The Pony Who Needed a New Shoe

The following instance of animal intelligence is sent to us by Dr. John Rae, F.R.S., who states that the Mr. William Sinclair mentioned is respectable and trustworthy. The anecdote is taken from the ‘Orkney Herald’ of May 11:—”A well-authenticated and extraordinary case of the sagacity of the Shetland pony has just come under our notice. A year or two ago Mr. William Sinclair, pupil-teacher, Holm, imported one of these little animals from Shetland on which to ride to and from school, his residence being at a considerable distance from the school buildings. Up to that time the animal had been unshod, but some time afterwards Mr. Sinclair had it shod by Mr. Pratt, the parish blacksmith. The other day Mr. Pratt, whose smithy is a long distance from Mr. Sinclair’s house, saw the pony, without halter or anything upon it, walking up to where he was working. Thinking the animal had strayed from home, he drove it off, throwing stones after the beast to make it run homewards. This had the desired effect for a short time; but Mr. Pratt had only got fairly at work once more in the smithy when the pony’s head again made its appearance at the door. On proceeding a second time outside to drive the pony away, Mr. Pratt, with a blacksmith’s instinct, took a look at the pony’s feet, when he observed that one of its shoes had been lost. Having made a shoe he put it on, and then waited to see what the animal would do. For a moment it looked at the blacksmith as if asking whether he was done, then pawed once or twice to see if the newly-shod foot was comfortable, and finally gave a pleased neigh, erected its head, and started homewards at a brisk trot. The owner was also exceedingly surprised to find the animal at home completely shod the same evening, and it was only on calling at the smithy some days afterwards that he learned the full extent of his pony’s sagacity.”

Nature, May 19, 1881, quoted in George John Romanes’ Animal Intelligence.

No Plans for the Weekend? Why Not Pop Over to Chantilly?

The Prince of Condé, Louis Henri (also a Duc de Bourbon) was prime minister of France for Louis XI from 1723 to 1726. He was also, according to an old tale I really hope is true, sure he would be reincarnated as a horse. He built the stables by which all other stables are judged and found wanting: Chantilly, in a forested area just outside Paris. These “Grandes Écuries” or “great stables” rival Versailles itself: architect Jean Aubert pulled out all the stops to create a facade some 180 m long which still overlooks the race course where the “French Derby” or Prix du Jockey Club is run every June. The town remains central to the French equine aristocracy, as it’s a major training centre, and the Grandes Ecuries survived the revolution and are now a Living Museum of the Horse, stuffed with equestrian art from Thelwell to Stubbs, and a collection of 30 breeds from Indian Marwaris to Shetland ponies.

Your reason to go this weekend? The museum is reopening after a hefty makeover, thanks to the Aga Khan. Tens of millions have been spent restoring the stables and dusting up the exhibition, and you can see some highlights in a slideshow here at CNN. You can also catch displays of equitation and an extensive collection of historic items. As the Aga Khan is not just a hippophile but also a living god, there’s something pleasingly circular about the tale: from a prince who wanted to be a horse in the afterlife, to a horse-loving prince who’s already divine.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

photo

  • The US Equestrian Federation has finally – yes, FINALLY – banned the chains, weighted shoes, pads, collars and rollers used to produce the monstruous “big lick gait. Good news for the beleagered Tennessee Walking Horse. (The Horse)
  • This week was, mercifully, a week in which images of Shetland ponies wearing woolly jumpers flooded the internet. This is my favourite account of the story, thanks to the clash  between the chirpy CNN reporter and the indignant Scotswomen she interviews. Don’t tell a Scotswoman that her jumper makes a pony look fat. Just don’t do it. (CNN)
  • The UK Food Standards Agency has issued an update about findings of bute in horse meat. (FSA)
  • Brony fan art. Including porny My Little Pony graphic novels. I remember that there was joke slash fic on the subject years ago, but now it seems to have crossed a line. More fascinating developments in our everchanging weirdness about horses. (Cracked)
  • A horse in Norwich City scarf turned up at Carrow Road to watch a game, sadly on the wrong day. (SB Nation)
  • The Pony Racing Authority has a new fearless leader: ex-Cheltenham racecourse MD, Edward Gillespie. Chief exec Clarissa Daly commented: “The PRA is committed to increase the numbers from non-racing and non-horsey backgrounds and to make racing more accessible to children and young people from all walks of life.  With Edward as our new Chairman we are better placed than ever to achieve this.” (Horse Talk)
  • HSUS is forming a Responsible Horse Breeders’ Council in the USA. Hopefully they will be able to reach irresponsible horse breeders too. (The Horse)
  • Here’s my Telegraph piece on the history of hippophagy, taboo, rite and rational consumption. (Telegraph)

