For those of us who have never attempted to ride in a sidesaddle, the idea might conjure images of a subdued and dainty rider unchallenged by her environment. For those knowledgeable about the physical ability needed to pursue hunting, however, sidesaddle riding evokes admiration and even awe for the skilled athlete who makes it appear effortless. Sporting artworks beginning with early depictions of women’s forays into the hunting field riding aside (as opposed to astride) on horseback reveal them to be highly trained equestrians fully capable of jumping and galloping alongside men, and sometimes besting them. The artwork spanning over three-hundred years in Sidesaddle, 1690-1935, on view through March 24, 2019, highlights these indomitable women.

The earliest painting in the exhibition is Jan Wyck’s Hare Hunting, c. 1690. Wyck, a Dutch painter, moved to England in the 1660s and became one of the first generation of sporting artists working in the emerging genre. In the painting, the hounds are in full cry on the line of a hare; two gentlemen and a lady follow at a gallop. She is shown relaxed and confident and in full control of her mount.

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Jan Wyck (Dutch, c. 1645 – 1700) Hare Hunting, c. 1690, oil on canvas, 56 x 48 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

How to Twist Your Neck, 1809, by Thomas Rowlandson is another great example. The caricature painted in watercolors is a humorous scene showing a lady at a full gallop following a hound. She is bent at the waist having just cleared a low branch. Behind her, her “pursuer” has not ducked and in shocked surprise is about to be dramatically unseated, having run neck-first into the limb.

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Thomas Rowlandson (British, 1756 – 1827), How to Twist Your Neck, 1809, watercolor on paper, 3 13/16 x 5 13/16 inches, Yale Center for British Art, Paul Mellon Collection

The painting aptly titled, A Confident Approach, by Henry Thomas Alken, shows an elegant lady foxhunter in a black riding habit and top hat about to take a fence, while the rest of the hunt field goes around, avoiding the jump. She is the only female in the scene, and her muddy skirt is a silent testimony to where she has already been.

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Henry Thomas Alken (British, 1785 – 1851) A Confident Approach, c. 1850, oil on canvas, 14 x 14 inches, Collection of Lorian Peralta-Ramos

The theme continues with Thomas Derville Rowlandon’s set of twelve Foxhunting Scenes. Going to the Meet, The Meet, A Good Start, Going Strong, A Momentary Check, Well Over, A Loose Horse, Hark Away, A Friendly Gate, From Scent to View, With the Leaders, and The Kill follows a lady’s successful day foxhunting on a gray. In Well Over, she jumps a stream with ease while a male hunter has barely cleared the jump and the horse of another has refused. In the next work in the sequence, the second male rider emerges from the stream while another having been unseated, runs after his horse. Each successive composition emphasizes the lady’s skill, often exceeding that of some of her male counterparts, over the course of the day.

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George Derville Rowlandson, (British, 1861 – 1928) Well Over and A Loose Horse; two of a set of twelve Foxhunting Scenes, before 1920, oil on canvas, 10 x 14 inches, Collection of Dr. & Mrs. Stephen Penkhus

In The Meynell – Away from Sutton Cross Roads, after 1920, by Frank Elgernon Stewart, the lady rider is a focal point of the composition in which the huntsman blows his horn and the hounds are in full cry. She is among the leaders of the hunt field following the esteemed hound pack, and she is shown keeping pace with ease, having just cleared a fence.

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Frank Algernon Stewart (British, 1877 – 1945) The Meynell – Away from Sutton Cross, Roads, after 1920, watercolor on paper, 9 x 28 inches, Collection of Dr. & Mrs. Stephen Penkhus

Each exhilarating work elevates sidesaddle equestrians as they overcame obstacles with skill and panache, riding aside over open country while in skirts. These ladies’ tenacity and grit continue to be celebrated in art to this day.

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Gail Guirreri-Maslyk (American, b. 1968), Meath Hunting Sidesaddle, I, 2013, oil on canvas, 60 x 48 inches, Collection of Ms. Karen Waldron and Mr. Shawn Ricci

pfeifferSidesaddle, 1690-1930 was co-curated by Claudia Pfeiffer and Dr. Ulrike Elisabeth Weiss, Lecturer at University of St. Andrews in Scotland and NSLM John H. Daniels Fellow.  Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

Anyone who has ever witnessed a horse race will undoubtedly recall the riot of color and pattern displayed by the jockeys on their jackets and caps.  Although this flamboyant wardrobe, known as racing colours, adds to the cachet of the sport, the colors and designs serve an important function in the racing world.  Each is unique to a specific horse owner and this “livery” allows judges, announcers, and spectators to more readily tell the horses apart.

