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Equipment etymology
Sunday, March 16, 2014 - by Tim Bojarski

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In all walks of life we take a lot for granted, and harness racing is no exception. Case in point; names of pieces of equipment used every day. A Crit Davis bit, Murphy blind and Buxton are in every tack box you can find.

Photo from bigdweb.com
A Crit Davis bit, developed by the trainer of the same name, has a "spoon" that prevents a horse from leaning into it when trying to pull.

But did you ever wonder how the stuff got its name?

Crit Davis was born in 1848 in Kentucky and began training when he was 14 years old. Davis had many racing successes including Prince Wilkes 2:15-¼, Maud Messenger 2:16, and Singerly 2:16-½. His knowledge of feed and equipment made him famous.

He invented the Crit Davis overcheck bit which is designed to keep a horse from pulling too much by putting pressure on the roof of its mouth when the horse would dig in. Davis definitely left a legacy as his invention has stood the test of time and is still widely used over 100 years later.

Tom Murphy was born in 1888 and was a star in the early 1900s. Known as the "Wizard of the Reins," he set 34 major world records with trotters and 20 more with pacers. He handled the likes of Peter Manning, Margaret Dillon, Highland Scott, Arion Guy, Tilly Brooke and Peter Volo. Murphy was the leading money-winning driver in 16 of 19 seasons and was the first person to win $50,000 and then $100,000 in a single season.

Murphy invented the Murphy Blind which is a single blinder used to force a horse to carry his head straight. It was

Image from USTA's Care and Training of the Trotter and Pacer
A Murphy blind, developed by horseman Tom Murphy, forces a horse to keep his straight head if he wants to see in front of him.
intended to be used instead of a head pole, for horses who would not adjust to that piece of equipment. What started as a small piece of leather clipped to the bridle became more refined, but its use has remained the same since the 1920s.

Ohio horseman Dick Buxton was born in 1928 and was a student of Wayne “Curly” Smart. He had 1,563 career winners and competed in the Little Brown Jug twice and had the honor of driving Bret Hanover during his career.

Buxton had a lot of experience with fox hunters as a youth before getting into harness racing and was familiar with equipment those horses used. He had a bad-acting mare in his care in the 1950s and thought that the hunter's breastplate that attached to the girth between the front legs of the horse and ran around each shoulder, would be better for her than the breast collar standarbreds used at the time, that only came across their chest and hooked to the bike on each side. He had a harness maker design one for him and it caught on.

Photo from bigdweb.com
A Buxton martingale, developed by horseman Dick Buxton, replaced the breast collar.
It became known as a Buxton because Dick had introduced it to the sport. He never made a dime from designing the piece of equipment as harness manufacturers took the idea and ran with it. But he was satisfied with the fact he knew he did something that was better for the horse.

Many horsemen have invented different items or modified existing equipment to address the particular needs of their horses. Whereas no one can populate a list of all of those (or assign a name for that matter) it just goes to show that the slightest change or advantage can mean the difference between winning and losing.

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