The present work is a study for the groom loosening the girth of a grey horse, at the far left of Munnings' painting, The Duke of Marlborough and Lord Ivor Spencer Churchill (private collection), which he exhibited at the Royal Academy of 1924.
The commission, a hunting picture of the Duke and his son, changing horses while out hunting, was arranged at a dinner that Munnings and the Duke attended at the Other Club. The Duke wanted the picture based on a traditional composition and insisted on including a signpost to Melton, a reference to the artist, John Ferneley. Munnings relates the conversation: "A signpost to Melton was the thing," said the Duke; "we must have a signpost in it! Changing horses, four greys, with the second horseman in full rig; what a subject! Mind you put me on the best horse, and why not have a stone-breaker in the picture." (see A.J. Munnings, The Second Burst, Bungay, 1951, p. 155)
The Duke and his son sat for Munnings in his London studio. Munnings was clearly pleased with the composition and describes it:
'Ivor was on the right of the picture, his grey horse with lowered head, a second horseman adjusting the curb-chain. On the left of the picture the other second horseman held the two greys from which father and son had just dismounted, the whole a scene of past glories of the chase. The grooms and horses were painted at Blenheim. A memorable visit. A palace beyond all dreams. Entrance hall and staircase, faded flags, trophies of victories and pictures by Reynolds and Sargent on either side, were a mere beginning of what followed ... The stables, too, all in the same grand style. What noble courtyards, where I stood in cool shadow, wearing my soiled old painting-coat, with easel, canvas and paint-box, ready for the fray' (ibid., p. 156).