After the Civil War, racing trotting horses was a favorite pastime of the well-to-do gentleman. Fabulous sums were spent to acquire record setting horses. The Seal Skin Brigade, painted circa 1881, was commissioned by Almon Richmond to portray an imaginary race of great horse champions. The painting gets its title from the fur coats and pelts covering the laps of each of the drivers-all of them made of seal skin. Each horse shown in this painting was a holder of a record time.
The Rider and Driver, the nation's leading horsing journal, reported in 1894:
One of the very few examples of artistic and faithful reproductions of the light-harness horse was brought to our attention in a little cafe known as the Chedder, on West Thirty-fourth Street, recently. It is entitled 'The Seal Skin Brigade' and was painted for the late Mr. A. B. Richmond, by Scott Leighton. Mr. Schimmel, proprietor of the place, whose name translated into English, by the way, means white horse, informed us that the late William H. Vanderbilt offered $10,000 for the painting, which was an advance of $2,000 over the original order price. The scene is on upper Seventh Avenue, with old Macomb's Dam Bridge dimly defined at the end of the perspective, and the ground covered with snow. Leading the van of sleighs, and almost abreast, with horses and drivers in a wild contention of speed, the one trotting at the utmost and the other urging to the fullest bent of hand and tongue, are W. H. Vanderbilt, with 'Maud S.'; Frank Work, with 'Edward and Swiveler'; A. B. Richmond, with 'Hopeful'; Robert Bonner with 'Rarus and Edward Forrest'; Oran Hickok, with 'St. Julien'; and Foster Dewey with 'Richard'. Mr. Bonner is the only driver wearing a silk hat, the others being topped with fur. The action of this picture is in of itself worthy of study, and the portraiture of men and horses is likewise most faithful. Would that there were more Scott Leightons, if this be what he could do; the Vanderbilt and Richmond offers of cash would follow every stroke of their brushes.