Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

New York Subway Art

New York Subway Art

  • 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)

If Wishes Were Horses: Saving Beauty

Ann Lindo’s Horse Trust, Tettenhall Horse Sanctuary, the Horse Rescue Fund and World Horse Welfare are just some of Britain’s great horse rescues. I have to put in a special shout out for the Horse Rescue Fund. Established in the 1960s by a family who wanted to make a difference, they are part of the fabric of Norfolk equestrian lives. Generations of Norfolk children have grown up riding their rescues, some of whom were rehomed at Cringleford Riding School. Most of their horses are not kept at the sanctuary, but are on longterm loans. The Walbanckes originally took in old tradesmen’s horses that were being retired as they were replaced by motor vehicles, and they later campaigned doggedly for improved transport conditions and better riding school standards. The HRF provided me with a pamphlet called Beyond the Stable Door that tells their story up till Black Beauty’s centenary year. I was spoilt for material in this chapter and ultimately had to cut my visit to the HRF although their work dovetails with the history of equine welfare efforts and legislation that I was tracing. I hope, when I have the time, to write a longer blog post about them. Here’s a short Pathé film about the early 1960s scandal concerning the export of horses from Ireland for slaughter on the continent: the Walbanckes’ first major rescue efforts concentrated on just these animals, including Robbie, a coalman’s Arab/Connemara gelding, who drew wedding carriages and helped to raise funds to purchase more horses from the Dublin docks. Other Walbancke “saves” went on to be cracking performers in local shows.

If you’re in Norfolk and want to see places where Anna Sewell lived, the Sewell Barn Theatre Company is based in Anna’s brother’s barn and is popularly thought to have been the home of Bess, a horse who inspired Anna’s creation. Anna’s birthplace is now a tea room in Yarmouth, and her tombstone is set in the wall of the former Friends’ Meeting House in Lammas. Nearby Dudwick Park belonged to Anna’s grandparents, and she’s thought to have learned to ride in the local lanes. Sewell Park in Norwich encloses the family’s former land, and features a horse trough (now filled with flowers) that commemorates Anna. The house where she died stands in Old Catton and her first publisher, Jarrold, is still in operation and also has a museum dedicated to printing.

There’s an excellent fansite for the TV version of Follyfoot here and a book called Follyfoot Remembered by Jane Royston, who worked as horse manager on the series.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary were wonderful hosts when I was researching the book, and generously showed me around their headquarters at Hapton. Here are some photographs from the trip and also a short clip of Norris, the Spindles Farm pony I mentioned in the chapter:

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This post relates to a chapter of the book If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of an Equine Obsession. If you have any questions to ask about the content, please fire away in the comments. The main online index for the book is here.

If Wishes Were Horses: Housework

Cringleford Riding School was opened by Paula Sykes just outside Norwich in 1963, and closed in 1997 after being crippled by a rates rise. It was the first horsey home for generations of Norfolk children, and I was tremendously sad to hear that it had closed. Here’s a brief slideshow of some of the ponies from my family photo album. I’d love to hear from anyone else who remembers them. Orlando was a rescue from the Horse Rescue Fund.

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When I was searching for material to share on Cringleford, I stumbled across this beautiful set of black and white shots taken by Ian Drake in 1976. See if you spot any ponies you recognise!

This post relates to a chapter of the book If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of an Equine Obsession. If you have any questions to ask about the content, please fire away in the comments. The main online index for the book is here.

“Fly Grazing” – the New Name for Crappy Horseownership Practices

The BBC reports on a herd of forty cobs dumped on a conservation area in the Vale of Glamorgan and left to decimate the grazing and starve to death. The police cannot get involved as this is a “civil matter” and the villagers have explored every legal avenue, so the horses will probably be destroyed. Sad and pointless, though my flippant suggestion would be that the Woodland Trust tidy them up and sell ’em in the US as gypsy vanners for five-figure sums.

EDIT: At 3pm today I received a round robin email from Hillside Animal Sanctuary in Norfolk saying that they were in negotiations to rescue the ponies. The BBC has, however, reported that all the ponies were removed overnight – presumably by the owner.

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.

The Price of Cuteness

I’d like to say straight off that I’m not a vet, also that to read this post properly you will have to click on a lot of links and read the material sourced at other sites in order to make up your own mind about this story. Anyone who is a vet is welcome to chime in and tell me if I’ve gotten something wrong, or been unintentionally misleading.

Several newspapers and media outlets are currently featuring the story of Minxy, a miniature horse recently born in Cornwall, whose owners are appealing for donations to raise £6,000 for operations on Minxy’s legs.

Here is a high-quality miniature horse foal for sale for £2,000 on the British Miniature Horse Society’s website. Notice that it “does exactly what it says on the tin” – i.e. it looks like a horse shrunk with a ray gun. Its legs are relatively long for its body, straight and well-conformed.

