Dozens of photographs show Theodore Roosevelt with horses. The four I’ve selected here represent a time progression; we see Roosevelt as he gets older and heavier. In this photo taken in South Dakota in 1885, Roosevelt is 27 years old. His horse, which looks exactly like a modern American Quarter Horse, was easy-gaited – as many early Quarter Running Horses were– and I have to suspect he was a Rondo, “Billy” or White Lightning of Alsup breeding. The future President has him in a low-cantled saddle and a spade bit with romal reins. Note the fully functional mohair rear cinch.
When he was 40 years old, Roosevelt trained with the “First Volunteer U.S. Cavalry” – the Rough Riders– in the San Antonio area in 1898. This horse is an excellent Cayuse, showing some Morgan influence as many Army horses did, plus some Thoroughbred as evidenced by the long and rather narrow back and loin coupling and clean shoulder. But there is also a good deal of something else— steeply angled, somewhat short croup, low-set tail, narrow chest, clean hard legs and slightly overangulated hocks reveal the Cayuse’s Spanish component. Teddy rides a McClellan saddle with a thick Mexican blanket and has regulation bridle and S-shanked curb bit with leather lead strap.
Roosevelt goes “out for a morning gallop near Laramie, Wyoming.” The image, dated 1903, shows the President at age 48. The horse, once again, is of classic Cayuse type, almost mule-like in appearance. The main assets of the Cayuse are utility and durability; they are noticeably unlike thick-muscled American Quarter Horses. The saddle has a high fork and a roping horn, with long skirts that extend back over the horse’s hips. Again note the pair of fully functional cinches– not until after World War II did most stock saddles morph into equipment purely for show, converting the rear cinch into a nonfunctional part or losing it altogether.
Taken on a morning in 1908, this photo shows Roosevelt at age 50. He and two obviously pleased guides are about to embark on a bear hunt outside Glenwood Springs, Colorado. It is early spring, it’s chilly outside and the horses still have their rough winter coats. Like many horses in the northern tier of Western states, Roosevelt’s Cayuse shows definite Canadian influence. Roosevelt, who struggled with weight gain all his life, was getting portly, and the guides made sure to supply him with a horse who could bear his weight.