With the same techniques used to create museum exhibits, we “reconstruct” four famous stallions, imagining what they looked like and how they moved.
With the same techniques used to create museum exhibits, we “reconstruct” four famous stallions, imagining what they looked like and how they moved.
The first three parts of this series revealed the amazing amount of information every bone and tooth in a horse’s body can convey. The CBS television series “CSI” has brought this field, along with its sister discipline “forensic analysis,” into public awareness, but both derive from the traditional museum science in which I have been trained. These fields require similar knowledge, especially with respect to interpreting evidence from bones and teeth.
In this final installment, we step back to look at the big picture: the full skeleton. First we ask what the individual looked like in life---this is similar to the work of the police sketch artist who fleshes out the skull of an unidentified murder victim as part of the effort to solve a “cold case.” The concept of “reconstructing the life appearance” is an essential part of creating museum exhibits designed to enthrall the viewer. It involves making anatomically precise drawings, paintings and threedimensional models that bring dinosaurs, Neanderthals and Tamerlane authentically “to life” from their bony remains. Of course, having images of nearest relatives would also be useful, so to assist in this important bit of fun, I have dug up 19th century photographs of sons of Morgans Black Hawk and Ethan Allen and the American Thoroughbred Lexington. How much do the sons resemble their sires?
Building on photos and reconstructions, we can take the process a step or two further than is usual in police investigation or evidence gathering for a jury trial. First, I analyze and compare the conformation of the four horses under study. How often do you see a conformation analysis of a horse who died over a century ago? Or one of a stallion who is the ancestor of literally thousands of horses alive today? There’s no question as to the importance of this aspect of our study to anyone who owns or breeds horses.
Another thing not often done during the investigation of a crime is reconstructing the movement style of the deceased individual, but this is certainly relevant to anybody interested in buying or training a horse. Insofar as it is valid to deduce movement style and athletic capability (“form to function”) from the skeletons of living horses--something we have done hundreds of times in these pages---it is also valid to deduce it from the skeletons of horses who lived a century and a half ago.
Did foundational Morgan sires Black Hawk and Ethan Allen really move like those old Currier and Ives lithographs seem to show? Did Lexington, one of the champions of the old heat-racing contests, use a galloping style different from his many descendants who have been winners over much shorter distances? Are there any pathologies evident in the skeletons that would have affected the horses’ ability to move easily and swiftly?
The skeletal remains of the four stallions analyzed in this series are of incredible value because they are not mere anonymous “specimens” but horses whose history, athletic accomplishments, pedigree and progeny
we know. For the full dossier on each, please refer to “Bones Speak Volumes” (EQUUS 482); here’s a brief summary.
Black Hawk— Morgan, by Sherman Morgan by Justin Morgan, out of a part-Thoroughbred mare. Foaled April 1, 1833, in Durham, New Hampshire; died December 1, 1856, age 23. He was the most popular sire of his era, the first American stallion to command a stud fee of more than $100, and the founder of a major bloodline within the Morgan breed.
Ethan Allen— Morgan, by Black Hawk out of Poll, she by Red Robin by Justin Morgan, and tracing on the distaff side to Bulrush Morgan and Canadian horses. Foaled June 18, 1849, in Ticonderoga, New York; died September 10, 1876, in Lawrence, Kansas, age 27. He was a champion at the harness track, the most widely admired horse of the Civil War era, and in his own right the founder of a major Morgan bloodline.
Lexington— American Thoroughbred, by Boston out of Alice Carneal. Foaled in Kentucky in 1849 or 1850; died July 1, 1875, age 25. The most successful Thoroughbred sire of all time, his name appears in the pedigrees of 75 percent of living American Thoroughbreds.
Rolf— Przewalski's horse (Mongolian Wild Horse) stallion, by Severin out of Rosette. Foaled at the Hellabrunn Zoo in Munich, Germany, on June 6, 1951; died May 7, 1981, at the Topeka Zoo in Kansas, age 30, a longevity record for his subspecies at the time.
In previous installments we examined limb bones and feet looking primarily for soundness issues, and then we took a close look at the skull especially with respect to the condition of
the teeth. The last body zone we need to analyze is the spine, which is especially relevant because normal equine movement begins in the spine. If the condition of the joints between the vertebrae inhibited flexibility, it is certain that the animal would not have been able to walk, trot, canter or gallop in a normal manner.
Rolf— I begin with Rolf’s case because it provides a valuable baseline. A resident of zoos for his entire 30 years, this stallion was periodically turned out in pasture to run with a herd of mares. The majority of the time, however, Rolf lived on the main zoo grounds, in an enclosure where he could be viewed by the public.
Examination of Rolf’s skeleton shows arthropathy affecting nearly every joint,
but particularly evident in the joints of the vertebral chain (“spondyloarthropathy”). The widespread nature and severity of bony changes in his skeleton, with exostosis and alterations in the normal bone contours so great that they even invade the vertebral canal, suggest chronic inflammation affecting all body systems, rather than individual lesions caused by strain or injury.
