The Emininently Recyclable Horse



From Internet Archive’s scan of The Anatomy and Physiology of the Horse (1863) via Wiki Commons

In The Age of the Horse I gave readers some idea of the ingenuity humans used to recycle the bodies of horses used in the nineteenth century west. Of course, this inventiveness was not restricted to the Victorian era nor to the more rapidly industrialised nations – and we’re still finding new uses for horses’ bodies. Here is a brief, morbid and often suprising list of them, from armour to face lifts.


As shelters in the eighteenth century by the Puelche and Pehuenche of Argentina and Chile. (Horse Nations: The worldwide impact of the horse on indigenous societies post-1492, by Peter Mitchell, 2015, p281)

The skin from colts’ and mares’ lower legs were used to make gauchos’ “bota de potro” footwear. (Mitchell, 2015, p282)

Drumheads; Blackfoot Indians, (The Role of the Horse in Man’s Culture, by Harold B Barclay, 1980, p177)

Leather for covering large boardroom and office tables (Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances: Or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields by Peter Lund Simmonds, 1862, p364)

“Leather guards on [German] cavalry trousers”, carriage roofs or whip lashes. (The Horse-World of London by W J Gordon, 1893, p187)

Shoe leather or “porpoise hide”  (“Horse Meat for Food” by Frank G Carpenter, The National Tribune, 19 January 1893, p9)

Saddles and boot tops (twentieth century America)

For making braided reins, bridles, girths, cruppers and whips in Kazakhstan. (Barclay, 1980, p319)

Bags and shoe soles in Mongolia (Barclay, 1980, p302)

Cordovan leather, shield and buckler parts, coat worn under armour, harness (Barclay, 1980, p133)


Distilled for use in lamps, etc. (Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances: Or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields by Peter Lund Simmonds, 1862, p364)


Sausage skins, gut strings (Simmonds, 1862, p364)


Grease and bones burned for fuel on the Pampas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (Barclay, 1980, p187)

“Lucifer matches” (Simmonds, 1862, p340)

Knife handles, phosphorus, super-phosphate of lime (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Oil for candlemaking, leather dressing and lubricating. (Gordon, 1893, p186)

Ground and mixed with sulphuric acid for fertiliser, or simply ground into bone meal for manure making. (Gordon, 1893, p186)

Button-making (Gordon, 1893, p186)

Ribs and scapulae for smoothing clay pots, cannon bones for spear heads, jawbones to scrape leather thongs, pastern bones to make ornaments. (Copper Age Botai culture, Kazakhstan)


As necklaces by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)


Glue and gelatine (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

“Nithya” – a botox-like cosmetic treatment that stimulates the cells that produce collagen.

Hair of Mane, Tail

Tapestry making, girths, ropes, fetters, collars for horses and cattle, shoe covers, rain hats and fishing nets in Buryatia, Siberia

Hair-cloth, mattress stuffing, woven into bags for crushing seed in oil mills (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Furniture stuffing, fishing lines. (Gordon, 1893, p187)

Plaited to make ropes, nets, lassoes and fly whisks by the Yakut of Siberia, who also use it for decorative work and stuffing saddles. (Barclay, 1980, p327)

Tipi decorations among some Native American groups (Barclay, 1980, p177)

Clothing or harness decoration by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)

The shirts of penitents (Barclay, 1980, p133)

Mixed with rubber to create “hairloch”, which was used as padding for the equipment dropped into Occupied France for use by the Special Operations Executive in World War Two (The Women who Lived for Danger, Marcus Binney, 2002, p26)

As crests for helmets (Ancient Greece, Persia) and on war standards carried by the Mongolian Army.

Callouses/Chestnuts (?)

