To Bridle the Horses of St Mark

The copper horses of St Mark's Basilica, Venice

The copper horses of St Mark’s Basilica, Venice. Photo: Rosemary Forrest.

Emerging from somewhere unconfirmed in classical Greece or Rome, this quadriga of horses lived in Constantinople until it was sacked by the Venetians in 1204, and they were carried off to stand guard over the Basilica of St Mark’s. Like many horses, they experienced literal upheavals in times of war, and were stolen by Napoleon in 1797 for a Parisian triumphal arch, and only returned in 1815. To Venice, that is, not Constantinople. In anticipation of damage in World War One they were taken by barge all the way to the Palazzo Venezia in Rome for safekeeping, and in the Second World War they were also packed up before being restored to pride of place. Air pollution achieved what global war could not, however, and in the 1980s they were moved into the interior of the church, and replaced with replicas.

“. . . the four bronze horses which stood for 700 years upon its façade, and which so impressed Goethe that he wanted to get the opinion of  ‘a good judge of horseflesh’ on them. No pampered thoroughbred, no scarred war-horse has enjoyed so romantic a career as these. . . .[they] became so symbolic of Venetian pride and glory that the Genoese, when they were at war with Venice, used to boast that they were going to ‘bridle the horses of St Mark’ . . . I can hardly bear to think of them shut away out of the sunshine, because they always seemed to me, as to generations of Venetians, truly living creatures, animated by the genius of their unknown creators. For all their wanderings, they used to seem, up there on their proud pedestals, ageless and untired. I often saw them paw the stonework, at starlit Venetian midnights, and once I heard a whinny from the second horse on the right, so old, brave and metallic that St Theodore’s crocodile, raising its head from beneath the saintly buskins, answered wtih a kind of grunt.”

Venice, by Jan Morris. 1993 Faber edition. Thank you to Mum for the photo.

 

The Princess of the Eighth Hussars

Please excuse lack of posts lately – I’ve been ill and very busy trying to wrestle my ambitions for book two into a viable proposal. I caught this lovely World-War-Two tale of a Canadian equine mascot called Princess Louise via The Brooke’s Facebook feed. Another war horse for Remembrance Sunday! Enjoy (via the Telegraph Journal):

“At the time, we were soldiers doing a difficult job and mostly thankful that we were still alive,” Frank Gaunce, 99, says as he sits beside his hospital bed in Sussex, where he is recovering from a broken hip. A member of the 8th Hussars Regiment, he was on the battlefield on the sweltering night of Sept. 16, 1944, when Princess Louise was discovered, months old and crying with a belly wound and walking circles around her dead mother. “Having that horse around helped raise our morale.”

A battle unit based in Sussex with ties to Canada’s oldest cavalry regiment, the Hussars retrieved Princess Louise from the front lines with artillery above their heads. They then took her to a company medic, who treated her wounds, and after that they took turns changing her bandages to prevent infection.

As the war ground on, they concealed her in a truck in which they had built her a stall and took her everywhere they went, through Italy, France and Holland.

When they war ended, they placed her in a pasture in Holland and, against orders, arranged for her to be shipped to New York aboard a Dutch liner.

A few months later after crossing the ocean, Princess Louise was met by one of the Hussars in New York, and then placed aboard a train and taken to Saint John, where she arrived on March 27, 1946 and was greeted by a military honour guard, the city’s mayor and thunderous cheers.

The Philosophical Horse

The opening scene from Hungarian director Béla Tarr’s most recent film, The Turin Horse, which, according to Wikipedia, “depicts the repetitive daily lives of the horse and its owner” – the horse that triggered Friedrich Nietzsche’s final mental breakdown, that is. I’m sure there’s a PhD out there already on the Cab Horse in the Nineteenth Century, although Tarr’s equine lead looks more like a vanner.

Save Money on Rubbish Collection – with Horses

From Anthony Dent’s Donkey: The Story of the Ass From East to West. Dent was born in 1915 in North Yorkshire, just to orient you.

‘When I was a child in a small coastal resort in the North-east the most senior employees of our local council were two old men and a donkey, who between them operated a miniature dust-cart. They did not empty the bins behind the houses, but patrolled the streets, front and back, sweeping up casual rubbish and carting it away. … the old boys and their moke [slang for donkey] were still doing a fair amount of business right through the nineteen-twenties, and in a sense they distributed the lesser fleas which great fleas had on their backs to bite ’em: because the last really coprogenic horses to ply our streets, surviving the ice-cream float and the pony-drawn milk-cart and the fish-trolleys (driven by blue-bonneted ladies from the neighbouring fishing villages at a furious pace, to the accompaniment of eldritch shrieks of ” ‘Erreen, fresh ‘erreen-a-a-a” or “Feesh, feesh, feeeesh!”) by many years, were the mountainous Clydesdale geldings – also the property of the Health Department – which emptied the bins of household refuse.’

It might sound merely quaint, but recent pilot schemes in Europe have put a twenty-first century twist on the refuse horse. They’re using national heavy-horse breeds from state studs and donkeys to collect recycling. A Guardian report on some local European schemes spells it out goes into detail:

For Jean Baptiste, mayor of medieval Peyrestortes, near Perpignan and one of 60 towns now using horses to collect waste, the benefit above all is practical. “You can’t turn a waste collection vehicle around here. We used to block streets to traffic and keep waste in open skips.” He sold off a dustbin lorry and acquired two Breton carthorses instead. Asked whether the changes are saving money, he says: “It’s too early. But money isn’t the only reason. The exhaust smells have gone, the noise has gone, and instead we have the clip-clop of horses’ hooves.”

In Saint Prix, however, in Greater Paris, Mayor Jean-Pierre Enjalbert is certain he is saving money as the novelty of the horses has increased recycling rates. “By using the horse for garden waste collection, we have raised awareness. People are composting more. Incineration used to cost us €107 a tonne, ridiculous for burning wet matter, now we only pay €37 to collect and compost the waste.”

Well-established horse-drawn collections also succeed in Trouville, and in Vendargues near Montpellier, but many ventures last only a few months. Sita, France’s second biggest waste management and recycling company, has now integrated the “collecte hippomobile” into three refuse collection circuits in the Aube département in central France.

Sita’s Alexandre Champion, who instigated the idea, points to several factors behind the failed ventures: unsuitable horses, untrained workers or inadequate terrain, poor equipment. Housing estates or old town centres with flat terrain work best, with a circuit of under 20 km a day, he says. But even terrain problems can be overcome, and this autumn Sita starts horse-drawn collection in hilly Verdun, with a pair of strong carthorses. …

In Sicily, another place bringing back four-hoofed transport, Mario Cicero, mayor of 14th-century town Castelbuono, disagrees. He pioneered glass and cardboard collection using two packsaddle donkeys in 2007. Three years on, Cicero has done his sums and calculated a cost saving of 34%, as well as winning over a sceptical population and putting more donkeys to work.

“Compared with €5,000–7,000 annual running costs for a diesel truck, an ass costs €1,000–1,500 and can live 25-30 years. A truck costs around €25,000, lasts around five years and can’t reproduce,” says Cicero, whose four asinelli have now produced 25 offspring, so he won’t even be buying any more.

Of traditional British heavy horse breeds, the Suffolk Punch is currently “endangered”, Clydesdales “vulnerable” and Shires “at risk”. Oh, if only that £250,000,000 the government is freeing up for rubbish collection could be spent on a true, Green, British horse-powered refuse revolution…