Talking Horses: Honhy, Honhy, Hon! A Victorian Policeman is Saluted.

 

Street-cab horses drinking from half-barrel of water provided by the A.S.P.C.A. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

Street-cab horses drinking from half-barrel of water provided by the A.S.P.C.A. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress). Note hat on right-hand horse.

In his 29-year career as a policeman in Victorian London, John Pegg oversaw over 1,300 convictions for cruelty to horses. This poem was written “on behalf” of those horses by George H Hutt in 1892. Read more about Hutt – “the police poet” – and Pegg here, along with a collection of other “horses’ letters” on Christopher T George’s ripperology blog.

“A Horse’s Letter to Ex-Police Constable 365 John Pegg”

Dear Mr. Pegg, you’ve proved our friend,
No one can deny,
By oft detecting cruelty
While others pass it by.

Your life has been devoted to
The ailments of my race,
And when the tongue was devoid of speech,
Yours kindly took its place.

Before we had your kindly aid
Our pleading proved in vain,
And often with a heavy load
We’ve struggled on in pain.

While drivers in their ignorance
Have vowed that we did shirk,
And though we have been weak and ill
Have urged on to work.

‘Tis you and only such as you
Who mark the mute appeal,
Of us poor helpless quadrupeds
When indisposed we feel.

I’ve had the horrid toothache, Pegg,
And fast I could not go,
But as a medicine received
A cruel, stinging blow.

Again I’ve stood hour after hour
Till corns have made me kick,
And blamed for vicious temper been
Belaboured with a stick.

Sometimes a drunkard held the reins,
And muddled, did not think
That I as well as he required
A cool refreshing drink.

He loitered, tippling on the way,
Till working hours were past,
Then homeward thrashed me, and all night
Left me, unclean, to fast.

But dear old Pegg, you found it out,
And when ’twas brought to light,
You had the rascal punished well,
While Sangster set me right.

Now nearly thirty years you’ve been
An agent of the law,
And through your tact oft saved us pain
By finding out the flaw.

And though we are but helpless brutes,
Without the power of speech,
Yet in our gratefulness, dear Pegg,
A moral we can teach.

So horses, mules, and asses, too,
Their wishes to you give
By neighing “Honhy, honhy, hon!”
Which means “Long may you live.”

May those who have the care of us
With your kind acts agree,
Then animals of every class
Will better treated be.

Dutch Stables: Horses in the Heart of Amsterdam

I went to Amsterdam last weekend to see friends I hadn’t seen for far too long, and ended up doing a little unscheduled horsey tourism. I hadn’t planned it, honest! I had no idea that Amsterdam had a nineteenth century riding manège right by its main park, nor that the building was still home to horses. And I didn’t realise until I wandered into the Van Loon House museum on the Keizersgracht that there was a beautifully preserved coach house and stables tucked away at the end of its garden. Maybe it’s the canals and narrow streets – boats and bikes dominate – but Amsterdam is not Venice, and there are plenty of cobbled streets once traversed by the thousands of horses that made the city on the Amstel function in the nineteenth century and earlier.

Van Loon House Museum, coach house

Van Loon House Museum, coach house

This palladian construction sits at the end of the garden of the Van Loon family’s townhouse. The house itself was built in 1672 and the wealthy Van Loons moved in in 1884, only departing in 1945. The coach house was home to up to six horses (cared for by two grooms, a coachman and a footman) and was enough of a source of pride for the family to take guests to view it. They also had country estates, and the stable has now been reconstructed using mangers from one of these homes. When in town, the family’s equestrian activities were probably confined to the Vondelpark, where they could ride or drive as the fancy took. There are some photographs of the family sleigh in the park, and the sleigh itself is sitting on the old brick floor, opposite a cabinet of harnesses decorated with the family colours:

Sleigh

Sleigh

And this is the charabanc, from the French for “wagon with benches”, also in the family colours (yellow and black). One of the Van Loons was hunting master to King William III, and his hunting horn is strung up on the stable wall, along with a black-and-white photo of a Van Loon lady leaping sidesaddle over a hurdle on an affable, old-fashioned-looking grey.

Charabanc

Charabanc

There’s also a model of the stable as it once looked – a family children’s toy, complete with saddles hanging on the partitions and horses with plaited tails. If you look closely you’ll even see the nameplates over each stall. I bought some postcards with old images of the stables, horses, grooms and coachman. The horses look just like Gelderlanders – chestnut or bay with backs as long as fire dogs.

