The Horse in Motion

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"Abe Edgington," owned by Leland Stanford; driven by C. Marvin, trotting at a 2-24 gait over the Palo Alto track, 15th June, 1878
"Sallie Gardner," owned by Leland Stanford; ridden by G. Domm, running at a 1.40 gait over the Palo Alto track, 19th June, 1878 (1878 cabinet card, "untouched" version from original negatives)

The Horse in Motion is a series of cabinet cards by Eadweard Muybridge, including six cards that each show a sequential series of six to twelve "automatic electro-photographs" depicting the movement of a horse. Muybridge shot the photographs in June 1878. An additional card reprinted the single image of the horse "Occident" trotting at high speed, which had previously been published by Muybridge in 1877.

The series became the first example of chronophotography, an early method to photographically record the passing of time, mainly used to document the different phases of locomotion for scientific study. It formed an important step in the development of motion pictures for years to come.

Muybridge's work was commissioned by Leland Stanford, the industrialist, former Governor of California, and horseman, who was interested in horse gait analysis.

The cards[edit]

Card with "Sallie Gardner" in an altered 1879 edition

The cards were published by Morse's gallery from San Francisco and copyrighted in 1878 by Muybridge. They could be ordered for $1.50 a piece.[1]

title frames date plate
"Abe Edgington," owned by Leland Stanford; driven by C. Martin, trotting at a 2:24 gait over the Palo Alto track, 15 June 1878.[2] 12 15 June 1878 34
"Abe Edgington," owned by Leland Stanford; trotting at an 8-minute gait over the Palo Alto track, 18 June 1878. 8 18 June 1878 28
"Abe Edgington," owned by Leland Stanford; driven by C. Martin, walking at a 15-minute gait over the Palo Alto track, 18 June 1878. 8 18 June 1878 8
"Mahomet," owned by Leland Stanford; ridden by G. Domm, cantering at an 8-minute gait over the Palo Alto track, 17 June 1878. 6 17 June 1878 16
"Sallie Gardner," owned by Leland Stanford; ridden by G. Domm, running at a 1:40 gait over the Palo Alto track, 19 June 1878.[3] 12 19-06-1878 43
"Occident," owned by Leland Stanford; driven by C. Martin, trotting at a 2:20 gait over the Palo Alto track, 20 June 1878.[4] 12 20-06-1878 35
"Occident," owned by Leland Stanford; trotting at a 2:30 gait over the Sacramento track, in July 1877.[5] 1 ??-07-1877 -

(Plate numbers refer to the versions published in Muybridge's The Attitudes of Animals in Motion in 1881)

There are several editions of the cards, some with notable differences.

One version of "Abe Edgington" at a 2.24 gait appeared with the title The Stride of a Trotting Horse instead of The Horse in Motion, with a date of 11 June 1878 instead of 15 June 1878 and the text "over Mr. Stanford's race track, at Menlo Park" instead of "over the Palo Alto track".[6]

An 1879 edition of the "Sallie Gardner" card has the images altered to create more distinct outlines (with straight lines and clear numbers replacing the original photographic background) "with care to preserve their original positions". The verso has a diagram of the mare's foot movements in a complete stride, executed by Stanford's instructions.[7]

The cards were also released in German as Das Pferd in Bewegung and in French as Les Allures du Cheval.


Leland Stanford had a large farm at which he bred, trained, and raced both Standardbreds, used for trotting races in which a driver rides in a sulky while driving the horse; and Thoroughbreds, ridden by jockeys and raced at a gallop. He was interested in improving the performance of his horses of both types.[citation needed]

Stanford also had an interest in art and science, in which he looked for illustration and affirmation of his ideas and observations about the horse's motions, but got frustrated with the lack of clarity on the subject.[8] Years later, he explained: "I have for a long time entertained the opinion that the accepted theory of the relative positions of the feet of horses in rapid motion was erroneous. I also believed that the camera could be utilized to demonstrate that fact, and by instantaneous pictures show the actual position of the limbs at each instant of the stride".[9]

