- Nice New York Times piece on the family that bred Kentucky Derby winner Orb. Post-and-rail and lush pastures galore. Orb is the seventh generation descendent of a mare the family bought in 1926: truly the breeder’s dream (NYT)
- A restored cheese barge (they existed!) is the first horse-drawn canal boat to cross the Chirk aqueduct near Wrexham in decades (BBC)
- A plan to put semi-feral Dartmoor Hill Ponies on contraception has been hailed as a success (BBC)
- Ireland plans to introduce a central equine database in the wake of the horse meat scandal (Irish Times)
- You’ve probably heard about the official culls of Brumbie horses in Australia, but did you know that there’s a proposal to kill 10,000 walers – the nation’s classic cavalry horse breed? (ABC)
- When Metro Meteor retired, he took up painting. Some sell for thousands, but his handlers remain sanguine: “Lets face reality. Art scholars are not going to have long lengthy discussions trying to decipher the hidden meaning to Metro’s paintings. He is a horse.” Thank you Rowan, for this treat. (TIME)
- A horse is found disembowelled and mutilated in Dublin. €5,000 offered as a reward for information. Not for the fainthearted. (Irish Times)
- Larry Wheelon, president of the East Tennessee Trainers’ Association and member of the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association board and ethics committee, has resigned both posts after nineteen Tennessee Walking horses were removed from his care showing signs of soring and other illegal and harmful training methods. Between 1991 and June 2012, he’d racked (ha!) up fourteen violations. I wonder who else is on that ethics committee and what’s in their barns. (WBIR)
- A romantic British man took riding lessons, then found a white steed and a suit of armour to make his proposal to his girlfriend especially memorable. Unfortunately he didn’t practice his dismount, and came a cropper. Fortunately his girlfriend said yes anyway (The Sun)
- Meanwhile, in India, a dalit or “untouchable” man who claimed his right to equal status with other Indian castes by riding a horse to his wedding was pelted with stones. Three people were subsequently arrested. (Times of India)
Thank you to Andrew Curry for tipping me off about this great piece on koumiss, or fermented mare’s milk. It takes you from drunken Amazons to proto-Indo-European paleolinguistics, and confirms what this lactose-intolerant already feared: horse milk is very high in lactose. It’s on Wonders and Marvels, and it’s by Adrienne Mayor of Stanford University. The ice princess who features in the Hunters and Amazons chapter of If Wishes Were Horses makes an appearance too.
Koumiss was repackaged as “milk champagne” by an enterprising health nut in 1877, and you can read his manifesto (complete with scan typos) here at Archive.org.
It has been long since noticed that certain tribes [in] Russia were completely exempt from debilitating diseases; that is to say, diseases which exhaust the strength and induce emaciation, as phthisis pulmonalis, chronic broncitis, chlorosis, anemia, etc. Their fortunate immunity attracted the attention of physicians, already awakened by the popular reports, which attributed to the daily use of Koumiss, the excellent health of these people, notwithstanding the detestable climatic and hygienic condition in which they lived. …
Koumiss is a white lactescent liquid, with a characteristic odor resembling that of whey, with a lightly assidulous and biting taste, savoring somewhat of buttermilk. It leaves a fresh and agreeable after-taste, is more effervescent than champagne, and when poured out becomes covered with an abundant foam, white as snow, overreaching the glass.
South African racing authorities have just reclassified a filly called Tuesday’s Child as a colt after post-race checks showed a raised testosterone count. Nothing to do with dodgy injections or rum dealings: Tuesday’s Child is a male pseudo-hermaphrodite, and he had his breeder, owner and trainer fooled. I’ve actually “met” a horse like this – “Ladyboy” is pictured above* in a group of Konik horses kept by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust for conservation grazing. Like Tuesday’s Child’s owners, the NWT had no idea that the young horse was a hermaphrodite. “She” peed backwards from under her tail and had a small udder, like any filly. However, when she reached the age of two, she began fighting for dominance with the harem’s stallion, and trying to steal mares. She was eventually removed from the group and a veterinary examination revealed that the udder was in fact a scrotum, and that there was a rudimentary penis tucked under his tail. The newly christened Ladyboy was all male, although he was never going to father foals. He was gelded and given his own herd of youngsters to supervise, those solving his own frustrations and that of the main band’s stallion.
* I admit I can’t remember which one he is…
PS. At the time I was researching If Wishes Were Horses, and looking for early instructions for sidesaddle riding. Browsing an eighteenth-century French manual called Le Nouveau Parfait Maréchal, I found a short chapter on hermaphroditic horses who “urinent fur leur queue” (“urinate through their tail”).
