Being the subject of a statue is enough for most mere mortals, but for military/political heroes it is often found inadequate - it is for these larger-than-life leaders-of-men that the realm of equestrian statuary became dedicated, showing their subjects not standing on their own two feet like any old schmuck but riding on the back of a mighty equine steed. Washington, D.C. has been described as being "supersaturated" with equestrian statuary.

There are codes and conventions in the symbolic code of this sculpture genre's use of posture, clothing and body language which will often (but not always) indicate some biographical information as to the subject's life and ultimate fate.

Look at the horse's hooves. Are they all on the ground (plaque / pedestal)? If this is the case, it doesn't only indicate that the sculptor didn't have materials and techniques available permitting the balancing of the colossal and massive metal or stone weight of the statue on fewer than four solid points - it almost canonically tells you that the sculpted individual may have ridden a horse, but died in circumstances far removed from the horseback-riding field of combat - a peaceful death, instead, often of old age. These lucky souls should, according to the conventions, be portrayed without arms wielded and with their head covered.

A horse with three legs on the ground will, of course, have one leg raised - in statuary, always a foreleg. (If your horse only has three legs, you probably shouldn't be riding it - returning it to the factory maybe, but you'll need to hitchhike there.) The rider of such a steed will have, at some point in their life, suffered a serious wound in combat. I may be mistaken, but I believe this position also applies when the war wound lingers and results in death (from infection, gangrene, application of pre-modern medicine, etc.) As above, the rider will again be presented with head covered but this time with weapons out and brandished menacingly. The position is derived from the medieval chevalier technique of the courbette, where the knight's horse discourages foot soldiers from approaching by lashing out with a foreleg.

    As an interesting aside, this is the position of an equestrian sculpture (by A. Augustincic, an ironically appropriate gift from onetime Yugoslavia) representing an avatar of Peace located at the site of the UN buildings in New York - the artist suggesting that "Peace is always wounded, but never dead."

A horse is much more impressive when it's towering up on two legs (its hind legs - it's a horse rearing up, not a donkey kicking back) and the symbolic meaning of such a position is comparably weightier - indicating the death of the rider in combat. In this circumstance only is the rider's head permitted to be depicted uncovered, and they must be shown not merely riding, but engaged in some sort of action (Yow, where'd that batallion of Turkish archers come from? Woah, turn around horsie! Gid-yap! Gid--urk!) - I am unaware of rules governing their presented weapon use. This position also has knightly ancestry in the levade, where a cavalier's mount rose to 45-degree angle, raising the rider above their enemies and permitting them to survey the battlefield.

If you see any equestrian sculptures involving horses on one or no legs, the sculptor is pulling something silly on you and violating a few physical laws along the way.

These are all the rules for equestrian sculpture I could turf up online but I think there are a couple of other regulations for certain circumstances - I recall, for instance, an almost-unique but not-unknown pose employed in the representation of figures who died by being crushed beneath their own fallen mounts. As well, I am curious as to what happens when a four-feet-down sculpture is made of someone who has not yet died or been wounded in combat but later is - are hammers and welding torches applied to retroactively alter the horse's position or is the statue re-sculpted and re-cast? Please /msg me if you have any insight into these monumental concerns.

Ichiro2k3 says: The whole thing about how many feet are up is, to be cute, horse shit.

In Ancient Rome, during the Roman Republic (c. 400 B.C. - 18 B.C.) the equestrian class was an middle-upper class that was not part of the patrician families. Just when this class arose exactly is unknown, but it is known that it was derived from merchants and well educated plebians of Rome. This class was achieved by, basically, the aforementioned people becoming wealthy, bribing their way into political offices they were ineligible to hold (due to the fact they were not patricians) and securing large estates in their name. This was initially done with the motive of giving plebians more say in the Senate, however this soon ended.

As time went by the equestrian class was no longer a class one could work themselves into, but rather a middle-upper class one was born into, much like the patricians. This is due to the fact that the wealth and large estates of the original equestrians was inherited by their children, so that the second generation equestrian had lived their entire (or most) of their life in the middle-upper class, rather than the lower class of the plebians. Thus, a rift was produced and the equestrian class became recognised by the patricians. Since then, the equestrian class has had virtually all the rights of the patrician - the right to serve in the higher offices of the Senate, the right to hold land and the right to command armies. Many of the most influential Romans, such as Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus, were born into the equestrian class.

E*ques"tri*an (?), a. [L. equester, from eques horseman, fr. equus horse: cf. F. 'equestre. See Equine.]


Of or pertaining to horses or horsemen, or to horsemanship; as, equestrian feats, or games.


Being or riding on horseback; mounted; as, an equestrian statue.

An equestrian lady appeared upon the plains. Spectator.


Belonging to, or composed of, the ancient Roman equities or knights; as, the equestrian order.



© Webster 1913.

E*ques"tri*an, n.

One who rides on horseback; a horseman; a rider.


© Webster 1913.

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