The Fell Pony Museum: 17th century
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The Galloway


Some of the 18th C races in Cumberland were framed for "Galloways" of 14 hands, and others on the same day for "horses", also of 14 hands, so the distinction cannot have been solely one of height but must have been based on type, breeding or gait.

The word "pace" is confusing because it may be used in several ways in old literature. It may not necessarily mean a lateral gait. "Pace" can mean what we would today call speed. It can mean the speed of travel ("at a foot's pace"), or the overall way of going of a horse ("easy paces"), as well as the different ways a horse can move, as in walk, trot, gallop, rack, amble. Although Defoe mentioned that Galloways were "easy pacers" he may only have meant that they were a comfortable ride; we can't say for certain from the word "pace" whether they trotted diagonally or "square", or moved laterally as in the modern use of "pace".

We need to be conservative in our interpretation of the word "pace" in historical texts because it may not always mean what we think it means today. It is also possible to distinguish the different gaits by the terms:

"trotting" or "hard" for square trotting (walk, trot, gallop);

"soft-paced" or "racking" for lateral gaits, ambling and pacing;

"thorough-paced" of a horse capable of lateral as well as diagonal gaits (combinations including walk, trot, rack/amble, pace, gallop; modern "five-gaited").

Peter Edwards in "Horse and Man in Early Modern England" has an interesting take on whether Galloways paced or not. He cites Camden who merely commented on the speed of Galloways though not their gait. A letter from Sir John Lyttelton, writing to his cousin Fitzwilliam Coningsby in ca. 1620:

"I am in extreme want of a pasing horse, since I kept horses I was never worse furnished then at this present being forsed to ride on trotters."

Edwards continues:

"Of the native breeds, Galloways were the most suited to this task. According to Defoe, they were the best light saddle horses in Europe...If the horses sold at Carlisle Fair were Galloways or a similar breed, most of them were natural trotters. This suggests that the gentry took the best, those that paced, or trained them to do so. About one in five of the horses sold at Carlisle in the middle of the seventeenth century paced. Where instructions are noted in estate accounts, owners mainly required the trainers to teach a horse to pace. On Nicholas Blundell's estate at Little Crosby, apparently this was all that they did. Moreover, in an admittedly small sample, there are fewer references to ambling, which seems to confirm the value that the gentry placed on natural amblers like hobbies or their crosses."

This is borne out by entries in the Appleby Minute Book.

Appleby Minute Book 1614-1661

In the Appleby Minute Book 1614-1661 (Records of the Ancient Corporation Memoranda / Minute Book Vol 1 1614-1661) only a few sales record the paces of the animals sold:

April 1637: Sould the same daye by  William Wright of Ould Malton in the countye of Yorke now of Kelly Hinsh in the County of Down Patrick infra regum hibernia [Ireland] --- one trotinge mayre coullor Graye of the age of eight yeares to Launcelott Harrison of Kirkbythore for the some of XX vi viij (two pounds six shillings and eight pence)

27 May 1637: Sould the same daye by [Mr] Arnison of North Kington in the countye of Norfolke, one roaned mayre aged iiij (4),  ---ed the neare eare, iij vj viij (three pounds six shillings and eight pence) racks and trots, to Geo Brown of Baikwelle in countye Derbye...

20 June 1637: Sould the same daye by William Wright of Ould Malton in the Countye of Yorke & now of Kelly Hinsh in the County of Downe Patrick infra regum hibernia one maire couller blacke of the age of seaven yeares which trots and racks, & a bit cut out of the far eare ... to John Hobson of Kirkbythore in the Countye of Westmorland for the some & prise of ?L Vs Vjd (? pounds five shillings and sixpence)

24 October 1652: Sould the same daye by John Jobby of Friar Garth Kirkby Fleetham in the County of Yorke, one maire coullor dark graie, of the Age of 5 yeares, paces and trots, and marked with an Iron on the near shoulder with the letter H, to Richard Atkinson of ?? in the County of Northumberland for the some of 7 iiij x  (seven pounds four shillings and tenpence)

The sparseness of these "trots and racks" records among the many horses sold at the fair suggests that horses moving with both lateral and diagonal gaits were unusual and that most horses and "naggs" did one or the other but not both. And the fact that the "racking" or "pacing" horses are mentioned individually also suggests that they were unusual. Horses that had the trot-canter-gallop gaits were not marked out as special.

