In Greek myth Heracles’ eighth task is to steal the flesh-eating mares of the giant Diomedes: Podagros, Lampon, Xanthos and Deinos. Heracles is victorious in the ensuing struggle with Diomedes, and feeds his body to the horses who chomp him up with much relish and gore, as in all the best Greek literature. In some versions the mares also breathe fire and you might have thought that as the horse is the herbivore incarnate, Podagros et al’s taste for flesh was as fanciful as their flaming nostrils.
Not so, it seems.
Several years ago Horse.com featured a few articles on meat-eating horses which threw up some interesting curiosities. Did you know that Icelandic horses are fed dried fish as it contains nutrients not present in the grass on the island? Or that Tibetan horses were fed sheep blood and millet gruel? More gruesome still were the accounts that readers sent in of carnivorous horses they had known, that consumed whole ducklings or murdered pigeons in their fields. Now horse historian CuChullaine O’Reilly has written a book on the subject, called Deadly Equines. Horse Talk reports:
O’Reilly said he was stunned to discover that mankind had known about meat-eating horses for at least four thousand years; that they had been known to consume nearly two dozen different types of protein, including human flesh, and that these episodes had occurred on every continent, including Antarctica.
“This wasn’t an odd example or two. This amounted to a hidden history of horses.”
O’Reilly says tales of deadly and flesh-eating horses arise in mankind’s mythology, as well as history.
“For example, mythology states that Alexander the Great’s horse, Bucephalus, was a notorious man-eater.
“Literature has Shakespeare, Steve McQueen and Sherlock Holmes all involved with man-killers or meat-eating horses. And we now know that meat-eating horses were used to explore both the Arctic Circle and Antarctica.
“The evidence is there for all to see – for those willing to do so.”
My copy has been ordered!