Equine Osteology Research Project Excavates Horse Bones at River Bend Farm

River Bend Farm's rich history is one that not only shares a family name (Merrill), but also a passion of horsemanship. In 1959 when Mary Merrill moved to the Farm, she began raising and training thoroughbred horses for trail riding competitions as well as racing. The rolling fields throughout the riverfront property made ideal grazing pastures for her equine companions. Portraits of her horses can still be found hanging on the farmhouse walls! When Mary passed, her nephew Tom and his wife Polly moved to the Farm, and the passion for horses continued.

The bones of Polly's beloved horses' will be exhumed by equine bodyworker, anatomist, and researcher Pamela Blades Eckelbarger, M.S. for inclusion in the future Equine Osteology and Anatomy Museum/Learning Center in Aiken, South Carolina. Studying the bones of horses illustrates the life they lived, how they worked or competed, and the impact human use can have on their musculoskeletal system. Eckelbarger has presented findings from similar excavation digs to provide educational resources to industry professionals as well as horse enthusiasts.

The search for the skeletons of Polly’s horses began slowly. It took three days of sampling the area with a backhoe to finally turn up the front foot of her thoroughbred “Mikey” on August 1. The dig continued to crawl due to wet weather and the fact that Mikey’s bones were embedded in heavy clay. But with much perseverance, the last of Mikey (hind hooves) was unearthed on August 27! I was surprised to discover that after being in the ground for 11 years, Mikey’s bones still had organic remnants attached. Due to this and the difficulty of digging in the clay, I will hold off on exhuming the other two horses for at least another year. Mikey’s bones are now going through a tedious cleaning process during which time I have already been able to ascertain several skeletal anomalies and bone pathologies. Knowing most of Mikey’s history, especially physical issues, makes the study of his bones ideal for understanding the effects of human domestication on equines.

Learn more about Pamela Blades Eckelbarger, M.S.'s work at www.equus-soma.com.