Used in perfume making by the Blackfoot (Barclay, 1980, p177)


Boiled for men, dogs and poultry (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Cat and dog meat (Gordon, 1893, p187)

Fed to animals on fur farms (Horse meat for fur farms: its chemical composition by Sedgwick E Smith, Washington, Department of the Interior, 1940)

Fed to zoo animals in Central Park (The Daily Yellowstone Journal, 2nd December 1887, p1)

Fed to hunting hounds (UK)


Trimmings turned into funeral wreaths (Luc Sante’s The Other Paris); bright blue dye (Simmonds, 1862, p340)

Gelatine, prussiate, “fancy snuff boxes” (Simmonds, 1862, p364)

Glue, blue-maker manufacture (Gordon, 1893, p186)

As pendants by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)

Armour – “These mares [the Sarmatians use] not only use for war, but also sacrifice them to the local gods and eat them for food. Their hoofs they collect, clean, split, and make from them as it were python scales. . . . These pieces they bore and stitch together with the sinews of horses and oxen, and then use them as breastplates that are as handsome and strong as those of the Greeks. For they can withstand blows of missiles and those struck in close combat.” (Description of Greece, Pausanias, translated by W H S Jones)


Button manufacture; albumen extracted and used for making photographs  (Carpenter, 1893, p9)


For making cores/loose internal parts of casting moulds in foundries “in some foreign countries” (Simmonds, 1862, p368)

Collected, moulded into cakes for fuel and sold (China) (Simmonds, 1862, p369)

To insulate roofs (Copper Age Botai culture, Kazakhstan)


For making PreMarin, a hormone used to allay menopause symptoms and in feminizing hormone therapy for transwomen.

Boiled to preserve seeds, in a mythical Chinese pharmacopoeia.

Bezoar (a solid mass that forms in the digestive tract of some animals)

“It has the medicinal properties of settling fright and resolving phlegm, clearing heat and dispelling poisons. It is used to treat internal proliferation of phlegm-heat, manic depression (diankuang) and fright epilepsy (jingxian), malign poisons, ulcers and swellings, disturbances of consciousness, etc.” (Bencao gangmu, a Chinese Systematic Materia Medica by Li Shizhen, 1590)


Shipped to China, straightened and sharpened into razors (Carpenter, 1893, p9)

Horse-shoe Nails

“Horse-shoe nails, kicked about the world by horses innumerable, are not the useless fragments we might naturally deem them. Gun-makers tell us that no iron is so well fitted for their purpose as that which is derived from horse-shoe nails and similar worn fragments. The nails are, in the first instance, made of good sound iron, and the violent concussions they receive when a horse is walking over a stony road, give a peculiar annealing and toughnening to the metal, highly beneficial to its subsequent use for gun-barrels” (Simmonds, 1862, p418)


If you’ve had your horse cremated, the cremains can be transformed into diamonds or glass jewellery as a keepsake.

Alternatively, the horse can be allowed to break down into compost.

Welcome to The Age of the Horse

It’s UK publication day for The Age of the Horse: an Equine Journey through Human History.

“From Xenophon to Hitler via Chinese polo and the battle of Waterloo, this extraordinary work demonstrates how much better world history looks with a horse in the foreground.”
Meg Rosoff, novelist and winner of the 2016 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award.


“A richly informative, lively, and elegantly written overview of the horse in human culture and history that engages the reader right from the start in its exploration of the horse’s evolution and conservation, in war, industry, farming and even the theater, as luxury object and source of food, among many other topics. Susanna Forrest successfully synthesizes an enormous amount of information and presents it in an academically sound, but readily accessible form that I can best compare with the work of Barry Lopez in Of Wolves and Men. Anyone with even the slightest interest in horses and their past, present, and future as human companions, allies or victims should be sure to read it and learn from it.”

Peter Mitchell, professor of archaeology at the University of Oxford and author of Horse Nations: The Worldwide Impact of the Horse on Indigenous Societies post-1492.