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By Paul – HDR Style Horse Racing Photo, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

While reports of color being employed in horse or even chariot races go as far back as ancient Greece and Rome, the racing colours we are familiar with today have their origin in Great Britain in the mid 1700’s.  Up until then races were much longer, up to 4 miles, and usually had relatively few entrants.  This made it easy to tell the horses apart as the small field would tend to get strung out over the long distance of the race.  But as the popularity of racing grew so did the number of horses entered.  Additionally races began to be run over shorter distances at courses.  Both trends resulted in confusing clusters of horses and disputes over which horse had won.  Initial attempts at adding colored jackets were unsuccessful as multiple owners used the same colors or individual owners changed colors frequently.  By 1762 it became clear that something had to be done.

On October 4, 1762, the members of the English Jockey Club requested that owners submit specific colors for jacket and cap. To register their colors and to use them consistently in an attempt to distinguish riders among a field of horses or to settle disputes that might arise. This resulted the famous Newmarket resolution:

“For the greater conveniency of distinguishing the horses in running, as also for the prevention of disputes arising from not knowing the colours worn by each rider, the underwritten gentlemen have come to the resolution and agreement of having the colours annexed to the following names, worn by their respective riders…”

The document goes on to list 19 owners and the color assigned to each.  Once an owner had chosen and declared a jacket of a particular color, it became his property.  He was only permitted to run his horses under that color, and no other owner could run their horses under the same color.  However, after the passage of several years, ownership of the colours could be resigned and a new owner could obtain those colours as their own.  The Duke of Devonshire’s Straw-Colour is still in the same ownership today making them the oldest in continuous use.

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A cigarette card showing the Duke of Devonshire’s racing colours.  From Flickr Hive Mind

After quite a few false starts the racing community in American eventually followed suit and the Jockey Club began registering racing colours in 1895.  The first registered set was the scarlet jacket and cap belonging to John A. Morris.  Although registered in 1895, it is said these colours were in use at the Metairie Track in New Orleans in the mid 1850’s.

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Colours of John A. Morris.  The oldest in the United States.  Bill Christine’s top 10 most iconic silks

Over time patterned design elements for the sleeves and body of the jacket, and the cap have been added to the permitted colors allowing for a great deal of creativity.  Today there are over 28,000 registered colours.

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The Benson and Hedges Book of Racing Colours by The Jockeys’ Association of Great Britain, (1973) National Sporting Library & Museum.

The rules for design of racing colours continue to develop.  In the United States owners may choose to have an emblem or up to three initials on certain designs.  While in Great Britain bespoke designs that don’t have to adhere to the traditional rules can be created and registered for a large fee.

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A bespoke set of racing colours.

What would you choose?  A simple, elegant, single color, or something wild with several colors and design elements?  Try creating your own colours and see if they are available for registration here.


 

Erica Libhart has served as the Mars Technical Services Librarian at the National Sporting Library & Museum (NSLM) since early 2016. The focus of her position is collection services, working to increase accessibility to NSLM’s collection of books, periodicals, and archival materials. The NSLM collections span over 350 years of the history of equestrian sport, as well as fly fishing, wing shooting, and other field sports. Have a question? Contact Erica by e-mail

There are more things than books in the Library, and some of our most unusual items in the collection are stored in a tray in the Rare Book Room. The same tray has some of our unique, prehistoric materials as well as a small assortment of commemorative medallions and buttons. One medallion recently caught my eye, a rectangular bronze piece labeled J-B A CHAUVEAU:

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J.-B. A. Chauveau, by Paul Richer, unknown date. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Ellen B. Wells.

Some quick Googling revealed this to be Jean-Baptise Auguste Chauveau (1827-1917), a French veterinarian and professor. An interesting scene adorns the verso of the medallion:

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J.-B. A. Chauveau, by Paul Richer, unknown date. National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of Ellen B. Wells.

Initially, the scene reminded me of the how horses were used in antitoxin production. Upon further review, however, this appears to be a completely separate instance of horses paving the way for human medical progress.

Chauveau was an important figure in cardiology, wading into a decades-long debate on cardiac motion and the relation of that motion to the sounds of the heartbeat. in 1859, he teamed up with scientist and inventor Etienne-Jules Marey to invent a new way to study the subject using cardiac catheters. The collaboration was successful, with Chauveau and Marey clarifying the observation of the cardiac cycle and pioneering cardiac catheterization in the process.

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Auguste Chauveau (1827-1917) and assistants performing heart catheterisation on a horse. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Horses were used to study the new method of catheterization, for several reasons. First, Chauveau wanted to use an animal with a similar circulatory system to human beings, and horses were considered more anatomically close to humans than frogs or other research animals. Second, because the horse’s heart beats slower than a human heart, it was easier to make precise observations. The experiment with the horse was a resounding success, with Chauveau successfully inserting a catheter into the horse’s heart and studying the rhythm of its motion.

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Etienne-Jules Marey, surrounded by his many inventions. Accessed via Wikimedia Commons.

