The Mule – and his Friends – Put Man on Trial

The Brethren of Purity were a secret group of Islamic philosophers based in Basra, Iraq sometime during the eighth or tenth centuries. So secretive were they that very little is known about them, but some of their writing survives, including a letter known as The Case of the Animals Versus Man Before the King of the Jinn. This is part of an Oxford University Press series of translations and commentaries. The translation I’m quoting here is by Lenn E. Goodman and Richard McGregor.

In this epistle, animals, birds and insects (interesting inclusion for the time) put humanity on trial in the court of the King of the Jinn for “cruelty, ecological heedlessness and greed”*. In their defence, the counsel for the defence quote the Qur’an, in which the Prophet tells his followers that animals are there for them to use. Horses, mules, and donkeys are “for riding and for splendour, and much that you know not” – which is rather intriguing.

There is immediately a response from a mule, who points out that this usage was never intended to result in abuse, adding, “there is nothing in the passages this human cites to support his claim that they are masters and we slaves.” After all, the mule goes on, the Qu’ran also says that “the sun and moon, the wind and clouds” are also subject to man, but they are not exactly chattels or slaves to mankind. Animals, the mule says, should be under man’s protection, not his figurative yoke.

Before Adam, the mule states, animals lived peacably as they pleased, but as soon as man arrived on the scene they found themselves forced into “exhausting toil and drudgery of hauling, ploughing, drawing water, turning mills, and being ridden. They forced us to these tasks with beatings, bludgeonings, and every kind of duress, torture, and  chastisement throughout our lives.”

When the defence arrogantly counter that the animals should be able to tell by man’s bearing – upright, bipedal – that humanity is the master and the animal kingdom his subjects. Nonsense, say the animals. Their many forms are just as divinely given: “You should start from the recognition that all animals are the work of the wise Creator, who made them as He did with reason and purpose, to benefit them and protect them
from harm. But this is grasped only by Him and those who are well rooted in knowledge.”
Frankly, the animals tend to come out best as the arguments fly back and forth. If man claims that his mere ownership of animals is proof of his status as master, the mule points out that some men own other men – slaves. This is due to the “mere turns of human fortune” and not something ordained from on high. In any case, man only looks after us because he fears losing his investment, the mules says. Several witness for the prosecution speak out in detail about what they have suffered at the hands of the “Adamites”, including the Horse:

Your Majesty, had you seen us as their prisoners on the field of battle, bits in our mouths, saddles on our backs, plunging unprotected through clouds of dust, hungry and thirsty, swords in our faces, lances to our chests, and arrows in our throats,awash in blood, you would have had pity on us, O King.

The mule is saltier still as he talks about the indignities and brutalities he has experienced.

Your Majesty, if you consider how dense, vulgar, uncouth, and foul-mouthed humans are, you’ll be amazed at how little they discern their own odious ways, vicious traits, depraved characters, and vile actions, their manifold barbarities, corrupt notions, and conflicting dogmas.

Later a rabbit says that he is indignant to be hunted by men on horses – after all, he says, dogs are carnivores and therefore have a reason to pursue his kind, but horses do not. The horse, he says, should not participate in the chase.

The next day, a better orator stands up in defence of mankind, citing its piety and the heavenly promises of the afterlife, but the animals counter with hell and other punishments, claiming that this balance sets creatures equal with man. Mankind draws ahead again by speaking of holymen and saints, and the animals must concede that they, too, seek to learn from these people.

Finally, the very finest and most highly educated counsel for the prosecution is introduced, a man “Persian by breeding, Arabian by faith, a ḥanif by confession, Iraqi in culture, Hebrew in lore, Christian in manner, Damascene in devotion, Greek in science, Indian in discernment, Sufi in intimations, regal in character, masterful in thought, and divine in awareness.” And then the text abruptly ends.

 

 

* Quotation from Robert Irwin’s wonderful, wonderful, Camel, which taught me so much about the bodies of camels and Arabic poetry. and made me laugh too.