“We are not alone. Human history has not just been visited by animals. It has been constituted by them. A few species in particular have played starring roles in this history. If the dog has been a loyal sidekick, the horse, Susanna Forrest shows, has been a somewhat more distant, more aloof collaborator in the rise to planetary domination of the human species. Like something out of science-fiction, an alien ally who joins forces with the humanoids in intergalactic battle, the horse, with its great and different body, with its unimaginable desires, is nonetheless one of us, in war, sport, work, and sometimes love. The Age of the Horse is nothing other than human history itself. No animal more deserves a rigorous and deep investigation of its place in human life, and no one is better positioned to provide it than Forrest. She approaches her subject with both love and lucidity, with a sharp awareness of the limits of what we can know about horses – what it is like to be them, how we grew so close to them – but at the same time a power of imagination that gives the reader the impression of moving beyond these limits. I have not gone near a horse for some decades, but after reading Forrest’s book I have never felt closer to them.”

Justin E H Smith, professor of history of philosophy and science, University of Paris 7, Dennis Diderot. Author of Nature, Human Nature and Human Difference: Race in Early Modern Philosophy.

Meet Eventing’s Couch to 5K – The Wobbleberry Challenge – and Raise Money to Fight Cancer

What’s a Wobbleberry? A middle-aged happy hacker determined to compete at a British Eventing 80 event (that’s 80cm, the maximum height of the fences involved). And they’re raising money in the memory of young eventer Hannah Francis, who died of lung, hip and pelvic cancer.

The Wobbleberries share a few key characteristics, being

– not currently fit enough to get round a cross country course

– not currently brave enough to get round a cross country course

– old enough to know better, and know that this will hurt!

– dedicated – to raising money, to training, and conquering the fear

– supportive of each other – aiming to be weeble-esque, “we wobble, but we don’t fall down”.

If you want to sponsor the Wobbleberries or throw caution to the wind and join them, find out more here. If I had a horse and didn’t have my own wobbliness problems, I’d be there in a shot. All power to your trembling elbows, Wobbleberries and your somewhat startled steeds! You can do it!

Of Horses, Fear and Trauma

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From The Art of Taming and Educating the Horse, by Dennis Magner (1887). Via

I had a whirlwind trip to London recently to take part in the BBC World Service’s The Forum with presenter Bridget Kendall, Zimbabwean psychiatrist Dr Dixon Chibanda and US neuroscientist Dr Joseph LeDoux. You can listen to the programme here. The subject matter was fear and anxiety, with some horsey stuff thrown in. I talked about the US veterans I met when I was writing The Age of the Horse and the way they worked with horses to deal with traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder.

My own anxiety issues about riding are footling compared to the issues Dr Chibanda’s patients face! It was easier to talk about therapies involving horses and the papers behind them, which often raise more questions than they answer. Here’s a brief run down of some of the pieces of research I mentioned in the programme.

As you’ll see, they are generally small studies with very different subjects. How could we factor in the different life experiences of the different horses, and the conditions in which they’re kept? Or the different relationships they have to the humans who participate in the experiment with them?

‘Investigating horse–human interactions: The effect of a nervous human’ – this is the Swedish study in which horses apparently responded to the fears of their handlers and riders:

The heart rates (HR) of horses and the people leading them (10 horses, 20 people), and riding them (17 horses, 17 people), were recorded in an indoor arena. The horses were Swedish leisure horses of mixed ages, sex and breed. All except two of the people were female and all were of mixed age and riding experience. Each horse–human pair walked or rode between points A and B (30 m) four times on each test occasion. However, just before the fourth pass, participants were told that an umbrella would be opened as they rode, or led, the horse past the assistant. The umbrella was not opened, so this pass was no different to the previous control occasions, but nevertheless there was an increase in HR for both the person (leading, P = 0.06; riding, P < 0.05) and the horse (being led, P < 0.05; being ridden, P < 0.05). The findings indicate that analysis of HR recorded simultaneously from people and horses under different experimental handling or riding conditions presents a useful tool to investigate horse–human interactions.

‘Equine behaviour and heart rate in temperament tests with or without rider or handler’ – Univesity of Goettingen, Germany, led by Uta König von Borstel.

