“A bold and fearless rider,” said historian Lucia “Cinder” Stanton. “A master of his horse,” said Thomas Jefferson Randolph.
Although these are not the words that usually come to mind when we think of him, both of these writers are describing founding father and third president Thomas Jefferson.
Jefferson, who wrote in a letter that he could not tolerate any form of exercise other than riding, loved horses and was an accomplished rider. While he was president, he rode a horse almost every day.
According to Memoirs of a Monticello Slave by Isaac Jefferson, while Thomas Jefferson was governor of Virginia, British forces came close to capturing him several times, but he managed to elude them by escaping on horseback.
Even skilled riders have accidents, however, and Jefferson had several. In fact, he broke his arm after a fall from his favorite horse, Caractacus.
What We Know About Caractacus
Born May 7, 1775, Caractacus was the offspring of Jefferson’s mare Allycroker and his friend William Dandridge’s horse Young Fearnought.
Jefferson named the animal after a first-century chieftain of the British Catuvellauni tribe who led an armed resistance of the Roman invasion. According to Roman historian Tacitus, the chieftain Caractacus was captured and sent to Rome as a prisoner. Caractacus made such a stirring speech to the Roman Senate, however, that he was pardoned and permitted to live the rest of his life in Rome as a free man.
Thrown — And Badly Injured
In 1781, when Jefferson was 38 and his horse was 6, the horse threw his — injuring him “so seriously that it was six weeks before he could ride again,” according to Thomas Jefferson: An Intimate History. This was 20 years before Jefferson would become president.
Was Caractacus at the White House?
Maybe. But maybe not. He would have been quite a senior, nearly 26 years old, by the time Jefferson took office. And the last mention we can find of Caractacus is in 1790, a decade before then.
Even so, horse racing was the most popular sport in America during Jefferson’s presidency.
As president, Jefferson enjoyed attending the meets at the National Race Course, which opened in 1802 just two miles north of the White House. An experienced and talented architect, Jefferson designed the horse stables that are now part of the White House’s West Colonnade.
Jefferson’s Other Horses
Here are some of the imaginative names of Jefferson’s many horses during his lifetime:
- Orra Moor
- Peggy Waffington
- Polly Peachum
- Remus & Romulus
- The General
Eagle — “fleet, fiery, but gentle-tempered” — was the last horse Thomas Jefferson ever rode, according to Henry Stephens Randall, writing in The Life of Thomas Jefferson. By then, in the early summer of 1826, the former president was “so feeble that he required assistance to mount him.”