Fast Horses
: The Racehorse in Health, Disease and Afterlife, 1800 - 1920

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Sports historians have identified the 19th century as a period of significant change in the sport of horseracing, during which it evolved from a sporting pastime of the landed gentry into an industry, and came under increased regulatory control from the Jockey Club. Although racehorses were the animals around which the sport developed and was practiced, they have rarely featured as historical actors in histories of horse racing. My research aims to rectify the situation by positioning the racehorse at the centre of the historical narrative. In this thesis, I examine how racehorses influenced horse racing in England between 1800-1920, and how humans interacted with and acted upon racehorses. This thesis shows that a Thoroughbred horse was not automatically a racehorse, however. Rather, it was an equine athlete that was artificially created and maintained by humans, and entered into a variety of unique relationships with them.
Prized as equine athletes, financial assets, and as individuals with differing behavioural characteristics, collectively, racehorses were expected to demonstrate that they participated willingly in the sport. The racehorse’s body was a vital indicator of health, condition and likely future performance, and 19th century understanding of it was greatly influenced by humoralism, which, in turn, shaped training regimes, feeding, housing, and equine healthcare. Racehorses’ bodies and behaviours were simultaneously physical enablers of human sport, and limiting factors, as racehorse trainers sought to bring the animals in their care into peak condition without them becoming diseased.
Yet, racehorses also remained exceptions among the equine population. During the 19th century, change and innovation in farriery and hoof-care was driven primarily by the perceived needs of urban working horses, instead of racehorses. Famous racehorses were exceptions to the already exceptional, and the practice of burying and memorialising the most prized racehorses after they had died, allowed racehorse owners to demonstrate their compassion for animals, while simultaneously creating places and material animal-things for reminiscence.
Date of Award2018
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorAbigail Woods (Supervisor)

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