Chapter by Roe Reisinger.
The American thoroughbred is descended in all his lines from the English race-horse, and he in turn from Arabian, Turkish and Barb stock. For more than a century and a half the English Stud-book has been maintained, in which has been registered every mare of thorough blood, by name, with her lineage and all her foals; the oldest and most remote of these mares tracing back their eight, nine or more generations to known Oriental horses, or horses known to be largely, if not wholly, Arabian, Turkish or Barb. No animal having an unknown or a cold cross within a hundred and fifty years back in its line could be entered in the English Stud-book, and no American horse can be regarded as thoroughbred that does not meet as high requirements. There have been a number of high-class race-horses whose pedigrees have been short in one or more lines, but never in the history of the turf has a great sire appeared in whose blood was a near cross other than thoroughbred.
The British horse had a considerable degree of excellence before the Roman conquest and was a good subject for the later crossing with the Oriental breeds. Youatt, in his work on the horse, states that Caesar thought the British horses so valuable that he carried many of them to Rome, and that for a considerable period afterward British horses were in great request in various parts of the Roman Empire. He states that, during the occupation of England by the Romans, the British horse was crossed to a considerable extent with the Roman horse; but he probably meant the foreign horses of the Roman mercenary or allied cavalry, from the fact that horses had been introduced into Britain from Gaul and chariot races were instituted long before the Christian era. This suggestion is adopted from the work of Herbert on the horse. In England, horse-racing early became a fixed custom. We learn from history that, after the reign of Alfred, running horses were imported from Germany. That the English, fully a thousand years ago, had produced a valuable breed is shown by the fact that in 930 A. D. a law prohibited the exportation of horses. Many Spanish horses were imported into England in Athelstan's reign. William the Conqueror rode a Spanish horse (probably of Oriental breed) at the battle of Hastings, and won the day by his cavalry. He imported many fine Norman, Flemish and Spanish horses and his great nobles followed his example. Early writers attest the value of the stock descending from these sources.
We learn from Fitz Stephen, a contemporary historian, that in the twelfth century a regular racecourse had been established in London. He thus describes the races: "When a race is to be run by horses which in their kind are strong and fleet, a shout is raised, and common horses are ordered to withdraw from out of the way. Two jockeys, then, or sometimes three, as the case may be, prepare themselves for the contest, such as are used to ride, and know how to manage their horses with judgment, the grand point being to prevent a competitor from getting before them. The horses, on their part, are not without emulation. They tremble, and are impatient and continually in motion. At last, the signal once given, they hurry along with unremitting velocity; the jockeys, inspired with the thoughts of applause and the hopes of \ictory, clapping spurs to their willing steeds, brandishing their whips, and cheering them with their cries."
The first Arab horse imported into Britain, of which we have certain knowledge, was presented by Alexander I., King of Scotland, to the Church of St. Andrew's, in the reign of Henry I. Richard I. imported two eastern horses, probably on his return from the Crusades. Their names were Favell and Lyard, and their qualities are thus set forth in Ellis' Metrical Romances:
"In the world was not their peer, Dromedary, not destrere1 Steed, rabite, ne camayl,
That ran so swift sans fail. For a thousand pounds of gold, Should not that one be sold."
Edward I. brought horses from the East. One of the accusations against the Templars was that, in violation of their vows of poverty and frugality, they maintained "eastern horses, dogs and birds for the chase and falconry, and other vain and worldly pleasures." Youatt narrates that Edward II. purchased thirty war-horses and twelve heavy draft-horses. Edward III. devoted one thousand marks to the purchase of fifty Spanish horses, and he prized them so highly that he made formal application to the kings of France and Spain to grant safe conduct to the troop. In the reign of Richard II. laws were made regulating the price of horses and prohibiting their exportation. Similar regulations were enforced by other English sovereigns, and in the reign of Henry III. it was decreed that no stallion should be suffered to run at large on any waste or common, where the animals pastured and were of course liable to breed promiscuously, under the height of fifteen hands, on pain of forfeiture; and that all foals, fillies or mares likely to breed undersized or ill-shaped produce should be killed and buried. He also, by law, compelled all the nobility, gentry and higher order of the clergy to keep a number of horses proportionate to their rank. In Henry's reign, also, an enactment was enforced compelling the maintenance of a great number of full-sized mares and stallions in every deer park, and in every rural parish in the realm. These enactments could not fail to result in the great improvement of the horses of England. At that period an annual race was run at Chester. The prize was a wooden ball embellished with flowers, fixed upon the point of a lance. These trophies were provided by the companyof saddlers. In the year 1540 a silver bell was substituted for the former prize, under the title of "St. George's Bell." Hence the common phrase to "bear the bell," as equivalent to being the victor.
1 Destrere steed, a war-horse.
King James I. purchased Markham's Arabian horse at the price of five hundred pounds. Race meetings were now regularly held at various places in the kingdom, and a well-ordered system of training the horses, and of running according to weight, age and distance was introduced. Pedigrees were kept, the best and stoutest horses and mares were reserved for breeding, and their progeny were for the most part set aside for racing purposes. Misson, who traveled in England about the year 1641, writes: "The English nobility take great delight in horse races. The most famous are usually at Newmarket, and there you are sure to see a great many persons of the first quality, and almost all the gentlemen of the neighborhood. It is pretty common for them to lay wagers of two thousand pounds sterling upon one race."