Sunday, October 16, 2011

Do Horses Fly? ~Tanya Hanson

Leland Stanford (1824-1893), who wore such hats as California governor, railroad baron, university founder and race horse owner, sought to settle one of the hottest debates of the 1870’s: Is there a moment in a horse’s gait when all four hooves are off the ground at once?

Legend says he bet $25,000 that it was true. Common opinion at the time nixed the idea. After all, if God wanted horses to “fly”, He would have given the creature wings. But determined to settle the question, Stanford hired celebrity photographer Eadweard Muybridge (1830-1904) to prove it.

One of San Francisco’s most celebrated landscape photographers, Muybridge took more than 2,000 photographs with 20x24 inch negatives. His 1867 photographs of Yosemite Valley brought the valley…and himself…almost mythic status.

Accepting Stanford’s challenge in 1877, Muybridge captured Stanford’s horse, Occident, silhouetted against white sheets with all four feet off the ground. He used 12 to 24 cameras and a self-designed shutter that gave an exposure of 2/1,000 of a second. Although these original pictures didn’t survive, Muybridge continued to work with Stanford to develop techniques in the “science of animal motion.”

In 1878, he succeeded in photographing a sequence of frames produced on wet plate with 12 cameras that proved the “flying horse.” The slow wet plate collodion process produced images that were mostly silhouettes, but they showed something never before seen by the human eye.

Scientific American and other prominent publications featured articles on Muybridge’s accomplishment. However, Stanford invited his close friend, horseman and medical physician Dr. J.D.D. Stillman to produce a book analyzing the horse-in-motion. Stillman used Muybridge’s photography without crediting the photographer. Interestingly, when Muybridge sued Stanford and Stillman for copyright infringement, he lost his suit.

Eadweard Muybridge migrated to the University of Pennsylvania after that. His invention of the zoopraxiscope earned him the title of the father of the motion picture. To illustrate his lectures, he developed the scope; its lantern projected images in rapid succession onto a screen. The images came from his photographs, printed on a glass disc. From the rotating disc came the illusion of moving pictures.

Muybridge’s zoopraxiscope display, an important predecessor of the modern cinema, was a sensation at the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago. His works are still in demand by art students.

--Tanya Hanson

P.s. Right to Bragg, fourth book in the Hearts Crossing Ranch series, will be released 11-11-11. How about that for a magic number?


  1. Fascinating, Tanya. I have seen these photos and heard this, but surely had forgotten. I didn't realize he did much more, though.

    Your post popped up right on time--nice work.
    I love the release date of your newest book--Right to Bragg.
    11/11/11 This is "my" number, for I think I see it on the clock much more than other numbers.11:11

    But research has shown me to be wrong--too boring to explain...but I see other such numbers just as often. It's something about the straight up and down ones.

  2. Fun information, Tanya. Wishing you many sales on your 11/11/11/ release!

  3. Tanya, I had no idea who developed that early picture/movie, but your entire post was fascinating.Good luck with RIGHT TO BRAGG. Terrific cover!

  4. Tanya,
    Fascinating about the photographer and what he accomplished. I've always watched horses all my life. Their grace and beauty appeal to me so much. Although horse racing puts me on edge for the health of the horse, there are some race horses who look like they're flying. Secretariat could really fly. :-)

  5. I have seen this images before - just fascinating.

    I hope it is a magic number for RIGHT TO BRAGG.

  6. The photographer looks like Rasputin--kind of wild and spookie. Fascinating blog, Tanya.
    Love your book cover and I wish you every success with your upcoming release.

  7. Congrats on the 11/11/11 - that's bloody awesome, Tanya. Good luck with lots of sales.

    I loved the horses flying. Leland Stanford lived here where we live for a while and created the wheelbarrow. He sure did get around and creat controversy.

  8. Can't wait for Right to Bragg to be released. You don't need 11/11/11 to make magic - anything you write is magic! Great post, and enjoy your travels!

  9. What a wonderful post. I knew all four hooves are off the ground because I've watched a lot of racing horses in movies.
    But what a testimony to the first man who caught the action on film. Congrats on your new release.

  10. Hi Tanya,
    That is so cool! Fascinating post. And I thought Edison invented the motion picture. :) Love reading this kind of information. Thanks for sharing it.

  11. Woohoo! What a great series it is, too!

  12. Tanya, I really enjoyed your post. So interesting, and what a neat photo of Leland Stanford! ~ Ashley

  13. Tanya, that is fascinating. I'd read about this so long ago when, as a kid, I read everything about horses I could find.

    However, if you've ridden a horse at full speed, there is always that moment of suspension when you feel as if you're flying.

    Congrats on your 'magical number' release!


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