1873: The first unpublished attempt[edit]

In 1873,[10] Stanford approached Muybridge to photograph his favorite trotter Occident in action. Initially, Muybridge believed it was impossible to get a good picture of a horse at full speed. He knew of only a few examples of instantaneous photography made in London and Paris, that depicted street scenes. These were made in very practical conditions, with subjects moving towards the camera no faster than the ordinary walk of a man, in which the legs had not been essayed at all. He explained that photography simply had not yet advanced far enough to record a horse flashing by the camera. Stanford insisted, and Muybridge agreed to try.[8] The first experiments were executed over several days. To create the needed bright backdrop, white sheets were collected and Occident was trained to walk past them without flinching. Then more sheets were gathered to lay over the ground, so the legs would be clearly visible, and Occident was trained to walk over them. Muybridge developed a spring-activated shutter system, leaving an opening of 1/8 of an inch, and in the end, managed to reduce the shutter speed to a reported 1/500th of a second.[10] Nonetheless, the best result was a very blurry and shadowy image of the trotting horse. Muybridge was far from satisfied with the result, but to his surprise, Stanford reacted very enthusiastically after carefully studying the foggy outlines of the legs in the picture. Although Stanford agreed that the photograph was not successful regarding image quality, it was satisfactory as proof of his theory. Most of the previous depictions and descriptions had indeed been wrong. Before leaving his customer, Muybridge promised to concentrate his thoughts on coming up with a faster photographic process for the project.[8] Although Stanford later claimed he did not contemplate publishing the results, the local press was informed and it was hailed as a triumph in photography by the Daily Alta California.[10] The image itself remained unpublished and has not yet resurfaced.

1877: The single image of Occident trotting[edit]

Occident. Owned by Leland Stanford. Driven by Jas. Tennant. (1877 cabinet card)

Over the next few years, Muybridge was occupied with other projects, often traveling to distant places, and with the trial for his murder of the lover of his wife. After his acquittal on the grounds of justifiable homicide, he traveled through Central America for nine months. Eventually, he returned to California and teamed with Stanford for a new attempt at capturing an image of Occident at full speed.

In July 1877, Muybridge worked on a series of progressively clearer, single photographs of Occident, at a racing-speed gait[11] at the Union Park Racetrack in Sacramento, California.[12][13] He captured the horse at full speed.[14]

The "instantaneous photograph" that Muybridge sent to newspapers, was actually a photograph of a painting that Morse's gallery retouch artist John Koch had produced, based on Muybridge's negative, with a cut-out photograph of driver Tennant's face glued in place. Although a Evening Post critic believed that either the picture was a fraud or Stanford's horse was incredibly strange, no one else seemed to doubt its truthfulness.[15]

1878: The series[edit]

Stanford financed Muybridge's next project: to use multiple cameras to photograph the complete stride of running horses at Stanford's farm in Palo Alto. Muybridge ordered lenses from England and had an electrical shutter system built by San Francisco engineers. He had the race track whitened and a background of white planks erected at a slight angle, with a grid that had vertical lines indicating 21 inches (53 cm) distances and several horizontal lines 4 inches (10 cm) apart, of which the lowest was on a level with the track. Wires ran under the surface, from a battery of 12 cameras to two feet from the background, where they were slightly raised to be struck by the wheel of a sulky.[16]

On 15 June 1878, in the presence of invited turfmen and members of the press, Stanford's racehorse Abe Edgington was sent trotting at a mile in 2 minute 20 across the track, with the sulky wheel tripping all the wires one by one, breaking the electrical circuit and thus causing each camera shutter to open in turn, for a duration that was claimed to last the 1/1000 part of a second. The resulting negatives were tiny, but had fine details, and proved that the trotting horse assumes inconceivable positions that seemed to have nothing in common with the gracefulness that people associated with it.[16]

