Who Was Whistlejacket?


Whistlejacket National Gallery London

Whistlejacket by George Stubbs

Most horse trainers that I know, don't (or maybe can't) simply shut off being instinctively attuned to all things equine. It's so much a part of who we are, that "horse" is always running in the background of our minds.

Given that Mike and both love art, it should come as no surprise that we find artistic representations of horses fascinating. From ancient times to modern, wherever you see humans trying to make the grandest statement possible, there's an image of a horse. We find ourselves giving serious thought as to whether or not the spots shown on the Chauvet Cave paintings( in Pech Merle France) are dapples or spots? Did DaVinci actually ride much, or did he spend most of his time observing horses?

Chauvet Cave DaVinci Horse collage

Those questions can be postings for another day. The point I'm going for is that when horsemen look at images of horses, whether it's a cave painting, an ancient statue, an oil painting or a photograph, we look at it a little bit differently than "non horse people".

Whistlejacket National Gallery London

When I look at "equestrian art", the very first thing that strikes me is the impression of whether or not the artist was also a horseman? You know what I mean! If you live with horses on a daily basis, you can immediately pick out the artists that have really picked up a horses hoof; those who have really spent time around horses and even those that really rode and sometimes you can even discern those that were (as they say in the west) a "good hand" with a horse. A person has to be around horses a lot to be able to really pick up on their personalities.

So when I look at this famous portrait of Whistlejacket (by George Stubbs), I don't just notice that chestnut color or the fact that he's quite attractive. I find myself thinking that with that neck set, he would set up in the bridle really easily! And his Arabian ancestry is definitely showing! AND Stubbs really knew his horse anatomy. Without looking too hard, I just noticed that the hooves are correct. As it happens, Stubbs spent 18 months dissecting horses and wrote a book on horse anatomy. So yes, he knew exactly how a horse is put together. But there's more here than conformation!