EQUUS - - Conformati­on Insights -

The last quar­ter of the 18th century marked a pe­riod of tran­si­tion in which the gene com­plex that con­fers am­bling gait was grad­u­ally bred out of the Thor­ough­bred. The in­flux of the “new” type of Thor­ough­bred—which trot­ted and gal­loped and nei­ther pos­sessed nor sired easy gaits—alarmed South­ern plan­ta­tion own­ers such as Gen­eral John Hartwell Cocke of Vir­ginia, who found it in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to find good blooded saddlers. By the first quar­ter of the 19th century, am­bling Thor­ough­breds were con­sid­ered “old-fash­ioned.”

The con­tin­u­ing de­sire of plan­ta­tion barons like Cocke for easy-gaited horses of qual­ity and re­fine­ment is a re­flec­tion of the dif­fer­ences in cli­mate, ter­rain, life­style and means of liveli­hood which distin­guished North and South. While the South pre­sented wooded Ap­palachian hills or ex­ten­sive plan­ta­tions, by 1800 the North could al­ready brag of an ex­ten­sive net­work of smooth macadam roads. Mer­chants and peo­ple of means in the North be­gan to pre­fer to drive rather than ride, and one’s choice of ve­hi­cle be­came as much a sta­tus state­ment as it was a mat­ter of prac­ti­cal­ity. The de­mand in the North called for two types of har­ness horse: stout yet el­e­gant car­riage horses, and a lighter, fleeter type to pull bug­gies and the light­weight sin­gle-axle, high-wheeled carts that were then com­ing into fash­ion. Har­ness rac­ing events de­vel­oped from the 19th century equiv­a­lent of drag rac­ing en­gaged upon by men who could not bear to be “over­taken” and who could not re­sist hav­ing a sport­ing go against a ri­val along an empty stretch of pub­lic road.

Mes­sen­ger (1780) by Mam­brino (1768), both pic­tured here, are the sire­line an­ces­tors of all liv­ing Amer­i­can Stan­dard­bred trot­ters and pac­ers. Al­though of wholly Thor­ough­bred breed­ing, it is ob­vi­ous from the Ge­orge Stubbs por­trait of Mam­brino that he was of ex­cep­tion­ally stout make. The por­trait of his son, Mes­sen­ger, de­picts him as a more el­e­gant horse but still pos­sessed of quite sub­stan­tial bone.

Con­tem­po­rary re­porters no­ticed Mam­brino’s large head but at the same time praised it for dry­ness and qual­ity. Mes­sen­ger was im­ported to the U.S. in 1788.

The sim­i­lar­ity in con­for­ma­tion be­tween

Mam­brino and Young Roe­buck, also pic­tured here, is strik­ing. Both are sturdy horses, short in the back, broad across the coupling, with big rounded haunches, prom­i­nent breast­bone, shoul­der well “laid back,” and great length of rein (dis­tance be­tween the point of breast to the base of the with­ers). But where horses are of high qual­ity, it is not pos­si­ble to pre­dict from ap­pear­ances alone whether they will am­ble or trot. Young Roe­buck was bred by Gen­eral Cocke specif­i­cally to con­tinue a line of qual­ity easy-gaited “saddlers.” His sire was Old Roe­buck by Pow­ell’s Se­lim by im­ported Se­lim out of a so-called “coun­try bred” mare, in other words a good quar­ter­miler with lots of Hobby in her back­ground. Young Roe­buck was out of a half-bred mare by im­ported Druid; in other words, both these fine horses were more than 50 per­cent Hobby, and as a re­sult, they am­bled and sired am­bler-gal­lop­ers. Breed historian Mackay-Smith cites these horses as im­por­tant an­ces­tors of the mod­ern Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse, and their names ap­pear as well in the pedi­grees of Mor­gans, Sad­dle­breds and Stan­dard­breds.

En­larged minia­ture of Young Roe­buck (1810), by Old Roe­buck with pedi­gree as dis­cussed above. We will hear more about Gen­eral Cocke’s Roe­bucks in a fu­ture in­stall­ment de­tail­ing the ori­gin and his­tory of the Amer­i­can Quar­ter Horse. (cour­tesy, Mackay-Smith fam­ily col­lec­tion)


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