After the first successful experiment, running mare Sallie Gardner was sent across the track. The results showed very queer positions that shattered the illusions of the supposed superior grace of the horse. A saddle girth happened to break while she passed the cameras, which was distinctly registered on the resulting photographs. This experiment was deemed even more interesting than the first.[16]

While there have been rumors that Stanford had a large bet riding on the suspected outcome that the study would show that a horse at moments has all legs off the ground when running, the historian Phillip Prodger has said, "I personally believe that the story of the bet is apocryphal. There are really no primary accounts of this bet ever having taken place. Everything is hearsay and secondhand information."[17]

The photographs showed that all four feet are sometimes simultaneously off the ground and that when galloping this occurs when the feet are "gathered" beneath the body, not when the fore and hindlimbs are "extended" as sometimes depicted in older paintings.

Muybridge made several series of different horses performing several gaits over the next week. He had 6 different 22 × 14 cm cards printed by Morse's gallery and registered them for copyright at the Library of Congress on 15 July 1878.[18]

Critical reception[edit]

The photographic series was immediately hailed as a breakthrough success by the reporters that attended the June 15 presentation and quickly garnered worldwide acclaim. Some of the registered positions were deemed ridiculous and seemed off to many people since the strides of running horses were usually regarded as very gracious. Any doubts of the authenticity, or ideas that the captured positions could be irregular, would soon be smothered by the evidence in the large number of pictures that were published, by the praise of experts, and by looking at animations of the sequences in zoetropes.

The images of two of the cards were recreated as an engraving for the cover of the October 19 issue of Scientific American in 1878.[19] La Nature published several series in December and received a very enthusiastic response from Étienne-Jules Marey, a leading expert on animal locomotion.[20]


An animation of the retouched Sallie Garner series (minus the picture of the horse standing still)
A different galloping horse, Annie G., animated in 2006, using plate 626 published in Muybridge's Animal Locomotion in 1887

In 1880, Muybridge started projecting moving painted versions of his recordings with his zoopraxiscope when he gave a presentation at the California School of Fine Arts;[21] this was the earliest known motion picture exhibition. He later met with Thomas Edison, who had recently invented the phonograph. Edison went on to invent the kinetoscope, the precursor of the movie camera.[22]

The relationship between Muybridge and Stanford became turbulent in 1882. Stanford commissioned the book The Horse in Motion: as Shown by Instantaneous Photography, written by his friend and horseman J. D. B. Stillman; it was published by Osgood and Company.[23][24] The book claimed to feature instantaneous photography but showed 100 illustrations based on Muybridge's photographs.[25] Muybridge was not credited in the book, except noted as a Stanford employee and in a technical appendix based on an account he had written. As a result, Britain's Royal Society of Arts, which earlier had offered to finance further photographic studies by Muybridge of animal movement, withdrew the funding. His suit against Stanford to gain credit was dismissed out of court.[24]

Muybridge soon gained support for two years of studies under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania.[26] The university published his current and previous work as an extensive portfolio of 780 collotype plates, under the title Animal Locomotion: An Electro-photographic Investigation of Consecutive Phases of Animal Movements, 1872–1885. The collotype plates measured 19 by 24 inches, each contained in 36 by 36-inch frames; the total number of images was approximately 20,000. The published plates included 514 of men and women in motion, 27 plates of abnormal male and female movement, 16 of children, 5 plates of adult male hand movement, and 221 with animal subjects.

