“Just living is not enough…. one must have sunshine, freedom, and a little flower”

-Hans Christian Anderson

Since the beginning of time, mankind has left permanent marks on the planet. Ancient peoples cultivated wild plants and animals, and built great civilizations. Now, people live in almost every ecosystem on the planet- whether in the tundra, in forests, or on tropical islands. While cities clearly show peoples’ effect on the landscape, the world’s open and agricultural areas demonstrate our connection to the plants, animals, and features of the world around us.

Portrait of a Horse in a Landscape, Abraham van Calraet, c. 1690, oil on panel, 26 1/2 x 30 1/2 x 2 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum

In van Calraet’s animal portrait, the viewer might first think that this horse is out in the wilderness, content in his freedom and with the whole world at his hooves. But on closer inspection it becomes clear that his neighbors are domesticated cows, and while no fences are visible there appear to be buildings in the hazy distance. Organisms living together in an environment often have symbiotic relationships, and humans are an important part of this environment, even if they are not seen. In this case humans may have a mutually beneficial relationship with their livestock. Judging by the size of the horse he is well cared for; fed, watered, and brushed. He also seems to have plenty of space to roam, alongside the cows. In return perhaps he is ridden or hitched up to a cart or carriage now and again.

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The Day’s Catch, John Bucknell Russell, 1865, oil on canvas 27 x 35 1/4 x 2 3/4 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum
Apart from farmland, people can also change ecosystems by bringing new species to far away places. Brown trout, like the ones in Russell’s The Day’s Catch, are native to Europe, from northern Norway and Russia all the way to the Atlas Mountains in Northern Africa. Since the 19th century, humans have introduced brown trout species to Australia, India, and North and South America, mainly as a sport fish. Some kinds of trout live exclusively in freshwater streams and lakes, while others live most of their lives in the ocean and only travel to freshwater areas to spawn.

While not inherently dangerous, introducing new species to an area can put pressure on an ecosystem. In some places, like Australia, brown trout endanger other fish by directly competing for food and other resources. In Canada on the other hand, trout populations are threatened by yet another newcomer, an alga commonly known as ‘rock snot’. In each of these cases, anglers and local inhabitants work together to re-balance the ecosystem and remove hazards to native populations.

Frederick M.M. Warburg with Middleburg Hunt at Goose Creek Michael Lyne, 1950, oil on canvas 22 x 25 3/4 x 1 3/4 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum
Foxhunting is a sport traditionally pursued in temperate zones, the native habitat of European red foxes. As English foxhunters moved around the world, they brought the sport- and the associated animals- with them. In Lyne’s Frederick M.M. Warburg with Middleburg Hunt at Goose Creek, the Virginia Piedmont is seen in autumn, complete with fallen leaves. Viewers also see several species not indigenous to this area. Horses were brought to the colonies with Spanish and English settlers in the 16th and 17th centuries. These riders are following a pack of foxhounds, which were introduced to the Mid Atlantic area starting in 1650. the hounds’ quarry is not identifiable. Gray foxes have lived in North America for millennia, but their cousins, red foxes, are believed to have been brought from Europe during the colonial era as well.

While the subjects of these paintings have lived in their respective habitats (whether man made or natural) for hundreds of years, they are still newcomers in the long timeline of ecology. In each case, humans have forever changed the face of the environment. It is peoples’ responsibility to recognize our impact on the world around us and to treat our surroundings with respect.


Want to learn more about Ecosystems in our artwork? Visit NSLMology: the Science of Sporting Art, opening at NSLM on April 12!


I feel a particular kinship to the Sidesaddle, 1690-1935 exhibition, on view at the National Sporting Library & Museum until March 24, 2019.  I’m not an avid sidesaddle rider (I’m not a rider at all) but because this was my first project here at the NSLM as a full-time staff member.  I started my new position as Collections Manager on Monday morning, August 27, 2019, and, along with our curator, Claudia Pfeiffer, and art handler, Alex Orfila, installation began.

The installation process of an exhibition is really very exciting; the months, and even years, of planning are finally coming into fruition!  Though I have participated in installations before, this was my first large-scale fine art installation.  We had two weeks to uncrate the paintings, evaluate their condition and hang them, hang labels, and adjust lighting.  That’s just the bare-bones physical labor. It may not sound like a lot of work but trust me, it is. 

