If it is amazing that the Thoroughbred has been able to prosper as a breed despite a more or less accidental origin and a planless development, it is doubly astonishing that he has done so in the face of widespread prejudice against him. In years past, this anti-Thorougbred attitude has been especially noticeable in our western country—except in those isolated spots initially settled by Englishmen. You will find in the early volumes of our American Stud Book, few names of Thoroughbred owners or breeders who resided west of the Mississippi River when the books were published.

Had this scarcity of Thoroughbred blood in the west been confined to pioneer days, it might have been the result of many things other than prejudice against the English Blood Horse. But, it was not confined to the pioneer era. As lately as 30 years ago, I, as a young Remount Officer intent upon improving the using horses of the country by a mild infusion of Thoroughbred blood, was confronted by this static opposition to the Thoroughbred and I spend a lot of time trying to find the basis for it.

Some of it was a nationalistic carryover from earlier times; an unconscious remnant of the “dislike of anything British” that burned so furiously in this country during the Revolution and the War of 1812 and that carried on through much of the nineteenth century. Periodically, during our early history, non-importation acts, that forbade the importation of English goods including English Blood Horses, were passed by our Federal Legislature. Those acts helped to fan the fires buy accomplished little, other than to shorten our national nose to spite our collective faces.

Aside from this subconscious, inherent dislike of the English horse, because he was English, some of the prejudice against him was the honest result of unfortunate ranch experiences with worthless, spoiled, miscast, or castoff Thoroughbreds and let us be the first to admit that there is nothing much worse in the horse world than worthless Thoroughbred. Most often, however, the anti-Thoroughbred hue and cry was false propaganda designed to promote and gain prestige for some other breed by disparaging the Thoroughbred. In recent years, it has become commonplace to compare the sorriest of Thoroughbred specimens with the very best representatives of other breeds. To informed horsemen, this is glorifying the clown by belittling the crown—effective but short-sighted.

It is understandable that to the down-to-earth farmer or ranchman, with the ever-present problem of making a living, much that is said and written about the Thoroughbred—his exploits on the racetracks, his enormous earnings, etc.—is sheer equine cheesecake and a little in the stratosphere. Insofar as horses down on the working level are concerned, most of those Thoroughbred “hot-shots” would fall flat on their rears if asked to take their places, day after day, in a good rough-and-tumble, western saddle-string.

It cannot be denied that many Thoroughbreds, perhaps most Thoroughbreds, are too thin skinned physically, and too sensitive mentally, to battle the insects, the weather, the short rations, and the all0around neglect that, to the average ranch horse, are all in the day’s work. However, the point is that so great is the variety within the breed that, here and there individuals are to be found that are not thin skinned, not sensitive, and those occasional individuals, if put to ranch work gradually, are quite apt to make most of the old hard-bitten saddle horses in the string look like 30 dollars.

In our opinion, it is this occasional Thoroughbred—the horse that was fortunate enough to find his proper niche in life—that has earned the greatest applause for the breed. It is through a few remarkably potent horses that the English Blood Horse has exerted its greatest and finest influence on the modern world. Some of those individuals were rather obscure horses in their times and no great shakes as runners.

The Influence of Messenger

Take for example the grey horse, imported Messenger. Foaled in England in 1780, his breeder is not known. He was a moderately good race horse, used primarily in local match races. He was entered in races until he was five, then for a time dropped completely from sight. There is no stud record for him in England, an indication that he was not highly regarded in that country.

In 1788, *Messenger came again to light, this time in America, through a notice in a Philadelphia newspaper, advertising the horse as a sire at the modest fee of “three guineas with one dollar to the groom.” There is no record as to when or by whom he was imported to this country. For several years after 1788 (until his death in 1808), *Messenger lived an itinerant life with stud stands in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York. He was fairly successful, through both his sons and daughters, as a sire of running horses. Probably the best and best known of his cleanbred offspring, was the almost unbeatable race mare: Miller’s Damsel. She, in turn, was the dam of the renowned American Eclipse.

However, *Messenger made his greatest and most lasting impression on the horse stock of the world through the foals that he got from part-bred, sometimes very ordinary, mares. *Messenger, reportedly, was a plain, massive, coarse individual and most of his half-bred foals were the same. But, all of them could do one thing: they could trot in harness and they could trot fast and they could trot far. To a young country in the process of changing from trails to rutted, country roads and from saddles to carts and buggies, the introduction of this trotting trait was little short of a godsend. Those half-bred sons and daughters of *Messenger multiplied to become the American Standardbred, a breed that was to populate the far corners of America; a breed that did so much to make this country great; all from the loins of the English Thoroughbred, *Messenger.

Has he, or the Thoroughbred as a breed, been properly recognized as the foundation of the American Standardbred? Definitely not! About the time that *Messenger’s half-bred sons and daughters were wheeling buggies along the dusty roads of the east, the British were burning our capitol in Washington, D.C. That hardly endeared England, or things English, to our American forebears and then, and for a long time thereafter, the word English-Thoroughbred, to and including *Messenger, was a dirty word and not to be shouted from the housetops.

The special talent for trotting that was known to be inherent in *Messenger’s male line, had long been exploited in England. From that line had come the English Coach, Hackney, and Norfolk Trotting breeds. The records are clear on that score. However, for the above-mentioned, Anglo-American, political reasons, because we are not always eager to give credit where credit is due, we have found it convenient to name a horse other than *Messenger as the founding father of the Standardbred. That horse is the male line grandson of *Messenger—Rysdyk’s Hambletonian.

This Rysdyk’s Hambletonian, great progenitor that he was, owed much of his potency to the Thoroughbred *Messenger for he was much inbred to the latter horse. He was Abdallah, a grandson of *Messenger. His granddam was *Messenger and his great granddam was by *Messenger himself.

In pinpointing the foundation sire of any particular breed, it probably makes little difference, academically, whether the grandson, the grandsire, or another horse in the direct male line, is chosen; the characteristics are reasonably consistent within the lines. It is not unlike trying to pick the most important link in a chain. The question is, however, why ignore any link? Why sidestep *Messenger, as we so often have, in talking about Who’s Who among Standardbreds? After all, *Messenger didn’t set fire to our capitol in 1812.

And, too, why should any of us go out of our way to belittle and ignore Thoroughbreds, other than *Messenger, that have done so much in helping to build the other light horse breeds. Certainly, nothing can be added to the stature of any light breed by trying to conceal the blood relationship between that breed and the Thoroughbred. As a matter of cold, hard fact, it cannot be denied that most that is good in any and all of the other modern light breeds, came straight from Thoroughbred ancestry and any informed horseman knows it and is proud of it.

Standing here in the Thoroughbred corner of this, The Western Horseman’s all-breed issue, it is our parting opinion that the indirect contributions that the Thoroughbred has made to the western using horse, far outweigh his more widely advertised racing exploits. All horsemen could profit from a wider and more objective acquaintance with the breed.

The asterisk (*) preceding a name denotes an imported horse. This article was originally published in the October 1956 issue of Western Horseman.

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