Did you know that when a horse gallops, all four of its hooves leave the ground? It’s true!
Leland Stanford, the Governor of California and horse racing enthusiast, set out to prove this back in 1872. There was much spirited debate on this matter, as artists depicting horses tended to fall into two camps: those who painted or drew horses with one hoof on the ground, and those who depicted them with all four hooves off the ground, but with their legs stretched in front and behind them.
Since Stanford wanted to remove all doubt with hard scientific proof, he hired eccentric professional photographer Eadweard Muybridge. The process Muybridge used to capture these images was nothing short of revolutionary. Positioning a series of large glass-plate cameras along the edge of a horse racing track, Muybridge strung strands of thread across the track, with each thread attached to the shutter mechanism of one of the cameras. Muybridge covered the dirt of the track in white sheets, in order to reflect as much light upwards as possible, in order to facilitate taking the clearest possible images considering the primitive cameras available at the time.
As the horse would run, it would strike the threads and cause the camera shutters to activate, much like a cable release on a modern camera. In essence, the horse photographed itself running its paces along the track.
Muybridge then invented a device, which he called the zoopraxiscope, which was essentially an early movie projector or zoetrope. The images were transferred on to a disc which was spun at high speed, and could be viewed through a viewfinder, essentially animating the horse (not unlike a flip book). With his photographic study, Muybridge was able to prove that when a horse’s legs left the ground simultaneously, they were collected beneath the horse, and not outstretched as previously thought.
Muybridge’s horse study, called Sallie Gardner at a Gallop or The Horse in Motion, was later published in Scientific American, which is now the oldest continuously published monthly magazine in the United States.
Want to learn a little more about Muybridge’s photo study? Check out Studies of Motion, on Discovery Education Streaming!