So, You Think You Love Horses? Some Reflections on the Nature of Horses and Man

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Equestrian Sports and Activities: Historical Reenacting

A Recreation of the Battle of Hanover, PA 2009

History comes alive in a colorful spectacle
reenact 3
Riders will sometimes muse that they have been born in the wrong era. Personally I enjoy a hot shower and running water and am content to live in my own times (like you really get any choice). However, it is possible to enjoy the best of both worlds. There are a surprisingly large number of riders who enjoy equine historical reenactments. Here in the United States this often takes the form of portraying cavalrymen of the American Civil War or Indian War periods.

I have never done this myself but know a number of people who do and have attended reenactments as a spectator. True reenactors are fanatical when it comes to authenticity. The dress and horse equipment of the period are well-documented by detailed written specifications, surviving examples and period photographic images. In addition, soldiers’ written accounts reveal what their everyday life was like. Reenactors thrive on these details. They also tend to look down on those people who dress up in costumes that are not authentic. They refer to such dress as being “FARB” (Far be it from authentic) and events featuring such dress as FARB fests. Once while trail riding I encountered another rider dressed as a Union general. It was a fairly good representation, but I took a certain pleasure in pointing out to him that his buttons were those of an enlisted man and, at least in the Federal service, absolutely no general officer would have accepted a coat made with enlisted buttons. It is a small detail but enough to place you in that FARB category among hard-core reenactors. However, even more than lovers of authenticity, reenactors simply love history. They are happy to spend hours explaining things to children and often excite interest in them that would be the envy of any history teacher.

The cavalry saber was still used in combat in 1863.
One controversy among reenactors is what to do with women who wish to participate. During the Civil War women were not intentionally accepted as soldiers and, with a few notable exceptions, would not have been present in uniform and on a battlefield. However, our modern sensibilities do not support discrimination based on sex, and many women chose to portray male soldiers. There are a number of well-documented cases of women enlisting during the war as men, but most of them were eventually discovered and discharged. Their motivations varied and in one high profile case a colonel was tried by court martial on the charge of making a false muster because a lady of the evening had been serving as an orderly in the guise of a male soldier and, more to the point, receiving army pay.

It would be wrong to believe that mounted women were not present in military camps during the period. A very well-know example is Mary Mercer Thompson Ord, the wife of General Edward O.C. Ord. In March of 1865 she accompanied her husband, Abraham Lincoln, and others during a review of troops at the front. Mrs. Ord was elegantly attired and rode a magnificent bay that she handled with a display of horsemanship that won the admiration of almost everyone present. That is to say everyone except the side-lined First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln who became jealous of her to the point she flew into a rage that embarrassed all and left the poor Mrs. Ord in tears. While the armies were encamped it was not at all unusual for wives and other civilians to visit as long as such activity was not contrary to good military order and discipline.

The Charge
Another issue that dogs Confederate reenactors is association of the Confederate battle flag with racism. As a descendant of a Confederate cavalryman and personally knowing many Confederate reenactors, I do not believe that their interest in the Civil War and in Confederate reenacting is motivated by any latent racism. However, I do understand the reactions of African-Americans to seeing the Confederate battle flag publicly displayed, and I react in much the same way to those German World War Two reenactors who wear Nazi uniforms and insignia even though they are recreating an accurate depiction of the dress of period German soldiers. History has the power to generate emotional reactions in us after the original participants are long dead and buried. I would make a plea for a little understanding and compromise from both sides of this controversy.

Equine reenacting is not confined to the Civil War or to military history. Any historical period when humans were mounted is appropriate for reenacting: the Wild West, the English Civil War, the Golden Horde, medieval knights and their ladies. Find some like-minded people, fit yourself out, and off you go. I, myself, am happy to be a spectator. Reenacting might be a lot of fun, but if you are going to do it you need to make the time and financial commitment to do it right. I have fences to mend and fields to mow and only so much time. However, I want to let reenactors know that I appreciate and admire their work.
The Accidental Horseman.

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