Department of Zero Surprises and Some Hope

Illustration from Nutztierhaltung & Tiermedizin & Pferd by Georg Simon Winter, 1678 via Wikimedia Commons.

Illustration from Nutztierhaltung & Tiermedizin & Pferd by Georg Simon Winter, 1678 via Wikimedia Commons.

Tons of low-grade Canadian horse meat were purchased and passed off as halal beef by the Dutch businessman who is now in custody as French authorities investigate the scandal in which horse meat from Romania wound up labelled as ground beef.

(The Globe and Mail – and for my background piece on the scandal, Spiegel Online.)

Yesterday the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI) announced bold steps designed to improve endurance horse welfare, proposing unprecedented athlete penalties for equine injuries, extended rest periods, and increased accountability.




Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

  • Composer Eve Harrison teamed up with Scottish schoolchildren to write a musical about the horse meat scandal, called The Unspeakable. If I weren’t on the move just now I would dig out a 17th century story in which Scottish children chased and stoned a man known to eat horse meat. (BBC)
  • The FAO reports that the number of horses in the world has dropped by a million every year from 2009–2011, doubtless in response to the recession. The number of donkeys has increased – again, I’m pretty sure that’s down to the recession too. Donkeys make the developing world go round, after all. (Horse Talk NZ)
  • In the wake of the horse meat scandal, Ireland tightened its enforcement of slaughter regulations, with the result that the number of horses entering abattoirs has plummetted. The government is now considering a humane disposal programme for horses that have been treated with bute and other drugs that render them unfit for human consumption. (Irish Times) Meanwhile the UK’s DEFRA will close the loop hole that allowed horses travelling between Ireland, the UK and France to escape a full vet inspection. Racehorses and FEI competitors will still be excused (Horse Talk NZ)
  • In May the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association’s executive committee voted in favour of a bill that would end the use of padded shoes and chains. The board of directors nixed it. Now a member of the executive committee is running an unauthorised poll among members to ask them what they think, and feathers are flying (The Tennessean)
  • Archaeologists in Bulgaria have uncovered a 2,500 year-old Thracian chariot and two horses – the twist? The horses were somehow buried standing (Habitat for Horses)
  • Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

    • Professional child jockeys (as young as 4) in Indonesia (SBS)
    • Virtual racehorses on the game Digiturf sell for $7,000 and $9,000. (ESPN)
    • The Tennessee Walking Horse National Celebration goes ahead, although welfare concerns knock out some leading competitors. DIg into the comments here. (Tennessean)
    • The number of horses slaughtered in Ireland this year appears to have fallen by half since 2012 – a good thing. The government are still organising a horse disposal scheme. (Irish Independent)
    • Mongolians and their horses (The Diplomat)
    • The results of a study into the deaths of feral walers culled by helicopter gunmen in Australia. (Horse Talk NZ)

    Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

    Carved graffiti at St Benet's Abbey, Norfolk. Thank you to mum for this shot.

    Carved graffiti at St Benet’s Abbey, Norfolk. Thank you to mum for this shot.

    • 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)

    Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

    Found horse, Berlin street.

    Found horse, Berlin street.

    First up: please go directly to Horse Nation to read Susan Corwin’s account of joining a hunt in Meath, Ireland to break the world record for the number of side-saddle attendees. Fans of Molly Keane and Somerville & Ross will enjoy the craic. This was Susan’s first choice of riding expedition after a gruelling course of cancer treatment. Turns out a thick application of Irish mud, a wilful Connemara pony and some very large ditches are just the ticket.

    After about the second ditch, a very kind Irish gentleman handed me his flask and assured me that the more I drank now, the smaller the ditches would get, and the more I drank at the pub later, the bigger they would get.

    And now on with the more mixed news of all that’s weird or worrying in the horse world. Not much light-hearted fun this week, I’m afraid, but some steps forward.

    • Burger King finds itself implicated in the horse meat scandal. (CNN) Which has probably been going on for over a year… (Telegraph) Meanwhile, Poland say that five of the six slaugherhouses that supply meat to Ireland have no traces of horsemeat on site. (Reuters)
    • Aqueduct racetrack in New York begins to cancel race days in order to try and get a grip on horse safety. Six horses have broken down on the turf course and been shot since December. More of the NYT’s excellent coverage of the lethal intersection of big, casino-inflated purses and medication abuse in US horse racing (NYT)
    • Denver International Airport erected a statue of a giant blue mustang with neon red eyes five years ago, and everyone hated it. Now that those five years have passed, locals are legally allowed to petition for its removal. Will it become a cult classic or a bad taste memory? (
    • Danish scientists on the challenges and rewards of studying social hierarchy in horses. (The Horse)
    • I’ve covered donkey-milk soap as a beauty aid. Now Kazakhstan is getting in on the act with horse-milk soap. (
    • Emaciated and gravely injured cob youngster abandoned in an Essex playground. Photo not for the faint-hearted; the horse had to be put down immediately. (Thisistotalessex)
    • The number of ponies hit by cars on Dartmoor has risen with the poor weather: the ponies come to the roads for the sale that’s laid down to melt snow. (BBC)
    • An American man says he violated a horse because he was trying to make a “horseman baby”. (The Smoking Gun) And Germany outlaws bestiality. Good news for German horses, if not for wannabe centaur begetters. (NYT)

    Dianas of the Chase!

