Our history is full of amazing people and animals who have done incredible feats of strength, courage, and intelligence. And until the modern era of motorized vehicles and airplanes, most travels were done by horseback. Most wars were fought by foot soldiers and mounted cavalrymen who entrusted their lives to their steeds.
Today, we wanted to take a look at famous horses throughout recent history. Whether they’re famous racehorses, war horses, sires, or just darn intelligent animals, we wanted to look and see what we can learn from these beautiful creatures of strength and courage.
Some of the Most Famous Military Horses
Throughout history, horses have served in the military, as mounts, as warriors, and as companions for cavalry riders. These creatures have fought hard battles and changed the face of history through their strength and character.
Blueskin – Horse of President George Washington
(Exact dates unknown)
Blueskin was a half-Arabian horse, supposedly sired by a horse owned by the Sultan of Morocco. This beautiful horse was gifted to General Washington by Colonel Benjamin Tasker Dulany, a man who married Washington’s ward, Elizabeth French.
Blueskin was a gorgeous horse, so he is often the one portrayed in the paintings of Washington with his horse. He was not, however, as calm under fire as Nelson, Washington’s other horse so he may have been a better choice for the portraits for reasons other than his stunning beauty.
Cincinnati – Horse of President Ulysses S. Grant
(1860 to 1878)
Ulysses S. Grant was a shy, quiet child who bonded emotionally with horses from an early age. He excelled in horsemanship at West Point Academy and put on an impressive jumping display for his graduation from the Academy.
Throughout his lifetime, Grant owned several horses, including Cincinnati, a 17-hands tall horse. This beautiful horse was the grandson of Lexington, one of the fastest horses in American history.
Cincinnati was a gift to General Grant, from an admirer, and accompanied Grant on several war campaigns. He was known to be General Grant’s favorite mount, and President Abraham Lincoln also admired this beautiful and powerful horse.
Most of the depictions of General Grant have Cincinnati in them because of Grant’s great love of this incredible horse.
Comanche – Lone Survivor of the Battle of Little Bighorn
(unknown to 1891)
In 1868, Comanche was brought by the U.S. Army to St. Louis Missouri and then sent to Leavenworth Kansas for use as a war horse. His background before that time are unknown, but the horse was a modest 15-hands high, and Captain Myles Keogh liked Comanche for his personal mount in the 7th Cavalry for battle rides.
Comanche was wounded in battle when shot by an arrow in his hindquarters. He continued to carry his rider, Captain Keogh, though, and this bravery and honor were what earned him his name of Comanche. Comanche was wounded several other times in battle as well, and lived up to his name, continuing to fight bravely.
In 1876, Captain Keogh rode Comanche into battle at the Battle of Little Bighorn, led by General Custer. The entire detachment was killed in this battle, often referred to as “Custer’s Last Stand.” Comanche was badly wounded, but two days after the battle, soldiers found him and transported him to Fort Lincoln. He was slowly nursed back to health and then was retired.
The military gave special orders for Comanche’s care after his retirement and honored this tenacious, courageous horse, and he was well cared for the rest of his days.
Our Favorite Famous Competition Horses
Between Olympic medalists, show jumpers, Eventing, or Dressage, among others, there are a number of famous competitors, many of whom have unusual life stories. We found these beautiful and intriguing stories inspiring and encouraging for anyone, no matter the early beginnings.
Snowman – FAMOUS HORSES “The Cinderella Horse”
(1948 to 1974)
Snowman was a plow horse of unknown mixed breed heritage. He might have been a Quarter Horse and Morgan mix, or any other mix with a draft breed. He was purchased for a meager $80 instead of being sent in for slaughterhouse meat in 1956 after only eight years of life.
But that day, a Long Island riding instructor by the name Harry de Leyer was at the auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania, and spotted Snowman.
De Leyer was late arriving to the auction where he intended to find school horses, and the only remaining horses were those waiting to be loaded into trucks for the slaughterhouse. He purchased Snowman for $80 after making eye contact with the beautiful creature and knew there was something special about him.
De Leyer first engaged Snowman as a lesson horse for the children at his facilities, but soon recognized talent in the horse after he sold him to a neighbor and Snowman jumped the high fences to return home. He started training Snowman as a show jumper at this point.
After only two years post-rescue from the slaughterhouse, Snowman was winning prestigious classes and had a career of five years.
He was photographed performing unusual feats, like jumping other horses, as well. His calm disposition made Snowman a favorite of many and appeared on Johnny Caron’s show.
Snowman was the subject of two books – The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation – has his own fan club and made guest appearances in international situations. There was also a documentary movie made about Snowman, called Harry & Snowman, and he was featured on Mysteries at the Museum in season 21, episode 8.