It would be difficult to pinpoint the cause of chronic inflammation and resultant changes to normal bone structure, but I can state on the basis of 40 years of experience with bones of zoo animals housed in museum collections worldwide that such pathologies as exostosis, arthritis and loss of bone mineral content (osteoporosis) are far more common in zoo equines than in
wild or feral horses and somewhat more common and often more severe than in domestic horses. Equines kept in zoos include not only Przewalski’s horses but wild asses, onagers and zebras.
Those animals are usually kept precisely because they are exotic--from far-flung areas across Africa and Asia---so it would be a reasonable guess that we do not fully understand how to feed them properly. The species of grasses that these animals eat in their native areas are not always readily available in the United States. Further, it is known that mustangs on range consume a far greater variety of grasses and forbs than do most domesticated horses, and the same was true of the Przewalski’s horse in its original range in the Gobi high desert of Mongolia. At all seasons, even when grass is available, the Przewalski’s horse supplemented its diet by nibbling on a wide variety of broadleaf plants and even brush. The one tasty comestible, however, that no wild equine has ever been observed to eat is alfalfa (in Europe called “lucerne”), and yet in zoos, as in many stables, this forb forms the bulk of the diet.
There are bloodlines even among domesticated horses that cannot tolerate alfalfa, and in which the consumption of this legume causes a variety of inflammatory, allergic-type reactions in the short term and changes to bone metabolism and microstructure in the long term. The response of breeders has been to try to breed horses that will tolerate alfalfa---as most domesticated horses do. But this is the very point: wild equines and the Przewalski’s horse in particular have never been selected for mankind’s purposes or convenience, so there is at least some reason to think that a diet consisting of 50 percent or more of alfalfa might provoke
occult and insidious inflammation that would affect many of the body’s metabolic processes.
So much for wild equines considered as a whole. How common is severe arthritis in Przewalski’s horses worldwide? The answer is not known to me, but it would be telling, because all the Przewalski's horses now in existence descend from only nine of 13 ancestors who were taken from the wild, the last being the mare Orlitza captured in 1947. Although strong efforts have been made to ensure “outcrossing” among Przewalski bloodlines, in a horse population descended from such a small number of ancestors, outcrossing doesn’t amount to much total genetic diversity. I therefore think it reasonable to expect all Przewalski’s horses to react to alfalfa similarly. Nonetheless, it is possible that Rolf is simply an individual who was particularly susceptible to systemic arthritis. Also keep in mind that Rolf died at age 30, old by any
measure and a longevity record for his subspecies that stood for many years. The opportunity for the development of arthritic changes, and their severity, tends to increase with age.
Rolf’s case should also serve as a warning not to over-interpret spinal pathologies; they cannot all be blamed upon the highly unnatural act of riding or on ill-fitting saddles or abuse. As a zoo animal Rolf was, of course, never ridden. Even taking diet and genetic susceptibility into consideration, the adage “never get into the rocking chair because you may never get out” probably holds true in his case: It is hard on horses to be stalled or penned for long stretches, and lack of movement probably also took a toll.
Everything in horsekeeping involves management decisions---in the stable as much as in the zoo---because there is no “natural” way to ride and no “natural” way to keep horses as long as they are fenced in enclosures smaller than
about 40 acres, particularly if the enclosure contains only a few different nutritious plant species. Horses who must be kept off pasture because they over-fatten and/or have metabolic disease or other medical conditions that rule out free-range grazing benefit greatly from regular riding. Many a domestic horse, whether stall-kept or pastured, has been maintained as a good and capable performer long into his 20s and even 30s by regular, sympathetic and skillful riding.
Black Hawk— This foundational Morgan sire shows little bony pathology anywhere in his skeleton, despite having lived 23 years. There are no detectable pathologies involving Black Hawk’s spine, the only surprise being a lumbar vertebral count of only five.
Ethan Allen— Due to burial in the ground for 13 years, Ethan Allen’s bones show greater degradation from soil acids and insect and bacterial attack than do any of the others. Nonetheless, this horse, like his sire, presents nothing in the way of vertebral pathology. He has
a normal lumbar count of six, with the L5-L6 joint as well as the lumbosacral joint completely unfused and free of pathology. Just for interest’s sake, compare Ethan Allen’s L5-L6 joint (page 41) to that of an 1,800-year-old horse recovered from a Roman fort in northern England. The ancient horse shows fusion not due to pathology but indicating Eastern (not Arabian) influence (the Arabian horse did not come into existence until about 700).
Lexington— While both Black Hawk and Ethan Allen were used almost exclusively for driving, as a flat-track racer Lexington was ridden. Lexington’s back is very abnormal; literally every vertebral joint from the base of the withers (T5-T6) rearward to the lumbosacral joint shows exostosis. Movement at most of the joints was seriously compromised; some are solidly fused together. During Lexington’s career in the 1850s, jockeys still used the “back seat” riding style, in which the jockey’s butt slaps down against the saddle with every galloping leap (to see this happening, go online to the Wikipedia page on Eadweard Muybridge where you can view contemporary 19th century zoopraxiscope “films” of Thoroughbreds being ridden in the back-seat jockeying style). Repeated concussion set up a localized inflammatory process that eventuated in exostoses and fusions concentrated in the saddle area.