Paintings waiting to be uncrated

Shortly before the exhibition was scheduled to open, paintings began arriving in crates from various institutions and private lenders.  As Collections Manager, it is my responsibility to ensure the safety of the art under the care of the NSLM.  Before a crate is even opened, I take pictures of all its angles, documenting the condition of its exterior.  The paintings are protected with custom foam, plastic boards and/or sheeting, gatorboard, and other packaging materials. As each layer is removed, a photo is taken.  These photos are our record in the unlikely event an item arrives damaged.

A photo taken as each layer is uncovered

After a painting has been fully removed from its crate, it is placed on a cloth-covered table for evaluation, known as a condition report. Lending institutions and some private lenders provide their own report detailing the physical condition of the object upon leaving their premises.  I compare that to the object and my own report and see if there are any changes.  Are there any new scratches on the frame or canvas? More photos are taken, noting any existing damage (based on the lender’s report) to the frame or the painting itself.  The hardware from which the painting will be hung also needs to be evaluated – does it need to be tightened or replaced?  The lender is always consulted regarding any potential changes.

Waiting patiently for yet another photo – look at all that paperwork!

Once all the paintings have been uncrated, it is finally time to start hanging them using the layout that Claudia finalized months ago. This involves a lot of math. Claudia and Alex have been working together on installations for twenty years; they have this process fine-tuned. 

Once all the paintings are hung, the accompanying labels are next.  These need to be properly aligned with each other and the painting. I brought out the laser level for this. Hopefully with time, I’ll be able to gauge it just by looking at it. What took me ten minutes with the laser, took Claudia ten seconds eyeballing it.

Lastly is the lighting. This sounds quick and easy but is actually the most tedious. There are different kinds of light canisters, bulbs, and screens. We want the entire painting to receive the same amount of light without causing any glare or shadow. Another element to consider is if there are restrictions on how much light a particular work of art can be exposed to. If it is a drawing or watercolor, the light levels are generally lower. An oil painting can tolerate levels that are a little stronger.

From left to right: William Barraud (British, 1810-1850) Lord and Lady Twemlow, late 1840s, oil on canvas, 27 3/4 x 35 1/2 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Gift of Mr. & Mrs. Peter L. Malkin; John Emms (British, 1841-1912) A Saddled Hunter and Jack Russell Terrier, 1893, oil on canvas, 20 x 26 inches, Collection of Dr. & Mrs. Stephen Penkhus; George Derville Rowlandson (British, 1861-1928) At the Inn, c. 1910, oil on canvas, 24 x 36 inches, Private Collection; William Murray Black Jr. (American, 1897-1962) Miss Emily North King, 1937, oil on canvas, 69 x 33 inches, Collection of Mary North Cooper; Sir Alfred J. Munnings (British, 1878-1959) My Horse is My Friend: The Artist’s Wife and Isaac, c. 1922, oil on canvas, 40 x 50 inches, Pebble Hill PLantation, Thomasville, Georgia, © the estate of Sir Alfred Munnings, Dedham, UK; Edmund Charles Tarbell (American, 1862-1938) Schooling the Horses, 1903, oil on canvas mounted on aluminum, 24 x 29 1/2 inches, Currier Museum of Art, Machester, New Hampshire, Gift of Faith Stanwood, 1975.25; Charles Johnson “Snaffles” Payne (English, 1884-1967), The bullfinch, ‘Black as yer hat on this side and glorious uncertainty on the other,’ c. 1913, watercolor, gouache and black chalk medium, 14 7/8 x 21 3/4 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection, Bridgeman Images; center: Isidore Jules Bonheur (French, 1827-1901) Groom and Horse with Sidesaddle, c. 1860, bronze, 16 x 20 1/8 inches, Private Collection

Once the installation is complete, that’s it for now, right? Not quite. Part of the agreement with the lenders, and one of the reasons why they agree to loan to us, is because we will treat the works as if they were ours. Twice a week, for the duration of the exhibition, our curatorial intern, Cynthia Kurtz, and I will gently dust the frames.  This allows us to monitor any existing conditions and keep an eye out for any potential new issues. 

Finally, when the exhibition closes at the end of March, as the paintings are removed from the walls, I will compare the condition reports completed in August, making any notations. Even more thorough photos will be taken. When the paintings arrive at their home museums, my counterparts will then do yet another condition report to ensure its safe transport between the NSLM and their museum. Overkill? Not at all. It is our job to maintain and preserve the works – we wouldn’t have it any other way!

