Coffin Bones, Horseboxes and Epsom

Eclipse: A detail from a painting by G Stubbs
Eclipse: A detail from a painting by G Stubbs.

By 1788 the world-famous Eclipse racehorse was coming to the end of his life and was suffering from 'very much rounded and diminished' coffin bones in his hooves.

Diagram of a horse's hoof with the Coffin bone coloured orange.
Diagram of a horse's hoof with the Coffin bone coloured orange.
Image source: Hints to horse-keepers: a complete manual for horsemen; embracing chapters on mules and ponies

Phillip O'Kelly designed a four-wheeled carriage that was pulled by two horses so that the elderly and disabled Eclipse could be moved from the O'Kelly Stables in Epsom to ‘Cannons’, the house and grounds which Dennis O'Kelly owned in Little Stanmore near Edgware. This was the first recorded purpose-built vehicle for transporting horses. Unfortunately, we know of no image of this horsebox, or horse van as some called it.

In one account, there is this pretend letter from Eclipse to his son, King Fergus:
I set out last week from Epsom, and am safe arrived in my new stables at this place. My situation may serve as a lesson to man: I was once the fleetest horse in the world, but old age has come upon me, and wonder not, King Fergus, when I tell thee, I was drawn in a carriage from Epsom to Cannons, being unable to walk even a short journey. Every house, as well as every dog, has his day; and I have had mine. I have outlived two worthy masters, the Late Duke of Cumberland, that bred me, and the Colonel, with whom I spent my best days; but I must not repine, I am now caressed, not so much foe what I can do, but for what I have done.
I am glad to hear, my grandson, Honest Tom, performs so well in Ireland, and trust that he, amd the rest of my progeny, will do honour to the name of their grandsire,

Eclipse
Cannons, Middlesex
P.S. Myself, Dungannon, Volunteer, and Vertumnus, are all here.
Compliments to the Yorkshire horses
By 1843 only a few race horses had been transported in this way. It was unusual enough for a horsebox to be shown in the Illustrated London News.

Extract from the Illustrated London News of 03 June 1843
Extract from the Illustrated London News of 03 June 1843.

Things were starting to change with the rapidly growing rail network. Travelling on the fledgling rail network was risky and the first mention of an accident involving horses travelling by rail is in The Times during 1838.

Rail Horsebox Stamp
A British postage stamp depicting a very early rail horsebox

Illustrated London News of 15 September 1849
Illustrated London News of 15 September 1849.
Upper image The Road - The Horse Van, lower image The Rail - The Horse-box


Peter Reed © July, 2017