Clever Hans: A Horse, a House and a Little History

Clever Hans: A Horse, a House and a Little History

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Wilhelm von Osten was born into the German squirearchy in 1838 and went on to work as a maths teacher. He moved to the eastern Berlin district of Prenzlauer Berg in 1866 and purchased a house at 10 Griebenowstraße. A befitted his background, he was a keen rider and huntsman with an appreciation of horses. When one of his carriage horses, Hans, seemed unusually observant of the logisitics of drawing a carriage around the city, he taught the horse to count to five by striking his hoof on the ground. This promising equine savant sadly died at the age of twelve, but his replacement, a black Russian trotter also called Hans, was to become famous worldwide.

Thanks to von Osten’s tuition – which involved a lot of carrots and bread – “Clever” Hans developed an extraordinary array of abilities. He would count by pounding his right hoof on the ground and concluding when he reached the correct number with a strike of his left fore. He nodded, shook his head, and moved his head to indicate up, down, right or left. His talents included

  • the ability to count up to 100 (sometimes higher) and work on calculations involving six decimal places;
  • the ability to spell (where “A” = one hoof tap, and so on);
  • the ability to change common fractures to decimals and vice versa;
  • the ability to read German, printed or handwritten (but only lower case);
  • an understanding of the value of all German coins;
  • an understanding of the calendar;
  • the ability to tell the time on a watch;
  • the ability to recognise people he knew from old photos;
  • the ability to identify musical notes and chords and whether or not they were “pleasant”;
  • the ability to pick out groups of people among the spectators – say, women wearing spectacles or men in hats, or even children climbing on nearby rooftops.

 One observer described von Osten as “extremely patient and at the same time highly irascible” and “fanatic in his conviction” that Hans was “capable of inner speech”. Von Osten tried to draw attention to his horse’s talents by posting advertisements in the military press. He gave exhibitions of Hans’ skills in the yard of 10 Griebenowstraße, and many came to watch and try to work out if the horse was really all his owner claimed. Word spread and the man and his horse became a global phenomenon.

Hans was turned into toys, featured on product labels and postcards and written into the lyrics of vaudeville songs. Not unlike his owner, he was also prone to stubborness – he had little respect for those who did not handle him with the same confidence as von Osten. He also bit, which perhaps isn’t that astonishing given the number of treats he’d grown used to expect from humans.

One local journalist, Fedor Freund, pointed out a curious aspect of the horse’s spelling: it was not merely phonetic. When von Osten read out the name “Treskow” to him he spelled it correctly, although it was pronounced “Tresko”. But though many sceptics visited and examined Hans, plenty of prominent and educated men admitted defeat. Head Berlin zoo keeper Ludwig Heck, whom you may have come across in The Age of the Horse, was one of those unable to determine Hans’ secret, even after a year and a half of concentrated study. Von Osten’s horse, it was believed, was intellectually “at about the stage of development of a child of 13 or 14 years.”

It was a team led by psychologist Oskar Pfungst that finally broke the spell in 1907. Hans was not “capable of inner speech” (well, not in any provable way). He was simply watching for changes in the posture and expression of whoever set him each task, whether it was von Osten or an independent investigator. Hans was “clever” because he had noticed that when von Osten relaxed, he only had to strike the ground with his left hoof to finish “counting” and then he would be rewarded. And of course, von Osten relaxed whenever Hans reached the right answer or sum. Presumably, over time the horse didn’t even need a carrot as a reward for this. He was adept in one language – that of the body.

A few years after his debunking, von Osten died, and Hans – rather like Black Beauty – had a series of new owners. This was a time of transition for horses – the beginning of the end of the use of horses for public and private transport – and the odds of ending up as sausage were high. Hans was conscripted into the army at the outbreak of World War One. He vanishes off the records in 1916 – killed in action, perhaps, or victim of disease or the desperation of soldiers.

When I was researching images for the Power section of The Age of the Horse I kept coming across black and white pictures like this one of families in inner courtyards in Western cities, proudly showing off their working horses. Our great-great grandparents often lived alongside their equine workmates or metres away from the mews and multi-storey stables that kept nineteenth- and early twentieth-century cities functioning. Berlin was no exception, and it’s still possible to see some traces of long-since demolished stables, like the parallel metal tracks for cart wheels that are laid in the entryways to some buildings from the period. The old brewery near me hasn’t produced beer in decades, but you can take special tours around the underground stables, which have been preserved. I’m told that one of the multi-storey stables – repurposed as housing – is still standing, but have been unable to locate it. When I realised that von Osten’s house was just ten minutes’ walk from my own, I set out to see if there were any traces of Hans left over.