Be sure to see Sidesaddle, 1690-1935 before it closes on March 24!

Lauren Kraut is the Collections Manager at the National Sporting Library & Museum. Her primary focus is to maintain and preserve the works of art in the collection and on loan. Email her at lkraut@NationalSporting.org

Most of us have probably seen a wooden duck decoy in an antiques store, at an auction, or in a friend’s home, but the decoy was a utilitarian tool long before it became a collectible sculpture.  Hunters of waterfowl have used decoys from earliest times to lure their quarry into striking range.  Rather than attempting to stalk skittish birds which would fly off at the slightest sound, hunters could lay a trap that would get the birds to come to them.  By putting out a spread of decoys the hunters might trick the target birds into thinking the area safe and welcoming.  As the birds fly in for a landing, the hunters are able to bag a few and put some food on the table.  The use of decoys made waterfowl hunting a reliable source of food.

Decoys have been made out of handy materials such as reeds, carved from a variety of woods, made of cork or injection molded plastic, and even been tethered live birds.

lovelock ducks2
Duck decoys ca. 400 BC–AD 100
Lovelock Cave, Humboldt County, Nevada
Tule rush, feathers, cordage, paint, 31 x 12 cm
Collected by Mark R. Harrington
13/4512, 13/4513.
Image from The National Museum of the American Indian.

Excavations in 1924 at Lovelock Cave, Nevada revealed a cache of duck decoys made by Native Americans approximately 2000 years ago.  The bodies are made of tule and some of them have duck feathers attached to make them seem more life-like.  Today they can be seen at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian in Washington D.C.

In the United States, following the Civil War, subsistence hunting of waterfowl was rapidly replaced by market hunting.  The booming cities of the country required staggering amounts of food, and fowl of all sorts was on the menu.   To meet this need hunters began to harvest waterfowl in huge numbers.  To do this, they needed equally large numbers of decoys.  With a wide spread of decoys, several flocks of waterfowl could be lured into a small area.  Hunters would then use extremely large shotguns called punt guns, to harvest as many as 100 birds with a single shot.

Waterfowl hunter with mounted punt gun.  By Sydney Harold Smith (or collaborators on his behalf) – This file has been provided by York Museums Trust as part of a GLAMwiki partnership., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31565244

At the same time the popularity of sport hunting was on the rise.  The wealthy members of shooting clubs created an additional demand for decoys.  Some market hunters began to supplement their income by carving and selling decoys to sport hunters.  Regional carvers emerged specializing in the local varieties of waterfowl.  This trend towards the commercialization of decoy carving was intensified when over-hunting led to the regulation of wildfowl shooting.

In 1913, the Federal Migratory Bird Law, and the Migratory Bird Treaty Act in 1918, effectively ended market gunning in the United States and transformed waterfowl hunting into a highly regulated sport.  Many of the men that had made a living through market hunting now turned to decoy carving.  As specific carvers became highly sought after, wait lists for custom, hand-carved decoys became common.   Seeing an opportunity, entrepreneurs such as George Petersen, Jasper N. Dodge, and William J. Mason opened factories to produce decoys on an industrial scale.



Early factory Mallard drake.  George Petersen Factory.  Image from RJB Antiques.

Fast forward to the present day and what began as hunting equipment has become valuable American folk art.  Decoys carved by individuals, as well as those made in factories, are in high demand.  In 2007 two decoys by A. Elmer Crowell, a carver from East Harwich, Massachusetts, were sold in a private sale for $1.1 million each!  His preening Pintale drake duck, and sleeping Canada Goose, are both quite beautiful and have each set records in past sales.  I expect they will again the next time they are for sale.

Preening Pintail drake, circa 1915.  Image from Antiques and the Arts Weekly.

The sleeping Canada Goose decoy, circa 1917.  Image from Antiques and the Arts Weekly.

The Library holds numerous books on the history of the use and manufacture of decoys, as well as books dealing with the collection of them.  If you have a decoy sitting on the mantle piece perhaps you can come to the Library to research it’s origins.

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

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.

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.

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…

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.

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.

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.

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.

With winter weather closing in and the holiday season nearly upon us, one might find oneself stuck inside with visiting family and searching for an activity to fill the time.  If the allure of the television has waned, and you’d like to do something that gets everyone actively involved, I suggest going old school.  How about a card or dicing game?  If you’re rusty on the rules or want to try a new game, reaching for a copy of one Edmond Hoyle’s books would be a good place to start.