Lexington’s career at the track lasted only two years, due to the fact that he became completely blind at the age of 5 (see “Oral History,” EQUUS 484). He retired to stud, as historians have noted “sound of wind and limb”---but not really sound at all. In previous feature articles (“Secrets of Secretariat’s Speed,” EQUUS 434, and “American Pharoah and the Triple Crown,” EQUUS 458) I have pointed out that the most important determinant of speed is not to be looked for in the conformation of a racehorse’s limbs, but rather in the flexibility of the spine. While no horse will run if there is pain in his hooves, and no horse will win if he can’t breathe, Lexington was completely sound in these respects. I conclude from his track record---the horse set records nearly every time out---that until he was 5 Lexington’s back could still flex, and thus he galloped normally, powerfully, and efficiently.
There is another reason to believe this: At 5 years old, a horse’s vertebrae have barely matured. The last vertebral growth plates to close pertain to the lowest three joints in the neck. Otherwise the vertebrae become mature
from the sacrum forward, the process beginning at about 18 months of age with the sacrum and atlas but not completing (at the base of the neck) until the horse is at least 6 years old. In the 19th century it was common for a flat-track racer not to start his career until age 5 or even 6, and I suspect that Richard Ten Broeck, who owned Lexington from the age of 3, knew that the horse was likely to go blind. He was therefore motivated to get him into competition as early as possible.
Two factors thus conspired in Lexington’s life to cause the development of spinal fusions: demand for extreme athletic effort before physical maturity, and being constantly smacked in the back. Close-up photos of Lexington’s vertebrae show that the nature and pattern of his spinal pathologies is different than in Rolf. Rolf’s lesions are prickly-looking exostoses and he has three fused thoracic vertebrae. While some of Lexington’s lesions are also prickly exostoses, most of them consist of thick secondary bony deposits with a smooth texture that glue adjacent vertebrae together. This is also true, for example, of a pair of Roman horse vertebrae from the same archaeological site mentioned above--a much more ancient horse in which I suspect that fusion was also due to unsympathetic riding. In both the Roman horse and in Lexington, abnormal bone deposition is concentrated on the top and bottom aspects of the vertebrae; this is not true of Rolf, whose lesions are mainly on the tops of the dorsal processes and on the sides of vertebral joints. In Lexington, there is a very clear spinal fusion between thoracics 12 and 13---just beneath the fore arch of the saddle; the Roman horse’s fusion occurs at the very same joint.
If Lexington’s back was still flexible when he was 5, when did fusions develop? My suggestion is that the concussional insults the horse endured during his race career provoked inflammation in the deep tissues along his back, an inflammation that would already have been noticeable before he was retired to stud. It is easy to imagine that the stallion might have been rather “girthy” in the saddling paddock, and despite his reputation for having an easygoing temperament, he might have laid back his ears, tried to duck away from the saddle, crow-hopped or taken a swipe with a hind foot at the stablehand attempting to tighten the girth. At most racing stables, even today, this sort of “behavior”---actually the horse’s attempt
This professional engraving of Black Hawk (A) was made from life. In 1845, trottinghorse fancier S.W. Jewett made a drawing of Black Hawk from life (B), when the stallion was 12 years old. Photographs of Black Hawk sons, Smith’s Black Hawk (A) and Hemenway’s horse, a.k.a. Farmer (B). to communicate that he is uncomfortable---is usually dismissed as being “just the way horses are.”
R.A. Alexander purchased Lexington from Richard Ten Broeck in 1856 and retired the now-blind horse to stud. At Alexander’s Woodburn stables in Kentucky, Lexington was managed in the traditional English manner: for fear of catching a chill, he was blanketed to the nines at all seasons, and the stable was kept dark and unventilated. The stallion was taken out daily to stale, roll and water and was ridden several times per week for exercise, but because of his blindness he was not permitted on pasture.
Lexington made his owner far more money as a breeding sire than he had as a racehorse; the stallion got more than 375 registrable colts and fillies during a 20-year career at stud, that is, about 20 per year. Assuming a 60 percent rate of successful foaling, this means that Lexington was mated to about 26 mares per season, each of which he would probably mount at least twice. Thus, even as Lexington lost his sight and his ability to gallop normally, he retained the ability to mount mares. A case might be made that Lexington’s back pathologies were caused strictly by the strain of mounting, but the pattern of pathology---directly under the saddle area yet not greatly affecting the lumbar span---argues against this idea. Lexington’s cervical vertebrae are also clear of pathology.
RECONSTRUCTION OF LIFE APPEARANCE
Rolf— Since this stallion lived in recent times, one might have hoped for a good conformation photo that would make “reconstructing” his life appearance unnecessary. Unfortunately, there are no side shots of him that can be
used for conformation analysis---although it is easy to find photographs of other Przewalski’s horses. They are distinctive in possessing an erect mane--the hairs are not significantly stiffer than those of domestic horses, but as in asses, onagers and zebras, simply do not grow longer than about four to five inches. In the winter season the mane along with the body coat becomes much thicker, and the horse grows long “beard” hairs from the jowls to the muzzle. There is no foretop at any season.
The Przewalski’s horse also has a distinctive tail; the upper portion is “capped” by a thick tuft of somewhat stiff, short, lighter-colored hairs, which extend outward and downward from the top and sides of the dock. The tail cap grows thick and long in winter and serves to shelter the thin skin of the perineum from icy winter blasts.