I live in what’s known as an “alt bau” or “old building” very like 10 Griebenowstraße. Berlin expanded hugely from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, and the same basic building unit was thrown up around the city. It consisted of five storeys (any higher and the fire brigade could not reach the upper floors) around a square courtyard, with cellars, high ceilings and large windows. In areas like Kreuzberg, Schoneberg and Charlottenburg, these buildings are hefty and grand, as Christopher Isherwood described them in the Weimar years, “shabby monumental safes” with “top-heavy balconied façades”.

In Prenzlauer Berg, these “rent barracks” were a little slapdash as the area’s population tended towards the working class. The front would have perhaps some stucco for the better off, like von Osten, and the wings and rear of the courtyard would be plainer.The courtyards sometimes contained small industrial plants, stables or other outbuildings. Often there was more than one courtyard; the record is seven, for a building around the corner from Clever Hans’ home on Kastanienallee, a model of which can be seen in the Deutsches Historisches Museum. These yards got progressively smaller and darker; many were demolished in slum clearances just a few years after they were constructed.

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Number 10 Griebenowstraße is on a corner of sorts near the Zionskirche. When I peeked into the yard I found a large shared garden, bike park and recycling area that was shared between an entire block of alt baus; only one outbuilding was still standing and, when I checked a map from 1895, it was impossible to see what else might have stood there, or if there were further inner courtyards. The outbuilding did not resemble anything that appears in the backdrop of the images of von Osten and Clever Hans. The building has been renovated with plain plaster and there’s not even a plaque to mark the story.

In his report on Hans, Oskar Pfungst concluded that “the horse’s ability to perceive movements greatly exceeds that of the average man.”  What interests me most is what he went on to say, because it’s one of those extracts that, like the ancient Taoist book, “Horses’ Hoofs”, can sound strikingly modern: What results, he asked, might a more horse-centric form of training and upkeep yield? And how could this benefit the horses themselves?

Our horses are, as a rule, sentenced to an especially dull mode of life. Chained in stalls (and usually dark stalls at that,) during three-fourths of their lives, and more than any other domestic animal, enslaved for thousands of years by reins and whip, they have become estranged from their natural impulses, and owing to continued confinement they may perhaps have suffered even in their sensory life. A gregarious animal, yet kept constantly in isolation, intended by nature to range over vast areas, yet confined to his narrow courtyard, and deprived of opportunity for sexual activity,—he has been forced by a process of education to develop along lines quite opposite to his native characteristics. Nevertheless, I believe that it is very doubtful if it would have been possible by other methods, even, to call forth in the horse the ability to think. Presumably, however, it might be possible, under conditions and with methods of instruction more in accord with the life-needs of the horse, to awaken in a fuller measure those mental activities which would be called into play to meet those needs.

Trump, Stein or Clinton? How Would Your Horse Vote in 2016?

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Theodore Roosevelt in patriotic mode. Via Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/item/2013651643/

I thought it would be interesting to compile the horse welfare promises of this year’s US presidential candidate promises. Which platform is best for your horse?

Hillary Clinton, Democrats

“As president, Hillary will …

Protect horses by ending the slaughter of horses for human consumption and cracking down on the practice of horse soring, in which chemicals or other inhumane methods are applied to horses’ limbs to exaggerate their gait.”

(Bernie Sanders co-sponsored the SAFE Act, which aims to close the last loop hole that enables US horses to be sent to slaughter. He also opposed soring)

Donald Trump, Republicans

I couldn’t find anything on Trump’s website about horses.

Jill Stein, Greens

I couldn’t find anything on Stein’s website about horses.

Gary Johnson, Libertarian Party

I couldn’t find anything on Johnson’s website about horses.

Darrell Castle, Constitution Party of the US

I couldn’t find anything on Castle’s website about horses.

Tom Hoefling, America’s Party/American Independent Party

I couldn’t find anything on Hoefling’s website about horses.

Bob Whitaker, American Freedom Party

I couldn’t find anything on Whitaker’s website about horses.

Scott Copeland, Constitution Party of Idaho

I couldn’t find anything on Copeland’s website about horses.

Gloria LaRiva, Party of Socialism and Liberation

I couldn’t find anything on LaRiva’s website about horses.