Chauveau moved on to other projects in the 1860s, and made significant contributions to understanding germ theory and tuberculosis. In his later life, he rose to Preisdent of the French Academy of Science and President of the French Academy of Medicine. His research on muscular metabolism contributed to the discovery that muscles metabolized glucose.

Marey went on to pioneer physical instrumentation, aviation, and cinematography. In 1882 he invented the chronophotographic gun, an instrument capable of taking 12 consecutive frames a second. His inventions made it possible to photograph animals and insects in their most rapid motions, blending photography and the study of physiology.


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 

NSLM is pleased to announce that Dr. Charles Caramello, a John H. Daniels Fellow, has recently had his new book published by Xenophon Press.  Eighteenth Century Equitation: “Military Equitation; A Method of Breaking Horses and Teaching Soldiers to Ride” by The Earl of Pembroke & “A Treatise on Military Equitation” by William Tyndale, provides facsimile copies of two classic English manuals on military horsemanship from the late 1700’s, and enhances them with notes and commentary by Dr. Caramello.

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Eighteenth Century Equitation: “Military Equitation; A Method of Breaking Horses and Teaching Soldiers to Ride” by The Earl of Pembroke & “A Treatise on Military Equitation” by William Tyndale with notes and commentary by Charles Caramello (2018).

Dr. Caramello is a Professor of English, and the Senior Advisor for Graduate Education at The University of Maryland.  He was accepted as a John H. Daniels Fellow for 2017 and conducted his research using several editions of Pembroke’s and Tyndale’s works in the NSLM’s collections.

His introduction and notes serve to set each piece in its historical context and to assist the modern-day reader in connecting with 18th century writing.  Additionally, the included facsimile copies of these works make them easily available to the general public.  The originals are housed in the F. Ambrose Clark Rare Book Room and require an appointment to view, but this new book may be accessed by the general public at any time in the Library’s Main Reading Room.

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John H. Daniels Fellow, Dr. Charles Caramello.

According to Dr. Caramello’s  introduction, “[e]questrian readers of Pembroke and Tyndale will engage with two eminently sensible military horsemen, learn from two seasoned trainers of horses and riders, and, if lucky, discover something new and unexpected about equestrian sport.” If this piques your interest please drop by the library and have a look.

Dr. Caramello has returned as a John H. Daniels Fellow for 2018 and is currently completing a book-in-progress, Horsemen, Horse Soldiers, and Grand Illusions, and is conducting research in the NSLM archives for a projected book on equitation between the two World Wars.


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

When a covey of quail is flushed, the birds instinctively take simultaneous flight from cover in an energetic burst, dispersing within seconds. It makes for challenging sport, and from mid-October to mid-March, in what is known as the Southern plantation belt, a tradition plays out, much like it has for over a hundred years. Georgia, South Carolina, and Alabama are known for premiere quail shooting. Many of the properties that are still in operation were acquired after the Civil War by industrialists who cultivated habitats for the game birds and popularized the genteel pursuit.

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Ogden Minton Pleissner (American, 1905 – 1983) The Covey Rise, 1960, watercolor on paper, sight size 16 ¾ x 28 inches, Gift of Private Collection, 2018

A recent donation from a private collector to the National Sporting Library & Museum, the watercolor Covey Rise, 1960, by prominent American sporting artist Ogden Minton Pleissner (1905-1983) offers a glimpse into this regional pastime. Two pointers are seen in a classic pose, pointing in the direction of the flushed quail flying toward a pine row, while two guns stand ankle deep in wet grass and take aim in the foreground. To the right, the mule-drawn wagon is equipped with seats for the gentlemen and space for the gun dogs and accouterments; it likely carries an elaborate luncheon to be enjoyed in the field.

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Pleissner painting outside of his cabin. Ogden Pleissner, 196-? / unidentified photographer. Ogden M. Pleissner papers, 1928-1976. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. [source: https://www.aaa.si.edu/collections/items/detail/ogden-pleissner-8477 ]
Pleissner was an avid sportsman who knew the nuances of upland bird shooting. He took up wingshooting in the 1930s and gained access to sporting camps, preserves, plantations, country estates, and patrons internationally. The artist’s sporting background informed his subject matter, and he became known for his painterly and authentic scenes such as Covey Rise, 1960. A previous owner of the picture, Andre W. Brewster, wrote Pleissner in June 1982:

I have long admired your work and finally purchased this watercolor at the Crossroads in New York a year or two ago. It reminds me much of Oketee [sic]…It would be most appreciated if you would write me of the place, time and circumstances of your painting of this particular watercolor.

