The Leaping Horse is the last of a series of large oil on canvas paintings by John Constable depicting the River Stour. It also includes the more famous work The Hay Wain. The Leaping Horse measures 1420 mm by 1873 mm and the final version can be found in the Royal Academy in London. Another oil painting sketch can be found in the Victoria and Albert museum.
Like all artists, Constable was inspired by previous artists but he was mainly inspired by his love for his native Suffolk and the lives of the people who lived there. He said it was the countryside he grew up in that 'made him a painter'. He was especially inspired by the painter Claude Lorrain. The series which included The Leaping Horse was what Constable hoped would cement his reputation as a painter of pastoral scenes despite a general belief that this was artistically unimportant.
The site of the painting is Float Bridge on the River Stour where a wooden bridge and barrier cover a sluice. The barge horse is jumping over the barrier erected to protect cattle from the river. There is also a boat with a half-furled sail on the left and a church on the right. Recent examination of this work using microscopes, X-ray, UV and infra-red light reveal Constable's techniques using broken brushstrokes and scumbling (glazing with an opague material) over lighter areas.
After The Leaping Horse was returned unsold after the 1825 exhibition he moved the willow tree from the right of the horse to the left opening up a vista enhancing the horse's jump. Some think the horse is in the tradition of prancing horses such as that found in Leonardo da Vinci's Monument to Francesco Sforza. Constable's work influenced artists such as Delacroix and Gericault as well as the Barbizan school of poets in France such as Jean-Francois Millet. Constable became immensely popular after his death with a public who loved his beautiful depiction of the rural world he grew up in.