year old colts and won by 7 1/2 lengths.  From that moment on there was no doubt that she would compete in the Kentucky Derby the following month.

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Winning Colors.  From The Blood-Horse, May 14, 1988, Cover.

On the big day at Churchill Downs she would charge to the front of the field and stay there the entire race.  In an exciting finale, she was challenged in the home stretch by Forty Niner who closed a seven length lead.  But Winning Colors held on to win by a neck, and joined Regret and Genuine Risk as a Lady of the Kentucky Derby.

To learn more about these wonderful fillies and their lives after the Kentucky Derby, or to brush up on your Kentucky Derby history, just drop by the Main Reading Room and I’d be happy to show you some resources.


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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

As I’ve been working on cataloging the Library’s periodical holdings, I’ve come to realize that these journals provided an outlet for artists and engravers, both of which were frequently employed to provide illustrations for publication.  One such journal that is absolutely crammed with lovely engravings is the French weekly newspaper, La Chasse Illustree, (The Illustrated Hunt) which ran under slightly varying titles from 1867 to 1914.  The Library holds the first year, 1867-8, and the tenth year 1877 as two bound volumes.

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Original 1867 masthead for La Chasse Illustree.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The original masthead includes the subtitle, journal des plaisirs de la ferme et du chateau, or pleasures of the farm and castle, and lists topics covered such as fishing, natural history, and travel.

By the tenth year the masthead has been updated somewhat.  The subtitle has changed to, journal des chasseurs et la vie a la campagne, or journal of hunters and country life.  The words describing content on the earlier masthead have been replaced by illustrations and we can see a variety of hunters, fishermen, and shooters, shown in scenes surrounding the title.

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The masthead in 1877.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

As the title suggests this journal covers a wide range of sporting life.  Despite my inability to read the french text, a survey of the engravings clearly displays the variety of topics covered.

Here we find the expected hunters, such as this highland stalker.

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Highland hunter. Samedi 24 Mars 1877.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

As well as images of the hunter’s companions, like this bird dog.

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Bird dog. Samedi 23 Fevrier 1878.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Hunters of every sort appear in the pages.  Not only men but also animal predators, including some rather exotic beasts like these leopards chasing after Tragopan Satyrs (a Himalayan pheasant)…

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Leopards.  Samedi 12 Mai 1877.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

an octopus…

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Octopus. Samedi 1 Decembre 1877. T. Wood, Butterworth and Heath.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

and even a spider!

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Spider. Samedi 26, Octobre 1878. T. Specht.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

The techniques used by hunters are also shown.  Here are two hunters using a blind to hide from their quarry.

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Hunters using a blind. Samedi 24 Aout 1867.  Yan Dargent, Huyot.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

This chap is using a complicated looking trap to try and capture some birds.  His set up even includes a tethered live decoy which can be seen at the far left of the image.

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Bird traps. Samedi 8 Fevrier 1868. E Ade’ Stuttgart, E. Foeest.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

And this interesting cross sectional image shows another trap, this one for fish.

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Fishing with net. Samedi 28 Septembre 1867. F. Lehmert, Huyot.  The gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

If you can make the trip to visit the Library I’d love to bring out these two volumes for you to spend an afternoon browsing through.  The illustrations I’ve included hardly scratch the surface of this fantastic collection of weekly journals.


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

Now is the time when people set their resolutions for the new year. The Library’s main resolutions for 2019 are:

(1) Complete setup of the Library’s new Digital Repository
(2)  Catalog the periodicals collection

Speaking of the periodicals project, we were going through some old copies of Thoroughbred Record to catalog them, and picked up the New Year’s issue for 1936 (January 4).

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Thoroughbred Record, January 4, 1936

We came across an article on New Year’s Resolutions by “Salvator,” the pen-name of John Hervey. The article fell under the paper’s “Marginalia” heading.

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Salvator has quite a few ideas for resolutions, all of them best practices for people associated with horse racing in some fashion. For example, he has insightful (and cynical) resolutions for bettors:

Remember that the average of winning favorites is about 38 per cent.
That playing hunches is playing dunces.
That inside info is outside bunco.
That book-makers are your natural enemies.
That the totalisator, only, cannot be bought.
That all players die broke, anyhow.

Or his resolutions for jockeys:

Less rough riding.
More judgment.
More respect for the judges.
Less anxiety to beat the starter.
More skill at the finish.
Drastic treatment for swelled-head.

He even suggests resolutions for the racing commissions, track managers, and breeders. For trainers:

More interest in good horsemanship.
More interest in good horses.
Less interest in bad horses.
A stern stand against “dope.”
More consideration for horses as horses.
Less consideration for them as gambling tools.
And iron hand on subordinates.

How many of Salvator’s resolutions still hold up today? For us, we’re confident our projects will move forward to completion in the coming year, and hope all the best for the resolutions of our NSLM members and blog readers. Happy New Year!


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 

Occasionally the drama of horse racing spills over from the racetrack.  In 1977 it splashed onto a mare called Fanfreluche, who was stolen from Claiborne Farm near Paris, Kentucky, and was missing without a trace for several months.  This tale of intrigue was covered by many news outlets but for all things Thoroughbred, The Blood-Horse Weekly magazine is the ideal resource.  Fortunately the Library holds nearly a complete run of this essential Thoroughbred horse periodical and I was able to get all the details of this odd incident.

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Fanfreluche racing.  Blood-Horse Weekly, July 4, 1977 (2844-5).  NSLM periodicals collection.

