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.

Peach Blossom, Trout and Tiger: Horse Colours in 1730s France

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Screengrab from Archive.org.

A list of horse coat colours taken from The School of Horsemanship by François Robichon de la Guérinière (first complete edition 1733. Translated by Tracey Boucher. Published by J A Allen, London, 1994):

light bay
chestnut bay
black-brown
golden bay
dapple bay
jet black
rusty black
dapple grey
iron grey
silver grey
tiger (grey with black spots and large solid black areas on white undercoat)
flea-bitten grey
pied (black, bay, chestnut)
light chestnut
dark chestnut
wine-coloured roan
moor’s head roan (blue roan)
rubican
mouse dun
wolf-coloured (with dorsal stripe)
all-flower or peach blossom
trout (a black undercoat and a body and head dotted with reddish or chestnut spots)
blue-grey (“a white undercoat and spots over the entire body, such as one sees on porcelain vases”)
isabella
palomino
cream

UPDATE 17/1/2017: I rediscovered my copy of The Wilton House Riding School, a reproduction of 55 paintings by Hapsburg riding master Baron Reis d’Eisenberg depicting haute-école movements. I can’t find a date for the completion of the paintings but in his introduction Dorian Williams says that the baron lived in the mid-eighteenth century. As I flipped through the pages I noticed that several of the colours mentioned by Guerinière appear, which might help to decipher the original French list.

There’s a German-bred horse described as a “porcelain piebald” which turns out to be a dapple grey (he’s called “Superb”). A Turkish horse is “silver trout” – what we would call flea-bitten grey. A leopard-spotted appaloosa is “tiger” (a confusion I’ve come across in some nineteenth-century descriptions of spotted horses). Our mysterious “mille fleurs” or all-flower looks rather like a blue roan with black freckles.

Blog Comment Debates on Horsecare, 1600s-style

The copies of books that survive in our libraries show passages underlined, and agreement or disagreement signified in marginal comments: one reader of The Compleat Horseman and Expert Farrier (1639) by Thomas de Gray, esquire, so strongly disapproved of its advice that he crossed out “esquire”, and deleted the prefix “ex” in the book’s title to make it read The Compleat Horseman and Pert Farrier. “Oh the cretin”, he wrote in the margin.

Joan Thirsk, Horses in Early Modern England, For Service, For Pleasure, For Power (1978)

Good Job Renaissance Italians Revived the Horsemanship of Xenophon and Not This Guy

I was googling around for details of a Greek cavalry commander called Eumenes, who’s credited with introducing the use of pillars in training horses when I found this. As Xenophon put it, would you whip a dancer? Eumenes would.

During this siege, as he [Eumenes] perceived … that the horses would lose condition if they never used their limbs …. he caused their necks to be hoisted by pulleys fastened to the roofs of their stable, until their forefeet barely touched the ground. In this uneasy position they were excited by their grooms with blows and shouts until the struggle produced the effects of a hard ride, as they sprung about and stood almost erect on their hind legs until sweat poured off them, so that this exercise proved no bad training either for strength or speed.

From Plutarch’s Lives, sourced here.

Hermaphroditism in Horses

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When is a mare not a mare?

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.

26/10/2014 Here’s a news item on a new study on pseudohermaphrodites.

* 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”).