- Nice New York Times piece on the family that bred Kentucky Derby winner Orb. Post-and-rail and lush pastures galore. Orb is the seventh generation descendent of a mare the family bought in 1926: truly the breeder’s dream (NYT)
- A restored cheese barge (they existed!) is the first horse-drawn canal boat to cross the Chirk aqueduct near Wrexham in decades (BBC)
- A plan to put semi-feral Dartmoor Hill Ponies on contraception has been hailed as a success (BBC)
- Ireland plans to introduce a central equine database in the wake of the horse meat scandal (Irish Times)
- You’ve probably heard about the official culls of Brumbie horses in Australia, but did you know that there’s a proposal to kill 10,000 walers – the nation’s classic cavalry horse breed? (ABC)
- When Metro Meteor retired, he took up painting. Some sell for thousands, but his handlers remain sanguine: “Lets face reality. Art scholars are not going to have long lengthy discussions trying to decipher the hidden meaning to Metro’s paintings. He is a horse.” Thank you Rowan, for this treat. (TIME)
- A horse is found disembowelled and mutilated in Dublin. €5,000 offered as a reward for information. Not for the fainthearted. (Irish Times)
- Larry Wheelon, president of the East Tennessee Trainers’ Association and member of the Walking Horse Trainers’ Association board and ethics committee, has resigned both posts after nineteen Tennessee Walking horses were removed from his care showing signs of soring and other illegal and harmful training methods. Between 1991 and June 2012, he’d racked (ha!) up fourteen violations. I wonder who else is on that ethics committee and what’s in their barns. (WBIR)
- A romantic British man took riding lessons, then found a white steed and a suit of armour to make his proposal to his girlfriend especially memorable. Unfortunately he didn’t practice his dismount, and came a cropper. Fortunately his girlfriend said yes anyway (The Sun)
- Meanwhile, in India, a dalit or “untouchable” man who claimed his right to equal status with other Indian castes by riding a horse to his wedding was pelted with stones. Three people were subsequently arrested. (Times of India)
- 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)
eBay, I don’t believe you. That never happened in my daydreams.
Right, on with a long overdue HHLHL! I’ve been busy organising a research trip for book two but the horse world went on turning, and lovely people have been sending me links, so enjoy this extra special post whose diversity reminds me why I’m writing that second book in the first place.
- A zebra pulling a trap in Brixton, circa 1915. (Urban75)
- Look at this beautifully carved golden horse head discovered in a Thracian tomb in Bulgaria. It dates from the third century BC. (Guardian)
- If Radio 4 ever gets rid of Melvyn Bragg’s In Our Time I’ll know Britain is over. Here Melvyn and guests discuss the Upanishads – some of the sacred texts of Hinduism. Horse sacrifice is mentioned (maybe with a connection to the Steppes folk who first domesticated horses?) Thanks to Mum for sending this. (Radio 4)
- The “Pony” chair of Eero Aarnio, the brilliant Finnish designer who came up with the Sixties icon, the Bubble Chair. (Eero Aarnio)
- Francis Robinson send me this cute piece on a police horse who likes to rearrange cones at Buckingham Palace (Daily Mail)
- Wired on the astonishing solidification of the Brony movement, with military personnel confessing their love for My Little Pony in front of the camera. Thanks to my brother for this one (Wired)
- A clean drug-test sheet for all competitors at this year’s Breeders’ Cup. Some of the races were even lasix-free. (ESPN)
- Mega race mare and US Horse of the Year Havre de Grace sells for $10,000,000 (Blood Horse)
- The feral Chicoteague ponies survived Sandy just fine (Daily Press) Speaking of the hurricane, this crazy hoss was just fine too. (Washington Post)
- Horses in today’s US military (CS Monitor)
- A disaster for a herd of Brumbies in Western Australia (ABC)
There’s a “slow food” movement and a “slow beer” movement, and now a “slow books” movement, launched by Atlantic writer Maura Kelly, calling for readers to “Read books. As often as you can. Mostly classics.” Me, personally, I’d call for a splinter movement: slow books for authors. Write books. Seldom. Make them good. Don’t rush out a book a year, let each book take as long as it requires to reach fruition. Don’t let the fans or TV producers snap at your heels. Let’s be honest: we’re at the dawn of an era in which practically no one will make a living from writing books or journalism; we will all need a day job. There’s swathes of unedited, unpolished stuff flooding ebook sites but there’s still an appetite for books which are written with love and so deeply that they can be re-read again and again and only reveal more layers and clues. There are an awful lot of people out there who think writers shouldn’t be paid as writing is somehow “not work”. Let’s prove those people wrong.