The Przewalski coat color ranges from a tawny golden shade to brown tinged with red. The patterning is similar to dun in domestic horses: There is always a dark dorsal stripe, dark points, and horizontal striping on the legs that extends upward from the dark cannons and pasterns to as high as the elbows and thighs. The muzzle is, however, mealy rather than black and there is a mealy ring about the eye. Przewalski’s horses are shaded darker along the upper half of the neck, the upper shoulder, and along the back, while the lower half of the neck, breast, belly, inner flanks and the caudal aspects of the thighs shade into a light cream, in some individuals almost white; the technical name for this pattern is “pangaré.” Bright white, sharply-delineated markings on the face, body or legs are, however, never present.
I mention coat color because dun color and patterning with leg stripes is often considered to be “primitive.” In actual fact, there is not a single thing about the Przewalski’s horse that is primitive, and it is a mistake to think of any horse as being primitive simply on the basis of coat color. Buckskincolored domestic horses such as the Sorraia of Portugal and some mustangs in the United States are no more primitive than any other domestic horses. The Przewalski’s horse is not the ancestor of domestic horses; it has a chromosome compliment of 66, and the domestic horse has 64. While it is possible for Przewalski’s horses to interbreed with domestic horses, the two subspecies also have significant differences in DNA.
Przewalski’s horses have not been part of the long history of domestication, and their breeding has not been directed for human purposes. Because of this, there are many conformation differences between domestic and Przewalski’s horses. While the skeletal frame differs, their muscular anatomy is almost identical. From a photo I took of one of Rolf’s mares in the 1980s, and from notes I made during my study
of Rolf’s carcass, it has been possible to produce the image of the muscular anatomy of a typical Przewalski horse on page 58.
Black Hawk— Unfortunately, the mounted skeleton of Black Hawk has suffered damage in the 160 years since it was collected and mounted at the behest of medical doctor and veterinary surgeon George Dadd. My inspection revealed several episodes of damage, including breakage, clumsy attempts at repair and cleaning, warping of the armature, incorrect re-articulation of some of the bones, and misdirected efforts to deform the mount to force it to conform to certain modern “show horse” ideals. Taxidermists and osteologists of the 19th century took pride, rather, in producing skeletal mounts so balanced, so well articulated, and so realistic in pose that they seemed to come alive before the viewer’s very eyes. In this tradition, and in hopes that they will serve as a model for needed restoration of the actual skeleton, I present a digital restoration of Black Hawk’s skeleton. I presented the digitally restored skull for close-up study in our last installment; in the full skeleton I have “repaired” bones that were broken by accident or vandalism, and I have repositioned the neck, back, pelvis and hind limbs to reflect a natural stance.
From this digital re-mounting it has been possible to derive a realistic drawing of the life appearance of this grand old horse. Two quality engravings were made of Black Hawk during his lifetime, but both suffer from the artistic conventions of the day, which called for the artist to shrink the size of the head, muzzle, ears and distal parts of the limbs, while lengthening the neck and enlarging the hindquarters. My drawing, made from the digitally restored skeleton, is closer to Black Hawk’s actual appearance, corroborated by photographs of three of Black Hawk’s sons. I think Hemenway’s horse, Farmer, was particularly like his sire and a very beautiful animal indeed. As we will see in the conformation analysis on page 51, Black Hawk was a superior individual and it is not surprising that he was the most popular breeding sire of his day.
Ethan Allen— This son of Black Hawk was unlike his sire in many ways: Proportionally longer in back, body and limbs and less correct in having somewhat crooked or “over-angulated” hind limbs, he was overall more “framey” and less broad-bodied. Nonetheless
Ethan Allen shows his sire’s long neck, big powerful hindquarters, magnificent shoulder, substantial bone, broad hocks and knees, good hooves and undulating nasal profile. Ethan Allen’s proportions are lovely and harmonious, and he was an elastic, longstriding, “clean” mover in harness who was capable of racing speed at the trot.
We have good photographs of two of Ethan Allen’s sons, both of them founders of Morgan breeding dynasties in their own right. Daniel Lambert, who was as good-minded and kind a horse as his sire, in many ways harks back to Black Hawk: Note the long, cresty neck, short, wide back and spectacular shoulder. He has wide, substantial hocks and correctly angulated hind limbs but is a little light of bone and tied in under the knee in front. Honest Allen (1855) is about as solid a horse as anybody could wish for: He presents the same harmonious build as his sire while adding more bone substance. The popularity of these horses in their day is a testament to the commonsense consumerism of our forefathers, who depended upon horses to help them in almost every aspect of life. Farmers, ranchers, merchants and townsmen all wanted sound horses, easy to break in and train, who were both efficient in movement and beautiful to look at.
It is not necessary to restore Ethan Allen's life appearance, since we hae an excellent photograph taken by the noted stereographers Schereiber and Sons when the horse was 10 years old and at the peak of his athletic career. I have therefore taken thee opportunity to work the usual museum restoration process in reverse, and have used the photograph as a guide to digitally re-articulate the skeleton, which is in too fragile a condition to mount.
