Horse Photos That Changed The World

Muybridge's Horse In Motion series
Credit : Archive

Tuesday 26 February - 10h20 | Lulu Kyriacou

Horse Photos That Changed The World

Horses and equestrianism might not currently be the most important subject in the world today but in the past the equine contribution to history has been immense.  Today Grand Prix is going to look at some photographs that had an impact far beyond  the horse world.    

Eadward Muybridge was a renowned photographer  born in 1830 and particularly noted for his work photographing the Yosemite Valley. However in 1877 he decided to try and solve a question that had been bothering animal physiologists  for many years; when a horse moves at speed, does it always have at least one leg on the ground or not? Muybridge set up twelve cameras on timers at intervals along a track and produced the images above which conclusively proved that there was a moment of suspension.  This work had several implications.  First it was the very beginning of what became stop motion animation, a popular technique for film makers for any years until computer generated images (CGI) was invented to replace it over 100 years later.  Second, it changed forever the way horses were portrayed in art. No longer did you see both front legs stretched out in front with both hind legs stretched behind to illustrate the gallop.  Muybridge then used the same 12 shot sequence to illustrate a horse jumping, which had a profound influence on our next photographic subject.

Federico Caprilli

Fredrico Caprilli was an officer and riding teacher in the Italian Army, born in 1868.  He was not convinced that the style of riding a horse over a fence in favor at the time, was the best way. Up until that point, jumps were approached in a very collected canter and over the fence the rider leaned back and restrained the horse's head.  This was because it was believed that the horse should land on its hind legs at they were stronger than the forelegs. Caprilli noticed how uncomfortable the horses looked and started studying them jumping loose.  Then came Muybridge's revolutionary image sequences, which showed amongst other things that horses landed on their front legs.  Caprilli devised a new method called The Forward Seat but was met with ridicule and banished to a lowly base far from the national riding school.
The Forward  Seat involved allowing the horse to jump out of a more relaxed canter with the contact softened in the last three strides and not picked up again until the horse had landed.  The rider kept his weight forward throughout.
 But results in jumping competitions from there started to go the way of Caprilli's students in rather dramatic fashion and the Italian authorities  decided to change their minds and adopt the new style.  Their riders started to carry all before them and Caprilli became in demand as a teacher, even demonstrating his technique before the 1906 Olympic jumping began.  Everyone today will recognise the Forward Seat.  It is the way everybody now rides in dressage, show jumping and eventing  and is recognised as the optimum way for a horse to carry the weight of the rider while maintaining its balance.  

Emily Davison

Davison was an ardent supporter of the Suffragette Movement which was trying to get women equal rights, starting with the right to vote in government elections.  Her passion for this cause had led to nine previous arrests for causing a disturbance.  But in 1913, Davison became the first equestrian related media celebrity when she appeared to throw herself under the hooves of  King George V' horse Amner during the Derby,  resulting in her death from her injuries four days later.  There was no such thing as television then but the flat race was the most famous in the world at that time and was then held on a public holiday  in front of hundreds of thousands of spectators. It was filmed for the news services which  were shown in local picture houses.  The images of the fallen horse, jockey and stricken woman made headlines  all over the country and did as much to raise awareness for  the cause as any although public opinion was split between support for her and anger at the foolishness of her actions.
It was never proved exactly what her intention was. A 2013 documentary proved she could not have seen the order in which the horses were approaching from her position and Amner, who was trailing the rest of the field was just unlucky. What is sure though, is that in 1918 women over 30 became entitled to vote although the rest of the adult female population in the UK had to wait until 1928. You can see the Pathe News Film below with the incident at minute 5.53.

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