Spearheading this trend-I-want-to-happen is the new novel by Aussie author Gillian Mears. Foal’s Bread took sixteen years to produce – about as long as it takes to produce an adult human being. It’s set in a hardscrabble and bitter rural Australia before the Second World War, where farmers and drovers become heros in high-jump competitions at local shows. If you’ve seen the image of Esther Stace leaping six and a half feet sidesaddle at the Sydney Royal Show in 1915, then you know a little of this world and you’re probably curious to know more. They’re jumping six foot, seven foot, eight foot and higher on ponies or Walers that are boosted with all the oats they can afford. The prize money is good and the riders ruthless.
Foal’s Bread is named for the hippomane, a kind of kidney stone which agglomerates in the amniotic sacs of some horses, long thought to be a good luck token. It’s the story of the Nancarrow family who are both farmers and semi-professional showjumpers working the circuit of agricultural shows in the 1930s. I won’t sketch out the plot for you here: suffice to say it’s a tough, tough read emotionally, but the language of it is shot through with a rough beauty which never sounds out of step with its protagonists’ thoughts. Mears finds the freshest use of horse imagery I’ve enjoyed since National Velvet. Lightning seen through a baby’s closed eyelids ressembles dapples on a pony. One woman could “dance the feathers off a chook”. To his wife, the dark rims round Roley Nancarrow’s irises look like “someone had cantered two perfect circles on her husband’s face.”
The Nancarrows’ drive to jump higher and higher is not just about the dollars on offer, it’s also a chance to step out of their world for a moment that feels like it extends forever and to transcend the fears that dog them on the ground:
She found herself imagining the horses being so good that the jump would just keep on going up: nine, ten, fifteen foot. Up, up into the sky, until horse and rider, Lainey and Landy, would take an almighty leap and never be seen at Wirri showground again. For one moment, she thought that the great wings either side of the high jump could be the gates of heaven. Made from hardwood from the mill instead of pearls.
It takes sixteen years to produce something this good. Revel in it.
Books I want to buy and read:
Sometimes it’s tiresome when publishers try to ape a successful book by buying similar titles, but sometimes that policy opens the best of floodgates: suddenly writers get the chance to work on projects that would have been turned down as uncommercial till a forerunner proved otherwise. Laura Hillenbrand’s smash-hit Seabiscuit has opened the barn door for a whole series of new commissions and reissues of horse biographies, from William Nack’s Secretariat to Ruffian: Burning from the Start, Man O’War: A Legend Like Lightning, Beautiful Jim Key: The Lost History of the World’s Smartest Horse and The Eighty-Dollar Champion: Snowman, the Horse That Inspired a Nation.
The latest is Sharon B Smith’s The Best There Ever Was, about Dan Patch, a harness racer from the turn of the nineteenth to the twentieth century who became America’s national pet. It grounds Dan Patch’s career against a time of rapid social, economic and technical change, as he moves, like every biographised horse since Dick and Black Beauty, from owner to owner.
And thanks to Mark Bond-Webster for alerting me to a book I missed in May. Gillian Mears’ Foal’s Bread is about showjumping in Australia in the rough and ready 1920s and a rider who is slowly paralysed after being struck by lightning. In the words of Alfred Hickling, reviewing for the Guardian:
The bush country of New South Wales is a tough, unforgiving landscape and Foal’s Bread turns out to be a tough, unforgiving book. But to her immense credit, Mears’s account of a terrible illness never becomes self-pitying or sentimental, while her galloping prose thrums to the rhythm of some perfectly constructed sentences: “The sound of horses’ hooves turns hollow on the farms west of Wirri.” The outlook may be pessimistic in the extreme, but you are unlikely to read a more courageous novel this year.
Ponies: the fatter they are, the naughtier they be. Thelwell proved correct by science.
Cheap gelding clinics are becoming a reality in the US. Here’s one in California.
Jane Smiley on National Velvet.
A fell pony riding holiday in Lancashire.
A swimming race for horses that commemorates a Venezuelan battle of 1819.
A wild stallion in Arizona rescues a filly who’s being swept away in a flood-swollen river.
Well, this was a rum chapter. I really wasn’t anticipating that imaginary horses would end up linked to human ponies, but it turned out that they are, you could say, the same thing. The links for anything concerning ponyplay (the practice of dressing up in PVC horse outfits) are obviously for those over the age of 18, rather like the book. Shyanne’s site is here, and you can read her take on ponyplay as shamanism here. I couldn’t do justice to it in the chapter itself through lack of space – too many imaginary horses to fit in.
I also chopped out a raft of fascinating psychological studies on the form, development and function of the imagination in children and adults, so if you’re curious about those, try Paul L. Harris’ The Work of the Imagination and the work of Marjorie Taylor on imaginary companions.
The best site to consult if you’re a fan of Walter Farley’s (absolutely nonpornographic) childrens’ books, The Black Stallion series, is here, and I welcome any descriptions of your own imaginary steeds in the comments!
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.