Thursday, 25 December 2008

The Great 'Forward Seat' Fraud

I have been threatening this Forward Seat expose for a long time, but the more I read the more irrelevant it seems. Hiding the accomplishments of African Americans and giving the credit to white Americans and Europeans, is no big deal in a few hundred years of oppression. But I've done the work, so I may as well stuff it up here to be ignored.

Dorian Williams is in the thick of it again, because the publishers of the 50's 60's and 70's knew that a TV Face meant sales. Dorian Williams slapped together a few anthologies for the easy money. If you look at this blog you will see a few familiar names coming up endlessly, well the same with Dorian Williams. Captain W. E. Lyon is his preferred expert on the Forward Seat, quoted here from his 1952 book, "Balance and the Horse"

"We now come to the much discussed "forward" seat which was invented by Captain Caprilli, an Italian officer, in or about 1904, and which thereafter was taught in the Italian Army and copied later by others on the Continent."

Nice, simple and positive. No room for doubt. No wonder he quotes him. Here is the self same Captain W. E. Lyon writing in The Horseman's Year in 1948.

"Steve Donoghue, who started riding in 1905 with short stirrups, says in his memoirs: "It is said that I was one of the first to copy the Tod Sloan crouch. It is not so; the Forward Seat in the saddle always came absolutely natural to me, and was always part and parcel of my riding. But I certainly always admired Sloan's riding; in fact I consider he was a genius on horseback." The italics are my own and speak for themselves.

Oddly enough it was at this identical time that Captain Caprilli initiated the principle of the Forward Seat, and all honour to him, but we know that instantaneous photography was in a pretty advanced stage by then, so is it not possible that a picture of Tod Sloan was imprinted on his subconscious mind when he "invented" the Forward Seat?

Then what are we to think about Tod Sloan, who was always boasting that his particular "Monkey-up-a-stick" seat - as it was called in those days - was entirely his own idea? When Sloan was riding in America, Huggins was training there, and it was then that the trainer cashed in on the secret of the crouching seat suggested to him by the way his little nigger boy rode.

Might not such a revolutionary and successful style of riding have been in Tod Sloan's mind when he "invented" the Forward Seat?

I feel sorry for that little "coloured gentleman", because nobody has ever given him any credit for inventing the Forward seat - but perhaps after all he was not the first in the field - maybe he saw a frightened little monkey sitting astride a branch in a high wind - a picture which may have imprinted itself on his subconscious mind!

Alas! We shall never know

So Federico Caprilli starts looking pretty unlikely as the inventor of the Forward Seat. In 1952 Captain W.E.Lyon seems really positive, yet here's all this stuff from only 4 years earlier which clearly predates the Caprilli 1904 "invention". What is extraordinary is that both sets of "facts" are written by the same man, Captain W.E. Lyon, an "officer and a gentleman" and as far as we can tell, an outright liar.

The quotes may have been originally published in 1952 and 1948, but I found them in anthologies edited by Dorian Williams. The first, 1952 quote is in the "Vanguard Book of Ponies and Riding" published in 1966, the 1948 quote appears in The Horseman's Companion, published in 1967. I can find no record of either Captain Lyon or Dorian Williams admitting they had published lies or correcting the error.

A knowledgeable few, know that the original Jockey described in England as riding like a monkey up a stick wasn't Tod Sloan, but Willie Simms. Simms, like Sloan was a brilliant American Jockey, winner of the Belmont and leading American jockey in 1893 and 1894. He won the Kentucky Derby in 1896 and 1898, the year he won the Preakness. He was the first American Jockey to win on an English course, and is described here in The Graphic, of May 11 1895.

Of greater interest than the horses has been the American rider Simms. He rides very forward on the saddle, with shortened stirrup leathers that force his knees high up, and as he leans so much forward that his hands are within a few inches of the bit, he presents a living image of the monkey on a stick, the resemblance being heightened by his negroid cast of countenance.

