In the 1997 Disney live-action movie George of the Jungle, there is a hilarious scene of George (Brendan Fraser) running alongside a frisky horse, his shirt open and sculpted chest gleaming. Along the fence stands Jane with several other women, the ladies practically drooling as their mesmerized eyes follow the gorgeously frolicking George. The humor of the scene (watch the clip below) is when the camera pans to two men observing the scene, one asking in bafflement, “What is it about chicks and horses?”
Clueless the men may have been as to what was actually captivating the women, but they weren’t entirely wrong either. Sure, George/Brendan was drool-worthy in every scene, no matter how ridiculous. Yet, there IS something ultra romantic and sexy about virile men handling a mature, powerful horse. Let’s be honest, don’t we females LOVE movie scenes with rugged, whiskered, sweaty men atop a stallion in full gallop? Add a steel encased hand swinging a broadsword, or a whip cracking in the air, or a lasso roping longhorn steers, and we may become weak in the knees!
Perhaps this female attitude and reaction weren’t as common in the pre-automobile eras when horses—with or without a carriage behind them—were plentiful, everywhere one looked, and an integral part of life. I honestly do not know, but in The Darcy Saga I decided to capitalize on our modern sensibilities by writing Mr. Darcy as a superb horseman. While cool, the truth is that being an excellent horseman would not have been all that unusual. Plus, one can only write two or three scenes of the manly hero on horseback chasing a bad guy before the cliché gets old!
It occurred to me way back in my early writing days that with horses a vital necessity for work, pleasure, racing, and transportation, breeding quality stock must have been a lucrative business undertaken by numerous people. Not surprisingly, this was indeed the case—largely amongst the wealthy who could afford to breed the prized thoroughbreds—but not exclusively. Hence the reason I wrote Mr. Darcy as a breeder of thoroughbreds at Pemberley.
At the end of this blog, I have links to several excellent articles on the topic of horses during the Regency. I’ll attempt to sum up here, but I do encourage further reading.
First, while we all know of the thoroughbred for horse racing, the breed was certainly not the only type of horse essential to survival. Horses used to haul cargo over short and long distances, and those utilized in agriculture, are typically stockier, easily trainable, docile, and slower in their gait. Endurance and strength are prime traits. Breeds such as the Clydesdale, Shire horse, Suffolk Punch, Cleveland Bay, and Garron were popular workhorses and still are to this day. These draft horses are termed “cold bloods” because they are indigenous to the cooler regions of northern Europe. They have thick skins and thick coats, and are incredibly tough. The blog by Geri Walton noted below covers these horses at length.
“Hot blood” breeds include Arabians, Barbs, and Turks, and are indigenous to the warmer regions of Asia and the Middle East. Thoroughbreds are an off-shoot of the hot-blood Arabian. More on them in a moment. All the hot-blood breeds are smaller, delicate and refined, very spirited and lively, highly intelligent, and possess bold temperaments. Perfect for racing!
“Warm blood” breeds—an extensive list can be found HERE—were created when warriors returned to Europe from the Middle East and Africa with hot-blood Arabian horses captured in battle, which they then cross-bred with the cold-blood horses. The result is a variety of horses balancing the quickness and agility of hot-bloods with the larger build, strength, and milder temperament of cold-bloods. Despite the obvious prestige of the thoroughbred, warm-blood horses are better for riding and competitive events such as dressage, as well as pulling coaches. In America, the warm-blood Quarter horse, Tennessee Walker, Appaloosa, Morgan horse, and Mustang (to name a few) were the mainstay of the western frontier cowboys, roaming Native American tribes, plantation workhorses, military horses, carriage horses, and so on.
Getting back to the thoroughbred, the article linked below from The Regency Redingote is an excellent, very detailed history. In brief, the fascination with the exotic Arabian, particularly, surged in the 16th century during the reign of Queen Anne (1702-14) with the animals imported in massive numbers. Knowledgeable horsemen bred Arabians with English horses, resulting in the creation of a distinct horse originally known as a “purebred.” Horse racing, a beloved English entertainment since the 12th century, escalated into a passion under Queen Anne. Courses specific for horse racing, like Newmarket and Epsom Downs, sprang up all over the country.
In 1750, a group of elite gentlemen formed the Jockey Club. This exclusive group established all the rules and standards for horse racing and breeding, which still hold to this day. Amongst the Jockey Club’s vital accomplishments was the regulation of thoroughbred breeding in the country.
Around this time the term “purebred” was replaced with “thoroughbred,” a word once only used in reference to accomplished, well-educated humans. It is unclear exactly when the switch occurred and became the common usage, but definitely before 1793. That was the year the General Stud Book by James Weatherby was published. This first volume of the official breed registry for horses in Great Britain and Ireland attempted to collect the pedigrees of all thoroughbreds alive and racing in England. The volume was far from complete or accurate, so underwent numerous updates throughout the 1800s, but it did set the standard AND firmly established the “thoroughbred” name for the breed.
Only the purest bloodlines were allowed to race, and breeders were required to follow stringent guidelines and keep meticulous records to prove that their horses could be traced back to the original three Arabians imported from the Middle East. A horse remained a thoroughbred regardless of how successful it was on the racecourse. Thoroughbreds were used for riding, for hunting, and even hitched in teams to racing curricles or high-perch phaetons. Some breeders did not bother with recording pedigrees of a non-racing thoroughbred with The Jockey Club’s General Stud Book. These horses, while sharing the same bloodlines, therefore could not be referred to as a thoroughbred. Instead, less exalted terms such as “bloods” or “blood horses” or “a prime bit o’blood” are applied. If you run across those terms in a Regency-set novel, now you will know what it means!
So there is your mini-lesson on horse breeds in England. It is a huge topic, as one can imagine, so perhaps I shall revisit the subject in another blog post. I welcome any and all comments!