"William Stephanides, or Fitz Stephen, as he was called, a monk of Canterbury, was born in London, lived in the reigns of King Stephen, Henry ll., and Richard l., and died in in 1191. He wrote a description of London in Latin, which was afterward translated by John Strype, and printed, from which I take the following extract:
"There is without one of the gates, immediately in the suburb, a certain smooth field (Smithfield) in name and reality. There every Friday, unless it be one of the more solemn festivals, is a noted show of well-bred horses exposed for sale. The earls, barons and knights who are at the time resident in the city, as well as most of the citizens, flock thither either to look or buy. It is pleasant to see the nags with their sleek and shining coats, smoothly ambiing (pacing) along, raising and setting down, as it were, their feet on either side; in one part (of the field) are horses better adapted to the esquires; those whose pace is rougher, yet expeditious, lift up and set down, as it were, the two opposite fore and hind feet (trotting) together."
After locating and describing the pacers in one part of the field and the trotters in another, Fitz Stephen goes on to take a look at the colts, then horses of burden, "strong and stout of limb," and then their chargers in galloping action. He next gives a very spirited description of the race, when the people raise a shout and all the other horses, cattle, etc., are cleared away, that the contestants may have an unobstructed field. It is a fact worthy of note that every English writer on the race horse, for the past century or two, has quoted a part of the above paragraph from Fitz Stephen as the first known and recorded instance of racing in England, but left one of the most important parts out. Even Mr. Whyte, one of the most prominent of modern writers, in his "History of the British Turf," seems to have followed some other writer, in the omission, or possibly, as he never had seen a pacer in England, he concluded that Fitz Stephen had only imagined that he saw, in one part of the field, horses moving at the lateral gait. In the paragraph quoted above, I have italicised that part of the description which English writers on turf subjects have omitted with remarkable uniformity.
This seems to have been the period in which the pacing horse reached the highest point in official and popular appreciation, at least since the days of the Roman occupation of Britain. In speaking of this period, Mr. Lawrence says: All descriptions off saddle horses were taught to amble" (that did not amble naturally), "and the that most excellent and useful gait, the trot, was almost entirely disused." In addition to the evidence of Fitz Stephen, we have that furnishing by the Great Seals of a succession of sovereigns commencing with Richard l., and continuing to Elizabeth. These seals represent a knight in armor, mounted on a pacing horse in action, and perhaps the most conspicuous, at least the clearest, impression that has come down to us is that of King John, used at Runnymede, when he yielded to the demands of his barons and granted the Magna Charta. This act secured the liberties of the Anglo-Saxon race for all time and in all climes.
Mr. Thomas Blundeville was, probably, the first writer on the horse who undertook to publish a book in the English language on that subject. This book, entitled "The Art of Riding," was merely a translation from the Italian, with some brief observations on English horses added to it. The first edition, it is said, was published in London, 1558, the year that Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne. The only edition which I have been able to find in the British Museum is that of 1580, in old English black letter. In quoting from the old authors of that period I will seek to avoid confusion by using the modern orthography. In speaking of the horses of his day he says:
"Some men would have a breed of great trotting horses meet for the war and to serve in the field. Some others again would have a breed of ambling horses of a mean stature for to journey and travel by the way. Some, again, would have a race of swift runners to run for wagers or to gallop the buck, or to serve for such like exercise for pleasure. But the plain countryman would have a breed only for draft or burthen.
"The Irish Hobbie is a pretty fine horse, having a good head and a body indifferently well proportioned, saving that many of them be slender and pinbuttocked. They are tender-mouthed, nimble, pleasant and apt to be taught, and for the most part they be amblers and thus very meet for the saddle and to travel by the way. Yea, and the Irishman both with darts and light spear, do use to skirmish with them in the field, and many of them do prove to that use very well, by means they be so light and swift.
"Let those mares that shall be put to the stallion be of a high stature, strongly made, large and fair, and having a trotting pace as the mares of Flanders and some of our own mares be. For it is not meet, for divers reasons, that horses of [service stallions] should amble. But if any man seeks to have a race of ambling horses, to travel by the way, then I would wish his stallion to be a fair jennet of Spain, or at least a ******* jennet, or else a fair Irish ambling Hobbie; and the mare to be also a ******* jennet, bred here within this realm, having an ambling pace, or else some other of our ambling mares, so that the mare be well proportioned. And if any man desires to have swift runners let him choose a horse of Barbary or a Turk to be his stallion, and let the mare, which shall be put unto him, be like of stature and making unto him, so nigh as may be, for most commonly, such sire and dam such colt."