Lexington— Lexington died in 1875 and spent three years underground, at which point his owner, R.A. Alexander, donated his remains to the U.S. National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution. The museum contracted with Ward’s Natural Science Establishment to mount the skeleton. I present photos of it taken from both sides: one taken recently by me, and the other taken in 1879, soon after completion of the mounting job but before the skeleton was put on exhibit. A full rightside view of Lexington’s skeleton has not been available (due to the positioning of the mount in its glass case) for over a century.
Ward’s technicians probably had access to the one existing photograph of Lexington, and I believe that this influenced them in choosing the pose for the mount, with the horse’s neck and head projected somewhat stiffly to the front. It is always interesting to look at contemporary artwork, and in this case we can demonstrate a cascade of influence. The famous painting of Lexington “from life” by Edward Troye, completed in about 1860, restores normal eyes to “the blind hero of Woodburn” (the globes of Lexington’s eyes had deteriorated by the time the photograph was taken of him, which was at about the same time that Troye visited the horse for the purpose of making sketches). Troye’s painting, like the artistic renditions of Black Hawk, conforms to the artistic fashion of the mid-19th century in portraying the horse’s neck longer, the head smaller, the muzzle finer and the distal parts of the limbs tinier than they were in real life. The photograph confirms that Troye’s rendition is accurate in portraying a smoothly-conformed and wellbalanced horse who had exceptionally big, powerful haunches; high, sharp withers; a well-coupled back; shapely neck; and a long and elegant but more upright shoulder than the Morgan horses previously examined. While Troye’s painting depicts unrealistically thin limbs and small hooves, study of the skeleton confirms that Lexington really had finer limbs and longer forearms, cannons and pasterns than the Morgans while not sacrificing anything
in the way of breadth of hock or knee.
An important fact that should be borne in mind is that, although Lexington has usually been reported to have stood 15:1 hands or taller, measurement of the skeletal mount proves that he could not have stood more than 14:2 hands.
We have good photographs of two of Lexington’s sons, both foaled in 1861 and both out of daughters of Glencoe (almost 70 percent of Lexington’s foals were out of Glencoe daughters, and R.A. Alexander managed to round up a spectacular broodmare band containing almost 50 of these, as well as daughters of Stockwell, Woodpecker, Albion, Vandal, American Eclipse and a dozen other very famous Thoroughbred sires. There is no question that Lexington was given the opportunity to cover the very best). Norfolk is light in build and rather high in the knees but carries his sire’s powerful hindquarters, near-level body balance, long slashing shoulder, and long neck.
Of the two colts, Asteroid is the more beautiful, presenting all of the abovementioned good qualities while adding more substance. Because of the danger posed by Confederate raiders--Kentucky never seceded from the Union and was not officially a part of the Confederacy---Alexander moved Lexington and many valuable broodmares to Illinois for the duration of the Civil War. In 1864, Asteroid---only 3 years old at the time---was kidnapped from Woodburn by a band of Confederate guerillas. Alexander immediately sent a Union militia captain, out of uniform and incognito, to find the rustlers and recover the horse. Catching up to them, the captain made up a sob story about the colt being the Alexander family’s beloved pet. The guerillas, unaware of the horse’s true value, agreed to ransom him for $250. What I think most significant about this story is that out of all the horses at Woodburn, the
raiders went for Asteroid, the best and most beautiful colt of the lot.
Black Hawk vs. Ethan Allen— It’s interesting to begin this section by comparing sire and son. Black Hawk is in all but one way the better of the two horses---but I say this without taking anything away from Ethan Allen, who was a very good horse in his own right. Reviewing the table of measured body proportions and angles (see “Comparative Conformation Analysis,” page 40), Black Hawk is, to begin with, a rarity in possessing a level or even “uphill” body balance. He also has the shorter, broader and stronger back and the more substantial and correctly articulated limbs. These three factors are very reliable predictors of athletic capability and potential soundness.
Despite contemporary artwork that makes his head look dainty, Black Hawk had the kind of massive, well-carved and noble head which we today associate with the Andalusian and the Lipizzan---in my opinion, the best and most desirable of all head types. Despite its substance and depth, Black Hawk’s head was not overly large for his body but in good proportion. The head sat atop a wonderful neck of exceptional length yet normal shape, at once strong and flexible. The shoulderbed from which it sprang was welldefined, the shoulder itself laid back some 52 degrees, guaranteeing that the forelimb action would be carried well to the front.
Black Hawk’s haunches were shapely and of good size but of course do not match the exaggerations of contemporary artwork; the pelvis measures just shy of 30 percent of the body length, about average for domestic horses. Black Hawk had the kind of rounded haunch which is typical of Morgan horses, with a fairly steep croup and only about six degrees of difference in slope between the croup and pelvis.
Black Hawk’s cannon bones and gaskins were short and stout, a factor that generally predicts good breadth through the knee and hock joints. At the same time, his femur is proportionally long, a factor helping to guarantee a long stride although not a rapid one. As we will see in the section on style of movement (page 55), Black Hawk was what today we call a “roadster”---indeed, the most ideal roadster horse of all time.
