In 1872, former Governor of California Leland Stanford, a businessman and race-horse owner, had taken a position on a popularly-debated question of the day: whether all four of a horse's hooves left the ground at the same time during a gallop.... [more]
In 1872, former Governor of California Leland Stanford, a businessman and race-horse owner, had taken a position on a popularly-debated question of the day: whether all four of a horse's hooves left the ground at the same time during a gallop. Stanford sided with this assertion, called "unsupported transit", and took it upon himself to prove it scientifically. (Though legend also includes a wager of up to $25,000, there is no evidence of this.) Stanford sought out Muybridge and hired him to settle the question. Muybridge's relationship with Stanford was long and fraught, heralding both his entrance and exit from the history books.
To prove Stanford's claim, Muybridge developed a scheme for instantaneous motion picture capture. Muybridge's technology involved chemical formulas for photographic processing and an electrical trigger created by the chief engineer for the Southern Pacific Railroad, John D. Isaacs. It is important to underscore Muybridge's collaboration with John D. Isaacs. The design for the trigger to set off each camera was what eluded Muybridge for so long and without Isaacs' help, Muybridge's contraption would never have come into existence.
Muybridge sequence of a horse jumping.
In 1877, Muybridge settled Stanford's question with a single photographic negative showing Stanford's racehorse Occident airborne in the midst of a gallop. This negative was lost, but it survives through woodcuts made at the time.
By 1878, spurred on by Stanford to expand the experiment, Muybridge had successfully photographed a horse in fast motion using a series of twenty-four cameras. The first experience successfully took place on June 11 with the press present. Muybridge used a series of 12 stereoscopic cameras, 21 inches apart to cover the 20 feet taken by one horse stride, taking pictures at one thousandth of a second. The cameras were arranged parallel to the track, with trip-wires attached to each camera shutter triggered by the horse's hooves.
This series of photos, taken at what is now Stanford University, is called The Horse in Motion, and shows that the hooves do all leave the ground — although not with the legs fully extended forward and back, as contemporary illustrators tended to imagine, but rather at the moment when all the hooves are tucked under the horse, as it switches from "pulling" from the front legs to "pushing" from the back legs. [show less]