It is evident Mr. Blundeville was not much of a friend of the pacer, but as an honest writer he considers things as he finds them. Unfortunately he throws no light upon just what he means by the term "Spanish Jennet," and a definition of that term, as used in the sixteenth century, would throw much light on passages from following writers in later periods. Everybody knows he was a small Spanish saddle horse, but nobody knows just what gait he took. To use Blundevilles own language, "The pace of the jennet of Spain is neither trot nor amble, but a comely kind of going like the Turke,"
Mr. Gervaise Markham published several revised and enlarged editions of his work on the horse, the last of which I have been able to examine being printed in London, 1607, the same year the colony was planted at Jamestown, Virginia. In this edition he devotes nine short chapters or paragraphs to the pacer. In quoting from him I will again use the modern methods of spelling. He says:
"First to speak of ambling in general. It is that smooth and easy pace which the labor and industry of an ingenious brain hath found out to relieve the aged, sick, impotent and diseased persons, to make women undertake journeying and so by their community to grace society: to make great men try the ease of travel, more willing to thrust themselves into the offices of the commonwealth, and to do the poor both relief and service. It makes them when necessity, or as the proverb is, "when the devil drives," not to be vexed with the two torments, a troubled mind and a tormented body. To conclude, ambling was found out for the general ease of the whole world, as long as there is either pleasure, commerce or trade amongst the people. Now for the manner of the motion and the difference betwixt it and trotting. It cannot be described more plainly than I have set down in my former treatise; which is that it is the taking up of both legs together upon one side and so carrying them smoothly along to set them down upon the ground even together, and in that motion he must lift and wind up his fore foot somewhat high from the ground, as it were, sweep it close to the earth. Now, by taking up both his legs together on one side, I mean he must take up his right fore foot and his right hinder foot. For, as in the contrary pace, when a horse trots he takes up his feet crosswise, as the left hinder foot and the right fore foot, etc."
Mr. Markham, in his edition of 1607 then goes on in six or eight chapters acknowledging that many foals pace naturally, and to show how the foal may be trained to pace. His methods are very cruel, in many cases, and very crude throughout; but it clearly demonstrates the fact that in the sixteenth century the pace was a very general gait among English horses. In these chapters we find the toe weight first introduced as well as the trammels or hopples. The most striking fact brought out in these chapters is the discovery that more than three hundred years ago Englishmen were using the same devices to convert trotters into pacers that we are now using to convert pacers into trotters. He takes notice that Mr. Blundeville had advised those who wished to breed amblers to select a Spanish jennet or an Irish Hobbie, and objects to the former on the grounds that their paces are weak and uncertain. From this I conclude that the gait of the jennet, whatever it might have been, was not a habit of action fixed in the breed, and that its transmission was doubtful.
Mr. Markham then goes on further to explain the mechanism of the trot and the pace and incidentally introduces the rack or single-foot action, which, I think, is the first time I have found it in any English writer. He says:
"The nearer a horse taketh his limbs from the ground, the opener and evener and the shorter he treadeth, the better will be his pace, and the contrary declares much imperfection. If you buy a horse for pleasure the amble is the best, in which you observe that he moves both his legs on one side together" neat with complete deliberation, for if he treads too short he is apt to stumble, if too large to cut and if shuffling or rowling he does it slovenly, and besides rids no ground. If your home be designed for hunting, a racking pace is most expedient, which little differs from the amble, only is more active and nimble, whereby the horse observes due motion, but you must not force him too eagerly. lest being in confusion he lose all knowledge of what you design him to, and so handle his legs confusedly. The gallop is requisite for race horses,... If he gallop round and raise his fore legs he is then said to gallop strongly, but not capable of much speed, and is fitter for the war than racing."
This is only part of it and if you like what you read so far then you need to read the next chapter too. LOL
Last edited by Terrier Man; 07-10-2013 at 10:46 AM.