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Letter from Andre W. Brewster to Mr. Ogden Pleissner, June 7, 1982, NSLM Curatorial files

The Okeetee Club, a game preserve to which Brewster referred, was started in 1894 by a group of New Yorkers who banded together to purchase 50,000 acres in South Carolina to establish the quail club. It featured a rice field that was reminiscent of the one depicted by Pleissner. The artist responded a few days later:

The watercolor that you have was painted several years ago at Talassee [sic] Plantation in Albany Georgia. I’m sorry it is not on Oketee [sic], but as the quail country all through the south is very similar it could very well have been there. I hope this will not spoil your enjoyment of the painting.

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Letter from Ogden M. Pleissner to Mr. Andre W. Brewster, June 11, 1982, NSLM Curatorial files

It is exciting when an artwork is accompanied by materials that shed such a personal light on a composition.  The recent addition of the watercolor and letters to NSLM’s collections is significant, not only as a representative work by Pleissner, but as a subject that is greatly underrepresented in the art collection. Depicting a classic aspect of sporting life that is still pursued today, Covey Rise, 1960, is now on view in the Museum. Stop by and see it in person! Plan Your Visit


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Claudia Pfeiffer has been the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Curator of Art at the National Sporting Library & Museum since the position was underwritten by the George L. Ohrstrom, Jr. Foundation in 2012. Her primary focus is the research, design, interpretation, writing, and installation of exhibitions. E-mail Claudia at cpfeiffer@nationalsporting.org

For approximately 75 years, from the 1850’s into the 1920’s, horses formed a key element of firefighting companies.  Prior to the introduction of horses, humans pulled the firefighting equipment to blazes.  The superior strength and speed of horses allowed longer ladder wagons, and larger pumpers and chemical wagons to be used, and the equipment and firefighters arrived to the scene of the fire much more quickly.

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Engine Company No. 3.  From Wikimedia Commons.

Horses chosen for service with the fire department had to meet certain criteria.  Often departments had specific weight requirements for horses.  For example, the weight requirements in the Detroit fire department were as follows:  Horses pulling hose wagons must weigh at least 1,100 pounds, to haul a steamer 1,400 pounds, and for a hook and ladder wagon 1,700 pounds.  Both mares and stallions were eligible for service.  The key traits necessary included strength, speed, obedience, intelligence, and fearlessness.

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Working Horses : Looking Back 100 Years to America’s Horse-Drawn Days by Charles Philip Fox (1990).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Little River Foundation.

After their frantic dash to the scene, horses were expected to stand calmly amidst the chaos while their human partners fought the fire.

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The team pulling the ladder wagon waiting calmly.  Working Horses : Looking Back 100 Years to America’s Horse-Drawn Days by Charles Philip Fox (1990).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Little River Foundation.

At the fire station, the horses were housed in stalls next to the equipment they were to pull.  When an alarm sounded, the stall doors would open and the horses were trained to dash to their positions in front of the wagons.  Harnesses suspended above them were dropped onto the horses’ backs, specially designed collars were snapped closed, and the team was charging out of the station house in only a few seconds.

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A three horse harness ready for horses to dash into position.  Note the stall doors in the background on the right.  Working Horses : Looking Back 100 Years to America’s Horse-Drawn Days by Charles Philip Fox (1990).  National Sporting Library & Museum, the gift of The Little River Foundation.

This video  from The Aurora Regional Fire Museum’s exhibit, Getting There • Getting Water • Getting Rescued: 150 years of the tools and technology used to fight fires and save lives, shows the fire horses in action.  We can see how quickly the team responds to an alarm, and how excited the horses are to jump into action.  The various types of wagons used can be seen, including pumpers and a ladder truck, as they roll out of the station.

The fire horses were well cared for and received daily exercise and grooming.  Some departments were large enough to employ their own veterinarians and farriers, and some had horse ambulances to support their equine members.  Working together in such strenuous and stressful conditions, it is not surprising that the firefighters developed strong bonds with their horses.  This can be seen in the numerous tributes to specific horses as they retired or died in the line of duty.

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Obituary for the popular retired fire horse Chubby.  From “Firefighter Chubby” on the Craft Company No. 6 site.

The members of the Rochester Fire Department petitioned the local cemetery to allow them to bury fallen fire horses in the fireman’s plot.  When the cemetery refused, the local chapter of the American Legion erected a bronze plaque in honor of all the horses that served in the fire department.  It reads,

Our FireHorses
Glorious in beauty and in service;
Faithful Friends
We cannot call them dumb
Because they spoke in deeds
In every hour of danger
Perpetual remembrance
Enshrines their loyalty and courage

By the 1920’s fire departments began exchanging their horses for trucks.  In many towns ceremonial “last runs” were held in which the fire horses responded to a false alarm and the public lined the streets in tribute.

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Last run of Barney, Gene, and Tom, Dist. Fire Dept. horses. From the Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons.

Although their day had passed their contributions to the community were honored and they still feature prominently in many firefighting museums across the country.


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