The ancestry of the American trotting horse goes back for several centuries and is chiefly confined to the early racing records in England, coupled with local tradition. Some two or three centuries ago the trotting horse was a great favorite in and about Norfolk and Yorkshire, England, and trotting races were frequent occurrences in that locality. Several authorities state, and the fact is partially borne out by early records that a trotting mare named Phenomena, owned by a horseman of Norfolk, in 1800, trotted 17 miles in 56 minutes, carrying a weight in saddle of 225 pounds. In 1806 the horse known as Pretender, is reputed to have trotted 16 miles in one hour, carrying 210 pounds. In those early days it should be borne in mind that all trotting races were made under the saddle.
The history of the American trotter extends back into early Colonial times, but all authentic records have been lost, if ever there were any of a reliable nature, and now only local tradition remains of early importations and performances. It seems certain that running horses were imported from England as early as 1625, and horses of this class are known to have been bred in Virginia and the Carolinas. The early records of the trotter go back to the early part of the nineteenth century in an imperfect way, and are principally confined to trotting performances on certain racing courses on Long Island. It is of record that in June, 1806, that a horse by the name of Yankee, under saddle, trotted a mile in 2:59 on the Harlem race course, New York. A horse from Boston is reported to have trotted a mile at Philadelphia on August 25, 1810, in harness in 2:481/2.
Undoubtedly the most important source of trotting blood in America was the importations of the stallions Messenger and Bellfounder, from whose blood the foundation of the American trotter is established.
Messenger, commonly known as Imported Messenger, was a thoroughbred, his pedigree tracing back through his sire to Flying Childers and the Darley Arabian. He was foaled in 1780 in England and proved a successful racer, and as a five-year-old won the King’s Plate. Believing that he would do valuable service in the stud, he was imported to the United States in May, 1788. Messenger, however, though a trotting sire, had no immediate descendants that proved to be noted trotters. He secured his chief fame through his son Mambrino, a thoroughbred that in turn, was the sire of Abdallah, a breeder of trotters. Messenger was a gray, 15% hands high, with strong loins and powerful hind quarters. He was in stud service for twenty years in America, chiefly in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New York. He died January 28, 1808, leaving a. lineage of driving horses of remarkable qualities.
Bellfounder, known as Jary’s Bellfounder in England, and as Imported Bellfounder in America, was foaled in 1815, and was imported from Norfolk in 1822. He was a bright bay, with black mane, tail and legs, stood 15 hands high, and was a natural trotter. At the time he was brought to America he was regarded as one of the very fastest and most powerful trotters, and is said to have trotted seventeen miles: in an hour. Velocity, his dam, trotted sixteen miles in an hour on the Norwich road in 1806, while two years later she is reported to have made eighteen miles in 1 hour and 47 seconds. Thus it can be seen how a strong line of trotting blood was brought to America. Bellfounder was taken to Orange County, N. Y., where he went into stud service. Here he sired the Charles Kent mare, a most important connecting link with his American fame. Bellfounder died on Long Island in 1843.
This automobile age the history of the development of the American trotting horse is relegated to the background and there are thousands of the present generation, who, while thoroughly well informed upon the various makes of automobiles, regard the trotting horse as an animal which has passed into history a subject which their forefathers discussed with enthusiasm which has little interest to the rising generation. All authorities concede that the original home of the American trotting horse is in Orange County, N. Y., in so far as scientific breeding and development are concerned, and it is to the farmers and breeders of this section that the chief credit should be given for first producing a strain of blooded horses, which for speed, intelligence, beauty and other admirable qualities has commanded the admiration of all lovers of the horse.
The development of the American driving horse began about seventy-five years ago in and about the immediate vicinity of the little village of Chester. It was in this section that the Orange County farmers began to take an interest and experiment in the breeding of horses for speed, size, intelligence, strength, disposition and exceptional qualities of endurance. And so well did they succeed that in a few years Chester became the Mecca for horsemen from all sections of the country, and today all the great trotting horses with but here and there a rare exception, invariably trace their ancestry back to the noted sires of Chester and vicinity, the premier of which was Rysdyk’s Hambletonian.
All the great breeders of the past generation have passed to their reward, notably among which were Wilkiam M. Rysdyk, Seely C. Roe, Robert Bonner, Alden Goldsmith, Charles Backman, Major Edsall, Guy Miller, and a host of others of lesser importance, not omitting nine out of every ten farmers living in the county who boasted of possessing a blooded horse that could show marvelous speed and other good points.
The history of the development of the trotting horse in Orange County is filled with interesting episodes, both romantic and tragic, and only to relate but a small portion of it in detail would fill volumes. The history of Rysdyk’s Hambletonian has been told many times by scores of writers dealing with the development of the trotting horse, and although it varies in unimportant details, in the main all writers on the subject agree.
