Washington’s Best Saddle Horse

By BEN HUR (Western Horseman Jan/Feb ’46)

Yankee ingenuity and frugality gave General George Washington his best and most illustrious saddle horse during the trying days of the Revolutionary war — a beautiful, half-bred Arabian stallion.

George Washington was fundamentally a man of the soil, a country squire and Virginia gentleman who loved his country home, his dogs and blooded livestock. The great necessity for protection of his and his neighbors’ estates and their way of life in the colonies was the only thing that drove him from his role as an agriculturist and breeder of horses and livestock to that of military leader of the revolutionists and, later, to become first president of the newly formed republic. He was a great admirer of fine horses and loved speed contests. Before the Revolution he went regularly to the races at Annapolis, attended the theatre and the balls given on those occasions, and was entertained by the social leaders of the town.

Prior to the Revolution there was in Connecticut a noted imported horse called Ranger, later known as Lindsay’s Arabian, that was brought to the colony in 1766, when four years old. He is described as a light grey or white horse, of the most perfect form and symmetry, above 15 hands high, possessing high and gallant temper, which gave him a lofty and commanding carriage and appearance.

The history of this horse is interesting. He was presented by the Emperor of Morocco to the commander of a British frigate for some important service rendered by the latter to the son of the emperor, whose stables contained some of the finest blooded horses from the Bedouin tribes of the Arabian desert. The horse was shipped on board the frigate with the expectation of obtaining a great price for him if safely landed in England. For some reason the vessel crossed to the West Indies on the way home, where, being obligated to remain for some time, the captain in sympathy for the horse allowed him to range for exercise in a large but enclosed lumber yard. In a spirit of playfulness the horse ascended one of the piles of lumber and fell, breaking three of his legs.

Veterinary science and surgery was not perfected to any extent at that time and even today it is almost the universal practice to put to death a horse that has the misfortune to break one leg, much less three. In the same harbor, however, at the time there happened to be an old acquaintance of the British captain from New England to whom the horse was offered as an animal of inestimable value, if he could be cured. The Yankee captain’s boyhood training in economy and frugality would not permit him to see the horse destroyed without an attempt to save his life. He accepted the gift of the horse and brought him on board his New England vessel. He had him secured in canvas belt slings and very carefully set and bound his broken legs. The horse was finally landed in Connecticut, his young bones having knitted satisfactorily during the slow voyage northward on the sailing vessel.

General George Washington had his attention attracted to the superiority of the horses ridden by the Connecticut cavalry when he took command of the Continental Army at Boston, 1777-1778. Calling General Harry Lee (Light Horse Harry Lee) of the American cavalry into conference, he found that these horses were the sons and the daughters of Ranger. Captain Lindsay was thereupon sent to Connecticut to purchase Ranger, and the horse which survived three broken legs was taken to Virginia where he was afterward known as the Lindsay Arabian. General Washington, in the meantime, obtained one of the stallion’s fine sons for his personal mount.

The horse that General Israel Putnam rode when he galloped down a hundred steps at Greenwich, Conn., to escape the British, was a full brother to Washington’s charger. The artist’s conception of Putnam’s daring exploit is found to this day in most school histories of the founding of the United States.

As Washington was 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighed more than two hundred pounds it is evident that the famous charger, (half Arabian), son of Ranger (Lindsay’s Arabian), must have been a weight-carrier. After the revolution, General Washington directed that the services of Lindsay’s Arabian be extensively used on his blooded mares at Mount Vernon. The four famous grey stallions that drew Martha Washington’s coach to Philadelphia, the first capital, when congress convened, were bred on the Washington plantation and were half-bred Arabian sons of Lindsay’s Arabian.