George Washington’s War Horses

By John Koopman III

George Washington rode many horses during the war, but there are two that received the most mention. Before the war Blueskin was his favorite fox hunting horse.

The general usually rode in the chase a horse called Blueskin, of a dark iron-gray color, approaching to blue,” according to papers compiled by Mary V. Thompson in “Horses and Horsemanship at Mount Vernon.” 1 This was fine but fiery animal, and of great endurance in a long run. Will, the huntsman, better known in Revolutionary lore as Billy, rode a horse called Chinkling, a surprising leaper, and made very much like its rider, low, but sturdy, and of great bone and muscle. Will had but one order, which was to keep with the hounds; and, mounted on Chinkling, a French horn at his back, throwing himself almost at length on the animal, with his spur in flank, this fearless horseman would rush, at full speed, through brake or tangled wood, in a style at which modern huntsmen would stand aghast.”

The horse used in the documentary is named Silver,a Quarter Horse Appendix (half Quarter Horse and half Thoroughbred). He is portraying Blueskin. Historical accounts have Washington on a white horse during the battles of Trenton and Princeton.

Later in the war the General acquired the horse who became known as Nelson. My own horse named Abishai, also a Quarter Horse Appendix,portrays Nelson for me in my various appearances as the General.

Described as a “splendid charger,” the animal stood sixteen hands high, and was a light sorrel or chestnut (reddish-brown) in color, with white face and legs. The horse who would be known as Nelson was born about 1763 and would have been a mature 15 years old, at the time he and George Washington met. He came to Washington in 1778, after Thomas Nelson (1738-1789) of Virginia, hearing that the General was having trouble finding a replacement for a horse he had been riding, sent the handsome animal to him in New York as a gift. Washington, in turn, then named the horse for his very generous friend.”2

It was on Nelson that Washington received the surrender of British at Yorktown. Neither Blueskinnor Nelsonwere wounded during the war. Washington brought them home with him to Mount Vernon after the war and retired them. Many a visitor found delight in seeing the Generals war horses.

It is said that, as George Washington would walk around the grounds of the estate, he would stop at Nelson’s paddock, “when the old war-horse would run, neighing, to the fence, proud to be caressed by the great master’s hands.”3

1. From Mary V. Thompson, “Horses and Horsemanship at Mount Vernon” 2009-2011, p. 54. All of the quotations used here were taken from original, period sources compiled by Thompson at Mount Vernon.

2. Ibid, Page 58

3. Ibid, Page 59

 

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