The history of Roe’s Abdallah Chief, a half-brother of Hambletonian, is equally interesting, as well as the sad fate of the sire of both these famous horses, old Abdallah, who was a son of Imported Messenger, and a mare named Imported Sauerkraut.
Rysdyk’s Hambletonian is perhaps the most celebrated horse in history. The pedigree of this remarkable horse is undoubtedly familiar to every horseman throughout the civilized world, for no single horse ever foaled has achieved from his own intrinsic merits such an extensive and enduring reputation.
He was by Abdallah, the grandson of the renowned imported Messenger; his dam, the Charles Kent mare, and she by imported Bellfounder. Abdallah was kept for mares at Chester, Orange County, N. Y., in the years 1847-8 at $20 to insure a colt. In the latter year Jonas Seeley, of the same town, owned the Charles Kent mare and bred her to the horse Abdallah. She proved with foal and on May 18, 1849, gave birth to the colt which since has become famous throughout the world under the name of Hambletonian.
The mare, with her colt by her side, was sold by Mr. Seeley to William M. Rysdyk for $125. The price paid did not indicate that there was anything extraordinary in either the mare or the foal. The colt, however, under’ the careful management of its new owner rapidly improved, and was exhibited in the Fall of 1849 at the fair of the Orange County Agricultural Society at Goshen. At this exhibition he was led by the side of a horse, and equipped with a white bridle and martingale, which attracted considerable attention at the time. He was again shown at the fair of the same society at Goshen in the Fall of 1850. By the Fall of 1851, when two years old, so rapid had been his growth, that he represented in almost every particular, a fully developed horse. During that season Mr. Rysdyk allowed him to cover four mares. He got three colts from these mares, (two males and one mare,) no price being charged for this service. One of these colts shortly thereafter came into the possession of Major J. Seeley Edsall, of Goshen, and under his careful handling proved himself a superior horse. The Major kept him for mares at Goshen four years and then sold him to Mr. Alexander of Kentucky. He had, however, in the meantime, become the father of the filly so widely known throughout the country as Goldsmith’s Maid. One chronicler of the remarkable career of Hambletonian remarks, “It is perhaps pertinent to observe that in Hambletonian’s first season a large percentage of his progeny were males, and that while large numbers of them have from time to time become celebrated as trotters, the reputation of the old horse as a father of trotters would scarcely arise above mediocrity were it entirely dependent upon the performance of his daughters.”
In the Spring of 1852 Hambletonian was offered for service to a limited number of mares at $25 to insure a colt. During the season he served seventeen mares and got 13 colts. In the Fall of 1852 he was taken to Long Island to be trained as a trotter, and after going through a term of three months of this kind of education he was returned to Chester without having made any public record, having been unable to withstand the severe exactions of training.
In the Spring of 1853 he was advertised for service at $25 to insure a colt. The breeders of Orange County at this early day began to discern his fine qualities and extended to him a liberal patronage. During this season, (1853,) he covered 101 mares and got 70 colts. His success as a stock horse was now fully established, and without any brilliant performance upon the turf, he entered upon a career never equaled in the annals of horse breeding.
The brilliant performances of his colts upon the turf had now given their sire a national reputation and they were in great demand, commanded high prices, and the breeding of trotters received a new and greater impetus than ever before throughout the country. His owner naturally took advantage of this state of affairs and raised his price to $75.
As a natural result of such a course the physical powers of the old horse became weakened in 1867 and he was retired from the stud during the season of 1868. His retirement had a highly beneficial result and he was again placed in the stud in 1869. The year 1871 ended his career in the stud, that season after serving 30 mares 70 were left un-served. He died March 27, 1876. During his years in the stud, a well-known and recognized authority states that he sired 1,287 foals, the fees for which totaled $185,715.
Hambletonian 10 was a bay in color, with a star and white hind ankles, stood 151/2 hands high, and was powerful in build. His head was large with pleasant eyes, his neck and shoulders strong, the body round and full, legs and feet of superior character, and he stood somewhat higher behind than in front. As a three-year-old he made a record of 2:481/2 over the Union course. He was undoubtedly the greatest progenitor in American trotting history. Among the famous sons and daughters of Hambletonian 10 are Alexander’s Abdallah, Electioneer, George Wilkes, Aberdeen, Volunteer, Happy Medium, Harold, Strathmore, Dictator, Dexter, Nettie 2:18, Orange Girl 2:20, Gazelle 2:21, Jay Gould 2:211/2 and Bella 2:22. The first eight of these proved very proponent sires, and thus demonstrated the value of their remarkable sire.