Black Hawk’s son Ethan Allen is more of a racehorse than his papa; he is narrower-bodied overall, proportionally a little longer in the limbs and higher in the croup, with an overall body balance that goes a couple of degrees downhill. Ethan Allen’s total hind limb length is greater than his sire’s and perhaps a little greater than it should have been; horse fanciers of his day noticed Ethan Allen’s “crooked” hind
limbs, the term “crooked” meaning over-angulated or a little too “Z”-shaped. But over-angulation is really nothing more than extra total hind limb length packed under the croup. A hind limb with a little extra length will, of course, add to the length of the hind step---the distance a horse can reach forward with the hind hooves during movement. It is a mistake to confuse this, however, with stride length---the distance the horse’s body flies forward through the air during the period when no hooves are upon the ground. Long stride is created by powerful effort of the muscles that originate on the pelvis and insert upon the femur, gaskin and point of hock.
Indeed, the one major area where Ethan Allen bests his sire is in the length and structure of the pelvis and sacrum. His pelvis is a smidge longer and a few degrees more horizontal in carriage, with a much larger difference between the croup slope, which is nearly level, and the pelvic slope. This difference---a predictor of speed--is called an “Arabian triangle” and is almost exclusively found in Arabians and Thoroughbreds (see “The Source of Power,” EQUUS 402). Ethan Allen descends from no close-up Arabian ancestor but does hark back to Thoroughbreds on both sides of the pedigree. As we will see in the movement assessment, while Black Hawk is the epitome of the roadster---stylish in movement but not fast by modern standards---Ethan Allen is built to be the champion harness racer that he actually was.
The Morgans vs. Lexington— Both Ethan Allen and Lexington are “racier” horses than Black Hawk, and they share a list of conformational features that conduce to speed: relatively flat body, proportionally long pelvis and long limbs. Both have downhill overall body balance, though Lexington is balanced about four degrees more downhill than Ethan Allen. We have noted that Ethan Allen’s hind limbs are a bit over-angulated, but Lexington’s are correctly built, like Black Hawk’s. Whereas a little extra total hind limb length can help a harness horse, a straighter hind limb is usually preferred in a flat-track galloper.
In overall proportions, the greatest difference Lexington presents is in the relationship between withers height and body length: He is taller than long, whereas both Morgans stand over more ground. Interestingly, Lexington’s body is not shorter because his back is shorter but because his shoulder is significantly steeper. This, too, is typical of the flat-track racer. There is a ninedegree difference in shoulder angle between Lexington and Black Hawk, which as any farrier will tell you, makes a big difference in the “style” of forelimb movement---either long, flat and efficient as in the racehorse, or rounder and higher as in the harness horse. In harmony with a more upright shoulder are Lexington’s relatively steep and somewhat short pasterns.
Lexington’s build is also taller than long because he has proportionally long legs. This is particularly evident in the forequarter, with the lengths of shoulder, arm, forearm and fore cannon
all longer than in the Morgans. This kind of build gives the galloper tremendous “reach” and, because during the gallop the horse pushes off from the forelimbs as well as from the hind limbs, it is a significant help to speed. The primary engine for speed is, however, the horse’s hindquarter. As we might expect, Lexington’s pelvis at 32.5 percent of the body length is the largest of the horses analyzed, giving the most potential power.
Lexington’s head is noticeably wedge-shaped with big jowls tapering to a fine muzzle. It is proportionally smaller than in either Morgan, while his neck is even longer than Black Hawk’s.
Rolf and other Przewalski’s horses— The Przewalski’s horse presents many significant conformational differences when compared to any domestic horse of Arabian, Turkmene or Thoroughbred extraction and is different even from such superficially similar domestic breeds as the Icelandic, Gotland or Norwegian Fjord. One of the most important differences---and one that does not show up directly in the table of measurements---is in the height and definition of the withers. All of the lighter and smaller domestic horse breeds have, at some historical period, been ridden, and many are primarily intended for riding. One of the first effects that mankind had in shaping the domestic horse was to select for higher, sharper withers, for the very practical reason that this materially assists a rider in staying on and is especially handy to keep the saddle from rolling. Compare the height of the dorsal processes that structure the withers in the Przewalski’s horse skeletal mount with their height in either of the Morgans or, especially, in Lexington. High withers have the double benefit of
assisting neck function, especially important in racing and jumping; but the Przewalski's horse has never experienced selection for a longer, finer neck.
Riding horses benefit in terms of both soundness and style when the forearm is long but the fore cannon bone is short; the Przewalski’s horse presents the opposite. The hind cannons are longer than in most domestic horses as well, even though the total hind limb length is significantly shorter: The Przewalski’s horse has somewhat open hind angles, which assists speed. The pelvis is of about average length for domestic horses and has more slope than we find in Lexington or the Morgans, with a significantly bigger “Arabian triangle.” Speed is, of course, crucial to a wild animal whose life depends upon fleeing predators.
One cannot look at a Przewalski’s horse and not be struck by how large and heavy the animal’s head is: about 5 percent longer than domestic horses compared to body length and a whopping 30 percent longer compared to the length of the neck. The muzzle is very deep, giving the head a boxy rather than a wedge shape. The Przewalski’s heavy head is an adaptation to surviving extremes of cold and heat---it has large sinuses and nasal cavities that serve to warm inspired air during the frigid winter and to humidify dry air during the heat of the Gobi summer. A deep head also allows longer reserve crowns to the teeth and thus a potentially longer lifespan---an animal in the wild cannot survive after its teeth wear out. Deep heads that have a straight or slightly arched facial profile tend to be the most problem-free in terms of dental malocclusions. People of all cultures have spent thousands of years selecting for greater refinement in the heads of domestic horses, and that’s fine---to a point. But the Przewalski’s horse teaches us that breeders who can’t see past an “extreme” head with a sharply concave facial profile and tiny muzzle do no service to their breed or to the horse species as a whole.
