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Robert Strong Woodward's Horses and Dogs

 RSW being pulled in buggy by his first known horse.
RSW being pulled in buggy by his first known horse.

From the very first days of the paralyzed Robert Strong Woodward's arrival back in Buckland in 1911 he owned a horse. The name of the first horse housed in the Bert Wells' barn behind Redgate has been lost to history. We have not been able to learn anything about this horse except for finding one old yellowing photograph of him/her harnessed up to travel on the grounds of Redgate. She was a white horse and as far as we know the first one to carry RSW into the countryside to produce his famous en plein air paintings of the New England countryside.
Tsune at the Hiram Woodward place.

Robert Strong Woodward's second known horse was a mare named Tsune. RSW was an ardent admirer of Japanese art. He had many books of Japanese prints and paintings on the shelves of all of his studios. Other than that possible connection, little is known about how Tsune came to live at Redgate. On the back of one of our photographs is written in RSW's handwriting: "Tsune . . . this is a Japanese name." Another comment: "Note her long tail." Thus we learned that Tsune was a girl horse. When a woodstove fire destroyed Redgate in 1922, she moved up to the Hiram Woodward Barn.

The Japanese character for Tsune.
A Google search reveals the Japanese character for Tsune to be the one shown here. One reading or interpretation of this is: "to look at one with disgust and then develop into a lovey-dovey relationship." This must have been the personality character of Tsune.
Face Shot of Tsune

 thomas a kempis RSW riding.
RSW riding Thomas Kempis.
RSW's third horse was named Thomas Kempis. It would seem from the old photographs and mentions of his horses in letters and on postcards, that Tsune and Thomas Kempis were, for a while at least, contemporary, both living at Redgate and then both moving up to the Hiram Woodward Barn.

For most of the Hiram Woodward era, however, Thomas Kempis was the Horse of the Barnyard. He carried RSW around all of the local country roads and his picture appeared in numerous newspaper and magazine articles about Robert Strong Woodward. There were frequent direct mentions of his name and of his contributions to the art of this painter of New England scenes.

 A book in RSW's collection by Thomas  Kempis.
A book in RSW's collection by Thomas Kempis.
How he got his name is unknown. Thomas Kempis, in the human world, was a Franciscan monk of the 15th century.
 Thomas a Kempis pulling RSW in sleigh.
Thomas Kempis pulling RSW in sleigh.

When a fire destroyed the first studio, Redgate, Thomas Kempis went with RSW up to the Hiram Woodward studio and continued to serve the artist for many years, by pulling his sleighs and buggies around the country roads. By this time in his career RSW had a personal attendant who would often accompany him on trips, and care for the horse during the daytime, while RSW painted seated in the buggy.

 thomas a kempis
Photograph of Thomas Kempis.
Also, by this time RSW had an automobile, a Nash Advanced 6. The attendant would often follow the buggy, in the automobile, to where the painting was to be made, unharness Thomas Kempis, tie him to a nearby tree, then go back home until later in the day when he would return to reharness him for the return trip to the Hiram Woodward Studio.

 Thomas a Kempis & RSW painting.
Thomas Kempis & RSW painting.

Thomas Kempis is recorded in many of the old photographs of that era. Woodward was able to mount and ride him without assistance. He was able also to hitch him up to a buggy and travel off to quite distant places to paint (even as far as Heath, some 15 miles away) spend a day painting and return to the Hiram Woodward place in time for supper. Also, it was during this period that Thomas Kempis had to play "second fiddle" because some of the en plein air trips would be made in the new automobile with Woodward seated in the rear seat to paint for the day

Trigger at the Southwick Studio.
Some time about 1930 Thomas Kempis disappeared from the Woodward records and a new horse appeared on the scene. He came with the name of "Nigger." Even in those days this was not a politically correct name, so allegedly, Fabian Stone, the RSW personal attendant in those days, changed the name to Trigger. He never seemed to notice. It was Trigger who later, in 1934, moved up to the Southwick Studio Barn after the disastrous lightning-caused fire which destroyed the Hiram Woodward home and studio.
 Abbie's Sister on Trigger.
Abbie's Sister on Trigger.

