In 1819 Constable embarked upon a series of large six-foot canvases with the aim of making his reputation as a serious landscape painter. The Leaping Horse is from this series and depicts a tow horse jumping one of the barriers erected along the path by the River Stour to prevent cattle from straying. Begun in 1825, Constable described the painting in a letter, as ‘a lovely subject, of the canal kind, lively – & soothing – calm and exhilarating, fresh – & blowing’.
The painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1825 but remained unsold. Constable then altered the composition by painting over an old willow stump which was in front of the horse, although a faint trace of the tree can still be seen. The removal of the willow stump and the addition of the half-furled sail on the barge gave the composition greater strength and direction by concentrating the eye on the dramatic leap of the horse.