Our 26th President, Theodore Roosevelt, wasn’t just a mover and a shaker in the political world. He had a wide range of interests, and one of his big passions was horses. During his tenure as President, he had many horses in his stables (including the famous Bleistein) and he could often be found riding.
As a child, Roosevelt was sickly, but instead of allowing his ailments to rule his life, he instead chose to embrace an active lifestyle which included vigorous riding. By the time he reached adulthood, he was an accomplished rider and horseman, having been a rancher in the Dakotas and then participated famously in the Spanish-American war as a member of the Rough Riders.
Of ranching, Theodore Roosevelt had this to say in his autobiography, published in 1913: “In that land we led a free and hardy life, with horse and with rifle…We knew toil and hardship and hunger and thirst; and we saw men die violent deaths as they worked among the horses and cattle, or fought evil feuds with one another; but we felt the beat of hardy life in our veins and ours was the glory of work and the joy of living.”
The White House stables housed of course Bleistein, but also Renown, Roswell, Rusty, Jocko Root, Grey Dawn, Wyoming, and Yagenka, riding horses, as well as General and Judge, who were carriage horses, and Algonquin, son Archie’s Shetland pony. Many of these horses were used by Roosevelt and his children so that they could ride together.
Thanks to a preserved document from Henry Sutterby to Trumbull Cary, generated in 1902, we know that Renown was a bay hunter with a small star. He was 16½ hands high and of him Sutterby remarked that he was “A splendid specimen of his class.” Cary went on to sell Renown to the President for $600, after Roosevelt tested both Renown and another horse, The Philosopher and liked Renown better.
Renown was apparently afraid of automobiles, though. In a letter to his daughter Ethel, dated June 19th, 1902, Roosevelt writes: “Renown is even quieter than Bleistein, but he still has fearful doubts about automobiles, and stands on his hind legs….when he meets one of unusually awful appearance in a solitary road.” According to later letters, Renown was eventually able to overcome this fear, however.
About Roswell we don’t know quite as much, although there was a mention of this horse in a letter from Roosevelt to his son Kermit. Roosevelt encloses an anecdote stating that Quentin had bruised Roswell’s knee in a jump, and that “for the last week, I have not jumped him, so as to give him a chance to get well.” The next mention of Roswell is in a letter written on February 13th, 1909 where Roosevelt talks to his son Kermit about selling Roswell.
“Uncle Douglas has been riding Roswell several times this last week, usually in my company, but has not wisht to pay the price I have asked, $500. However, I do not think I shall get that price and if not I shall sell him at auction Thursday next, and then Uncle Douglas may be able to get him cheaper. Of course I should like to have him get old Roswell, for I don’t want to sell the old fellow unless I am sure he will have a good home.”
Rusty was mentioned briefly to son Kermit in a letter dated June 12th, 1904. In this case, Roosevelt sketched a little image of himself jumping Rusty. Rusty was mentioned one other time in Roosevelt’s saved papers; also in 1904 where Roosevelt tells his daughter Ethel that he “hasn’t heard a word from the two new horses,” and that “if there had been any marked improvement in either of them I should have heard.”
He goes on to say that these horses would be suitable if he were 20 years younger, but “at present I do not want a horse with which I have an interesting circus experience whenever we meet an automobile, or one which I cannot get to go in any particular direction without devoting an hour or two to the job…it looks as if old Rusty would be good enough for me for some time to come.”
Like the others, Jocko is rarely mentioned. However, Roosevelt does bring him up in a letter dated November 28th, 1902 to his son Kermit. He talks about the family going for a ride and states that “mother” (presumably wife Edith) “rode Jocko Root.”
Grey Dawn is mentioned in a letter from Roosevelt to son Kermit, dated February 3rd, 1906: “It has turned cold now; but mother and I had a good ride yesterday, and Ted and I a good ride this afternoon, Ted on Grey Dawn.”
This horse was gifted to President Roosevelt by the citizens of Douglas, Wyoming on June 1st, 1903– hence his name. In a letter expressing gratitude to the citizens of Cheyenne, who gifted the President with a saddle and bridle, and Douglas, who gifted the horse, Roosevelt states that he is “going to take the liberty of re-christening the horse “Wyoming” to commemorate this state.”
Of Wyoming (the horse) Roosevelt goes on to say that he has never been on “so easy-gaited a horse who could keep that gait at so good a speed over fairly rough ground. It is like sitting in a rockingchair to ride him; and yet he has good speed and he is tough and hardy.”
On June 13th, 1903 Roosevelt wrote a letter to Senator Frances E. Warren, stating that Wyoming had arrived, was a “perfect beauty”, and that he and his wife were very pleased with the horse.
However, like his brothers in the stable, Wyoming had issues with autos and trains. In a letter to Henry Cabot Lodge dated June 25th, 1903, Roosevelt mentions that he has been riding Wyoming, but that the horse takes “too vivid an interest in trolleys and automobiles – not to mention railroad trains – for me to desire to see Edith upon him.”
Yagenka, a bay mare, was typically ridden by Edith, Roosevelt’s wife. In Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter, Theodore Roosevelt explains that the mare received her name “after the heroine of one of Sienkewicz’s blood-curdling romances of mideveal Poland.”
In 1901, Roosevelt mentions Yagenka in a letter to his son Ted, stating that: “Poor mother has had a hard time with Yagenka, for she rubbed her back, and as she sadly needs exercise and I could not have a saddle put upon her, I took her out bareback yesterday. Her gaits are so easy that it is really more comfortable to ride her without a saddle than to ride Texas with one, and I gave her three miles sharp cantering and trotting.”
Edith rode Yagenka on a family excursion on November 28th, 1902, to go hunting. Then in August of 1903, Yagenka is mentioned in a letter from Roosevelt to Miss Emily T. Carrow. Roosevelt writes that Edith “is very well this summer and looks so young and pretty. She rides with us a great deal and loves Yagenka as much as ever.”
Later that same August, Roosevelt mentions that he has “sternly refused to allow mother to ride Wyoming, on the ground that I would not have her make a martyr of herself in the shape of riding a horse with a single-foot gait, which she so openly detests. Accordingly, I have had some long and delightful rides with her, she on Yagenka and I on Bleistein, while Ethel and Kermit have begun to ride Wyoming.”
In May of 1904, in a letter to son Ted, Roosevelt expresses concern about his family of horses. “I think Yagenka is going to come out all right, and Bleistein, too. I have no hope for Wyoming or Renown. Fortunately, Rusty is serving us well.” Cryptically (and uncharacteristically), this is all that can be found. Roosevelt could have been referring to an illness in the stables, or simply all the horses’ shared dislike of automobiles and attendant difficulties.
In June of 1904, again briefly, Roosevelt mentions that “mother” is giving “sick Yagenka” a bottle of medicine, but there is no more information to be found.
Thankfully, President Theodore Roosevelt was a prolific writer; particularly when it came to his beloved horses so we are lucky enough to be afforded a glimpse into some of the horses’ personalities and quirks; even though they lived so long ago.