A reader, Erica, from the UK, has imported several Rocky Mountain Horses from the United States, and asks an interesting question:
In the States, 'easy' gait is discussed solely with reference to the colonial Spanish influence. However, there must have been British influence to the East coast, where the Naragansett Pacer was developed. There were breeds in the British Isles (now extinct) like Irish hobbies and Scottish Galloways that may have been exported to the colonies in the seventeenth century or earlier, which may have contributed to the Mountain horses of Eastern Kentucky.... however, I can find nothing about this.
Do you know of anyone who has done research on the import of horses to the American colonies from Britain? I want to know if I am bringing the genes back home, so to speak, or not. Why is the Spanish influence discussed so much and not the British? Did the silver dapple gene not come from the UK?
Her question led to an extensive exchange of emails and research, and Erica's own engaging tale of her life with horses. I did not initially know the answer to her question, and I am not sure even now, after further research, that I know the answer. However, here is what we found:
Both the Hobby and Galloway were small riding horses, known for their speed and endurance. Numerous citations of their speed and distance ability have been recorded. This excerpt, from 1856, describes the Galloway in detail:
There was an excellent breed of little horses, varying from thirteen to fourteen hands high, existing in the district of Galloway.... But it is now nearly extinct.
"There is a tradition," according to Mr. Youatt, "that the breed is of Spanish extraction, some horses having escaped from one of the vessels of the Grand Armada, which was wrecked on the neighboring coast. This district, however, so early as the time of Edward I., supplied that monarch with a great number of horses."
It is much to be lamented, that this admirable race of animals is almost lost...owing to the non-perception and non-appreciation of its peculiar excellences as a roadster and hackney, either to drive or ride; and to its unsuitability to ordinary farm work from want of power and size.
(...)I am disposed to dwell on this animal a little more fully than I should otherwise do, not that it exists in these States, or has ever - so far as we know or suspect - been imported to them; but because it is closely analogous to a kindred animal [GHC: he is referring to the Narragansett Pacer], of, I believe, the same stock...which has in the same manner become extinct....
(...)I proceed, however, to Mr. Youatt's description of the true Galloway...
"The pure Galloway," says he, "was said to be nearly fourteen hands high, and sometimes more, of a bright bay or brown, with black legs, and small head and neck, and peculiarly deep clean legs. Its qualities were speed, stoutness, and surefootedness, over a very rugged and mountainous country.
"Dr. Anderson thus describes the Galloway. 'There was once a breed of small elegant horses in Scotland, similar to those of Iceland and Sweden, which were known by the name of Galloways.... One of this description I possessed.... In point of elegance of shape, it was a perfect picture; and in disposition it was gentle and compliant. It moved almost to a wish, and never tired. I rode this little creature for twenty-five years, and twice in that time I rode a hundred and fifty miles at a stretch, without stopping, except to bait, and that not for above an hour at a time. It came in at the last stage with as much ease and alacrity as it travelled the first...."
In my own youth, I recollect to have seen two Galloways of the true Scottish blood....
...they had long, thin manes; rather spare than shaggy tails; small, lean, bony heads; one of them with the broad brow and basin face of the Arab; thin necks, particularly fine toward the throat, and setting on of the head; soft silky coats; large eyes, and all the particular indications of thorough blood.
Their paces were generally the walk or the canter; and neither of the two was a particularly handsome or fast trotter, going along at a good rate, indeed, but in a shuffling style, neither clearly a trot nor a canter. One of them, which I often road, ambled, as it was called then and there, so fast as to keep up with the hand gallop of a thoroughbred lady's mare....
This Galloway, so far as I can remember it, was in fact neither more nor less than a natural pacer....
Whether this was or was not a characteristic of the race, I am unable to say; but I know that the animals seemed to me, then perfect beaux ideals of Andalusian jennets, and were regarded as such, by persons more competent to pronounce than myself.
Taken into consideration with reference to the tradition, as to their origin, and comparing this with the like story in regard to the Narraganset [sic] pacers, I am of opinion that these two now nearly extinct races, were nearly, if not altogether identical, both in characteristics and descent....("Frank Forester's Horse and Horsemanship of the United States and British Provinces of North America," by Henry William Herbert, pp 29-33)
Herbert's descriptions seem conflicted, as he says the Galloway seems like the Icelandic or Swedish horse (not Spanish) and also mentions legends of it having Spanish heritage or being like a Spanish Jennet. He says the Narragansett Pacer is related, but also says the Galloway was never imported to the US.
Erica, better versed in British history than I, also points out the political contribution to the demise of the Galloway:
...the aristocracy (and royalty) actively suppressed the smaller horses of the commoners to prevent breeding in the areas that were not enclosed - it is a political story in which horses were 'improved' and breeding controlled in a kind of horse 'racism' that was linked to the class system. Henry the Eighth ordered the castration of small stallions and Charles the Second seems to have finished this off in the late seventeenth century when these horse died out in Britain. However, some of them had already gone to the colonies by then where they seem to have survived and been adapted to particular environments like the Appalachian mountains.
Politics and fashion have changed most breeds, whether selecting for a certain color or size, or promoting wholesale changes to a breed, so much so that the original type is lost forever.
to be continued...