Christmas Quiz: Count the Health and Safety Violations!

Dear readers,

Merry Christmas to you all! Here’s my If Wishes Were Horses festive quiz: count the health and safety horrors committed by “Little Miss Fearless” in this short Pathé video from 1933 1923*.

I’ve spent most of 2015 slogging away to finish book two, The Age of the Horse, which will be out at the end of August. More exciting news to follow on this severely neglected blog.

All best wishes


*Thanks to YouTube commenter Antarch for pointing this out.

Bidets, Somali War Horses, Blue Tongues, Bloodhounds and Sidesaddle: Some Equestrian Long Reads


Etincelle of Wanderreiten im Havelland has a snack.

Etincelle of Wanderreiten im Havelland has a snack.

Hello to everyone who arrived after the New York Times piece on Sasa and Tav. I’m in the final months of writing book two, so I’m a terrible blogger just now. However, I do have a few long reads in the archives and on other sites, and you’re welcome to dip into them. I also didn’t realise until this week that Amazon has made a US Kindle version of If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession available. It has no US publisher as folk found it a bit too British, but it’s still a good 120,000 words of horse history and memories. Here’s my eclectic long reads selection:



The Language of Riding: A piece for the New York Times’ Menagerie Blog

Sasa’s name means “so-so” in Portuguese. It’s a little joke, because the gray lusitano gelding is anything but — he’s a beautiful horse who can, like many Iberian equines, claim descent from the war horses of the Renaissance. Look at Uccello’s “Battle of San Romano” and there’s Sasa’s likeness carrying a Florentine general: compact as a rubber ball, strong enough to balance on his hinds, and with a crested neck that ends in ears tilting forward like his rider’s lance.

This a piece I’ve written for the New York Times‘ Menagerie blog and horses and how we communicate with them. When I publish something I like to provide a little cheat sheet and some links to source material, because most of the readers who like this blog also want to do their own investigating and reading around.

Here’s the paper on horses and heart rates.  This is the Uccello painting, The Battle of San Romano, which is at the National Gallery in London.

People have (rightly) wanted to know how on earth a horse could realise that its rider was pregnant. Here is the anecdote behind it, from the Horse and Hound Forum. The horse in question was a challenging ride for its owner. One day, its behaviour changed, and it was good as gold. This was odd, and odder still when the good spell went on for weeks. The owner happened to take a pregnancy test after a while, and had a positive result. The horse (a mare, if that’s relevant) continued to be biddable and obedient until the owner’s baby was born, at which point it reverted to its old, challenging behaviour.

What this doesn’t tell us, of course, is HOW the mare knew, and WHY she acted differently. But if there are dogs and other service animals that can detect an oncoming epileptic fit or a cancerous tumour, I see no reason why a horse should not.

A little “unpacking” for the term sprezzatura, as some of the sense of the piece got lost in a series of last minute additions and edits. There’s a line missing before that sentence, which is, “My instructor calls this the art of doing bugger all.” Sprezzatura is indeed a Renaissance term, but I’m not sure if it was directly applied to riding by contemporaries. It’s championed by Castiglione in his Book of the Courtier, and there’s a little explanation here. My source/inspiration was a really excellent thesis on riding, the Renaissance and sprezzatura by Treva Tucker, called Destrier to Danseur: The Role of the Horse in Early Modern French Noble Identity. She unpacks it far better than I can in my wee NYT piece, so hunt it out.

This is the page for my memoir, If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession, and some more photos of Tav. You can get a US Kindle edition here.

Here’s a couple of videos of Sasa in action with a much better rider than I (he and Holly Barber are currently ranked 10th in the world in Working Equitation). And here’s the school that owns him: Pine Lodge in Norfolk, UK.

The Equine Army

At 7.30pm next Tuesday BBC One West will be airing The Equine Army, a documentary about horses in Britain in World War One. If I haven’t hit the cutting-room floor for being overexcited about history while wearing an anorak and specs, it’ll include me talking about the Land Army girls who ran remount depots. You can read some background in this earlier blog post, and there will be another bumper crop of posts to tie in with the story.

Holding My Horses

Horses, Mongolia.

Horses, Mongolia.

Sometimes I have these daydreams about, you know, really sorting out the blog and having regular features, or an interview series, or book reviews. Making it a news source rather than an overflowing drawer of newspaper clippings and bits and bobs I couldn’t use in my books. Then I remember how much time it takes to blog well, do my sums and realise it can’t be. That’s why you have to put up with my randomness.
I have a huge amount to do this month with the book so the blog will be shuttered for a while to give me a chance to crack on. Have fun with the archives in the meantime, or check on Facebook for news, and I hope to emerge in February!

What Do Horses Mean In New York?

I’ve been hoofing around New York and DC in the pursuit of a holiday and book two (which will be out in, ooooooh, 2015?). Shanks’ Mare and I saw a surprising number of equines on our travels, although we missed the zebra and pony on the loose on Staten Island. Books two and three are about – among many things – the way that humans think about horses and use them both physically and mentally. Here’s a visual collage of New York horses (minus police officers and the urban cowboys of Queens) in November 2012 (with thanks to Helen for the 86th Street Pegasus):