Explore Washington D.C.

Horse Tales: Mounts and Riders Around D.C.

Thanks to domesticated, four-legged companions, Americans have won battles, explored frontiers, plowed the land and traveled in style. Today their horses are honored outdoors in bronze and indoors at fine museums and still ridden on trails and carousels

In August 1814, First Lady Dolley Madison packed a rolled-up oil portrait of George Washington into a horse-drawn wagon and made her escape. The War of 1812 had escalated to invasion of the capital by British troops. Major General Robert Ross on horseback ordered the burning of the White House and the Capitol, and then he headed to Baltimore, where a decisive battle (and a U.S. flag over Fort McHenry) signaled the inevitable end of “the second war of independence.” Generals atop mounts still factor but in bronze: 1812 war hero Andrew Jackson in Lafayette Square and Union officers in traffic circles. Today the only living, uniformed riders are the National Park Service police who patrol the Mall. Often they stop for the horses to get pats on the nose. But where else might we find these gentle creatures?

Runners know the rewards of a trek at dawn, discovering mounts and riders like General Grant at the foot of Capitol Hill. He gazes toward the National Gallery of Art which holds a bronze racing sculpture by Edgar Degas and an oil portrait of Victorian-era children, “The Hobby Horse,” c. 1840, by Robert Peckham. At the Castle on the Mall nearby, a musical carousel stars at least one neon-blue stallion.


Peckham Hobby Horse
Peckham Hobby Horse (NGA, DC, Gift of Edgar William and Bernice Chrysler Garbisch)

Close-in Virginia is “horse country,” thanks to its breeding farms, steeplechases, shows and stable tours. A drive to Middleburg allows for stops at inns and restaurants with equine decor. In D.C. saddle up at Rock Creek Horse Center with trail rides for ages 12 and up, pony rides for younger kids. Demand runs high (reserve online), but visitors can walk to the stalls on wooded paths.


Middleburg, Virginia
Middleburg, Virginia (Carol M. Highsmith, LOC)

Outside the American Art Museum, Luis Jimenez’s fiberglass “Vaquero” celebrates  wild frontier heroes in this city of martial statuary. Inside is Deborah Butterfield’s “Monekana,” a life-sized horse configured in jagged bronze. When the gallery closes, join other Penn Quarter urban cowboys and eat “southwestern” at Tex-Mex Hill Country BBQ or south-of-the-border Rosa Mexicano and Oyamel.  

Luis Jimenez's "Vaquero"
Luis Jimenez's "Vaquero" (Luis Jimenez, Courtesy SAAM)