And it was Trigger who was the Horse of the Southwick Barn during my days of working for RSW. I frequently rode him, drove him in a sleigh and in a buggy, and fed, groomed and mucked him out daily. Click HERE to read about a recollection of my Christmas time sleigh ride).

He was so well-mannered that even the neighborhood children rode horseback on him.

Trigger got old and his teeth deteriorated so badly that he could not masticate his hay. One day he was taken away by Ray Stone, Fabian's brother. The story is told that Ray led Trigger, now much thinner, on a short rope to his halter, from his barn. They slowly went down Upper Street. Ray returned to work several days later. No one ever knew what happened to Trigger or where he went. This happened while I was away at college. Nothing more was said. I did not want to know anything more.
Trigger at the Southwick Studio.

At this point, dear reader, may I ask for a paragraph aside. Horses and humans do not live parallel life spans. The average horse in the 1940-50s lived about 15 years and the average human about 70. Those of us who are "into" horses must consequently expect to have several different horses during our lifetimes. Old horses in the wild, because they outlive their teeth, usually die slowly of starvation. This is mentioned in several of the old cowboy movies where a cowboy had to "put down" his horse with his Colt .45 to prevent this from happening. We as humans, these days, must accept the fact that rather than starving, there is a more compassionate death for a horse at the rendering plant. And then we must get on with things. This is a life truth taught me by Robert Strong Woodward.
 Lady at the Southwick barn.
Lady at the Southwick barn. RSW's handwritten notation at top:
"Remember Lady's not as chunky and heavy and stocky as this looks."

The next and last horse to appear in the Southwick Barn was Lady. She was Horse of the Barn during the years I was away in medical school. By this time RSW was not as physically strong as he was in his younger days, and he was no longer able to harness up and drive Lady. I do not remember her ever drawing the sleigh or buggy. But Lady did make herself useful around the farm.

Her main responsibility was in the winter time. She dragged a sled full of snow shoveled off from the driveway, and dumped it into the orchard hollow. Trigger, trained by Fabian Stone, had initiated this "trick" and it was amazing to watch.

 Lady dragging sled full of snow.
Lady dragging sled full of snow.
Before the days of snow blowers the RSW driveways were always hand-shoveled clean of snow, and the snow thrown into a large sled. This was then dragged over to the nearby orchard hollow and backed up over the sidewalk until it tilted perilously over the edge. When the balance was just right, Trigger, then later Lady, would lunge forward, jerking the sled so that the snow would slide off the sled into the hollow. Neighbors passing by often stopped to watch.

Even though I did not know Lady nearly as well as I knew and loved Trigger, I did not want to learn about the end of her life either. She was not in the Southwick Barn at the time Uncle Rob died on June 26, 1957.


 Patrick sitting beside RSW's buggy.
Patrick sitting beside RSW's buggy.
Enough of the story of the horses. RSW also loved dogs. We know of at least three dogs who were Friends of Robert Strong Woodward. In the old photographs from the days of Redgate there are some pictures of RSW in his buggy with a dog comfortably lying beside one of the wheels. This was Patrick, an Irish Setter. His name was often mentioned in the RSW diaries as having been with him when a certain painting was made.

When RSW first came to the Southwick Studio he owned two Irish Setters, Sean and Terry. Abbie Labelle well remembers these two dogs sitting one on either side of his wheelchair. (To read her story which tells about these dogs click here) By the time of my beginning to work at the Woodward place both dogs had died. There remained only their doghouse which was built into the back side of the studio building near the rain barrel. It was thoroughly insulated. It still remains as a part of the building.

 Door into doghouse propped up open.
Door into doghouse propped up open under the Southwick Studio.
Yes, indeed, RSW loved his horses, and he loved his dogs. He was kind to all of them. Also, the ones I personally knew loved him as well.
 Sean or Terry getting attention from a guest at Southwick.
Sean or Terry getting attention from a guest at Southwick.