Lynn Kahn, Peace and Freedom Party

I couldn’t find anything on Kahn’s website about horses.

Jim Hedges, Prohibition Party

I couldn’t find anything on Hedge’s website about horses.

Ed Chlapowski, Reform Party

I couldn’t find anything on Chlapowski’s website about horses.

Emidio “Mimi” Soltysik, Socialist Party

I couldn’t find anything on Soltysik’s website about horses.

Alyson Kennedy, Socialist Workers Party

I couldn’t find anything on Kennedy’s website about horses.

Chris Keniston, Veterans Party of America

I couldn’t find anything on Keniston’s website about horses.

Monica Moorehead, Workers’ World Party

I couldn’t find anything on Moorehead’s website about horses.

(I had to stop at this point but there are also a plethora of independent candidates, should your horse choose to explore their platforms)

CONCLUSION: your horse is voting for Hillary Clinton.

Talking Horses: Honhy, Honhy, Hon! A Victorian Policeman is Saluted.

 

Street-cab horses drinking from half-barrel of water provided by the A.S.P.C.A. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

Street-cab horses drinking from half-barrel of water provided by the A.S.P.C.A. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress). Note hat on right-hand horse.

In his 29-year career as a policeman in Victorian London, John Pegg oversaw over 1,300 convictions for cruelty to horses. This poem was written “on behalf” of those horses by George H Hutt in 1892. Read more about Hutt – “the police poet” – and Pegg here, along with a collection of other “horses’ letters” on Christopher T George’s ripperology blog.

“A Horse’s Letter to Ex-Police Constable 365 John Pegg”

Dear Mr. Pegg, you’ve proved our friend,
No one can deny,
By oft detecting cruelty
While others pass it by.

Your life has been devoted to
The ailments of my race,
And when the tongue was devoid of speech,
Yours kindly took its place.

Before we had your kindly aid
Our pleading proved in vain,
And often with a heavy load
We’ve struggled on in pain.

While drivers in their ignorance
Have vowed that we did shirk,
And though we have been weak and ill
Have urged on to work.

‘Tis you and only such as you
Who mark the mute appeal,
Of us poor helpless quadrupeds
When indisposed we feel.

I’ve had the horrid toothache, Pegg,
And fast I could not go,
But as a medicine received
A cruel, stinging blow.

Again I’ve stood hour after hour
Till corns have made me kick,
And blamed for vicious temper been
Belaboured with a stick.

Sometimes a drunkard held the reins,
And muddled, did not think
That I as well as he required
A cool refreshing drink.

He loitered, tippling on the way,
Till working hours were past,
Then homeward thrashed me, and all night
Left me, unclean, to fast.

But dear old Pegg, you found it out,
And when ’twas brought to light,
You had the rascal punished well,
While Sangster set me right.

Now nearly thirty years you’ve been
An agent of the law,
And through your tact oft saved us pain
By finding out the flaw.

And though we are but helpless brutes,
Without the power of speech,
Yet in our gratefulness, dear Pegg,
A moral we can teach.

So horses, mules, and asses, too,
Their wishes to you give
By neighing “Honhy, honhy, hon!”
Which means “Long may you live.”

May those who have the care of us
With your kind acts agree,
Then animals of every class
Will better treated be.

War Horses Week: Russley Park Remount Depot, World War One, Women, Horses and Sources

“You are doing a man’s work and so you’re dressed rather like a man, but remember just because you wear a smock and breeches you should take care to behave like a British girl who expects chivalry and respect from everyone she meets. … See to it that [a Land Army Girl] means … a steady, pure-minded, hard-working, yes, and attractive girl.”

Hon Mrs Alfred Lyttleton DBE at a Women’s Land Army Rally, January 1918 edition of The Landswoman Magazine.

This blog post is a sequel to Women, Horses and World War One, which I wrote in 2012 after Fran Jurga, who was running the official War Horse blog, tipped me off. The centenary of the Great War has renewed interest in women’s role both on the front and at home, and lots of people were curious to learn about the uppercrust and middle class young women who turned out to work for the organisations that became the Women’s Land Army. The first blog post concentrated on the women who worked in remount depots for the army, rehabbing or training horses that would go back to the front. This post was inspired by the chance I had to take part in a BBCWest/BBC 4 documentary on horses in Britain during the war, and brings together some of the sources I discovered when doing my research. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, start here, with the original essay!

