The horses of the presidents of the United States have, with few exceptions, been very sorry animals as regards length of pedigree, richness of blood and style and finish. President Washington was an excellent judge of a horse, as he had a right to be, inasmuch as the area where he was born and raised was known from early on to import the very best colts and fillies of Godolphin and Darley Arabian, the two horses to which the greatest racers in this country and in Europe trace their origin.
The landed gentry of Westmoreland. Lancaster, King George, Gloucester and other counties in eastern Virginia, was a hard-riding and race-going people early in the 18th century. There was a race course at Fredericksburg as early as 1770. at which the Washingtons, Lees, Masons, McCartys, Garters, Monroes, Marshalls and others of the F.F.V.’s (First Families of Virginia) were to be seen whenever a race was to be run, and that was quite frequent prior to and after the revolutionary war. Not a few of the clergy of the church of England were also present on these occasions, for they not only knew a good horse when they saw one and loved it for its qualities of speed, spirit, docility and gameness, being that they were Saxons, but were also hard riders, and on occasions not averse to following the hounds.
So it was natural that Washington, having been brought up under such auspices, should have been extremely particular in his mounts, and in regard to the horses which he used in his coach. His famous gray charger was an entire son of the still more famous Barber horse Ranger, imported to New London, Conn., about 1765. He was a dapple gray, 15 hands high, and of the finest form, symmetry and finish. Good judges of the horse now admit that he was the best Arabian ever imported to this country. As evidence of Washington’s remarkable knowledge of the qualities that contribute to the making of a good horse, it is related that at the siege of Boston his attention was attracted to the superiority of the steeds that composed the cavalry from the valley of the Connecticut. Calling "Light Horse" Harry Lee into his counsel, it was learned upon investigation that they were sons and daughters of Ranger.
Capt. Lindsey was thereupon promptly sent by him to the Connecticut valley to purchase the horse, and he was subsequently taken to Virginia, where he became known as the Lindsey Arabian. The horse Gen. Putnam rode when he galloped down the steep declivity of 100 steps, and escaped from the British, was by Ranger, and the full brother of Washington’s charger.
President Washington’s coach team surpassed in elegance of finish and action those of his immediate successors. The four famous gray stallions that drew Mrs. Washington to Philadelphia when Congress convened were bred on Washington’s plantation and were half-bred Arabians. He said on one occasion he preferred the natural horse because of his superior courage, spirit, strength, endurance and gameness.
Thomas Jefferson liked his saddle horse
President Jefferson, who affected more republican simplicity than the first president in the appurtenances of his menage, used for his coach the strong but ordinary Virginia horses that were bred at that period in the mountain region of Albemarle. They were not exactly plugs, as cold-blooded horses are sometimes called, but were fat, sleek, and cumbersome in their gait, and safe for the ladies of the family. Mr. Jefferson, being a Virginia gentleman, scorned the effeminate practice of riding in a coach on his journeys to and from Richmond, Philadelphia, and later on Washington.
His famous saddle horse, Archy, was a son of the famous Sir Archy, of which John Randolph once said, "If you want a saddle horse breed to Sir Archy, if you want a carriage horse breed to Sir Archy, if you want a good racehorse breed to Sir Archy.”
The son of imported Diomed was bred near the Jefferson plantation which is close to the yellow waters of the Rivanna River. Jefferson had to ride through the mud on Pennsylvania Ave on the way to his own presidential inauguration. Jefferson threw the reins of his steed over the fence palings on dismounting, and it was the son of his favorite sire that bore him on the memorable occasion.
John Adams and his son had good horses
The Adamses, father and son, cared little for horses of any kind, and more especially for blooded horses. The Puritans and their descendants were not fond of racing. Rather they despised it as a worldly failing, and therefore gave the monopoly of it to the descendants of the cavaliers.
The horses the Adamses used when President, however, were good, substantial animals, bred in New England - not speedy, but safe and strong.
President Franklin Pierce loved horses
On the other hand, that popular son of New England, Franklin Pierce, not only loved a good horse, but he bred several good ones. His menage while president was stocked with some of the best descendants of the Justin Morgan and Bishop’s Hambletonian that could be procured in New England. General Pierce was also partial to the Tally-ho breed of horses, on account of their lofty action and courage. It was one of this stock that he rode in the Mexican war, as did Col. Richard Dana in the War of 1812.