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

Prague carriage horses

  • Questions are raised over the treatment of horses on film and TV show sets. Are trainers’ welfare concerns being overruled? (LA Times)
  • A “horse palace” in Montreal seeks donors for a makeover. (Montreal Gazette)
  • A woman “gives birth to a pony” during a church service in Nigeria. (PM News)
  • Lady Gaga arrived at the launch of her new signature fragrance in a horse-drawn carriage shaped like the perfume flask. (Ace ShowBiz)
  • Don’t touch the horse! An arrest for drunkenness and touching a police horse. (Tampa Bay Times) Elsewhere, in Philly, a police horse is punched. (Policeone.com)
  • Claims of assault fly in the fight to save wild horses in Reno. (Examiner.com)
  • A smalltown official who defrauded millions sees her illgotten gains – pedigree quarter horses – sold for over a million dollars at internet auction. (Chicago Tribune)
  • A little girl’s dream comes true when she comes home from school to find her very own pony waiting for her. (This is Gloucestershire)
  • The first Exmoor Pony Festival works like a charm (This is the West Country)
  • Muslims in Gaza have to break Islamic “best practice” and eat horsemeat. (NYT)
  • The number of horse rescues in the US has nearly doubled in five years. Major welfare groups suggest accreditation for newcomers (Ventura County Star)

Shetlands: The Source of Speed

Further research into the equine speed gene “C” has revealed a surprising conclusion, although I think it’s been misreported by the Irish Telegraph, which boldly claims that

Dr Hill’s study showed that the speed gene entered bloodlines when the Darley Arabian, the Godolphin Arabian and the Byerley Turk were bred with native British horses, mainly Shetlands, but also the now-extinct Galloway.

What I suspect this really means is that the riding/hunting British mares that were bred to the founding fathers of the thoroughbred breed were of Shetland descent – one cannot imagine the wealthy aristocratic owners of those expensive imported horses putting them to Shetlands (who really were not considered such gems in those days) and expecting racehorses. The research does sound fascinating.

Dr Hill, based at the Equinome company in UCD she founded with Derby-winning trainer Jim Bolger, genetically tested almost 600 horses, 40 donkeys and two zebras to trace speed gene C-type myostatin. The experiment also looked at pedigree lines and included 22 Eurasian and North American breeds, museum bone and tooth specimens from 12 legendary stallions born between 1764 and 1930 and 330 elite performing racehorses across three continents.

“We wanted to understand where speed in the thoroughbred came from,” Dr Hill said. …

They also attribute wider expansion in bloodlines to Nearctic’s son Northern Dancer (1961-1990), regarded as one of the most influential stallions of modern times. [blogger’s note: does this mean that Northern Dancer had more Sheltie blood? Otherwise he didn’t really cause wider expansion in bloodlines, more like the opposite]

The study showed how a thoroughbred’s genetic make-up has developed from the focus on stamina to sprinting as racing developed. In the 17th century prized thoroughbreds were raced lightly, did not take to tracks until age five or six and ran repeatedly head-to-head over two to four miles until one horse had two victories or distanced the opponent. In the last 100 years, an increased premium has been put on speed and precocity with more two-year-old races. Dr Hill added: “For example, in Australia, the myostatin speed gene type (C:C), which is best suited to fast, short-distance, sprint races, is more common and there is a market-driven demand for horses with at least one copy of the C type gene variant.”

