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The Tale of a Horse and a Boy


(As you read this story try to imagine who the rider is. Watch for clues. All words in quotes are as written by the original author. See note #2.)


A rodeo! In Virginia?  Hard to believe, isn’t it?  But the scene we are about to watch looks very much like a rodeo.  Out in the fields horses are cantering as eager to show their prowess as the riders to evaluate their worth.  Excitedly they gather ’round to discuss one particular mount.  Such excited rodeo talk: who will ride; who will win?


These were blooded horses of old Virginia stock.  And this particular one was, "a sorrel...of a fierce and ungovernable nature, and resisted all attempts to subject him to the rein.  He had reached his fullest size and vigor.  Unconscious of a rider; he ranged free as the air, which he snuffed in triumph, tossing his mane to the winds, and spurning the earth in the pride of his freedom.  It was a matter of common remark, that a man never would be found hardy enough to back and ride this vicious horse.  Several had essayed, but deterred by the fury of the animal, they had desisted from their attempts, and the steed remained unbroken."  (Note #1)


One of the young men "proposed to his companions, that if they would assist him in confining the steed, so that a bridle could be placed in his mouth, he would engage to tame this terror of the parish.".  Accordingly, his associates "decoyed the horse into an inclosure, where they secured him, and forced a bit into his mouth.  Bold, vigorous, and young, the daring youth sprang to his unenvied seat, and bidding his comrades remove their tackle, the indignant courser rushed to the plain.".  The rider was tall for his age, strong, and well built.  As a man he would awe all who saw him.  But at this moment he wanted only to awe the animal into submission.  Would the rider be thrown or the horse be subdued?  Only one could emerge the victor.


"As if disdaining his burden, (the sorrel) at first attempted to fly, but soon felt the power of an arm which could have tamed his Arab grandsires, in their wildest course on their native deserts.  The struggle now became terrific to the beholders, who almost wished that they had not joined in an enterprise, so likely to be fatal to their daring associate.  But the youthful hero...clung to the furious steed, till centaur-like, he appeared to make part of the animal itself."


"Long was the conflict, and the fears of the associates became more relieved as, with matchless skill the rider preserved his seat, and with unyielding force controlled the courser's rage, when the gallant horse, summoning all his powers to one mighty effort, reared, and plunged with tremendous violence, burst his noble heart, and died in an instant."  "The rider, ‘alive, unharmed, and without a wound,’ was joined by the youthful group, and all gazed upon the generous steed, which now prostrate, (lay dead)." 


However, as they were called to breakfast, the question came: who shall tell this tale to the sorrel’s owner, George Washington's mother, for the rider of that steed had been no other than Washington himself.  His mother "had preserved this race (of horses) in its greatest purity (in memory of her) deceased husband (see note #2.) who had been particularly attached these animals.  At the time of our story she possessed several young horses of superior promise."


At this critical moment the "party were summoned to the morning's meal.  A conversation, the most mal a propos (the most unwelcome) to the youthful culprits, became introduced by the matron's asking, ‘Pray, young gentlemen, have you seen my blooded colts in your rambles?  I hope they are well taken care of; my favorite, I am told, is as large as his sire.’"


"Considerable embarrassment being observable, the lady repeated her question, when George Washington replied, ‘Your favorite, the sorrel, is dead, madam.’" 


"‘Dead,’ exclaimed the lady; ‘why, how has this happened?’"  "Nothing dismayed, the youth continued, ‘That sorrel horse has long been considered ungovernable, and beyond the power of man to back or ride him; this morning, aided by my friends, we forced a bit into his mouth; I backed him, I rode him, and in a desperate struggle for the mastery, he fell under me and died upon the spot.’  (A flush) was observed on the matron's cheek, but like a summer cloud, it soon passed away, and all was serene and tranquil, when she remarked: ‘It is well; but while I regret the loss of, my favorite, I rejoice in my son, who always speaks the truth.’" 

We read of Washington that: "At the time of this occurrence, the figure of the lad is described by his contemporaries as being that of the athlete of the games.  Although of manner somewhat grave and reserved, he indulged in the gayeties common to the youth at that period.  He particularly excelled in all the manly exercises, sought the companionship of the intelligent and deserving, and was beloved and admired by all who knew him." 


Is it any wonder that the son of Mary Washington grew into the kind of man who could govern his own temper and, later, the American army?  Yes, and this same strong willed yet temperate man one day governed the new-born United States of America.  "As the twig is bent, so grows the man."


Note #1. All in quotes from: Custis, George Washington Parke, "Recollections and Private Memoirs of Washington," first published 1860 by Derby & Jackson, New York. Reprint, 1999, American Foundation Publications Post Office Box 355, Bridgewater, Virginia-22812, p. 132. Custis, Washington’s grandson, was adopted by him.  (Back to article)

Note #2. Martha Washington had been happily married to Daniel Parke Custis who died a natural death just a few short years after their marriage.  The sire of this colt had belonged to Martha’s first husband.  (Back to article)

Question: What was the name of the horse Washington rode in the Revolutionary War and was "retired" at Mt. Vernon?


Answer: The name of Washington's horse was Nelson.  You will hear more about him and Washington in a subsequent article: The month we celebrate Washington's birthday: February 22.


Posted 10/19/2005 by Blizzard

"Nice...I read it in history."

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