War Horses Week: Invisible Horses

While wild horses in the right environment can blend beautifully into their background, the better to fool predators, it’s another story with domestic horses – especially those pressed into service in battle. The Camoupedia is a blog dedicated to the art of becoming invisible. Fascinatingly, it includes three posts about the camouflaging of horses in World War One – one about the French painting their horses khaki, and another about US soldiers in Mexico in 1915 grubbing up their favourite grey, while British troops in East Africa liked to transform their mules and ponies into zebras. And to flip the concept around, here are US snipers using a papier mâché “dead horse” to take a pop at the Hun.

My Little Pony, 18th Century-Style

Photo: Andreas Praefcke via Wikimedia Commons

Photo: Andreas Praefcke via Wikimedia Commons

It’s always fascinating to see which blog posts garner the most hits – which aspects of horses preoccupy people? One of my “surprise hits” is a slightly snarky post about horses with long manes and tails (often augmented with extensions that have to be stolen from some other horse) – something which has become a bit of a trend in recent years. It turns out that there’s history to this phenomenon. Firstly, here are some 19th-century tall tales about herds of My Little Pony-esque steeds roaming Oregon, and the few specimens that were exhibited to the public, seen here in a nicely researched piece. And now a wander through Wikimedia Commons brought me to this 17th or 18th century painting captured by Andreas Praefcke at, I think, Burg Waldburg, Germany. If anyone knows any more about this prancer, do get in touch. The rock in the foreground seems to be saying this horse was known as the Swan of Arnstadt, a town in Thüringia.

If Wishes Were Horses: Saving Beauty

Ann Lindo’s Horse Trust, Tettenhall Horse Sanctuary, the Horse Rescue Fund and World Horse Welfare are just some of Britain’s great horse rescues. I have to put in a special shout out for the Horse Rescue Fund. Established in the 1960s by a family who wanted to make a difference, they are part of the fabric of Norfolk equestrian lives. Generations of Norfolk children have grown up riding their rescues, some of whom were rehomed at Cringleford Riding School. Most of their horses are not kept at the sanctuary, but are on longterm loans. The Walbanckes originally took in old tradesmen’s horses that were being retired as they were replaced by motor vehicles, and they later campaigned doggedly for improved transport conditions and better riding school standards. The HRF provided me with a pamphlet called Beyond the Stable Door that tells their story up till Black Beauty’s centenary year. I was spoilt for material in this chapter and ultimately had to cut my visit to the HRF although their work dovetails with the history of equine welfare efforts and legislation that I was tracing. I hope, when I have the time, to write a longer blog post about them. Here’s a short Pathé film about the early 1960s scandal concerning the export of horses from Ireland for slaughter on the continent: the Walbanckes’ first major rescue efforts concentrated on just these animals, including Robbie, a coalman’s Arab/Connemara gelding, who drew wedding carriages and helped to raise funds to purchase more horses from the Dublin docks. Other Walbancke “saves” went on to be cracking performers in local shows.

If you’re in Norfolk and want to see places where Anna Sewell lived, the Sewell Barn Theatre Company is based in Anna’s brother’s barn and is popularly thought to have been the home of Bess, a horse who inspired Anna’s creation. Anna’s birthplace is now a tea room in Yarmouth, and her tombstone is set in the wall of the former Friends’ Meeting House in Lammas. Nearby Dudwick Park belonged to Anna’s grandparents, and she’s thought to have learned to ride in the local lanes. Sewell Park in Norwich encloses the family’s former land, and features a horse trough (now filled with flowers) that commemorates Anna. The house where she died stands in Old Catton and her first publisher, Jarrold, is still in operation and also has a museum dedicated to printing.

There’s an excellent fansite for the TV version of Follyfoot here and a book called Follyfoot Remembered by Jane Royston, who worked as horse manager on the series.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary were wonderful hosts when I was researching the book, and generously showed me around their headquarters at Hapton. Here are some photographs from the trip and also a short clip of Norris, the Spindles Farm pony I mentioned in the chapter:

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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.

