Samuel Chifney

While trying to sort out the chaos that always seems to precede Christmas I found a picture that I bought a while ago.
Frankly, it’s awful.  I cannot think of a single good motive for buying it – as I recall I arrived rather late at the auction where it was on sale.  I didn’t view it properly, but on hearing the auctioneer announcing a watercolour of Samuel Chifney, my ears pricked up & I looked at it on the other side of the room. It didn’t look too bad, from a distance. And it was cheap.

painting of Samuel Chifney

Part of the awful painting – two other jockeys suffer similar maltreatment in the same frame – the moral of this story is – Don’t bid on something you haven’t viewed

I can only think that at the time I was fascinated by Chifney’s story. Today we probably only associate him with the rather dubious anti-rearing bit, but he had an interesting life…

Samuel Chifney (1753-1807) was a successful jockey in the 18th century. He may be remembered for many things : he rode for the Prince of Wales, he appears in the painting of Baronet by George Stubbs , he patented several bit designs, and in 1795 he wrote a book “Genius Genuine”.
This wonderfully titled publication is in part a manual for a new system of racehorse husbandry. Chifney seems rather enlightened and advocates many changes to the traditional practices of the time, such as “Sweating horses” (excercising for six miles in blankets, and on returning to the stable adding more rugs to encourage the horse to break out in fresh sweat) .
A large part of the book is devoted to self vindication following the scandal that blighted his career. We may like to think that race fixing is a modern phenomenon, however, it is probably as old as racing itself. Chifney was accused of deliberately losing a race on the Prince of Wales horse “Escape” in October 1791. He contends that the horse was effectively “doped” by a rival in the royal stables (Mr Warwick Lake). We will probably never know whether Chifney’s account is accurate, or whether he did give in to pressure, financial or from his patron. It does seem that the matter affected the rest of his career and, according to Chifney Senior, that of his son .

I took a trip to the British Library to read “Genius Genuine”, and would recommend it – if only for the fabulous language…
“If the Jockey Club will be pleased to give me two hundred guineas I will make them a bridle as I believe never was, and I believe can never be excelled for their light weights to hold their horses from running away, and to run to order in, as above mentioned, as near as I thus can teach; and it is much best for all horses to run in such; and ladies in particular should have such to ride and drive in, as they not only excel in holding horses from running away, but make horses step safer, ride pleasanter and carriage handsomer”

 antique Chifney bit  antique bit curb hook
A Chifney Buxton – there are more Chifney bits at
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One Response to Samuel Chifney

  1. Tom McIntosh says:

    The principle of the Chifney is still to be the Mexican Scissors training bit, available on ebay.