Does a soldier and horse statue indicate the way he died?
Contrary to popular belief the idea that the way a soldier’s horse is portrayed has no meaning or significance in the way that the soldier actually died.
This lovely idea is unfortunately something of an urban myth.
The myth perpetuated even has a ‘name’ generally referred to as the ‘Hoof code’ This code attempts to quantify the position of the horses hoofs to describe the codition of the rider. Hence
One hoof raised – this is said to signify that the rider was wounded in battle
Two hooves raised – signifies that the rider was killed in battle
All four hooves raised – signifies that the rider was not wounded (perhaps because the horse must be flying!)
Whilst some people may detect patterns similar to the above the true fact is that there are so many counter-examples that there is no validity in this assumption whatsoever. Most of the hoof placement is just a creative mechanism of the artist to make the horse and rider look good.
Even in cases where a sculptor has made many equestrian statues it may be that they develop a certain ‘rule’ but even this does not apply (take the case of renowed sculptor Augustus Saint-Gauden we see that he has adopted contrary rules).
The only place where the ‘Hoof code’ seems to hold any credence is with the few statues of soldiers who fought in the famous Battle of Gettysburg during the American Civil War. It is possible that this is where the myth of the hoof Code originally developed. Of the 6 equestrian statues five conform with the code but the sixth only loosely. This sixth statue is of General John Sedgewick ( he of the famous quote that “what are the men doing dodging single bullets. They couldn’t hit and elephant from here….” Only to be shot dead from about 1000 yards away). It is therefore possible that whilst he died it was not at the actual battle.
The image attached is of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and is a case in point that contradicts the ‘Hoof Code’. His horse has one foreleg in the air – which indicates Rider being wounded in battle. There is no record of Marcus Aurelius being wounded in battle and he died of illness in year 180.