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Paths of Glory Lead Where?

Paths of Glory: History site section Logo of ancient snaffle bit.
By Joan Gilbert (Horse history article copyrighted by Saddle & Bridle magazine.)

An aging man interviewed recently for Saddle & Bridle commented sadly on the public s short memory. He said No matter how hard we work or what we achieve people or horses, either once we leave the scene, we re soon forgotten. He had special regrets for horses, he said, because they get small reward for all their efforts and don t even know that they have succeeded, that they have been treasured by owners and coveted by many others.

Anyone whose vocation requires dealing with history knows only too well what that trainer meant. My personal epiphany came from a half-page picture in an early 1900s issue of Saddle and Show Horse Chronicle. It showed a lovely young woman in elaborate hat and close-fitting jacket both in light blue velvet, surely and a long, matching skirt that was glued to attractive curves created as she strode confidently forward. Beside her was a tall, impressively dressed man whose head was bent down attentively. Slightly behind them came a young woman in maid s uniform, carrying an infant whose lacy dress almost touched the ground. The caption beneath the picture was easily predictable. Here was a couple revered in the show world, owners of some revered horses, and they were attending their first show since the birth of their first child. He had been brought out so he could say for a lifetime that he attended his first show at the age of one month. We can only hope that he was not exposed that day to something fatal in an era hazardous for infants and young children. The serene one could almost say arrogant faces of the young couple clearly said We have everything; we are beautiful and important and we are safe from all want and misfortune. No name on the caption was familiar. Whatever status they enjoyed then was lost to us long since.

Another layer of philosophy came recently in a book very generously sent to me by Tricia Marx of Wisconsin. It was titled Judging Saddle Horses and Roadsters, and was copyrighted in 1945 to Joseph A. Barly in Milwaukee. None of my sources explain who Mr. Barly was*, not even Fern Bittner, who has studied judging for decades and is one of the most respected show officials of our own time. Barly obviously was a renowned judge of the two equine breeds he mentioned. His writing is most authoritative, and he tells us that he spent seven years of part time research compiling materials that he hoped would help the show world set up standards for judging. He wanted the process to be much fairer than it had ever been. He complimented exhibitors for so graciously accepting unobjective decisions from judges using personal criteria that was a mystery to all others.

In his book, Barly set up a points system for rating different qualities in equine appearance and performance, hoping to help puzzled exhibitors to understand exactly why their animals were ranked as they were. He hoped to help create more harmony and good fellowship in a rapidly growing sport. He undoubtedly was right and surely his methods were adopted. Was this done immediately, or in a gradual process requiring a period of years?

Barly took on many issues inherent to showing. These include brief histories of the development of breeds and of their uses. Suitable attention went to such individuals as Justin Morgan and Rex McDonald. Barly set forth breed-specific standards and the qualifications judges themselves should meet, 19 pages devoted to the latter.  Barly even gave rules for the organization and management of shows, and for proper ring attire. He dropped on us certain historical facts. For instance, the ball-bearing pneumatic tire wheel for bicycle sulkies was invented in 1892 and the first animal to win with its use was Nancy Hanks who did 2:04 that same year in Terre Haute.

Barly s book gives most space concerning breeds to the origin and development of Saddle Horses, including data about those most important in the far past and in his own day. It is writers like Barly who are most apt to offer data which has since their time become victim to the well known cracks, dismissed by others as irrelevant. From Barly we have dates of births and deaths, dates and places of most significant wins, noted progenitors and offspring. He often describes horses of his own lifetime with his own evaluation of their beauty and action and with more detail than we ve read elsewhere. We presume he speaks not just as a uniquely qualified show spectator, but also as a judge before whom these animals performed. Who knows what details he may supply for someone researching horses who were very important in his day, less so in our own, hence little written of recently?

We should not leave Barly without sharing his view of the horse world he saw and foresaw: The increase in the number of shows, exhibitors and spectators in late years is a strong indication of the fascination the sport holds for the hobbyist, and the demand for the sport by the public this interest has a wholesome effect upon the populace and they have come to accept it as one of their finer amusements. Barly noted that spectators who had no great knowledge of shows applauded wildly for horses they liked even though these individuals hadn t a prayer of winning. He urged show producers to include some educational features for the uninformed so they could enjoy shows even more.  How intriguing it would be to see Barly s explanation for how and why the show scene changed so drastically between his day and our own!

 It always seems appropriate to review general topics of the year in which a book was published for this column, but there is seldom time or space. 1945 was too significant to gloss over. In that year Americans saw the wind-up of World War II, the first use of atomic bombs and the launching of The United Nations. Franklin D. Roosevelt died suddenly in his fourth term as president of the U.S. and General George S. Patton, that renowned horse lover and savior of the Lipizzan Stud, died in Germany in a traffic accident. 1945 was the year in which a book about prominent Missouri horse trainers was published without mention of Tom Bass. It was also birth year for a handsome black stud colt who was named D-Day McDonald and who became inspiration for all the horse writing I have ever done.

*I fully expect that half a dozen senior readers will write in disbelief that I don t know about Joseph A. Barly. He was only, they may say, the person who finally got some uniform standards imposed on show judges!

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