Andrew Jackson favored thoroughbreds
President Andrew Jackson had a profound contempt for a horse that was not thoroughbred. Poor as he was when he bade his old Irish mother goodbye at the cabin door in the swamps of North Carolina, and then swinging himself into the saddle, turned the head of his horse toward Tennessee, to seek his fortune, he rode from the maternal homestead a well-bred horse, and throughout his life would mount none other.
"Our ancestors,” he was heard to remark, “used to go to war on entire horses. Why should we not do the same?”
Such was his habit when an officer in the army. He rode the bay stallion Ceiric at the battle of New Orleans, and he is represented as being mounted on a stallion in his statue in Lafayette Square, in Washington, although every one that has seen it hopes, for Jackson’s sake, that Clark Mills did not have the selection of the horses he bestrode in life.
President Jackson brought with him to Washington six horses, two for the saddle and four for his coach. The coach horses were half-bred and, according to the old residents of Washington, were splendid animals.
Zachary Taylor was a good judge of horses
President Zachary Taylor was, next to Presidents Washington and Jackson, the best judge of a horse that ever held the office. That section of Orange county, Virginia, in which he was born, was the home of the thoroughbred horse since long before the revolutionary war. A race of wealthy planters such as the Barbours, Pendletons and Madisons settled there at an early date, and bred blooded horses extensively.
Senator John S. Barbour of Virginia, a descendant of the Barbours named, is at the present time the owner of one of the largest breeding establishments of the light harness horse in the Southern States. General Taylor rode only entire thoroughbreds in the army.
His favorite saddle horse during the Mexican war and brief incumbency of the White House was a white thoroughbred stallion named Old Whitey, an animal of great beauty, which was bred in Kentucky. His carriage horses, of which he had four, were half-bred geldings.
Abraham Lincoln was an indifferent horseman
When President Lincoln became a resident of the White House there was purchased for him in central New York a pair of very stylish black carriage horses, the reputed price being $3000. Mr. Lincoln did not possess the proverbial Southern love for good horses, and was an indifferent judge of them. The black team were of the tough Morgan bred, and lasted him as long as he lived.
He seldom rode on horseback during the term of his administration, although he was used to the saddle. He was an awkward-looking equestrian, on account of his long limbs and bowed posture.
When he visited the Army of the Potomac, which he did on occasion, his riding excited considerable ridicule on the part of the cavalry. His seat seemed to be firm enough, but he rode bowed so far forward in the saddle that he seemed impatient to get ahead of his horse, which attitude, added to the tall silk hat which he wore on all such occasions, gave him a decidedly eccentric appearance.
In the early spring of 1863, shortly before General Joseph Hooker moved on Chancellorsville, he reviewed the army on the plains of Stafford, near Fredericksburg. On this occasion he rode a bay horse much too small for man of his stalwart proportions. His feet nearly grazed the ground as he galloped along beside Gen Hooker — a truly heroic figure on horseback, and who on this occasion was mounted on a milk-white Arabian stallion that had been taken in Maryland and presented to him by his great admirer, George Wilkes, of New York City.
Mr.Lincoln’s body swaying in the saddle as he sped along by the side of Hooker, who was a hard rider, his legs well drawn up to prevent collision with the projections of the earth, and his tall hat well settled down on the back of his head, made a picture that the army laughed over for days thereafter.
Ulysses S Grant was a good reinsman
President Grant brought to the White House several fast trotting horses. His favorite saddle horse was a half Spanish bred horse, named "Jeff Davis”, which was captured from the plantation of Joe Davis during the campaign in Mississippi. His carriage team were lofty bays of thoroughbred and trotting blood. A span of ponies were subsequently added to the menage for the children.
President Grant was a good reinsman, and when on a good piece of road was not averse to testing the speed of his horses and that of others who tried to pass him.
His son Fred, minister to Austria, and Buck Grant, as he was called, severely tested the bottom of the President’s trotters on the Brightwood Road, and whatever fun the father failed to extract from the animals the sons harvested.
The horses Presidents Hayes and Garfield used during their incumbency were ordinary animals, without any particular merits as to breeding. They required safety, not speed, and not much spirit and action.
