The merging of French and American horses in the 80's and later has produced some fantastic trotters, but the combination is not a new one. In fact, more than a 100 years ago the French trotter (Trotteur Francais) could not compete with neither the American standardbreds nor the Russian Orlov trotters before a true French-American combination came along and established himself as the first French international star.
The story starts in Midway, Kentucky in 1880 with the birth of Mamie, one of the biggest trotting tail females. Having bought her mother Kit at an auction her owner Philemon P. Parrish had her covered by Star Almont in 1879 and the following year the filly Mamie was born. Used on the farm at first, she was put in the training of Mike Bowerman at the age of three and was trained down to 1:39.4/2:40 before the young filly developed a quarter crack which caused her to be taken out of training and covered at the age of three.
Mamie ended up having 6 foals, one of which was Helen Leyburn by Onward, born in 1890. In 1895 she was imported to France by the American tycoon Gordon Bennett. A good trotter, she took a record of 1:28/2:21.3 in Nice in 1897 before ending up later as a broodmare at the studfarm Haras de Grandval in what is now the Seine-Maritime department in Normandy. Always covered by the French stallion Kalmia, she first produced Bobichon 1:34/2:31.1 in 1901. Two years later the good trotter Dakota 1:28/2:21.3 was born and another two years later came Fred Leyburn.
According to a 1973 Hoof Beats article ("They all knew Mamie" by Ken McCarr), the name "Leyburn" has its origin in the novel "Robert Elsmere" : "Her breeder, Philemon P. Parrish, bred all of Mamie's daughters and most of the granddaughters as well. Outside of the first foal, all of Mamie's produce carried the word Leyburn in their name. It seems that P. P. Parrish was reading a book which was entitled "Robert Elsmere." It was in this book that there were two characters carrying the names of Catherine and Rose Leyburn. This accounts for the names of the second and third foal of Mamie. As the foals with the Leyburn name did well, the practice was carried on until the entire group of Leyburns, were sold to John E. Madden."
Fred Leyburn quickly became known as an extremely fast trotter with a speed almost unheard of in both France and Europe. He established himself as one of the best trotters in Europe by winning the European Championship in Austria in 1910. The next year he set his record of 1:21.5/2:11.1 when he won the Prix de la Ville de Rouen, also a French record (and possibly European record). At home he also won three editions of both the Grand Prix de Milan and then Grand Prix du Trotting in Nice. He furthermore won the 1912, 1913 and 1914 editions of the Prix du Conseil Municipal, the equivalent of what is now known as the Prix d'Amerique (which was first ran in 1920). Although it is hard to find many articles about Fred Leyburn, what we can find clearly documents a very dominant trotter.
This first French-born international trotting star was often called the american trotter ("trotteur américain") in reference to his American dam. French breeders had not produced trotters that could compete with the best American and Russian competitors in Europe until Fred Leyburn and the two year older Jockey came along. However, not everybody was happy. The French breeding society La Société du Demi-Sang was concerned that the stronger, but slightly slower, French breed was losing out to the faster, but perceived weaker American variant and organized a exhibition of test at Vincennes in 1909 to showcase the French breed and its advantages. In the most famous test, horses had to trot while dragging a load of 500 kg. To make matters worse it was raining heavily and the track turned into a quagmire. The test was divided into two groups, one for younger horses 4 years and younger and one for older trotters. Those who hoped for a demonstration of superiority of the purebred French trotter would be disappointed as Fred's older brother Dakota would win the older group while Fred Leyburn himself impressed with a resounding win in his group, pulling the heavy load in a 1:47/2:52 time.
At stud Fred Leyburn failed to produce any top trotters, he would in fact be clearly surpassed at stud by his brother Dakota who produced several stars, and at the age of 18, in 1923, he was exported to Algeria. Even though he is forgotten by some he should always be remembered as the first true star with a French-American pedigree and the first French born international star.