The aim of the present study was to compare horses’ heart rate (HR), heart rate variability (RMSSD, pNN50) and behaviour in the same temperament test when being ridden, led, and released free. Behavioural measurements included scores and linear measurements for reactivity (R), activity (A), time to calm down (T) and emotionality (E), recorded during the approach (1) and/or during confrontation with the stimulus (2). Sixty-five horses were each confronted 3 times (1 ridden, 1 led, 1 free running in balanced order) with 3 novel and/or sudden stimuli. Mixed model analysis indicated that leading resulted in the lowest (P<0.05 throughout) reactions as measured by A1, A2, E1, E2, R2, and pNN50 while riding produced the strongest (A1, T2, HR, RMSSD, pNN50) or medium (E1, E2, R2) reactions. Free running resulted either in the strongest (A2, E1, E2, R2) or in the lowest (A1, T2, HR, RMSSD, pNN50) reactions. The repeatability across tests for HR (0.57), but not for RMSSD (0.23) or pNN50 (0.25) was higher than for any behavioural measurement: the latter ranged from values below 0.10 (A1, A2, T2) to values between 0.30 and 0.45 (E1, E2, R2). Overall, the results show that a rider or handler influences, but not completely masks, the horses’ intrinsic behaviour in a temperament test, and this influence appeared to be stronger on behavioural variables and heart rate variability than on the horses’ heart rates. Taking both practical considerations and repeatabilities into account, reactivity appears to be the most valuable parameter. Emotionality and heart rate can also yield valid results reflecting additional dimensions of temperament although their practical relevance may be less obvious. If a combination of observed variables is chosen with care, a valid assessment of a horse’s temperament may be possible in all types of tests. However, in practice, tests that resemble the practical circumstances most closely, i.e. testing riding horses under a rider, should be chosen.

‘Transfer of nervousness from competition rider to the horse’ – a joint study from Guelph, Goettingen and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Twenty-six   horses   and   36   riders   in   an   international dressage   and   show-jumping competition  participated  in  the  experiment  immediately  following  their  participation  in the competition.  There were 53 different pairings of horses and riders (up to six rides per horse).    The  experiment  required  riding  a  course  that  included  the  following  situations: Riding  walk  as  a  control  situation  (C),  the  rider  was  made  nervous  (RN)  by  telling her/him falsely to expect the horse to be startled by a water-jet; and both rider and horse were made fearful (BF) by an experimenter opening and closing an umbrella at a specific point during the course. Riders were asked to rate on scales from 1-10 different aspects of their  riding  skills,  their  nervousness,  and  harmony  (quality  of  communication)  between themselves and the horse.
Mixed  model  analysis  revealed,  that  horses’  heart  rates  (beats/min ±  SD)  tended  to  be higher  during  RN  (92.0±23.3;  p=0.08)  and  BF  (93.5±25.8;  p=0.06)  than  during  C (88.2±21.8). In addition, horses’ heart rates were lower during all experimental situations (RN,  BF,  C)  when  the  riders  rated  the  horse’s  responsiveness  as  good  and  when  riders had  more  rather  than  less  training  with  an  instructor  (p<0.05).  These  findings  indicate that  more  trained  riders,  and  those  more  in  harmony  with  the  horse  are  at  lower  risk  of inducing nervousness in the horse, that can potentially lead to dangerous fear reactions in the horse.

And this is the one that seems to have the most significance for equine therapies:

‘Study: Horses more relaxed around nervous humans’ – just to throw a curve ball, the horses in this study responded to nervous humans by calming down. This is the excellent Christa Lesté-Lasserre at

In her study Merkies and colleagues employed 10 horses (draft-type geldings very familiar with people) and 16 humans. They first asked the humans to evaluate their comfort level with horses on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the most afraid of horses. Merkies also recruited two horse-friendly humans to be physically stressed (just after intense exercise) at the moment of the experiment to evaluate horses’ reactions to individuals in physical distress in addition to those in emotional distress.

Then Merkies tested each horse’s reactions to each of the humans individually by setting one animal at a time loose in a round pen for five minutes. A randomly chosen human subject stood blindfolded at the center of the round pen so as to not make eye contact with the horse. For five minutes the researchers observed the horse’s reactions. During this time Merkies also measured both horse’s and human’s heart rates and observed and recorded various equine physical reactions.