Chester A Arthur knew a good horse
President Arthur loved horses, and while he did not claim to be an expert in horseflesh, he knew a good horse when he saw it. The White House stables were never so full of horses except, perhaps, in Grant's time, as during Arthur’s. He had horses for every day in the week, and the capacity of the carriage house was also sorely tried.
All of his horses, with the single exception of his daughter’s ponies, were cobs, and had the high knee or trappy action of the race. They were English throughout, from the stubby hairs on their roached manes to their diminutive and sadly abbreviated tails. Every horse in the stable was a clipped horse and an exceedingly proud brute to boot. When Mr. Arthur turned over the reins of government to Mr. Cleveland the menage was scattered to the four winds at auction, regardless of price, and many a man in moderate circumstances got a bargain.
Grover Cleveland's horses were High Headers
President Cleveland brought with him to the White House a very stylish team of seal browns of considerable bone and substance. They were high headed and during the four years they were Mr. Cleveland’s property their necks were never constrained by the use of check reins. With the coming of Mrs. Cleveland the president increased his holdings in horse flesh. A team of medium sized and mettlesome sorrels were purchased at Mrs. Cleveland's request and over these she held the reins exclusively and with admirable skill. The seal browns were disposed of at auction for a small sum when Mr. Cleveland gave way to President Harrison, and subsequently went to Boston, where to this day they are objects of adoration to the Beacon Street mugwumps.
Benjamin Harrison admired well-bred horses
President Harrison, as the grandson of a Virginian, and he from the tidewater section of the State at that, naturally had an inherent love for a well-bred and well-developed horse. His grandfather, President William Henry Harrison, admired the thoroughbred, but on parade, where martial music stirred their blood, and especially on the field of battle, he thought them too excitable, and therefore preferred the half or three quarters bred horse as being safer and more tractable.
President Benjamin Harrison brought with him to Washington three horses, and admirable specimens they are of the breeds they represent. The carriage team of the President were bred in Indiana, and are respectively 7 and 8 years of age. They were rich cherry bays, and stood 16.1 hands high. In style and action they were as one horse, and with one exception, were the handsomest carriage team in Washington.
Mr. Russell Harrison had their tails, which swept the ground, mutilated soon after their arrival in Washington, and those useful and ornamental appendages were allowed to slowly return to their normal state.
The near horse, Billy, was by Argonaut, a famous sire, and he by the immortal “Hero of Chester,” Rysdick’s Hambletonian. His weight was about 1200 pounds. His mate, Abdallah, a grandson of old Abdallah, who, unappreciated in his native state, New York, was sold into Kentucky and, when his get demonstrated his worth, was repurchased. Abdallah, when in condition, weighed 1400 pounds.
The President humanely refused to permit these or any of his horses to be clipped. The third horse which the President brought with him was a noble blood bay, 15 3/4 hands high, named Lexington. He was a grandson of the great Lexington, dam a mare of Hambletonian blood. He was a horse of great substance and power, and excellent in saddle and harness. His blood-like head and eyes betrayed royal breeding. Lexington was bred near the town of that name in Kentucky, 7 years old, and purchased near Cincinnati for the President’s use by an intimate friend.
President Harrison desired a light driving team for his rather heavy mail Phaeton. His Secretary of War, Redfield Proctor of Vermont, considered the Morgans of that state to be the greatest breed of horses on earth, and so selected for the President a medium-sized span of roadsters of that famous breed. They were a very fine and even stepping pair of animals. It has been said that a boy can wear out an iron rocking horse as easy as a man can wear out a Morgan horse, and this team by appearance seemed to warrant the statement. Those four horses comprised the President’s menage.
But Private Secretary Halford had, standing in the department portion of the stable, a thoroughbred which he used as a combination horse. He was a red sorrel, but was too leggy to long endure on Washington pavements.
President Harrison's carriages consisted of a Brougham, a Landau, a mail buggy and a Cabriolet, the latter a technical term for an extension top wagon. Harrison’s favorite carriage and the one that he used the most was the mail wagon. It was roomy, had elliptic springs giving it an easy motion, but was heavy and cumbersome. The several sets of horse harness used by the President for his several vehicles were of the best materials and the ornaments were silver plated. While not ornate in trimmings they were all in excellent taste.