Born in 1967, and owned by Jean-Louis Levesque, Fanfreluche had an excellent record on the track, earning $238,688 and being named 1970 Canadian Horse of the Year.  An injury during her fourth year ended her racing career and she embarked on a new career as a broodmare in which she would prove equally successful.  In 1977 she journeyed south to Claiborne Farm in Kentucky to be bred to Secretariat and was soon confirmed as in foal to the famous Triple Crown winner.

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Fanfreluche.  Blood-Horse Weekly, July 11, 1977 (2924).  NSLM periodicals collection.

On June 26th Fanfreluche vanished from a grazing field she shared with several other broodmares.  She was last seen late in the afternoon by farm staff.  Later in the evening when the head count came up one short it was assumed that the missing mare was simply out of view.  The next morning the stunning truth was revealed, Fanfreluche was missing.

The State police and the FBI were called in.  Investigation of the area turned up two cut fences…

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A cut fence. Blood-Horse Weekly, July 4, 1977 (2844-5). NSLM periodicals collection.

and a trail that led along a stone wall to a wooded area near the road, where the hoof prints stopped.  Presumably the thief had a van waiting, loaded Fanfreluche into it, and made his get away.

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The escape route. Blood-Horse Weekly, July 4, 1977 (2844-5). NSLM periodicals collection.

The authorities, indeed everyone, expected a ransom call.  Although she was valuable, due to strict registration rules Fanfreluche wouldn’t be worth much to the thief.  In much the same way that a stolen artwork is difficult if not impossible to sell, a famous horse with registration lip tattoo would be impossible to pass off as another horse.  Inexplicably no phone call came.

After a week or two the State Police released these photos to the public hoping that someone had seen the missing mare.

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Blood-Horse Weekly, July 11, 1977 (2924).  NSLM periodicals collection.

In an attempt to drum up leads, a false story was circulated that Fanfreluche required medication.  Also a $25,000 reward was offered for information leading to a conviction.  In July an arrest warrant was issued for William Michael McCandless.  He voluntarily turned himself in and denied any connection with the crime.  He was arraigned on July 29th, but there was still no sign of the missing horse.

It wasn’t until December 8th that a tip led investigators to the rural town of Tompkinsville, Kentucky.  At the home of Larry McPherson a mare matching the description of Fanfreluche is discovered and her identity is confirmed from her lip tattoo.  McPherson had been in possession of the horse since shortly after her kidnapping.  One morning his neighbor had spotted a stray horse and assumed that it belonged to McPherson.  They called to alert him and he went out expecting to find one of his horses.

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The road where Fanfreluche was found (top) and the McPherson home (bottom).  Blood-Horse Weekly, Dec 19, 1977 (6199-6202).  NSLM periodicals collection.

Instead it was an unknown horse.  He retrieved the horse and told the neighbor it wasn’t his and to pass the word around that there was a stray horse at his place.  He expected the owner to turn up shortly to claim their animal.  When no one did he reported it to the local police.  No one made the connection to the race horse that had been stolen about 150 miles away.  Eventually McPherson named the stray Brandy and occasionally used her for pleasure riding.   He reported that she was very gentle but was difficult to catch, and that she never seemed to like the name he had given her and had never responded when he used it.

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The McPhersons and “Brandy.”  Blood-Horse Weekly, Dec 19, 1977 (6199-6202).  NSLM periodicals collection.

The McPhersons were cleared of any connection to the theft.  Although Fanfreluche was in need of a brushing and having her hooves trimmed, she was none the worse for wear from her time as an ordinary horse.  She returned to the luxury of Claiborne Farm and in February gave birth to a healthy colt named Sain Et Sauf, or Safe and Sound.

Fanfreluche had a long and productive life before passing away in 1999 at the age of 32.  She is a member of the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame and also won the Sovereign Award for outstanding broodmare.  She had 18 foals.  14 of them were winners, five were stakes winners, and three were champions.

William Michael McCandless was convicted of the theft and sentenced to four years in prison.  It wasn’t his first run in the with law and it wouldn’t be his last.

The Library has a large collection of periodicals dating from the late 1700’s to the present day.  Only our active subscriptions are available without an appointment in the Main Reading Room.  The bulk of the collection is in the Lower Level Reading Room which requires an appointment to visit.  I am currently working on cataloging the periodicals collection so in the near future it will be easy to see what we have available by using our online catalog.


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.

On September 17, 1937, a new newspaper launched in Middleburg, Virginia. Called The Middleburg Chronicle, it would one day be re-named The Chronicle of the Horse and become one of the most popular sporting periodicals of the 20th Century.

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The paper was founded by Stacy Lloyd and Gerald Webb, who served as publisher/editor and managing editor, respectively. The front page of the new paper contained a sad but significant piece of horse racing news:

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John T. “Jack” Skinner was a steeplechase trainer and jockey in Middleburg, and had trained Welbourne Jake into a winner. The horse won the 1937 Maryland Hunt Cup, one of the most prestigious steeplechase races in North America.

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Welbourne Jake, photo of painting by Franklin Brooke Voss, 1937. National Sporting Library & Museum images collection, 2018.0223.

Skinner was initially slated to ride in the Maryland Hunt Cup, but was sidelined when a fall broke his collarbone. Instead, a young college student named John Harrison rode to victory.

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Unidentified steeplechase. John T. Skinner, second from left. National Sporting Library & Museum images collection, 2018.0240

It’s impossible to say what Welbourne Jake’s career might have been if not for his unfortunate accident. But for one day, the connection between Paul Mellon, Marion duPont Scott, Jack Skinner and the Maryland Hunt Cup were immortalized on the first front page of The Chronicle.


Wedding Photography by Spiering Photography

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

This 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