UPDATE: Thanks to my brother for passing on this take on the report by Lab Spaces, which seems to be more accurate:

Scientists have traced the origin of the ‘speed gene’ in Thoroughbred racehorses back to a single British mare that lived in the United Kingdom around 300 years ago, according to findings published in the scientific journal Nature Communications. … “Changes in racing since the foundation of the Thoroughbred have shaped the distribution of ‘speed gene’ types over time and in different racing regions,” explained Dr Emmeline Hill, the senior author of the study, and a genomics scientist at the School of Agriculture and Food Science, University College Dublin.

“But we have been able to identify that the original ‘speed gene’ variant entered the Thoroughbred from a single founder, which was most likely a British mare about 300 years ago, when local British horse types were the preeminent racing horses, prior to the formal foundation of the Thoroughbred racehorse.”

The international scientific team led by scientists from University College Dublin (UCD), Equinome Ltd., and the University of Cambridge, have traced all modern variants of the original ‘speed gene’ to the legendary Nearctic (1954-1973), and attribute the wider expansion of these variants to Northern Dancer (1961-1990), the son of Nearctic, and one of the most influential stallions of modern times. …

The study identified the Shetland breed as having the highest frequency of the C type gene variant. The Shetland represents local British horse types, which were the preeminent racing horses prior to the formal foundation of the Thoroughbred.”

Shetland Ponies out of Fashion?

A long piece in The Shetland Times reports that the economic crisis is putting the pinch on the traditional Shetland pony, and how changing fashions in colour and size of pony are affecting the stalwarts in the isles:

Looking around the marts, my first impression is of a sea of red-and-white backs. You’d think Shetland ponies only came in skewbald. A closer look shows that every colour of Shetland pony is here: black, chestnut with a blonde mane, smoky grey or blue; red and white, black and white, bay, dun with a black back-stripe. Broken colours predominate, though, because colour is a key factor in the price a breeder can hope for, and unusual colours is what buyers want.
Another thing that affects the price is size. A Shetland can grow up to 42” at the shoulder and still be a Shetland under the Shetland Stud Book Society’s guidelines for breeders. EU rules say a registered Shetland must be accepted in the stud book, even if it is larger, although a too-tall colt can’t become a licensed stallion. However, the current fashion is for miniatures. …

There are a number of Shetland pony sales throughout Britain, with the Shetland Sale quickly followed by the Aberdeen sale and the seading Sale. This year’s Reading sale, held on 19th October, illustrates the different prices quite nicely. 13 colts went up for sale first. Only two went for just over £200, both small palominos. The top filly price of £1008 went for a “tiny” piebald filly – and we’re talking really tiny here. A number of catalogue entries give the current height as 22”, with parents of 30” or 31”. One filly’s mother is listed as being only 29”, and any broken-coloured blood in the foal’s ancestry is emphasised.

Of the 40 fillies sold, only four were plain colours – two black, two chestnut, and one of the blacks was the only filly sold for under £100. Seven larger foals were sold for prices between £105 and £190, and the rest – all miniature, all broken coloured – went for between £200 and £350. The five that gained prices over £500 were all miniature, and all unusually coloured – cremello, blue and white, cream skewbald.

The top price of the show, £1176, went to a licensed palomino stallion, 31”.

For more on the impact of the econmic crisis on British native ponies, check here (the negelct of semi-feral horses in South Wales), here (abandoned and dying ponies on Bodmin), and here (the culling of Dartmoor ponies). Prices are down at sales from the New Forest to the northern most isles, and both Dartmoor Hill Ponies and New Forests are being treated with contraceptives in an effort to end the sheer wastage of ponies. I can’t link directly to a piece on the charity Equine Market Watch’s website about falling prices and the way that UK legislation lets ponies down (they are not classified as agricultural animals and hence lack the protection that cattle and sheep have), but click on through. It’s called November 2011 Market Value of Ponies Plummets. This kind of news has been cropping up regularly since 2008.