"Hard trotting Scotch Galloway"

An advertisement in the Caledonian Mercury, 19 April 1739, listed the following for auction:

Milch-house, Brew-house and Stable; also a fine new Chaise, with Harness for two Horses, a large black Chaise-horse, a Pac'd Galloway, two Milch Cows, a Calender, &c. Printed Catalogues to be had at the House of Carridden, and at the Laigh ...

The fact that the term "pac'd" was added not only implies that this particular Galloway did indeed pace, but that the attribute needed to be mentioned as otherwise buyers might assume it was a square trotter.

We do have a very precise reference to a Galloway's typical gait from a divorce case of 1787. Mary Eleanor Bowes, Countess of Strathmore, was an 18thC heiress from County Durham. When she was pregnant in 1781 her abusive second husband forced her to go riding:

... on the most uncomfortable mount the Streatlam stables could provide, a "hard trotting Scotch Galloway" - a pony traditionally renowned for its stamina... After four miles over the potholed country roads, Mary was suffering such violent pains that she had to lie in a ditch while Ann Davis sent ahead to alert Bowes and request a carriage. (Moore, Wedlock, 2009; bibliography seems to show that this is from Ann Davis' evidence during divorce proceedings between Mary Bowes and her husband in 1787.)

Here we have more evidence of the Galloway's square "hard" trot as opposed to the more comfortable "soft" amble.

1822. A match over a two-mile piece of turf, in Ashford Park, near Romford, in August, 1822, on which at least five hundred sovereigns were pending, caused much sport. A Mr Goodchild undertook to ride first a galloway on the trot, thirteen miles, in one hour... (Brown, 1830).

Walter Scott's description of Dumple the Galloway (Galloways page 1) also says that he trotted. That evidence doesn't exclude them ambling or pacing, but these examples do correspond with Morgan's remark in 1609 that Scotland excelled in "trotting geldings."

For an interesting discussion of a variety of "gaits" see:

A mutation distinguishes gaited horses from trotters and gallopers

Researchers have identified a mutation within one gene, which enables gaiting. "Researchers led by Leif Andersson, a geneticist at Uppsala University in Sweden, studied the genomes of 70 horses that could perform extra gaits" -- "The analysis revealed a single mutation common to all the horses that could pace, in a gene called DMRT3. Both copies of that gene in the pacing horses were mutated."

The report on the DMRT3 gene was published in "Nature" in August 2012 -- doi:10.1038/nature.2012.11308. (Full Ref on Acknowledgements page.)

Why did the ambling horse go out of fashion?

Given the knowledge that the gaiting research has produced, the answer may well have been partly that galloping races became fashionable. The mutated gene that enables the ambling/pacing gaits is detrimental to galloping and to trotting. "It was noted that although being a DMRT3 mutant allows for novel gaits, it actually decreases performance value for galloping or trotting, indicating that it has probably been selected against in horse breeds that compete in dressage, jumping, traditional races, and other more well-known equine sports."

This strongly suggests that the "racing" Galloways, ie those involved with the TB stud book, would for the most part NOT have been gaited. They were being selected for galloping. As the study mentioned shows, the mutated gene for gaiting reduces galloping performance. The same aristocracy and gentry who previously paid high sums for pacing horses were now seeking the horses who were fast gallopers and trotters, and they didn't carry that gene. No-one who wanted to produce racehorses would have tried to breed them from amblers. Racing itself would have demonstrated that they didn't run fast enough.

Trotting, too, was desirable for carriage work on the new and better surfaced roads. The research results suggest that the modern breeds whose best gait is the trot, such as the Dales, Fell and Welsh, would have had any tendency to gait bred out of them - and not all of them had had it in the first place.

References for these readings are on the Thanks page.

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Last updated 30 May, 2021 .
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