Another very significant difference is in overall body balance---the Przewalski’s horse is balanced steeply downhill. While this is no impediment to speed, it makes the horse uncomfortable for a rider to sit on while simultaneously making the task of carrying the rider and achieving collection more difficult for the horse. Even the Quarter Horse and allied breeds that are typically built “downhill” rarely are as forwardtilted as the Przewalski’s horse.
Probably the single most significant difference between the Przewalski subspecies and domestic horses is in bone substance: The Mongolian wild horse measures nine to 14 inches of bone-tendon circumference per 1,000 pounds of weight, while the average for domestic horses is just over seven inches. Loss of bone substance has been noted in every hoofed domesticate. Analysis of remains of domestic vs. wild sheep, goats and cattle recovered from archaeological digs dating to the beginning of animal domestication shows that loss of bone substance occurred almost as soon as the species came into domestication. In short, people’s first priority after capturing animals from the wild for the purpose of breeding them was to create smaller, slighter and weaker versions of their wild ancestors, probably to make them
easier to handle. However, we do not keep most breeds of horses to shear them, slaughter them for meat, or milk them, but rather value them primarily for strength, soundness and capacity for work.
I have often on this basis encouraged domestic breeders not to fall in love with exaggerated “ideals” of refinement, such as is depicted in 19th century artwork. We already have plenty of refinement; what horse breeders mainly need to do nowadays is guard the soundness of domestic horses of all breeds. That is best done by ensuring that racehorses have at least 7.5 inches of bone-tendon circumference per 1,000 pounds of weight, and eight inches in horses intended for riding (see “A Sense of Proportion,” EQUUS 388).
MOVEMENT STYLE— “FORM TO FUNCTION”
One of the most hotly debated questions during the 19th century was whether or not a galloping horse ever “flew thro’ the air” with no foot in contact with the ground. Artists of the time almost always showed horses in this pose, both at trot and gallop, but this was recognized even then as being a draughtsman’s convention. Not until just after Lexington’s death was the controversy put to rest by Eadweard Muybridge, who pioneered motioncapture by using multiple cameras and projected the resulting images with his invention, the rotating zoopraxiscope.
It turns out that both factions in the controversy were wrong. Although Muybridge’s work confirmed that there is indeed a period of suspension during which all four of the horse’s feet are off the ground in trot, canter and gallop, the artistic convention tended to represent this in an exaggerated way. With respect to the gallop, there is actually a phase during a variant of the gait, called the double-suspension or rotatory gallop, in which the horse’s limbs assume a configuration similar to the “flying” pose that 19th century artists were fond of depicting (see “Secrets of Secretariat’s Speed,” EQUUS 434, and “American Pharoah and the Triple Crown,” EQUUS 458)---but only the greatest champions have proven capable of this form of the gallop. With respect to the trot, the 19th century ideal for both the roadster and the harness racer was for an over-level forearm and very tightly folded hind limb---in other words, a lot of knee and hock “action.” But no film sequence of an actual harness horse, even the fastest or most stylish, has ever demonstrated as much of this as the old Currier and Ives-style lithographs depict.
Form does indeed predict function and it’s instructive to compare Przewalski’s horses, who have never been selected for elegant motion, with their domestic counterparts. While Rolf and his kin have not been modified to suit mankind’s purposes, they certainly exemplify the kind of balanced and foursquare locomotion that it takes to survive in the wild. The Przewalski trotting style is somewhat round and high, similar to that produced by many domestic pony breeds. The gallop is comparatively short-strided but rapid and powerful.
Black Hawk and Ethan Allen make an interesting comparison because, although they were both bred for harness use, they exemplify different styles. Today, “roadster to bike” and “roadster
to wagon” classes are comparatively rare at horse shows, yet this is the only place you are likely to see this antique style on display, a nod to the long-ago traditions of pre-Civil War America. With a classic weathervane silhouette, Black Hawk represents the ideal roadster: fast yet beautiful and stylish.
hock, combined with a vigorous, alert, ground-covering stride. Americans were producing beautiful, very athletic horses capable of dramatic “lengthened stride at the trot"long before dressage
competition even existed. Ethan Allen is often credited as the model for the classic weathervane sil-houetter, and I think he was capable of going in much the same style as his sire, especially if the hoof angles were lowered (see “Bones Speak
Volumes," EQUUS 482) and an over-check was used. However, the scale model of him which microsculptor Steven Wagner, DDS, and I collaborated in creating poses Ethan Allen as he would have looked during an actual harness race, with the head and neck extended more to the front, and steeper, more natural hoof angles as they show in the 1859 Schreiber and Sons photograph.
Driven in this way, Ethan Allen produced a very long, powerful stride, his elastic shoulder allowing tremendous forward reach with little knee “action.” Ethan Allen and Black Hawk have thousands of descendants, proving that such spectacular movers were common in America 150 years ago. In my opinion, they still ought to be the primary population from which American Olympic dressage horses are developed and chosen.