Beginning in 1742, Edmond Hoyle (1672-1769) wrote several treatises on a variety of card games and backgammon.  In 1748 his publisher, Thomas Osborne, began to sell a compilation of Hoyle’s earlier works.  As a result of these publications Hoyle eventually became the acknowledged expert on the rules for many games, especially Whist.  The phrase, “according to Hoyle” has become idiomatic in English, meaning according to the rules, or according to the highest authority.

Edmond Hoyle.  From Wikimedia Commons

Although today Hoyle is the most well known name in table game rule books, he was not the first to publish such works.  The Library holds two volumes of an earlier title, The Compleat Gamester.  The first edition of this book was published anonymously in 1674.  It covered numerous card games, games from the backgammon genre, and several outdoor sports.  Its full title was, The Compleat Gamester: Or, Instructions How to Play at Billiards, Trucks, Bowls, and Chess. Together with all manner of usual and most Gentile Games either on Cards or Dice. To which is added, The Arts and Mysteries of Riding, Racing, Archery, and Cock-Fighting.”

Frontispiece from the 1710 edition of The Compleat Gamester.  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of John H. and Martha Daniels.

Over the next 50 years the popular book was reissued and reprinted frequently.  Several new editions with additional material and various subtitles appeared.  NSLM holds an edition from 1710 called, The Compleat Gamester: or instructions how to play at all manner of usual, and most gentile games, either on cards, dice, billiards, trucks, bowls, or chess; also the arts and misteries of riding, racing, archery and cock-fighting.  To which is added, the game Basset; with a discourse of gaming in general.  The description of a gaming ordinary, and the character of a gamester.  With a song on the game at Piquet.  Despite this title, much of the material in the book does not concern how to play games but rather how to spot a cheater.  In this excerpt from the Epistle to the Reader that precedes the text, the author’s opinion of “gamesters” is made quite clear,

Mistake me not, it is not my intention to make Gamesters by this collection, but to inform all in part how to avoid being cheated by them: If I am imperfect in my discoveries, impute it to my being no profest Gamester, and the hatred I bear that hellish society; by whom I know I shall be laught at, and with whom if I should converse, I might sooner by my study come to be Nature’s Secretary, and unriddle all her Arcanas than collect from them any new unpractised secret by which they bubble ignorant credulity, and purchase money and good apparel with everlasting shame and infamy.

To conclude, let me advise you, if you play (when your business will permit) let not a covetous desire of winning another’s money engage you to the losing your own, which will not only disturb your mind, but by the disreputation of being a Gamester, if you lose not your estate, you will certainly lose your credit and good name, than which there is nothing more valuable (Compleat Gamester, 1710).

The author’s anonymity and the vehemence of his opinion of “gamesters” makes me wonder if he wasn’t expertly fleeced himself.  Perhaps this book is his revenge on the culprit.

Individual games are given basic descriptions but generally there is not much information on actual game play or strategy.  Instead the author offers clear descriptions of some techniques used by “gamesters” to cheat other players.  For example, he describes Piping, where the gamester’s accomplice, on the pretense of leisurely smoking a pipe, adopts a position in which he is able to view the cards of the gamester’s opponent.   The accomplice is then able to signal the contents of the dupe’s hand to the gamester.  The signals consist of various finger placements on the pipe, which the gamester can see and decipher.  Ironically given the author’s clear disapproval of cheating, the detailed descriptions he provides of it serve not only as a warning to would-be marks, but also as instructions for would be gamesters.

In addition to practical gaming advice, the author also offers commentary that is sometimes comical or clever.  I love this line about bowling, “A Bowling-Green, or Bowling-Ally is a place where three things are thrown away besides the Bowls, viz. Time, Money and Curses, at the last ten for one” (Compleat Gamester (1710), p. 35).

In 1719 in a bid to capitalize on the popularity of The Compleat Gamester, notorious bookseller Edmund Curll hired Richard Seymour to write The Court Gamester.   The volume dealt with Ombre, Piquet, and Chess.  Apparently Curll’s gambit of offering a book on a similar topic with a similar name to the popular Compleat Gamester paid off as there were four more editions published by 1732.  In 1734 the two titles were published together as, The Compleat Gamester in Three Parts.  The Library holds a 1739 edition of this combined title.

Frontispiece of the 1739 edition of The Compleat Gamester: in Three Parts by Richard Seymour.  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Russell Arundel.

