According to folk wisdom or urban legend, the position of a horse’s hooves on an equestrian statue, specifically a statue of a military figure on horseback, reveals the way in which the rider died. But it’s not always accurate. According to the most common version of the legend, if one hoof is raised, the rider was wounded in battle and may or may not have died from his wounds. Two hooves raised means the rider died in battle. Four hooves on the ground means the rider survived all of his battles without injury.
A good place to test this theory is Washington, DC., which has more equestrian statues than any other city in the United States. A quick examination shows that many of the statues there follow this convention.
For example, the horse in the Statue commemorating Ulysses S Grant has four hooves on the ground, and of course Grant survived the Civil War unharmed and went on to become the nation’s 18th president. Also, General William Tecumseh Sherman died of pneumonia in peacetime, and his equestrian statue stands with all four hooves on the ground. The statue commemorating Major General John A Logan has one hoof raised, and Logan was twice wounded in battle but survived.
However, a great many other equestrian statues around the city do not accurately reflect the legend. For example, the statue of General Simon Bolivar features a horse with one hoof raised, yet Bolivar sustained no battle wounds and died of tuberculosis in peacetime. The horse statue of Lt. General Thomas J. (Stonewall) Jackson has all four hooves on the ground, yet he was wounded by his own men and died a week later in hospital. And the statue honoring Major General Andrew Jackson features a horse with two hooves raised, yet Jackson also died in peacetime long after he’d left military service.
In total, Washington,D.C. has more than thirty (30) horse statues. Upon careful examination only ten out of thirty follow the hoof code.
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