An animation of one of the Animal Locomotion horse plates was used for a Google doodle on April 9, 2012, to commemorate the 182nd anniversary of Muybridge's birthday.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Philadelphia photographer. Boston Public Library. Philadelphia : Benerman & Wilson. 1864.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. ^ "The Horse in motion. "Abe Edgington," owned by Leland Stanford; driven by C. Marvin, trotting at a 2:24 gait over the Palo Alto track, 15th June 1878 / Muybridge". Library of Congress. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  3. ^ "The Horse in motion. "Sallie Gardner," owned by Leland Stanford; running at a 1:40 gait over the Palo Alto track, 19th June 1878 / Muybridge". Library of Congress. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  4. ^ Center, Cantor Arts. "Cantor Arts Center - "Occident" Trotting at a 2:20 Gait". Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  5. ^ Center, Cantor Arts. "Cantor Arts Center - "Occident" Trotting at a 2:30 Gait". Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  6. ^ "The stride of a trotting horse".
  7. ^ "The horse in motion, illus. by Muybridge. "Sallie Gardner," owned by Leland Stanford, running at a 1:40 gait over the Palo Alto track, 19 June 1878: 2 frames showing diagram of foot movements". Library of Congress. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  8. ^ a b c "MuybridgeStory_SFExaminer_Feb1881". The San Francisco Examiner. February 6, 1881. p. 3. Retrieved March 30, 2020.
  9. ^ Stillman, J. D. B. (Jacob Davis Babcock); Muybridge, Eadweard (1882). The horse in motion as shown by instantaneous photography, with a study on animal mechanics founded on anatomy and the revelations of the camera, in which is demonstrated the theory of quadrupedal locomotion. University of California Libraries. Boston, J. R. Osgood and company.
  10. ^ a b c Daily Alta California 1873-04-07
  11. ^ Sevenson, Richard (September 2007). "Muybridge Meets Occident". Prosper Magazine. Retrieved January 6, 2011.
  12. ^ Matt Weiser (August 2, 2011). "Sacramento neighborhood considered for historic status". The Sacramento Bee. Retrieved December 2, 2011.
  13. ^ Mitchell Leslie, "The Man Who Stopped Time", Stanford Magazine, May–June 2001
  14. ^ "THE COMPLEAT EADWEARD MUYBRIDGE: CHRONOLOGY 1876–1880 (Also in 1878:)". Stephen Herbert. Retrieved February 4, 2010.
  15. ^ Braun, Marta (January 1, 2012). Eadweard Muybridge. Reaktion Books. ISBN 978-1-78023-000-9.
  16. ^ a b c "Sacramento Daily Union 18 June 1878 — California Digital Newspaper Collection". Retrieved June 13, 2020.
  17. ^ John Sanford (February 12, 2003). "Cantor exhibit showcases motion-study photography". Stanford Report. Retrieved February 3, 2010.
  18. ^ "Search results from Available Online, Lot 3081". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved May 1, 2022.
  19. ^ "Freeze Frame: Eadweard Muybridge's Photography of Motion". National Museum of American History. Retrieved June 15, 2019.
  20. ^ Hendricks, Gordon (1975). Eadweard Muybridge : the father of the motion picture. Internet Archive. New York : Grossman Publishers. ISBN 978-0-670-28679-9.
  21. ^ "Eadward Muybridge (1830–1904)". International Photography Hall of Fame. Retrieved February 3, 2010.
  22. ^ "Chapter 11". Precinema History. Retrieved February 4, 2010.
  23. ^ "Capturing the Moment", p. 1, Freeze Frame: Eadward Muybridge's Photography of Motion, October 7, 2000 – March 15, 2001, National Museum of American History, accessed April 9, 2012
  24. ^ a b Leslie, Mitchell. "The Man Who Stopped Time". Stanford Alumni Magazine. Retrieved February 3, 2010.
  25. ^ "Still J.D.B." Biodiversity Heritage Library. Retrieved February 3, 2010.
  26. ^ Gordon (2010). "Prestige, Professionalism, and the Paradox of Eadweard Muybridge's Animal Locomotion Nudes". Pennsylvania Museum of History and Biography. Retrieved February 3, 2010.
  27. ^ "Eadweard J. Muybridge's 182nd Birthday". Retrieved April 17, 2012.

External links[edit]