Lexington was a great racehorse and sire, and R.A. Alexander’s extremely successful breeding program with him established Kentucky as the leading state for racehorse production. Lexington belongs in the company of the greatest gallopers of all time. While the modern flat-track racer must make an all-out, one-time effort over a “classic” distance of not more than two miles, Lexington functioned in an earlier racing paradigm that called for horses to run several heats of about four miles each, all in a single day. The 10 most recent winners of the Belmont Stakes, a race of 1.5 miles, have galloped at an average rate of 36 mph. Modern steeplechasers and point-topoint racers average about 26 mph over a four-mile course; although they race only once per day, they are slowed down by the fences they have to jump.
One might reasonably have expected Lexington to go no faster than a steeplechaser because of the multiple heats he had to run, but he was an amazing athlete. As a 5-year-old
An 1856 lithograph of Black Hawk’s most famous son, Sherman Black Hawk (A), by John H. Bufford, nicely conveys the speed and elegance of the horse’s way of going, but no real horse folds his limbs so sharply. In this 1840 watercolor by C.N. Newdegate entitled “Sketches for the Washington Races in October 1840” (B), jockeys use the “back seat” and the horses are shown in the conventional “flying” gallop pose. on April 2, 1855, Lexington set a record in New Orleans over the four-mile Metairie course of 7:19 3/4ths. His average speed of 32.7 mph would have made him a winner on any track, of any length, at any time. I think on this basis that it is safe to conclude that Lexington, like Secretariat, Man o’ War, Phar Lap and other elite champions, used the double-suspension rotatory gallop, and that this was part of the secret of his speed.
The author would like to thank Robert M. Timm, PhD, and Maria Eifler, PhD, curators of Rolf’s and Ethan Allen’s remains at the University of Kansas Natural History Museum, for access to the skeletons and ongoing support. The University of Vermont and the International Museum of the Horse permitted specimen photography. Anna Smith of the Vermont Morgan Horse Association contributed the Jewett engraving and assisted in photography of the Black Hawk mount. Monica Davis of the Douglas County Historical Society/Watkins Museum of History helped greatly with access to old newspaper files. David Walls, MD, DDS, assisted with medical terminology and Steven Wagner, DDS, collaborated in creating the scale model of Ethan Allen’s skeleton.
A B Movement style of Ethan Allen, a champion harness racer: The skeletal model (A) was made by the author in collaboration with Steven Wagner, DDS; the reconstruction of Ethan Allen’s appearance in motion (B) was done by the author.
Movement style of Black Hawk, an ideal of the roadster.
Movement style of the Przewalski’s horse: a stallion trotting (A) and a mare galloping (B)
Conformation analysis of Lexington Conformation analysis of a Przewalski’s horse mare.
Conformation analysis of Black Hawk Conformation analysis of Ethan Allen
B Photographs of Lexington’s sons Norfolk (A) and Asteroid (B).
Two depictions of Lexington’s appearance in life: Edward Troye’s famous painting, completed in about 1860 (A) and a painting done by Thomas J. Scott (B) in 1857. A B
This reconstruction of Lexington’s appearance in life was based on the skeletal mount.
The angle of this photograph of Lexington taken in about 1867 disguises the loss of the globes of his eyes, his swollen sinuses and the purulent infection and consequent loss of the skin on the right side of his face.
Here is a left side view of Lexington’s skeleton (A) as mounted by Ward’s Natural Science Establishment. The photo of the right side (B) was taken in 1879 immediately after completion of the mount.
Compare the image of Black Hawk’s son Ethan Allen (A) made by Schreiber and Sons photographers when the horse was 10 years old with a “digital mounting” of his skeletal remains inside the skin outline (B). A B
B A Photographs of Ethan Allen’s sons Daniel Lambert (A) and Honest Allen (B) from a Schreiber and Sons image.
Compare the virtual repair and remounting of the skeleton of Black Hawk (A) with a reconstruction of the appearance of Black Hawk in life, made directly from the skeleton. B A A B A B
Skeletal mount of a Przewalski’s horse (British Museum), offside limbs restored and repositioned by author. Note relatively low height of withers and short neck. This Przewalski’s horse mare, part of the herd at Monarto Zoo in South Australia, has a...
“Kissing spines” of thoracics 12-13 in Lexington (A) has progressed to total fusion (red bracket). Note exostoses on the accessory processes as well. Lexington thoracics 14-17 (B) show exostosis of the points of attachment of the deep vertebral...
Close-up studies of four of Lexington’s “becs de perroquet” lesions, which can prevent a horse from arching his back.
In this image of Lexington’s thoracic and lumbar vertebrae, red arrows designate joints that are fused dorsally; blue arrows point to “becs de perroquet,” which are ventral fusions. Note how dorsal and ventral fusions tend to alternate in the more...
Lexington’s cervical chain is entirely free of pathology. THORACIC LUMBAR
Movement style of Lexington performing a rotatory (“doublesuspension”) gallop. Note the collected phase suspension period (A) and the extended phase suspension period (B), which resembles the old artistic convention for a horse moving at top speed. B