Two things need to be borne in mind when we talk about how great it was that women were freed up to do men’s work and get all empowered in quite a glamorous fashion, etc., etc. Firstly, though there were several remount depots run solely or partly by women, most of the Women’s Land Army worked in agriculture, forestry or forage production. If they got near a horse, it was probably a big carter, not an officer’s charger. They are the women writing cheerily about chilblains or the joys of pig keeping in the Landswoman Magazine, struggling against the prejudice of the cash-strapped farmers, who were both sceptical about their ability to do the work and worried about the relatively high wages they were awarded. To get a little flavour of the times (and their propaganda), I recommend spending hours at the excellent Women’s Land Army website, where you’ll find a collection of scans of this hearty publication, complete with advertisements for Royal Vinolia face cream (“Beauty on duty has a duty to beauty”).

The second aspect you need to bear in mind is that only some 20,000 or so women were recruited into the organisations that became the Women’s Land Army, a total which is not insignificant, but is dwarfed by the 180,000-odd “village women” who were also working in the fields, farmyards and forests. In other words, rural working women for whom the labour was not a patriotic novelty, but a familiar part of the day-to-day grind. Class! I found Kate Adie’s Fighting on the Home Front a really excellent overview of all the women, from duchesses downwards, who were involved in the World War One workplace. She doesn’t mention the remount depots, but does dedicate a chapter to the women who made all the haynets required by the British Army – not glam, but utterly essential.

But anyway – we’re here for Russley, which was in many ways the most prestigious of the Women’s Land Army postings. Not only did the twenty or so young women work with horses, but officers’ chargers. Not only was the stable run by women, but the superintendent was the wife of the Director of Army Remounts, Lord Birkbeck. No wonder they were photographed, filmed and even painted (see the first part for a little about Lucy Kemp Welch’s beautiful pictures).

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This row of stables at Russley Park dates from the late nineteenth century and has been beautifully restored by the current owners. From the paintwork to the brick floors, porcelain feed troughs and drain traps, it’s a labour of love and a gem of its original era. The only current resident is a chestnut shetland pony called George (see below). They were built by Russley Park’s owner in the late nineteenth century to house his racehorses (the park was originally a hunting estate dating from 1700). The estate is a hop, skip and a jump from Lambourn – still a hub for trainers of both flat and national hunt horses.

In 1907 it was purchased by Colonel William Hall Walker, the eccentric third son of a brewery magnate, who bred and trained horses both at Russley and in County Kildare in Ireland. Obsessed with horoscopes, Walker had charts drawn up for all of the foals he bred, and chose lantern-roofs for the stallion block in Tully, Ireland, so that the studs could be influenced by the sun and stars. In 1915 he sold both stables to the Secretary of State for War and handed over two stallions, 30 broodmares, 10 yearling fillies and 8 horses in training. The idea was that the government would be able to breed half or three-quarter thoroughbred horses for the cavalry.

Of course, by this stage it was rapidly becoming clear that there would not be much call for cavalry horses in the British Army’s future. If you click through to this extract from Hansard, you can see the March 1916 parliamentary discussion over what on earth the nation was supposed to do with Russley Park and Tully. One side is arguing that the racehorses will be loaned to Lords Lonsdale, and that the top-class stallions will contribute to a better class of cavalry horse. The other side is pointing out that what’s really needed is light draught horses to haul artillery and provisions.

In the end, Russley Park was used to care for officers’ chargers and new horses from Ireland and elsewhere. There were a couple of broodmares there, but the plan to turn it into a military stud didn’t materialise. Walker was made Baron Wavertree, and Tully became the Irish National Stud.

 

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What about life for the young women at Russley Park? It was a tight ship. A contemporary army report (possibly with a somewhat propagandist purpose) gave some details – repeated from my original post:

“…early morning stables 6 to 7.30, when the boxes are thoroughly washed out and the horses rubbed down, watered and fed. Breakfast follows, and the string then turns out to exercise on the downs. Midday stables on return from exercise and dinner at one o’clock. At two, horses that require special schooling are taken out and clipping and singeing and other odd jobs are taken in hand which occupy all hands till tea at 4.30.

