Triumph of ‘The Northern King’: Popular Symbolism and Imagery of the Nineteenth Century Harness Racer

By Leah Grandy.

Published by The Sport Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

The harness racing horse was a prominent cultural figure in nineteenth century North America with mythologization being a key part of the allure of the sport from its beginnings. This paper traces the cultural and symbolic importance of the harness racer in nineteenth century North American society and the rise of a Northeastern sports hero in popular culture. Dan Patch is a very well known figure from American harness racing in the early twentieth century, but an earlier harness racing icon of the 1890s was a stallion from Maine called Nelson. Through profiling the career of the trotting champion Nelson, the importance of the sporting region of New England and the Maritimes is demonstrated and the climactic period of the sport captured. Nelson’s racing career and that of his owner brought to the forefront the important late nineteenth century sporting discussions surrounding professionalism and sportsmanship. Like other famous horses, Nelson was featured in lithographs, photographs, drawings, and paintings; the harness racer was not only found on the track, but also in the popular art of the period. How the horse was portrayed in harness racing shows the way in which it was viewed by society and the artist and its symbolic importance.

Keywords: Symbolism, Mythology, Harness Racing, Cultural History, Sports Hero, Professionalism, Sportsmanship, Popular Art

The International Journal of Sport and Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.37-48. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 1.487MB).

Leah Grandy

PhD Candidate, Stipend Instructor, Department of History, University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada

Ms. Leah Grandy is working towards the completion and defence of her doctorate degree at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton along with teaching courses in Canadian History as an Instructor. Her disseration concerns the sport of harness racing within the Maritime and New England in the late nineteenth century. She received her Master’s in History from the University of New Brunswick and is also a certified horseback riding coach.