Children's model stable

Children’s model stable

Mention of the Vondelpark led me to the Dutch Equestrian School Museum on a leafy, blossom-lined street just yards from the park itself. The large detached houses give way to this façade:
IMG_0953Slip under the archway and there’s a potent whiff of horse and horse by-products, a long corridor with a red carpet and a large door that opens into the Hollandesche Manege,  originally founded in 1744 and in its current form since 1882. It’s still in use as a riding stable and still hosts “carousels”. Here are a selection of blurry cameraphone shots (no flash) of the hall, foyer and stables: the grand staircase with its treads worn down by 130 years of riding boots, the loose boxes and their friendly (and hungry) inhabitants and the stucco decorations, with some visual depth added by a layer of manège dust. The foyer is the most beautiful riding “club house” I’ve ever been in (although most of the riding club houses I know where full of janky old heaters, dirty tea mugs and folded up horse blankets, but I digress). Alongside the pony club summer camp adverts, copies of Black Beauty and old plates of “Equitation Around the World”, is a huge nineteenth-century gouache drawing of gentlemen in top hats playing at quintain and running at rings. One of the information cards provided says that women were very much involved at the reopening ceremony in 1882, and there were sidesaddles for sale and on display. My ticket included a free cup of tea, so I sat on the balcony and watched the current crop of riders go through their paces before wandering out to the crowded Vondelpark and hunting for old bridle paths.

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To Bridle the Horses of St Mark

The copper horses of St Mark's Basilica, Venice

The copper horses of St Mark’s Basilica, Venice. Photo: Rosemary Forrest.

Emerging from somewhere unconfirmed in classical Greece or Rome, this quadriga of horses lived in Constantinople until it was sacked by the Venetians in 1204, and they were carried off to stand guard over the Basilica of St Mark’s. Like many horses, they experienced literal upheavals in times of war, and were stolen by Napoleon in 1797 for a Parisian triumphal arch, and only returned in 1815. To Venice, that is, not Constantinople. In anticipation of damage in World War One they were taken by barge all the way to the Palazzo Venezia in Rome for safekeeping, and in the Second World War they were also packed up before being restored to pride of place. Air pollution achieved what global war could not, however, and in the 1980s they were moved into the interior of the church, and replaced with replicas.

“. . . the four bronze horses which stood for 700 years upon its façade, and which so impressed Goethe that he wanted to get the opinion of  ‘a good judge of horseflesh’ on them. No pampered thoroughbred, no scarred war-horse has enjoyed so romantic a career as these. . . .[they] became so symbolic of Venetian pride and glory that the Genoese, when they were at war with Venice, used to boast that they were going to ‘bridle the horses of St Mark’ . . . I can hardly bear to think of them shut away out of the sunshine, because they always seemed to me, as to generations of Venetians, truly living creatures, animated by the genius of their unknown creators. For all their wanderings, they used to seem, up there on their proud pedestals, ageless and untired. I often saw them paw the stonework, at starlit Venetian midnights, and once I heard a whinny from the second horse on the right, so old, brave and metallic that St Theodore’s crocodile, raising its head from beneath the saintly buskins, answered wtih a kind of grunt.”

Venice, by Jan Morris. 1993 Faber edition. Thank you to Mum for the photo.

 

To Have Wished My Self a Horse

When the right vertuous E.W. and I were at the Emperour’s court togither [in Vienna in 1574], wee gave our selves to learne horsemanship of Ion Pietro Pugliano . . . He said . . . horsemen were the noblest of soldiers . . . they were the maisters of war, and ornaments of peace, speedie goers, and strong abiders, triumphers both in Camps and Courts: nay, to so unbeleeved a point he proceeded, as that no earthly thing bred such wonder to a Prince, as to be a good horseman. Skill of government were but a Pedanteria, in comparison then would he adde several praises, by telling what a peerless beast the horse was, the only serviceable Courtier without flattery, the beast of most bewtie, faithfulnesse, courage, and such more, that if I had not beene a peece of a Logician before I came to him, I think he would have perswaded mee to have wished my self a horse.

From Sir Philip Sidney’s Defense of Poesie. Found in Patrick Leigh Fermor’s A Time of Gifts.

The Horses of Baltimore

Horse-drawn wagons are used for recycling collection in some Belgian and French cities – a great way to preserve heavy horse breeds that might otherwise die out or be used for meat alone. Baltimore in the States has also preserved horse-drawn deliveries – once, of course, universal – as a way of getting fresh fruit and veg to people who might otherwise have difficulty obtaining it. Find out more at the Arabber Preservation Society.