    From Riding For Ladies by Nannie Power O'Donoghue

    From Riding For Ladies by Nannie Power O’Donoghue

    Get ye to Ingarsby Hall, Melton Mowbray on Saturday February 2nd to witness the Dianas of the Chase! Sidesaddle daredevils both male and female are travelling from far and wide to take part in the Bernard Weatherill Sidesaddle Steeplechase  in aid of Forces in Mind, a charity which helps former servicemen and women reintegrate into civilian life. It’s the first of its kind to be held since the Second World War, and although the course has had to be shortened because of the Big Freeze, it’s still a testing mile over big hedges in classic Quorn-hunt territory. Look out for puissance-record-taker Susan Oakes, Becca Holland of the Flying Foxes sidesaddle display team and Martha Sitwell of Sitwell and Whippet.

    It seems like a good time to remember the original sidesaddle steeplechaser, Irish poet and journalist Nannie Power O’Donoghue, whose books on equitation and horsecare are still treasured by fans, and a cracking read. In the nineteenth century she was the first person to ride around Ireland’s three most formidable race courses without a single refusal or fall. These quotations come courtesy of Olga E Lockley’s excellent biography of Mrs Power O’D (more here). From a contemporary sporting magazine:

    “The only lady who has ever ridden over the three steeplechase courses of Punchestown, Fairyhouse and Baldoyle; and all those who know the double at Punchestown will be more than ready to admit that this is no light feat… It was sad one day that no horse had crossed these three courses without making a mistake and that probably no horse could ever do so, and seeing how many of the best animals come to grief at the great Punchestown double, failure always seems probable, though perhaps Fairyhouse is the severest of the three courses, the jumps including, to use the famous rider’s own words, ‘post and rails and horrors’. Pleader’s mistress, however, eager in defence and praise of her pet, declared that he at any rate would not fail, and accompanied by Major Stone of the 80th, the three journeys were achieved by her without a refusal or a mistake.”

    A few years later the famous jockey George Fordham wrote to Nannie asking for an account of the ride and she replied via her column.

    “The course (Fairyhouse) is a most trying one, and the feat was one never before attempted by a lady. I did it to show that my horse was capable of accomplishing the task, and the risk was not what you describe it, for he was too clever to put a foot astray. Major Stone of the 80th accompanied me, and gave me a good lead. The only time I passed him was when his horse refused at an ugly post and rail. It is not true that he was thrown. He rode splendidly, managing a difficult horse. There was no ‘crowd’, and in short it is evident you have received an exaggerated account of the affair.”

    There now, is modesty in action. Perhaps Mr Fordham’s version had been confused with that of Regency lady jockey, Alicia Thornton. Good luck and the best of British to the Dianas who will be emulating Mrs Power O’D on Saturday 2nd February. May your mounts all be Pleaders and your leaping horns stay firm.

    Nanny Power O'Donoghue and Pleader.

    Nanny Power O’Donoghue and Pleader.

    Why Is There Horsemeat in Burgers From Ireland and the UK?

    The news that horse meat has been found in beef burgers sold in the UK and Ireland is hitting the headlines – more so, even, than the fact that some of these burgers contained pork. There’s reams to be written on the reasons for the taboo on horse meat (and I think most of that material is in my filing cabinets), but let’s chuck in some numbers about the impact of the recession.

    • In 2006 Ireland slaughtered 822 horses for meat. In 2010-2011, over 7,000 died.
    • In 2008 there was one Irish abattoir that dealt with horses. In 2011 that number had increased to five.
    • According to the Irish Independent, in late 2011 some farming groups were lobbying for a lifting of EU restrictions on horse slaughter. This article implied that this would specifically relate to the rules concerning horses that have been treated with drugs that make them unsuitable for human consumption.

    The vast majority of this meat is exported from Ireland where there’s little stomach for it. The supermarkets involved in the current scandal say that the rogue batch of meat arrived at the rogue processor in an imported additive from Continental Europe. Given the bizarre nature of the modern industrial food chain, could it be that this is a case of Irish horses “coming home”, or is it a case of taking coals to Newcastle, while Newcastle is busy exporting all its coal…