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I have heard that the number of legs a horse has in the air in a statue indicates how the rider died. According to what I have understood:

  • 2 legs in the air: rider died in battle
  • 1 leg in the air: rider died by wounds made in battle
  • 0 legs in the air: rider died by any other reason

Is there any truth in this, or was it a tradition at any point or place?

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Should this stay here or move to Skeptics SE? –  DVK Dec 29 '11 at 15:19
I have heard this before in the context of statues of famous persons, it's probably ok to dismiss it from a historical context. –  MichaelF Jan 1 '12 at 15:53
[Snopes]( snopes.com/military/statue.asp). Please do research before asking. –  Mark C. Wallace Dec 7 '14 at 23:31
Are there any equestrian statues with all four hooves in the air? –  Samuel Russell Dec 7 '14 at 23:40
That is for being carried off by a giant roc. –  Oldcat Mar 12 at 23:31

3 Answers 3

up vote 16 down vote accepted

TL;DR: No such code, but most equestrian statues at Gettysburg happen to match it by chance.

From http://www.snopes.com/military/statue.asp:

The hoof code mostly holds true in terms of Gettysburg equestrian statues, but there is at least one exception. James Longstreet wasn't wounded in this battle yet his horse has one foot raised.

enter image description here (illustration from Longstreet page)

The article has a pretty good list of statues that do and don't match the "tradition".

Short version of the article -

  • Plenty of statues do follow this rule, but plenty of statues don't, even in Washington which has plenty (only 10 out of 30 are "correct").

  • No sculptor seems to be aware of this rule.

  • The odds of "correct" horse posture is 1 in 3 (remember Washington DC count above?), so all the "confirmations" of the rule are just statistical flukes that our brain are trying to make a pattern out of.

A separate investigation also reveals a negative: http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/1093/in-statues-does-the-number-of-feet-the-horse-has-off-the-ground-indicate-the-fate-of-the-rider

  • No sources confirming the rule in sculpting related textbooks

  • A historian for the U.S. Army Center of Military History also dismissed the story as a myth.

  • Of 18 surveyed statues of famous people: 8 are "correct", 8 are "wrong", 2 are "not enough info about the person's death".

  • Augustus Saint-Gaudens, one of the most famous sculptors of his day, had 1 equestrian statue match the "code" and another one that did not.

  • As far as Gettysburg - which seems to be the origin of the myth:

    • "Gettysburg: The Complete Pictorial of Battlefield Monuments by D. Scott Hartwig and Ann Marie Hartwig (1988)" has 478 monuments and memorials, of them only 6 freestanding horse riders. They all match deaths/survival at Gettysburg.

    • However, General John Sedgwick's horse has all four feet on the ground, despite the fact that he was later killed in battle!

      enter image description here (source: Civil War Wiki.net)

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Like many urban myths, it is actually true, aside from all the exceptions... –  T.E.D. Oct 9 '12 at 14:45

Is there any truth in this, or was it a tradition at any point or place?

It is an urban myth. Although I would have liked it to be true. It was discussed on the quiz show QI and on snopes.

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And the downvote was because??? –  Stefan Oct 5 '12 at 10:15
Good point about the formatting, have fixed it up! –  Stefan Oct 5 '12 at 12:18
Thanks - I did not realise URLs could be formatted like that! –  Stefan Oct 5 '12 at 14:06
You are welcome. We can clean comments up as well. –  Sardathrion Oct 5 '12 at 14:07

Peter the Great died due to disease. Peter the Great

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Pretty much everyone dies "due to decease" –  mgkrebbs Dec 31 '11 at 19:10
He died due to kidney gangrene or uremia, with no direct connection to a battle. –  Anixx Dec 31 '11 at 19:13
@mgkrebbs - making fun of spelling of someone for whom English is not a first language says a lot more about you than the person you are trying to make fun of. –  DVK May 27 '12 at 17:16
@DVK: I wasn't making fun of any one. I was pointing out the pun for everyone, and included a dictionary link for those who missed it because of a lack of English knowledge. –  mgkrebbs May 27 '12 at 19:24
@Sardathrion But that kills the humour. –  quant_dev Oct 5 '12 at 12:27

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