Thomas Weaver was born in Shropshire, the son and grandson of farmers. He was apprenticed to John Boultbee in 1792 for five years and by 1800 he had specialised in painting livestock, the selective breeding of the agricultural revolution having produced prize animals, although he was also a very capable equestrian artist. Among his patrons were the famous agriculturalist Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester, for whom he painted Thomas Coke with his Southdown Sheep in 1807, Viscount Anson, Earl Talbot, the Earl of Powis and Sir Charles Bunbury, whose black racehorse Smolensko he painted in 1822.
The exact identity of the three sitters remains unclear. However, 'Yates' and 'Whitehead' are both Lancashire surnames, and 'Cowlishaw', from which the surname might derive, is near Oldham in the same county.