Snowman was inducted into the United States Show Jumping Hall of Fame in 1992, eighteen years after his death.
Seldom Seen – The Tiny, Dressage Champion
(1970 to 1996)
Seldom Seen competed at the highest level of Dressage during his career, with Olympic rider, Lendon Gray in his saddle. Seldom Seen was trained and competed in Dressage and other competitive sports and won the USDF Horse of the Year awards from Third Level through Grand Prix, as well as an individual gold medal in the U.S. Olympic Festival in Syracuse, New York.
He has quite a history of championship winning, including American Horse Shows Association – or AHSA – Reserve Champion at second level, and AHSA Champion at third, fourth, Prix St. Georges, and Intermediate 1.
He won the Grand Prix, the Grand Prix Special, and the Grand Prix Freestyle at Dressage in Devon, and then was retired in 1987.
The thing that makes this champion so unique, however, is not his talent, though that was vast, but his base “averageness” and small size at only 14.2-hands. He was smaller than typical Grand Prix Dressage horses, and was publicly described as an “average mover.”
For Dressage, which is the ballet of the competitive horse world, Seldom Seen’s champion status in multiple high-level events is highly unusual.
Seldom Seen was inducted into the United States Dressage Federation Hall of Fame in 2005, nine years after his passing.
Some of the Most Famous Racehorses
When we speak of famous horses, the largest group will be those who’ve reached star level in racing. Whether you’re a fan of the sport or not, many of these champions have faced some of the biggest challenges in life and still come out on top. The beautiful, poignant tales of these racehorses can only but inspire the horse lover and common man.
Seabiscuit – An Underdog Champion
(1933 to 1947)
Seabiscuit is one of the most famous horses in racing history for a number of reasons. Some of those reasons included the fact that he had a lot of things going against him, including a smaller size, awkward gait, ill-treatment as a young horse, and a stubborn and ornery streak that made him difficult to work with.
When Seabiscuit came into the hands of his new trainer, Tom Smith, he began to have a much better life. He had been lonely and ill-treated, so Tom Smith created a large stall for Seabiscuit and moved in a sedate older horse named Pumpkin to keep him company.
Soon, a stray dog named Pocotell also moved into the stall, and then a spider monkey named Jo-Jo who lived at the stables moved in. With this odd menagerie of pals, Seabiscuit relaxed and became less “mean-spirited.”
Seabiscuit returned to the race track with a new jockey, Red Pollard, and at different tracks and varying distances, this “lazy” horse began winning. He turned in impressive result times and dazzling performances and was a shoo-in for the Santa Anita Handicap. And while he did well there, he lost first position by just a nose.
Seabiscuit went on to beat War Admiral, the top winning racehorse at the time, in a one-on-one match at the Pimlico Racecourse. Red Pollard was out on injury, so another jockey, George Woolf, claimed the win with Seabiscuit that day. This race was considered the race of the century.
From here, Seabiscuit suffered injury only six weeks later, when he stumbled and ruptured his suspensory ligament. He and Red Pollard were out for a while, recuperating together, though no one thought the horse would race again.
In 1939, Seabiscuit’s handlers announced his return to racing, and this majestic, though small, thoroughbred raced again at the Santa Anita Handicap in 1940, with the still-healing Pollard on his back. On the final turn of this incredible race, Seabiscuit pulled at Pollard’s hands, anxious to sprint on and win this thing. They were boxed in, though, so Seabiscuit had nowhere to go.
One jockey reported hearing Pollard pray that the angels would part a path that his Seabiscuit might run through. Miraculously, a gap opened, and Pollard shouted, “Now, Pop.” Seabiscuit accelerated, despite the blistering pace he was already going and took the lead.
In the homestretch, Kayak closed in and caught up with Seabiscuit, but Seabiscuit wouldn’t take that. He pulled ahead, once again, and in the last race of his career, he won, with the second-fastest time recorded for that distance on an American racetrack.
Zippy Chippy – The Little Horse Who Couldn’t
(1991 to current)
If you want to hear the tale of a horse who’s got a lot going for him, but just can’t seem to beat the competition, you’re looking for Zippy Chippy. Most horses are famous for the wins they bring in, but this thoroughbred racehorse is known, instead, for being completely winless his entire career.
Zippy Chippy’s heritage includes some of the most famous horses, like War Admiral and Man O’ War, as well as a host of other pedigree horses like Bold Ruler, Count Fleet, Nasrullah, Native Dancer, Northern Dancer, Tom Fool and the greatest “blue hen” broodmare of the 20th Century, La Troienne.
