May 21, 2009

A Forgotten Death


I can't find any good likenesses of Abdallah, so I'm making do with a picture of his famous son Hambletonian 10.

I don't have a lot of commentary for this next post. Honestly, it's just an excerpt from The True Story of Dan Patch book that upset me horribly while also becoming a bit of an obsession. Like a car wreck from which I couldn't turn away. (Though anyone who knows me knows that I can all too easily look away from a human accident. But an animal accident is another story altogether.)

Yesterday, I discussed the interesting issue of how ugliness or poor conformation cannot be taken as the full measure of a horse. Well, keeping that in mind and knowing how fundamentally important such an ugly, misformed horse such as Abdallah was to the development of the Standardbred breed, I now present the description of his death. I don't know why I feel so strongly about posting this. It's grotesque. It makes my skin crawl and yet I want to read it and have other people read it.

"[I]t wasn't until the spring of 1854, when [Abdallah] was thirty-three, he was sold for $35 to a Brooklyn fishmonger, who used the grotesque-looking stallion to pull his wagon. In November of that year, the equine artist Henry H. Cross was sketching at the Union Course when, Cross wrote, 'a man drove in, bringing the news that old Abdallah had just been found dead on Gravesend Beach. I accordingly drove over with other horsemen to get a look at this celebrated stallion. The sight that met our eyes was indeed a grewsome one. The old horse had been turned loose in the wind and weather all the fall, subsisting as best he could upon beach and marsh grass and such other forage as he could pick up. Finally he had taken refuge in an old shanty on the beach, which he had grown too feeble to leave. There he literally starved to death. He had died standing, game to the last. In his struggles he had dug a deep hole with his forefeet, in the endeavor to escape the torments of the sandflies and mosquitoes, and appeared as if half buried, his foreparts being three feet lower than his hind ones...He had never lain down. Instead he had leaned against the side of the shanty for support, and in that position had drawn his last breath. I can never forget the spectacle he represented. It was one of the most extraordinary and at the same time the most pathetic I have ever seen -- his strange posture, his gaunt, skeleton-like frame covered with long woolly hair and the ghastly surroudings.'"

I felt compelled to post that in its entirety on my blog. It's poetic and horrid and serves as a reminder that for every horse (past or present) that has spent its life being babied and spoiled, there is an Abdallah that was abandoned. Or a Ferdinand that was shipped to Japan and slaughtered. Or the little backyard pony whose name no one knows that was slowly starved to death by a family that could no longer feed it.

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