Mounting Horse Skeletons to Exemplify Different Gaits and Actions

A Glimpse behind the Scenes at the American Museum

bird's eye view

Bird’s-eye view of a trotting horse in action.—The white line on the back shows the curving movement of the spine, while marks on the hips indicate the shifting angle of the pelvis with each step in the progressive movement. 

S.H. Chubb

Not so very long ago the osteological exhibition in a museum was merely a collection of sets of bones carelessly put together. No attention was paid to scientific mounting of the skeleton nor was any attempt made to express the living animal in action. As a result these exhibits defeated the very purpose for which they existed. They offered no incentive to the student or to the public even to visit, much less to study and make comparisons between, the different types of animals represented.

For instance, to convey to the spectator, through the mounted skeleton of a horse, some idea of the nicety of adjustment of every bone, and the positions assumed by it in relation to other bones during pulling, racing, trotting, and walking, is no easy task, and before accurate results are achieved, an amount of study, patience, and care is required little dreamed of by the casual observer.

speeding race horse

Photographing a Speeding Race Horse.—No difficulty seemed too great for Mr. Chubb to overcome when he was making studies preparatory to mounting the skeleton of “Sysonby,” the famous race horse now on exhibition at the American Museum. From a seat suspended fifty feet above the ground, Mr. Chubb took photographs of a race horse speeding below, that he might have accurate records of the motion of the spine and muscles in action. The studies were so successful that the same method was used later when the skeleton of the trotter “Lee Axworthy” was presented to the Museum.

Walter Beasley
For more than twenty years Mr. S.H. Chubb, of the department of comparative anatomy in the American Museum, has devoted all his attention to revolutionizing osteological preparation of Museum specimens. In the Museum collections is a nearly completed series of mounted skeletons of the Equidae in which Mr. Chubb is striving to represent with scientific accuracy and in lifelike pose every possible type of horse. There is a giant draft horse and, from practically the same stock, although representing another breed, the Shetland pony. The big horse has been developed through many generations for extreme size, whereas the Shetland pony has been reduced in size by man’s selection and breeding. A heavy type of horse is shown in the position assumed when drawing a load. In contrast, there is the remarkable horse “Sysonby,” known as one of America’s most famous race horses, beautifully mounted to show the running gait characteristic of his kind. The pure-blood graceful Arabian, believed to be descended from an entirely distinct wild species, is represented in the skeleton of “Nimr”; and now the skeleton of “Lee Axworthy,” the champion trotting stallion of the world (his record being 1.58 ¼) is to be added, practically completing the series of domestic horses. There are only two wild types on exhibition. One of these is a wild ass, or kiang, known as the north Asiatic wild ass, a different species from the African ass from which our domestic ass is descended. The other wild type is the Grant zebra. This series will not be complete until all species of zebras and asses are on exhibition.

“Lee Axworthy,” raised on the Walnut Hall Farm in Kentucky, was owned by the Pastime Stable, a concern consisting of four or five men, and was stabled at Castleton Farm, Kentucky. The American Museum is largely indebted to Mr. D.M. Look, of New York, owner of Castleton Farm, for the skeleton of this famous trotter. Mr. Chubb is finding the mounting of the skeleton of “Lee Axworthy” a most interesting study, as it give the opportunity to compare the bones brought into action in the fast trot with those employed in the more natural running gait of the race horse “Sysonby.”

A slight idea of the painstaking care with which every contributing detail is studied and worked upon until scientific accuracy is attained, may be gained from some of the activities in connection with the preparation and mounting of the skeleton of “Sysonby.” To represent properly the changing curves of the spine of the race horse when he is running his fastest, Mr. Chubb conceived the idea of making photographic studies of a race horse’s back in action. Accordingly an arrangement of ropes was prepared and fastened at one end to the roof of the American Museum and at the other to an adjacent tree. A swinging seat suspended from the rope and steadied by guy ropes afforded an unobstructed vantage point for the accommodation of Mr. Chubb and his camera. A race horse was borrowed for the occasion. Certain points of the animal’s anatomy. Previously determined upon by Mr. Chubb as best marking the constantly changing curves of the spine and the shifting of the muscles in action, were outlined with white patches which would be clearly visible in the photograph. Even the shadow of the horse cast by the sun at right angles was taken into consideration to help portray in profile the position of the horse’s feet and body at the moment of exposure. All being ready, Mr. Chubb was hoisted fifty feet above the ground, and the horse was raced back and forth below him while he took photographic studies of the horse’s back.

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