Merkies determined that the more nervous the human, the lower the horse’s heart rate. And over the five-minute period that the human was in the ring, the horse’s heart rate would continue to decrease when in the presence of a nervous or physically stressed human, whereas they would increase when in the presence of a calm human. They also tended to keep their heads lower and move around less when they were with nervous humans.

Here’s the website for Sven Forsling, the Swedish psychologist and social worker who ran a residential home and stable for at-risk girls in care. You can read all about Frossarbo in his book, The Girl and the Horse and in my first book, If Wishes Were Horses.

Scandal! Did the Icelandic tölt come from England?

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William Blake’s take on Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The Wife of Bath rides an ambler,

Researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wild Animal Research (IZW) in Berlin have announced a fascinating discovery in the history of gaited horses. By studying the genomes of ninety horses that lived between the Copper Age and the eleventh century, they have traced the spread of the fifth equine gait or amble. This builds on the recent discovery (read about it here) that a mutation to gene DMRT3 causes horses to tölt or pace.

According to the scientists, ambling, tölting or pacing horses seem to have originated in England in the ninth century and were then taken to Iceland by the Vikings and on to the rest of Europe and Asia.

I’m curious about this as I’m pretty sure some Mongolian horses amble, and I didn’t know they were descended in any way, shape or form from Viking horses. Also, pre-horse hipparions were pacers.

Here’s the details of the paper: Wutke S, Andersson L, Benecke N, Sandoval-Castellanos E, Gonzalez J, Hallsson  JH, Lembi L,  Magnell O, Morales-Muniz A, Orlando L, Pálsdóttir AH, Reissmann M, Muñioz-Rodríguez MB, Ruttkay M, Trinks A, Hofreiter M, Ludwig A (2016): The Origin of Ambling Horses. CURR BIOL 26, 697-698. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.07.001.


Trump, Stein or Clinton? How Would Your Horse Vote in 2016?

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Theodore Roosevelt in patriotic mode. Via Library of Congress.

I thought it would be interesting to compile the horse welfare promises of this year’s US presidential candidate promises. Which platform is best for your horse?

Hillary Clinton, Democrats

“As president, Hillary will …

Protect horses by ending the slaughter of horses for human consumption and cracking down on the practice of horse soring, in which chemicals or other inhumane methods are applied to horses’ limbs to exaggerate their gait.”

(Bernie Sanders co-sponsored the SAFE Act, which aims to close the last loop hole that enables US horses to be sent to slaughter. He also opposed soring)

Donald Trump, Republicans

I couldn’t find anything on Trump’s website about horses.

Jill Stein, Greens

I couldn’t find anything on Stein’s website about horses.

Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party

I couldn’t find anything on Johnson’s website about horses.

Darrell Castle, Constitution Party of the US

I couldn’t find anything on Castle’s website about horses.

Tom Hoefling, America’s Party/American Independent Party

I couldn’t find anything on Hoefling’s website about horses.

Bob Whitaker, American Freedom Party

I couldn’t find anything on Whitaker’s website about horses.

Scott Copeland, Constitution Party of Idaho

I couldn’t find anything on Copeland’s website about horses.

Gloria LaRiva, Party of Socialism and Liberation

I couldn’t find anything on LaRiva’s website about horses.

Lynn Kahn, Peace and Freedom Party

I couldn’t find anything on Kahn’s website about horses.

Jim Hedges, Prohibition Party

I couldn’t find anything on Hedge’s website about horses.

Ed Chlapowski, Reform Party

I couldn’t find anything on Chlapowski’s website about horses.

Emidio “Mimi” Soltysik, Socialist Party

I couldn’t find anything on Soltysik’s website about horses.

Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party

I couldn’t find anything on Kennedy’s website about horses.

Chris Keniston, Veterans Party of America

I couldn’t find anything on Keniston’s website about horses.

Monica Moorehead, Workers’ World Party

I couldn’t find anything on Moorehead’s website about horses.

(I had to stop at this point but there are also a plethora of independent candidates, should your horse choose to explore their platforms)

CONCLUSION: your horse is voting for Hillary Clinton.