Evening stables 5 to 6, and then the cleaning of saddles. Supper is at eight and the whole establishment is in bed by nine. … Mrs Ironside’s work is that of a responsible and very competent stud groom the care and feeding of some 70 horses is [sic] stables and at grass, the care of foaling mares, the dressing of wounds and contusions, the dressing of ringworm spots, the giving of balls and drenches, taking of temperatures, rasping of teeth, poulticing, bandaging, fomentation etc. etc. are all in her hands and no man ever did it better or with sounder judgment. …

The standard of efficiency of this establishment is that of a first-class hunting stable – attention is paid to every detail, horses clean and bright, stables spotless, windows clean, no cobwebs, brass shining and even pitchforks burnished.”

Each woman had three horses in her care – a far cry from her pre-war horsey experiences with a groom or two to do the hard work for her. There was, of course, some anxiety about young women doing man’s work. The fragant Mrs Hamilton Osgood visited America in June 1917 to impress these patriotic achievements upon young women on the other side of the pond, and, well, you can read the Philadelphia Evening Ledger’s headline for yourself—

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Screengrab from the Library of Congress’ Chronicling America archive.

Mrs Hamilton Osgood – very much of another generation – was desperate to stress how genteel these gentlewomen had remained:

“It’s a divineness of spirit that’s making little frail-handed girls groom cart horses and marchionesses wait on table in little restaurants – all so that England may give her men… English women are doing marvellous work on farms, and mind you they don’t dress up in absurd pantalettes to do it. They wear neat khakhi skirts. … Well-to-do girls who have never soiled their hands before are doing– well, almost unbelievable work. … Let me read you the letter of one little girl who, with either other women, is managing the only all-women remount depot in England. … ‘This morning,’ she read, ‘I was grooming an eighteen-hand-high cart horse, of whose character I knew nothing. We get one pound a week here and get ordered around like everything; no fancy get-ups, either. But we don’t care. We’re just glad to be serving.’”

What I love most about this extract is turning immediately to the Imperial War Museum’s photos and footage of the “frail-handed girls” at Russley Park – not a khaki skirt to be seen, and they don’t look like they’re bothered about having lily-white mitts either. What about the girls themselves? In 1916 the Daily Mail ran a piece by S. R. Church called a “Women’s Remount Depot somewhere in England,” which seems to my eye to draw upon the army report I mentioned earlier. I’m not sure how authentic it is (was it by a woman working at a depot or was it nudged along by the authorities?), and of course it’s unclear which location it’s talking about, but perhaps it’s Russley:

“Women grooms. How we look after the horses. … I am very sorry for the girl who tries to deceive our ‘boss’ about her knowledge of horses.
On your first morning, to arrive in the cold, grey dawn, after rising at the unusual hour of 6 o’clock – to pass through the door into the blackness of the riding school, where 60 horses are tethered in a double line–to look around for someone with authority in the few glaring spots of light that throw strange monster horse shadows onto the gaunt walls–and then to be told, ‘start watering from that end.’
It is disconcerting enough in any case, as you slip by a pair of possibly tactless heels to where you get some horse may own a head and headstall, and then to lead him to the trough, where other dim figures are holding other animals, tramping, snorting, biting, kicking. You are not nervous (absurd idea!) But the effect is weird, grotesque in the darkness, and, as I said before, I am sorry for the girl who comes as a pretender.
But, then, nobody could deceive our ‘boss’ unless with pen and ink; never face-to-face. I would wager that, is losing meant eating our hundred horses one by one, with their shoes thrown in! A wonderful woman she is, with the keenest green eyes in the world and straight brows, almost startlingly black, against her pale face and soft grey hair. She has voice so deep and powerful and clear that you shut your eyes and almost say it is a man’s voice, and then you realise a tender tone in it that no man could have, and you just say to yourself, as I say 100 times a day, ‘what an absolute topper she is!’
It would be a pleasure to go on writing about her, but perhaps you have said all when you have said that she can do anything with any horse and that there is not a girl in the place who does not enjoy obeying her. She is a born commander. And it is so rare an instinct in woman that I doubt if there be one in a thousand who could command such absolute, unwavering confidence.

Fearless horsewomen.