If Wishes Were Horses: Diminutive Dianas

Here’s some Pathé footage of the International Horse Show at Olympia in 1920 (spot the hydrangeas and the standard lamp shades!), the King’s Gold Cup in 1921,  opening day in 1922 (plus side-saddle) and a little showjumping. You can just make out the backdrop of Lowther Castle in this film from 1923.

And this – now, how I wish I’d found this when I was writing the book! – this is a special clip of women, girls and their horses at Olympia in 1930. “Motorcars have not driven from Eve her love for a four-footed friend.” Quite right! And my goodness, the elegance of those top-hatted ladies riding side-saddle (there’s even an arena-level shot), the smart pony carriages and the girls in their felt hats. Towards the end of the film they all don costumes from the 1860s and climb onto stage coaches. Magic.

Karen Krizanovich alerted me to this site which features a “midget handsome cab” at Olympia in the 1920s: pony up front, little girl riding inside and boy playing cabbie.

World Horse Welfare have some biographical details about their founder, Ada Cole, here, while the horse home named for her is now managed by Redwings. Dorothy Brooke is celebrated by the aid organisation she launched to save old British war horses in Cairo; the Brooke has now evolved into an international charity which uses direct aid and education to improve the working lives of the donkeys, horses and mules that sustain the economy of the developing world. There’s nothing sentimental about the fact that the health of these animals can make a critical difference to the welfare of the families that own them.  I can’t endorse them strongly enough!

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.

How Much Does it Cost to Fly to Washington?


O to be in Washington!

The Washington International Horse Show and the National Museum of the American Indian are putting on an exhibit called A Song for the Horse Nation, opening the last weekend in October. There will be pony rides, war paint demonstrations and displays by the local mounted police. There’s more detail of the museum show here, including (with links added for images):

a 19th-century, 16-foot-tall, 38-foot-circumference Lakota tipi, in which 110 hand-painted horses, some with riders, all at a full gallop, cover the entire surface in rich reds, turquoise blues and golds as vivid and fresh as the day they were created. These battle and horse-raiding scenes proclaim the heroic deeds of the warrior who once lived in the tipi.

Life-size model horses, one pulling a 19th-century Cheyenne travois (a frame used to drag heavy loads over land), and another tacked in a dazzling display of fully beaded traditional Apsáalooke (Crow) regalia used in parades today, will also be on display. Other highlights include rifles belonging to celebrated mounted warriors Geronimo (Chiricahua Apache), Chief Joseph (Nez Perce) and Chief Rain-in-the-Face (Hunkpapa Lakota) and the famous ceremonial dance stick (ca. 1890) of No Two Horns (Hunkpapa Lakota), which he created to honor his well-loved horse that died at the Battle of the Little Big Horn.

Visitors will discover daring feats of bravery such as “counting coup,” in which a warrior would gallop astride an enemy and touch him with his hand. They will learn that raiding an enemy’s horses is a proud tradition that survived even into 20th-century warfare—during World War II, Joseph Medicine Crow, Apsáalooke (Crow), now in his 90s, liberated horses from the Nazi SS in the finest tradition of a Plains Indian warrior. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, from President Barack Obama Aug. 12, 2009.

The main exhibition website can be found at this address, where I advise browsing to your heart’s content.  I’m going to try and find out a little more about Joseph Medicine Crow – that story is too tempting to pass up.

A Moustache: What the Well-Groomed Stallion is Wearing This Year

A survivor of Spindles Farm, happily esconced at the brilliant Redwings Horse Sanctuary. Not quite as impressive as that sported by Alfie, a Gloucestershire stallion, who featured in Metro this week. Maybe he should have laid off the hair gel?

Little Red Riding Hood

Bless. The Guardian has published a selection of photographer Gary Carlton’s images of Yorkshire county shows, including this “wolf”, ridden by Red Riding Hood. If you enjoy the spectacle of the pony fancy dress party, please spend a little time on Jane Badger’s blog, because here, here, here and here you can find some truly wonderful examples from the 1950s. It’s hard to top Humpty Dumpty and the wall, but the Abominable Snow Pony is ambitious, as is the woolly mammoth and accompanying cave children, while Mrs J Beaton’s Zulu warrior is, er, quaintly unselfconscious.