Zippy Chippy was owned and trained by Felix Monserrate at the Capritaur Farm in New York. He was traded for a 1988 Ford truck in 1995 when Felix Monserrate acquired him.
Zippy Chippy was eventually banned from competing at all but one track, the Northampton Fair. But Zippy did come in first against a human competitor, a minor league baseball player, in a 120-foot race.
Some claim he lost the 40-yard dash, while others say there were two races. Zippy did also win against a harness racer called Paddy’s Laddy during a publicity stunt in which he spotted the harness trotter a twenty-length lead.
Zippy Chippy’s 100th loss occurred in 2004, at the Northampton Fair at the Three County Fairgrounds. He was the second best betting choice, at odds of 7 to 2, but he still finished last.
A few months later, Zippy Chippy was retired from racing and became an outrider pony at his hometown track, the Finger Lakes racetrack in Farmington, New York.
In 2000, Zippy made it into People Magazine’s list of the year’s most interesting personalities. This thoroughbred has a lifetime record of 100 starts, zero wins, and a lifetime of earnings at only $30,834.
Famous Horses of Other Types
It’s not only racehorses and war horses who are famous. Some of these magnificent creatures are famous for their size, their smarts, or their incredible beauty as well. Here are some of the more interesting famous horse stories we love from these unique realms.
Clever Hans – The Clever Horse
(Exact dates unknown)
Clever Hans was an Orloy Trotter horse known for performing arithmetic and other intellectual tasks. During his lifetime, there was a surge in interest in animal intelligence, greatly due to the recent publications from Charles Darwin. Clever Hans was thought to represent an advanced level of number sense in animals.
Hans was owned by Wilhelm von Osten, a gymnasium mathematics teacher, phrenologist, amateur horse trainer, and a bit of a mystic. It was believed that Hans was taught how to add, subtract, multiply, work with fractions and divide. He was also thought to be able to tell time, keep track of the calendar, read, spell, understand German, and differentiate musical tones.
Hans’ German owner would ask the horse things like, “If the eight day of the month comes on a Tuesday, what is the date of the following Friday?” Hans would answer with the tapping of his hoof. The questions would come in both oral and written form, and Hans would always respond.
The abilities of Clever Hans were exhibited throughout Germany, with no admission fee ever charged.
In 1907, formal investigations showed that Hans was not truly performing arithmetic tasks but was watching the reactions of his trainer and responding, he was still a very clever horse. He was able to see his trainer’s body language and respond with according responses that correctly depicted the times, dates, sums, and other answers requested of him.
After Hans’ owner Osten died in 1909, Hans was acquired by several other owners. His remaining life story and resting place are unknown.
Cholla – The Painting Horse
(1985 to 2013)
Cholla was a wildly behaved horse with an infamous temper with the cowboys who worked with him. They named him for the cholla cactus because of the prickly attitude he demonstrated, day after day. The cowboys at the ranch used the sacking out method to tame him and then sold him when was five years old.
A woman named Renee Chambers, a trained ballerina purchased Cholla and gained his trust. Their bond grew, and years later he was following her along the fence one day as she painted the fence. That day, Cholla’s true talent was discovered: he could paint.
Cholla used a sturdy easel and watercolor tins for his painting, and demonstrated will, intention, awareness, and pleasure as he painted his abstract strokes on the canvas in both straight and curved lines. He chose the colors and brushes, and then with his mouth, he’d use his tongue and teeth to determine the angle at which to stroke the brush.
Cholla’s paintings were shown in local exhibitions around the U.S.A., and in 2008 he received international media exposure when his early work The Big Red Buck was sent to a painting competition in Mogliano Veneto, Italy by his owner.
The jury was surprised at the entry, but had to admit the piece as the competition was “open to everyone.” The jury awarded the work an Honor of Mention of the Jury, and the work was exhibited together with the thirty finalists.
Since that time, Cholla’s works have been on display in other galleries and catalogues, including the Venice exhibit Giudecca 795 in 2009. Videos of Cholla while painting accompanied the artwork in the exhibit, since transporting the large, still rather wild horse was deemed too dangerous for Cholla’s health and safety.
Cholla lived a happy, though unusual life until 2013 when he passed away.
Inspiring Famous horses, Inspiring Lives
Inspiration comes from some of the most unusual of places. And so many of these horses made famous by their hardships and comebacks are a great source for inspiration for all of us.
Whether you’re a fan of Zippy Chippy, the losing horse who just wouldn’t give up, or the amazing Seabiscuit who took more abuse than any creature should ever have to face but still became a champion, you’ll find encouragement in these stories of some of the most famous horses in recent history.
Featured Image via Pixabay