Washington and his War Mounts

Posted by Aaron Taylor on

There may be no more famous U.S. veteran than George Washington, and it just so happens that he was also a freakishly gifted horseman with two incredible wartime mounts. So, we mark Veteran's Day this weekend with a quick profile of George Washington "the equestrian" and his Revolutionary equines.

The Other George
Before there was George Morris...there was George Washington. Young Washington learned to ride from his mother (a skilled horsewoman herself) and a combination of practice, confidence and natural ability solidified his secure seat in the saddle. George also adopted his mother's gentle training methods to great success with his own horses. "It is the General himself who breaks all his own horses, and his is a very excellent and bold horseman, leaping the highest fences, and going extremely quick, without standing upon his stirrups, bearing on the bridle, or letting his horse run wild," wrote Washington's friend, the Marquis de Chastellux. A soldier who brushed up against Washington astride wrote, "Both seemed to exude courage.” And Thomas Jefferson recalled Washington as "the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback." Apparently, the oil paintings don't lie...

A Different Kind of Flash Drive
Even the stoic father of our country couldn't resist the appeal of a chromed-out chestnut. His all-time favorite steed, Nelson (a gift from Brigadier General Thomas Nelson Jr. in 1778) was a 16-hand "splendid charger" with a flashy white blaze and socks. The gelding's bravery and calm amidst the chaos of battle made him Washington's go-to mount for most of the war, and the pair became both inspirational and legendary to all they met. During the Battle of Princeton, cannon fire smoke dissipated to reveal many wounded soldiers, but Washington and Nelson standing tall. "Come on boys, its a fine day for a fox hunt!," he cried to the troops, who then rallied to break the British line. And when the British surrendered at Yorktown in 1781, Washington rode in on--who else?--Nelson. (Pictured in oil painting above, on left.)

Red, White and Blueskin
Though he seemed larger than life, Nelson was after all just a horse, and needed a rest now and again. On those days, Washington would hop on his second-favorite mount, a spirited gray called Blueskin. This horse, also a gift, was Washington's pre-war foxhunting mount, known for a fiery temperament and the endurance for long cross-country gallops. Paintings of Washington often show him astride Blueskin to capture the visual drama of the horse's elegant gray coat.

Both Nelson and Blueskin came through the war unharmed and retired with Washington to Mount Vernon post-Revolution. The horses' pasture was located nearest to Washington’s house on the estate, where they welcomed treat-laden visitors on a regular basis (to the delight of the horses, the visitors and the Washingtons!) into their old age. Washington himself would stop at Nelson’s paddock and "the old war-horse would run, neighing, to the fence, proud to be caressed by the great master’s hands."

Thank you for your service, Nelson and Blueskin!

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