Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

I was away! Things happened! But first – a round up of curious happenings in the horse world!

  • Looks like I got rid of the virtual racing stable I ran in the early 1990s far too early. An unraced imaginary horse from the Digiturf game has just been sold for $5,225. Yes, not only is it nonexistent, it’s also unproven. $5,225. You could get a real racehorse for a lot less. ESPN reports.
  • The Guardian’s dance critic was dispatched to review para-dressage: “With their tightly plaited manes and long ballerina necks, they perform tightly controlled pirouettes and piaffes with impressive finesse; they float across the arena with a silken stride that is like a horsey grand jeté.”
  • An Australian study suggests that Monty Roberts’ methods should be re-assessed. (Horse Talk). UPDATE: Monty responds with a link to an earlier peer-reviewed study of his methods from Anthrozoology.
  • A riding school in Kenya thrives, thanks to its enterprising owner. (BBC).
  • Yahoo has a mighty fine photo gallery of an Icelandic horse round up. Iceland: a nation where horse shoes are sold at garages. MSNBC has sulky racing on the north German coast.
  • The Bloggess brings us the worst example of equine taxidermy I’ve yet seen – and I love bad taxidermy. It’s meant to be a falabella.
  • Kazakhstan is shipping its own horse-meat sausages to London for its Olympic Team. (The Atlantic)
  • As a US Senate hearing calls for stricter rules concerning drug use in horse racing, the New York Times gets hold of Kentucky Derby winner I’ll Have Another’s vet sheet. The colt had been battling tendon problems and osteoarthritis for some time before he even began his Triple Crown bid. That’s an unsound horse, racing on dirt at the highest level. Since the NYT’s report, other racing figures have come forward to say this is no big deal and in fact, common and legitimate. (New York Times).
  • Meanwhile, here’s a less depressing NYT blog post on using dressage to train both competing and retired racehorses. (NYT)
  • Riding school ponies stolen in area of Florida notorious for blackmarket horse-meat slaughters. (CBS Local).
  • And so that we don’t end on a bum note, here’s North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s girlfriend, Hyon Song-Wol, singing her smash hit “Excellent Horse-like Lady” or “A Girl In The Saddle Of A Steed”. Enjoy.

If Wishes Were Horses: Diminutive Dianas

Here’s some Pathé footage of the International Horse Show at Olympia in 1920 (spot the hydrangeas and the standard lamp shades!), the King’s Gold Cup in 1921,  opening day in 1922 (plus side-saddle) and a little showjumping. You can just make out the backdrop of Lowther Castle in this film from 1923.

And this – now, how I wish I’d found this when I was writing the book! – this is a special clip of women, girls and their horses at Olympia in 1930. “Motorcars have not driven from Eve her love for a four-footed friend.” Quite right! And my goodness, the elegance of those top-hatted ladies riding side-saddle (there’s even an arena-level shot), the smart pony carriages and the girls in their felt hats. Towards the end of the film they all don costumes from the 1860s and climb onto stage coaches. Magic.

Karen Krizanovich alerted me to this site which features a “midget handsome cab” at Olympia in the 1920s: pony up front, little girl riding inside and boy playing cabbie.

World Horse Welfare have some biographical details about their founder, Ada Cole, here, while the horse home named for her is now managed by Redwings. Dorothy Brooke is celebrated by the aid organisation she launched to save old British war horses in Cairo; the Brooke has now evolved into an international charity which uses direct aid and education to improve the working lives of the donkeys, horses and mules that sustain the economy of the developing world. There’s nothing sentimental about the fact that the health of these animals can make a critical difference to the welfare of the families that own them.  I can’t endorse them strongly enough!

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.

The Myth of the Wild Zebra

The Chronicle of the Horse interviewed a Texan woman called Sammi Jo Stohler who has schooled her zebra to jump:

“As I was training horses, I kept hearing, ‘You can’t train zebras, they’re untrainable.’ I said, ‘Why?’ To say something is untrainable implies that it can’t learn, and we all know that if they couldn’t learn, they’d all be extinct. They have to be able to learn and adapt. Obviously, the burden lies on the trainer to be able to train them,” Stohler said.

Watch Zack in action:

I suppose the myth of the untrainable zebra has two bits of reasoning behind it. Firstly, that none of the locals in Africa bothered to domesticate zebras before Europeans arrived. Given that there were large parts of Eurasia in which other locals didn’t bother to domesticate horses before the Central Asian Steppes culture arrived in their midst, this argument doesn’t quite wash. The second question that arises: why don’t you see more Westerners riding around on them?

Well, you did. Here’s the Victorian sidesaddle expert, Mrs Alice Hayes, riding a mountain zebra trained by her husband, Captain Horace Hayes:

And here’s Walter Rothschild driving his four in hand:

They were also used alongside mules as draft animals in the Transvaal in the nineteenth century. Here’s the hideous sight of a colonial officer, straight from central casting, leaping a fence held aloft by native servants in East Africa:

from the Library of Congress’ collection

I’d guess you don’t see more “tame” zebras because we already have plenty of specially bred, larger horses to choose from, and the striped equid represents mere novelty value. You could buy one from a specialist exotic animal dealer in London for between £100–£150 in Victorian Age (thank you to Lee Jackson for that snippet), and nowadays some zebra species are so common that you can actually expect to eat them as pizza topping in the UK. Yes, in topsy-turvy Britain it’s easier to buy zebra flesh than horse meat.

One place they’ve always found a home is, of course, the circus. One of the early fathers of the modern circus, Andrew Ducrow, trained two zebras for performance in the early 19th century despite the claims of the French naturalist Cuvier that this was impossible. According to the Magazine of Natural History in 1840, Ducrow’s zebras “entirely lost their spirit and vivacity in consequence, assuming the humbled bearing of the common donkey.” I’ve seen a contemporary drawing of this feat but alas can’t find it online. Meanwhile, these rather surly beasts of the 21st century are doing liberty work – the artificial representation of natural freedom – for Circus Knie: