Blueskin and Old Nelson

Thomas Jefferson once referred to George Washington as:

“the best horseman of his age, and the most graceful figure that could be seen on horseback.”

Washington’s friend, the Marquis de Chastellux, a French national, also observed that Washington:

“is a very excellent and bold horseman, leaping the highest fences, and going extremely quick, without standing upon his stirrups, bearing on the bridle, or letting his horse run wild.”

Jefferson knew a good horseman when he saw one, and this was the age when being an accomplished horseman was taken as a mark of a true gentleman.

A good horseman needs a good horse, and Washington had many magnificent ones to ride. During the American Revolutionary War, the two horses prominently connected to him were Blueskin, and “Old Nelson.”

Blueskin was a dashing stallion “of a dark iron-gray color, approaching to blue.”He was a spirited animal, known for his endurance during a long chase.  Blueskin was a gift to Washington from Colonel Benjamin Tasker Dulany of Maryland.

“Old Nelson” was a chestnut with a white blaze and white feet. He was described as a “splendid charger,” standing sixteen hands high.  He was a gift from Thomas Nelson, Jr., a signer of the Declaration of Independence and later governor of Virginia.

Old Nelson proved to be Washington’s favorite horse to ride into war because he was less skittish during cannon fire and the startling sounds of battle. Blueskin was his favorite hunting horse. Due to his near white hair coat, he was the horse most often portrayed in artwork showing Washington on horseback.

Washington on Blueskin

Washington chose to ride Nelson on the day the British army under the direction of Lord Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown, Virginia in 1781

Both horses served Washington well during the 8 1/2 years of the American Revolutionary War. Nelson and Blueskin survived intact and were retired to Washington’s stables in Mount Vernon to live a life of ease and celebrity.

Washington always displayed great respect and affection for his horses, and it was clear that the horses loved him, too. It was reported that Washington would walk around the grounds of the estate, and stop at Nelson’s paddock, “when the old war-horse would run, neighing, to the fence, proud to be caressed by the great master’s hands.”

Blueskin lived at Mount Vernon until Washington returned him to to Mrs. Dulany in November 1785, with along with a letter of gratitude. “Old Nelson” died at the estate in 1790 at about the age of 27, quite old for a horse in that era.

Great men carry the honor and privilege of having great horses.