Now look at Minxy. And Minxy without his splints.

The owner talked to This is Cornwall:

“He needed feeding every half-hour and couldn’t stand to suckle from his mother,” said Ms Morris, who moved the pint-sized pony to her home to continue caring for him. “He was around six weeks premature and not fully formed. His legs were severely twisted.”

About £1,600 has already been spent on vets’ bills splinting Minxy’s legs to help straighten them and wrapping them in bandages each day.

“His front legs have become a lot stronger but his back legs will need pinning. He needs a scan which costs £800 per leg plus around £4,000 to operate.”

As others have pointed out, Minxy’s legs are not twisted because Minxy was premature. Minxy’s legs are probably twisted because Minxy suffers from dwarfism, and he was probably born early because Nature tries to press “eject” on pregnancies that are going awry. If you’re in the UK you can watch footage of him trying to walk here.

Furthermore:

“Minxy also has problems with his throat. His teeth are growing to the back of his mouth and could block his airway, so he will need an operation to fix that,” she said.

This is a complication of brachiocephalism, the feature of dwarfism that gives Minxy that bulge-y “My Little Pony” head and curves his muzzles down like a beak or a claw. He’s reportedly already had pneumonia twice in ten weeks of life.

This site claims that the mortality rate for miniature horse foals in the USA is one in three; with due care and attention this can be reduced to one in ten. Needless to say, this is still ridiculously high. Here’s a memorial site for dwarf horses produced by US breeders. Notice that most of them live a few months at most.

So, what does the future hold for Minxy if he doesn’t succumb to another bout of pneumonia and end up like the poor wee things in Horsie Heaven?

Here’s a pony like Minxy being kept in an equine “wheelchair”.

Here’s another dwarf mini called Koda between his leg and skull operations, doing well, it seems, although whether his deformities were as severe as Minxy’s is unclear. He appears to be leading a relatively normal life. Once again, however, this is a numbers game, because horses have a poor survival rate with general anaesthesia.

Koda was lucky. There’s a good Horse and Hound summary of the risks here. The risks of fatality stand as follows:

  • 1 in 110 for healthy horses
  • 1 in 8 for horses undergoing colic surgery
  • 1 in 20 for horses having fracture repair surgery
  • 1 in 900 for cats
  • 1 in 1,800 for dogs
  • 1 in 10,000 for humans

For a pony like Minxy who is already very sick, the odds of surviving repeated operations are pretty poor. Furthermore, the recovery period is crucial. Horses’ digestive and respiratory systems have evolved to function best when the horse is moving more or less constantly. In the wild, horses spend very little time either on their sides or immobile (they sleep for only 3 hours out of 24, and usually stand to do it as the weight of their internal organs is not well supported when they are prone), and horses recuperating from leg operations usually spend time in cross ties or even slings to immobilise them.

The most famous recent example is the American racehorse Barbaro who broke down catastrophically and publicly in the 2006 Preakness Stakes. Wikipedia has a blow-by-blow breakdown of his subsequent operations and the eight months he spent being treated for the complications resulting from that initial treatment. One operation turned into many, and the horse finally had to be euthanized when three his legs became laminitic as a result of taking the weight for his injured right hind leg.

So, what do you think Minxy’s future holds?

Incidentally, the UK currently has a surplus of native ponies, which I’ve written about here, here and, in most detail, here. In February the Mail reported that dead ponies were found on Bodmin Moor, not far from Minxy’s home. It would cost a lot less than £6,000 to snap up some ponies at UK markets, worm them, feed them and train them up till they had some value and were less likely to be sold for zoo meat. Dartmoors, New Forests, Welshies and Exmoors may not be the smallest ponies in the world, but I think they’re pretty damn cute.

 

UPDATE: Minxy was put down in early August, on vets’ advice.

The Further Adventures of the Littlest White Pony

Wales Online has snagged an exclusive interview with Joe Purcell and his white Welshie Ruby, aka the Train Pony.

And the 68-year-old said pregnant section A pony Ruby would have been as “good as gold” on the Wrexham to Holyhead train from which they were both turned away last Saturday.

He said: “Ruby’s bomb proof. Kids can lie down underneath her. She wouldn’t walk on them and she wouldn’t bite them because she loves kids.

“She’s a little Welsh lady who would have been 100% on the train. I’ve raised cattle and horses all my life like my father and grandfather before me.

“I told the conductor she was my guide. People have guide dogs – why can’t they have guide ponies?

“But I was drunk at the time – I was on the top shelf. …

He caught a train between High Wycombe and Wolverhampton in 2006 with a traveller-bred, 15-hands high horse named Queenie.”

Later he and Ruby went for a kebab.