Willie Simms was one of that large band of brilliant African American jockeys, and one of only two to make it into the National Museum of Racing’s Hall of Fame in Saratoga Springs. Captain W.E.Lyon has simply removed Willie Simms from English Equestrian history, presumably because he was black.

Life would be easy if we could just assume that the great Willie Simms is Captain W.E. Lyon's "little Nigger boy". But the story is deeper and murkier than that. It is clear that Willie Simms brought the forward seat to England. It is clear that Captain Lyon knew this and chose to hide it. Whether Dorian Willams knew about Willie Simms is debatable, it is clear he knew that Lyons was lying about the Forward Seat and was happy to republish his lies.

Huggins is the next character to join this merry little tale of deceit. Here again is Lyon's description of Huggins.

Then what are we to think about Tod Sloan, who was always boasting that his particular "Monkey-up-a-stick" seat - as it was called in those days - was entirely his own idea? When Sloan was riding in America, Huggins was training there, and it was then that the trainer cashed in on the secret of the crouching seat suggested to him by the way his little nigger boy rode.

And now an article in the New York Times.

It was with horses trained by Huggins that Tod Sloan won his early success in England, and Sloan's present international fame is due more to Huggins than to any other man connected with racing.

So, according to the New York Times of 1901 they didn't just work in the same industry, they were close working partners, and the fact was well known to all. Captain W.E. Lyon got his information from The Hon. George Lambton, an English trainer who coincidentally is also a contributor to Dorian Williams 1967 Anthology, the Horseman's Companion. Among other articles, Lambton contributes one on Tod Sloan.

John Huggins was a successful Texan horse trainer, and this story, written by W.E.Lyon was given to him by Lambton.

In the more primitive parts of America, "up country" there were many rough and ready race meetings, but the horses, though rough, were not often ready, and the same applied to the jockeys; that does not mean however that there were not a few useful horses about. Huggins, appreciating the situation, used to pick out one of his horses that had a bit of form, and send it round the country meetings. Anything that beat his horse he would buy, bring it home and win races with it - so improved was it by his good systematic training After a time in these 'up country' meetings, owners took to putting up black boys on their horses, probably because they were cheaper than the white boys. Huggins discovered to his cost that those horses which had been ridden by black boys and won 'up country' did not appear to make the same improvement as those he had bought in the old days.

This puzzled Huggins very much until one day, after he had bought a horse, the little black boy who had ridden him in his races asked Huggins to buy him as well so he could look after him. This Huggins did, but in his first race his new purchase was defeated easily by the horse that had beaten him 'up country' and the reason remained a mystery.

The darkie politely suggested that he should ride the horse in the next race, which he did, and won with some ease. This was no fluke, for almost anything he rode afterwards came past the post first.

Then at last the penny dropped, and this was the solution that came tumbling out od the slot. American jockeys in those early days were taught to ride in the approved fashion, with even longer stirrups and straighter backs than the English jockeys. The black boys, on the other hand were never taught to ride at all nor were they allowed the luxury of saddles; so that with- at the most- a rug to sit on, they used to tuck their knees up and by means of crouching and hanging onto the horse's mane, managed to stay on.

Huggins, shrewd observer that he was, saw that they 'had something there'. So this position, through the instrumentation of Huggins became the craze.

So a bunch of untrained, underpaid, African Americans are thrashing the best that white America can do, and Captain W.E.Lyons, gives Huggins, that "shrewd observer" the credit. And knowing the whole Forward Seat" revealed history is total lies, Dorian Williams continues to publish those same lies.

For further reading see this link


Bowleserised said...

This is fascinating and great research, but I have one query. Where these American jockeys racing only on the flat, and does the "classic" Caprilli forward seat apply only to jumping fences?

saddlechariot said...

No, capt. W.E. Lyon, writing for the English market ina non racing book quite specifically attributesd the Forward Seat to a "little nigger boy". The fact that he then attributed it to Federico Caprilli merely shows he is a congentital liar.
Anyway re4search will show the English in 1800 referring to the Forward Seat as Turkish. The Caprilli story is a lie, told as far as we can tell for racist purposes.