And it is her personality backed up by her knowledge that has made our depot the successful concern it is. The more you know of horses, and especially of the raw, rough brutes, many of them thoroughly vicious, which are bound to be among any lot picked out at random from the army type of animal, the more wonderful it seems that we should run them without a man on the premises. Wonderful. Why, it comes near to being incredible! And without her it would be incredible. Some of our girls are fine, fearless horsewomen, and before they have been here long we’re all fairly competent grooms; but it is she who tackles the dangerous horse first, she who is always on the spot in every emergency, and she, too, who organises everything from ordering the tons of hay, oats, bedding etc, to noticing that are stray cats get a saucer of milk in the harness room at teatime. Nothing escapes her vigilant eye nor ever seems to perturb the humour in her face.
With a savage horse she is a marvel, and so calm about it into the bargain. She tamed one who came to us with the cheerful reputation of having half-killed six men running till nobody dared go into his box. Only the other day I was absolutely defeated by a black fellow we called the Snorter or the Warhorse. He bit, he kicked , he struck at me with his forelegs. … He seemed as supple as indiarubber, and his wicked hoofs came crashing around within an inch of me time after time, till at last I went limping off on one foot and a half to say I couldn’t get near him. Well, she came and talked to him and showed him (only showed him) a little short thick stick, and he stood like a lamb after the first five seconds.

No picnic

For the Remount Depot is not a picnic. Now that we have roused the curiosity of a larger public than the small boys who came tumbling out of the cottages and the grinning motorists in passing cars, to whom our string of horses ridden at exercise by ladies on cross saddles was an object of amusement, we’re always seeing ourselves in illustrated papers labelled ‘Smiling Dianas,’ or something equally foolish.
If we are Dianas, we get far hotter, dirtier, and more tired than would be at all dignified in a goddess. Of course it looks very jolly to see us all going out for a pleasant ride in the country. ‘Those girls are having the time of their lives,’ people probably say when they see us. So we are. I cannot deny it. But I think some of our friends who last saw us, say, in a London ball-room would realise the other side of the picture if they could look in one morning at a time when they are generally in bed and see the erstwhile fine lady in her riding breeches and shirt, with the sleeves rolled up over her elbows, busily engaged in cleaning a dirty old carthorse, or a charger back from the front with filthy coat, or raking refuse out of the stalls. Our ‘boss’ has no room for the type of applicant who ‘loves riding, don’t you know, but couldn’t possibly do stable work.’
Love of the horse
We are doing men’s work, as much of it as men could do and considerably more than men would have done in those dim, distant days before the war had taught most of us to put our backs into a job of work and keep them there. It seems a long, long while since one strolled out after breakfast in well-cut habit and shiny boots to where our well-mannered hunter awaited us in the yard with a stud groom and a helper or so in attendance.
But everytime our back aches under a truss of hay or a sack of oats we are braced up by the thought that we (and we hail from New Zealand, Ireland, the North country, as well as England proper) are taking our share in the work that they are doing across the sea – there where our hearts are. And in that thought we go on cheerfully as before.
For we are a very merry crew, mostly under twenty-five I should imagine, and we get to love the horses as if they were our own. There is beautiful Venus, the chestnut mare, for whom I always steal a few minutes from my other charges to make her coat glow in the sunlight. And old Pasha, who looks like a cross between a camel and a clotheshorse, and he knows at least seventeen methods of either nipping or kicking you, even he has his genial moments – at the drinking trough, for instance. And Satan, who never goes out except with our rough rider; it takes several of us to hold him like a rising balloon till she jumps into the saddle, and then away they go in the maddest series of rushes across the paddock. And Baby, how our young carthorse, who weighs 15cwt or so and comes bounding down the riding school to her morning drink in charge of a wee wisp of a girl you could almost pick up in your hand.
Yes, when all is said and done, I suppose it is mainly our love of horses for their own sakes that brings us and keeps us here, although –– ‘I shall be late for the evening feed if I write another word.’
But it is the love of the horse.”

Lastly, here from the April 1919 edition of Landswoman Magazine is a list of women from Wiltshire who were awarded Good Service Ribbons for their efforts in 1914–1918. Could some of them have worked at Russley Park? Over to you.
WiltshireLandsArmyMedalsforgoodservice

Part one of this post.