The work includes instructions and rules for card games (ombre, quadrille, quintile, piquet, basset, faro, whist, all-fours, cribbage, put, lue, brag, &c.), chess, English and French billiards, riding, horse racing, archery, cock fighting and bowling.

Charles Cotton, the original Gamester.  From Wikimedia Commons

In addition to updating the rules of game playing, the preface of this book identifies the author of the original 1674 Compleat Gamester: “The second and third parts of this treatise were originally written by Charles Cotton Esq; some years since, but are now rectified according to the present standard of play” (page viii).  Charles Cotton is best known today as the author of portions of Isaac Walton’s The Compleat Angler.  He died insolvent in 1687, 13 years after the publication of The Compleat Gamester, but I could not find anything indicating that he had gambled away his money or been swindled by a nefarious gamester.  His motivation for penning the book remains a mystery.

Although The Compleat Gamester retained its popularity for three quarters of a century, eventually Edmond Hoyle’s publications eclipsed it.*  The final edition of Gamester appeared in 1754.

A Hoyle’s branded book for sale today on Amazon.

Rule books featuring the name Hoyle are still in production today.  Over time new editions featured rules for new games and eliminated those for games that fell out of favor.  If you plan ahead a bit and lay in a couple decks of cards and some dice, along with a copy of Hoyle’s or even one of the editions of The Compleat Gamester, you’ll have an activity for snowbound evenings.  Maybe you’ll learn how to play Whist and can show off that knowledge the next time Jane Austen’s stories come up.

* David Levy’s blog, Edmond Hoyle, Gent. provided a great deal of the publication history contained in this post.  It is also chock full of interesting information on gaming, recreation, and book selling and publication in the 18th Century.  I encourage our readers to visit his blog and do a little exploring.

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

To close out the summer I thought I’d share a story of horses at the beach.  No I don’t have photos of horses in lounge chairs or inner tubes, enjoying the sun and surf.  I’m referring to the Laytown Strand Races that take place this year on September 6th.  Laytown is a small town in Co. Meath on the east coast of Ireland, and each year it hosts the only Turf Club sanctioned beach racing on the Irish and English racing calendar.

Laytown Races
Laytown Strand Races. From Field of Play

This year marks the 150 anniversary of the races.  Originally the horses took second billing to the Boyne Regatta.  The sailing was held during high tide, while the horses ran later in the day during low tide.  In 1901 a local priest who was also a racing aficionado, got involved with the races and turned them into a well-organized event.  Until 1994, competing horses charged down the beach to Bettystown, made a U turn and ran back to Laytown for the finish.  More recently safety changes have removed the U turn, and the racing today takes place on a straight, level course along the Laytown stand.  There are six races on the program, run over distances of between six furlongs and one mile.

For most of the year Laytown strand appears as any other along the coast of Ireland but as race day approaches, a race track gradually materializes.

Laytown 1
With the tide out preparations can now be made to prepare the track.  Photograph: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images.  From  The Guardian

An elevated three acre field with a good view of the strand begins to sprout temporary facilities for the big day including a parade ring, judge’s box, betting windows, weigh rooms, ambulance room, the bar, the secretary’s office and the grandstand.

laytown 2
Coreczka, with Oisin Orr riding, powers down the home straight to win the first race of the day, the At The Races Handicap.  Photograph: Pat Healy/racingfotos.com/Rex/Shutterstock. From The Guardian.

In earlier days these facilities, as well as the crowd, were often down on the beach and the horses ran through a narrow gauntlet as can be seen in this video clip of the race in 1921 from British Pathe.  For safety reasons the beach has been reserved for the horses in more recent years.

To commemorate 150 years of racing on the Laytown beach, the Race Committee has commissioned a book on the history of the races, Laytown Strand Races, celebrating 150 years. 

laytown 5
Laytown Strand Races Launch Commemorative Book to Mark 150 Years of Racing on County Meath Beach. Des Scahill, Ted Walsh and Chairman of Laytown Races, Joe Collins Photo: Healy Racing Photography.  From Horse Racing Ireland

Written by John Kirwan and edited by Fiona Ahern, the book features interviews, statistics, and historical facts about the Laytown Strand Races.  The NSLM Library is working to obtain a copy to add to the collection.  If you would like to take a look, please contact me to find out if we’ve received our copy.

