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Sousa Archives Closed December 23, 2017 – January 1, 2018

George O’Donnell riding the roan horse “Redding” and John Philip Sousa riding the bay mare “Bessie” in a gentleman’s race in 1905 at an undisclosed location.

Very few people know that John Philip Sousa was an avid sportsman who loved taking long horseback rides across the open country throughout his lifetime. Prior to America’s involvement in World War I, Octavia Roberts of the State Journal of Springfield, Illinois asked him what he felt were “life’s best gifts” to him. Sousa answered simply and directly, “a horse, a dog, a gun, and a girl – with music on the side.” At the conclusion of the Sousa Band’s 1916 New York City Hippodrome engagement he started a thousand-mile horse-back journey.

A December 18, 1921 article in the San Francisco Chronicle begins: “Early morning horseback exercise is one of Lieutenant Commander John Philip Sousa’s favorite recreations…Accompanying him on his current transcontinental concert tour is his pet steed, Aladdin, a pure – bred Arabian horse with a record for combined speed and endurance.” At the age of sixty-seven, Sousa credited his continued health, physical conditioning, and mental alertness to his daily rides.

Ironically on September 6, 1921 Sousa was thrown from his horse and cracked a vertebrae in his neck. Two months after his accident Sousa had recovered well enough to continue his band’s 1921-1922 tour, but the injury had slowed his energetic conducting that audiences had grown accustomed to. While the riding injury continued to hinder Sousa’s conducting for the remainder of his career, his love of horses, riding, and music performance never faltered.

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