President Ulysses S. Grant was known as a horseman, but few realize the extent of his mastery in the saddle.
His son Frederick said: “My father was the best horseman in the army, he rode splendidly and always on magnificent and fiery horses … He preferred to ride the most unmanageable mount, the largest and the most powerful one. Oftentimes, I saw him ride a beast that none had approached.”
If you don’t believe that, three examples:
1. Grant and a horse named York set a record-breaking jump at a West Point graduation.
2. A colonel in the Mexican War asked 12 officers for someone to ride through two miles of gunfire, carrying an order to bring up more ammunition. Grant alone volunteered. He swung up on a gray mare named Nellie, putting an arm around her neck and a foot over the back of the saddle. Hanging down the side of the horse away from the enemy, he got away safely.
3. After his presidency, Grant visited Italy. Reviewing the army’s elite Bersaglieri cavalry regiment, he was the object of a prank by young officers who schemed to have him mount an enormous, ill-tempered bay that had never been ridden. Instead, Grant’s eyes lit up. His horsemanship so dazzled the crowd that it broke into spontaneous applause.
— Adapted from Grant’s Final Victory, Charles Bracelen Flood, Da Capo Press.