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

In 2017, over 40 original watercolors by English artist Reuben Ward Binks (1880-1950) were donated to the National Sporting Library & Museum as part of a generous bequest from the late Mrs. Elizabeth Dunn Clark of Middleburg (March 23, 1936–April 7, 2017), breeder and owner of Springfield Farm Labrador Retriever kennels and founder of the Labrador Retriever Club of the Potomac.  Sporting Dogs by Reuben Ward Binks, an exhibition of the works is on view at the National Sporting Library & Museum through September 30, 2018.

Anxious Moments
Reuben Ward Binks (English, 1880-1950), Anxious Moments: F.T. CH. “Kirkmahoe Rover”, F.T. CH. “Banchory Ben”, and F.T. CH. “Banchory Bright” in Marsh, watercolor on paper heightened with gouache, 14 x 17 3/4 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017, photo by Finley Stewart

The collection features portraits of sporting dogs, primarily Labrador Retrievers, from the 1920s and 1930s. Most of the depictions are of canines from the kennels of the English sporting dog enthusiast Countess Lorna Howe (c.1890-1961). She was influential in the development of the Labrador Retriever breed in England. Born Lorna Katherine Curzon, she acquired her title with the marriage to her second husband, Richard George Penn Curzon, the 4th Earl Howe (1861-1929) in 1927.

Contess Howe
[image source http://www.gentlesteplabrador.it/educazione/76-le-origini-del-labrador-retriever/ ]
Howe first began working with Labrador Retrievers in 1913 and quickly became a leading owner, breeder, and trainer. She helped organize the British Labrador Club in 1916 and was chairman from 1935 until her death in 1961. Dogs from her Banchory kennel won numerous championships. Howe eventually owned and competed a variety of dogs, including pointers, setters, spaniels, and Pugs, but the Labrador remained her favorite throughout her life.

Reuben Ward Binks (English, 1880-1950), Yellow Lab Retrieving a Drake Mallard from the River, watercolor on paper heightened with gouache, 8 1/2 x 11 5/8 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017, photo by Finley Stewart

Scandal of Glynn was the first Labrador owned by Lorna Howe. Before dying at the young age of five from canine typhus, he sired one litter of puppies which included only one dog (male), named Banchory Bolo. Banchory Bolo (1915-1927) became a champion Labrador Retriever owned by Lorna Howe. A highly successful competitor at field trials and the foundational sire to numerous later champions, Bolo became known for his ability, temperament, and conformation (body shape), which Labrador breeders sought in the early 20th century.

bolo and scandal
Left: Reuben Ward Binks (English, 1880-1950), F.T. CH. Banchory Bolo, 1921, watercolor on paper heightened with gouache, 6 1/2 inches in tondo; Right: Reuben Ward Binks (English, 1880-1950), Scandal of Glynn, 1921, watercolor on paper heightened with gouache, 6 1/4 inches in tondo, National Sporting Library & Museum, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017, photo by Finley Stewart

In 1918, when Howe purchased the young dog Bolo, he was considered dangerous and untrainable. In her 1957 book, The Popular Labrador Retriever, she chronicles her story of caring for the dog through illness, earning the animal’s trust through kindness, and training him to become a winning retriever. A copy of Howe’s book may be found in the NSLM’s Library Main Reading Room.

bolo, corbie, tangle
Reuben Ward Binks (English, 1880-1950), 1933 CH. Banchory Bolo, Corbie, and Beningbrough Tangle, 1933, watercolor on paper heightened with gouache, 13 1/2 x 15 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017, photo by Finley Stewart

Howe commissioned Binks to paint at least thirteen compositions that featured or included Bolo in a variety of settings and poses. The artist had made a career of painting portraits of dogs and their individual characteristics. He worked primarily in watercolor and gouache, a more opaque type of watercolor paint, throughout his career. Howe was one of his earliest patrons, and he went on to paint portraits for dog enthusiasts throughout England and America, including the British Royal family.

Thank you, Snipe
Reuben Ward Binks (English, 1880-1950), Thank you Snipe, watercolor on paper heightened with gouache, 7 x 6 1/4 inches, National Sporting Library & Museum, Bequest of Elizabeth D. Clark, 2017, photo by Finley Stewart

Many thanks to Garden & Gun for featuring the exhibition on its website.
Click Here to View Garden & Gun Gallery

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This is Curator of Permanent Collections Nicole Stribling’s final blog post. After 5 ½ years with NSLM, she has left her position due to a family relocation. Her insightful pieces will be missed.