On Mythbuster Monday, we tackle a variety of equestrian myths to either bust or confirm. Today’s discussion: Do the position of a horse statue’s legs tell the fate of the rider atop?
It’s Mythbuster Monday, where Horse Nation dives into different equestrian myths and provides research-based evidence to either bust or confirm those myths. Today’s topic: Do the position of a horse statue’s legs tell the fate of the rider atop? What do the different positions of legs mean? Is it true for all horse statues? Read further to find out!
Myth: The position of a horse’s legs on a statue tells the fate of the rider
Myth or Fact: Myth… sort of
There are many different statues of horses and riders all over the globe. Some include equestrian statues of Marcus Aurelius, Gattamelata, Bartolomeo Colleoni, Genghis Khan, Jeanne d’Arc and Louis XIV. In each of these statues the horses are positioned differently. There is a myth that claims that the positioning of the horse’s legs tells the fate of the rider.
Supposedly, if one front hoof is raised the rider was wounded in battle. If two front hooves are raised, the rider died in battle. If all four hooves are on the ground, the rider survived war. If the horse and rider face north it is said they died in war. However, if they faced south, supposedly they lived through it.
But, is this really the case?
In an article by History Myths Debunked, the myth started as early as the 19th Century and originated in America. Some say it started in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania where most of the statues do conform to the guidelines. The myth continues to be true in Richmond, Virginia along Monument Avenue. Others believe this myth started on the tombs of knights. The position of the legs on the tomb indicated whether or not the knight went on the Crusade.
However, through the years historians have debunked this myth. The example this particular History Myths Debunked article gives is Washington D.C. Here, only one third of their equestrian statues follow the “code.”
Another article by Nations Classroom states that many historians found the positioning of horse legs on statues to be a myth. Frances Pollard, a curator at the Virginia Historical Society states that the positioning of horse legs on statues means nothing. While most of Gettysburg does conform to these rules, he can point out at least nine Gettysburg statues where the rule does not apply.
In an article by Barbara Mikkelson, she reiterates how not every equestrian monument in Washington D.C. conforms with these rules. She gives a breakdown of each statue and if they meet the criteria or not. While she examines many statues, here are two of her cases that do not conform to the myth:
- Statue of General Simon Bolivar has one hoof raised and he died of tuberculosis.
- Statue of Lieutenant General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson has all hooves on the ground and was wounded and killed by his own men.
Barbara continues to state the the myth continues because many who know it to be wrong continue to state it as fact to keep the fun going. She states that folklore never dies, it just continues to get updated to be relevant to modern audiences.
After diving into the research, there is no correlation between equestrian statue horse positioning and the fate of the rider. The “code” of one leg up versus two legs up, versus all legs grounded does not necessarily mean that the rider died, remained unwounded, or was wounded in battle. Take the statues for what they are, fine pieces of art.
Do you have an equine myth you’d like us to tackle? If so, send it our way! Email your suggestions to [email protected]. Put Mythbuster Monday in your subject line.