Fun times in Turkmenistan. You thought the Dubai Cup was the biggest purse in racing. You were wrong. It is, in fact, the $11 million on offer in the 1 km centrepiece of the Day of the Turmen Racehorse card. You might expect a queue of Black Caviars, Frankels and Animal Kingdoms lining up in the Central Asian republic to duke it out, but once more you’d be wrong. Only the Turkmen national beast, the Akhal Teke, can participate. These whippetty hotbloods are famous for the unearthly metallic sheen of their coat and their stamina. They are thought by some to be the ancestors not just of the thoroughbred, but also of the “tap root” Arabian itself, and the Akhal Teke’s own forebears probably included the immortality-conferring “Heavenly Horses of Ferghana” that enthralled the Chinese emperor Wudi. The esteem in which the horse is held by the Turkmen nation is evident from the fact that it’s the only Central Asian nation where horse meat is not consumed.
British people tend to have an “ewwwww” reaction to the Akhal Teke, because of that slender, long-backed build, but handsome is as handsome does (yes, even when it’s the Most Beautiful Horse In The World). Here’s the famous Russian stallion Absent, who took a dressage gold at the Rome Olympics, a bronze at Mexico in 1964 and a team gold in Tokyo four years later:
Oh, and they can jump, too:
President Kurbanguly Berdymukhamedov is a patriot who champions the breed, and is investing heavily in the Turkmen horse industry. He’s also something of a Putin-esque action man whose triumphs include winning Turkmenistan’s first motor race last year, performing surgery on the first patient at a new Ashgabat cancer clinic, flying a supersonic jet and wielding an assault rifle, so perhaps it should be no surprise that he chose to take part in the race on a “golden arrow” called Berkarar. And glory be, they won! Berkarar (“the mighty”) streaked past the winning post like a champ, a length or more ahead of the field. Journalists for the state media channel were clearly so excited that they charged off to file their copy, only to miss what happened next.
Whoops! Berkarar hit a soft, deep patch of sand and took a tumble, the president shot off and lay winded on the track, and officials rushed over to help. I’m sure that the media’s haste to report their leader’s win must be the reason that they forgot to mention this dramatic fall in the Turkmen press. Luckily the rest of the world’s media picked it up and ran with it. Both Berkarer and jockey were fine, and Berdymukhamedov has announced that he will donate his $11 million winnings to the state firm that breeds Akhal Tekes, which is wonderfully generous of him.
- I’m usually sceptical about “horses stolen for meat” stories (unless they come from Florida), but this one rings true. A Romanian has been arrested in connection with the theft of several draft horses in eastern France, allegedly for the slaughter trade. Some of the horses were already being raised for meat. (The Horse)
- The English police horse who was punched by a drunk football fan has received boxes of polo mints from fans of the opposing team. (Daily Mail)
- A British university claims that the Carneddau ponies that died of starvation and exposure in Wales earlier this year are part of a genetically distinct breed that shares a common, but centuries-removed ancestor with Welsh Mountain ponies. (BBC)
- Ipswich Transport Museum is restoring a horsedrawn tram. The lightweight draft horses that drew these vehicles were dubbed “trammers” and in the nineteenth century typically only lasted a year between the shafts because of the effort of drawing the tram through often clogged tracks. (BBC)
- “Thank God for the horses. Thank God for the bloody horses,” – a trooper at the 1917 Battle of Beersheba. (ABC)
- Wild horse and burro sanctuaries in California, and how to visit them. (SFGate blogs)
- Awards for teenage boys who saved a trapped Shetland pony from drowning. (HorseTalk)
- I can’t keep up. Now the NYT is saying there will be federal approval for a horse slaughter house in New Mexico.. (NYT)
- A horse had to be euthanised in Belfast after hitting a car. The case raises ongoing concerns about horses that are kept untethered (or tethered, come to that) on housing estates in the city. (Belfast Telegraph)
- Interesting, given the cheap meat scandal: the value of horse meat exported from the UK has more than doubled in five years. (This Is Wiltshire)
- Horse racing begins again in Libya. (Al Arabiya)
- Seventh century horse armour/tack unearthed in Japan. (Asahi Shimbun)
Thank you to Andy Smerdon for getting in touch with me about his project to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. Andy’s an amateur historian with a special interest in the use of equines – hosses and mules – in World War One. With his Tennessee Walking Horse Mack and mule Meg he’ll be tracing the route of the main trenches from Nieuwpoort on the Belgian coast through Ypres to the battlefield, via war cemeteries and memorials in late August 2013. The journey will take a fortnight, and the team will camp out much as the original cavalrymen and mule handlers did during the Great War. Andy’s dedication to authenticity is impressive: Meg’s pack saddle has a tree that dates from 1916, and both horses’ tack is historically correct, as is their rider’s uniform. Mack and Meg will even have their hoofs branded, like the original War Horses.
If you want to join them or to send a donation as they raise funds for the Royal British Legion and the Blue Cross, send me an email and I’ll put you through to Andy.