Tornasol – the horse who defied Siena and 384 years of history

The image above shows last year’s July Palio.

I spent a week in Siena last August watching the preparations for the famous Palio horse race and have written an account which I hope to get published soon. The Palio is a stunning civic and historic phenomenon that is brutal on horses. This July, after a week of trial races and being whipped and spurred round the town square twice daily, a horse called Tornasol decided he’d had enough and refused to run. Viva l’anarchia, Tornasol. The equine revolution starts here.

If you want a brief introduction to the Palio and don’t mind it skipping over any issues related to the actual horses, this documentary unravels some of its complexities:

Sidesaddle in a Hot Air Balloon (and other adventures)

American lady riding sidesaddle in nineteenth-century Japan, as viewed by artist Yoshitori Utagawa in 1860. Care of the US Library of Congress.

American lady riding sidesaddle in nineteenth-century Japan, as viewed by artist Yoshitori Utagawa in 1860. Care of the US Library of Congress.

If you’ve come here after reading the Washington Post piece on the revival of sidesaddle in America (now going a little viral on Jezebel.com), here’s a selection from the archives – a little bit of everything from balloonists to tragic heroines, scandalous females and zebras ridden sidesaddle. I also wrote in detail about women and girls who rode in Britain and Ireland in If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession. Photos of the Mrs. George C. Everhart Memorial Invitational Side Saddle Race – the first sidesaddle race to take place in the US since the 1930s are here.
If you’d love to read some primary sources on women and riding in America in the nineteenth century, get thee to Archive.org to read Elizabeth Karr’s American Horsewoman and Theo Stephenson Brown’s hilarious In the Riding-School: Chats with Esmeralda. If you want to see what’s under the side saddle apron, well, here’s Eadweard Muybridge – perhaps NSFW.
As someone with a hip or two that are threatening to be arthritic, I’m glad of the sidesaddle revival as in the future it might be the only way I can ride a horse. Barbara Minneci of Belgium has been flying the flag for sidesaddle in paralympic dressage with her beautiful coloured cob, Barilla. There’s more about earlier para-sidesaddle riders in the list below.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 8) terracotta horses, photographed by author at National Museum of China, Beijing, by author.

Western Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 8) terracotta horses, photographed by author at National Museum of China, Beijing.

  • What the what? No, this is not breaking news, but something I discovered today. Lambourn will have the UK’s first “horse monorail” courtesy of Turkish industrialist and racehorse owner, Mehmet Kurt. As far as I can tell it’s a horsewalker from Tron (have a look at the photo here); apparently the “Kurtsystem” will be great for rehabilitating horses. You learn something new every day. (Newbury Today)
  • The NYT reports on the presentation by Turkmenistan of an Akhal Teke stallion to President Xi Jinping of China. There’s a little on the story of this “heavenly horse” in Chinese history and its current return. I was surprised to read that Genghis Khan rode one – curious to see what the Mongolians would make of that. (New York Times)
  • Meanwhile, someone’s riding lesson went very wrong when a saddled and bridled horse ended up galloping riderless around Beijing’s fifth ring road, chased by a dog. (Shanghaist)
  • Jalopnik on how Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome gets about now that he’s a champ. (Jalopnik)

Another Illegal Drug Scandal for Sheikh Mohammed, Princess Haya of the FEI

Guardian full story: Sheikh and wife shocked that a crate labelled “horse tack” found on one of their private jets in May by UK Border Guards turned out to be full of veterinary drugs that are potentially toxic and harmful to horses.
I wonder how their internal investigation is coming along, five months later.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

Subway art at Campo Pequeno station, Lisbon

Subway art at Campo Pequeno station, Lisbon

  • The American Quarter Horse Association is being sued for not allowing the registration of cloned horses. (ABC News)
  • A New Yorker suggests that the local Boris bike system is replaced by one providing horses. (Gabe Capone)
  • The suspicious death of a racehorse in West Virginia. (Bloodhorse.com)
  • A profile on Marty Irby, a Tennessee Walking Horse breeder who switched sides and joined the campaign to end endemic cruelty in the Big Lick industry. (The Tennessean)
  • More intrigue in New York: carriage drivers say the ASPCA has funded a group that’s attempting to trash the campaign of a mayoral hopeful (New York Daily News)
  • Fascinating gif of a horse jumping – with a skeleton painted onto its coat, so you can see the physical process of leaping. (Reddit)
  • The Wall Street Journal on London’s mews: once stables and carriage houses, now des-res homes. (WSJ)
  • Lone Ranger star Arnie Hammer says his co-star stole the show. Not Depp, but Leroy, a tall grey Nebraskan who stepped into the shoes of Silver. (Omaha)

No Plans for the Weekend? Why Not Pop Over to Chantilly?

The Prince of Condé, Louis Henri (also a Duc de Bourbon) was prime minister of France for Louis XI from 1723 to 1726. He was also, according to an old tale I really hope is true, sure he would be reincarnated as a horse. He built the stables by which all other stables are judged and found wanting: Chantilly, in a forested area just outside Paris. These “Grandes Écuries” or “great stables” rival Versailles itself: architect Jean Aubert pulled out all the stops to create a facade some 180 m long which still overlooks the race course where the “French Derby” or Prix du Jockey Club is run every June. The town remains central to the French equine aristocracy, as it’s a major training centre, and the Grandes Ecuries survived the revolution and are now a Living Museum of the Horse, stuffed with equestrian art from Thelwell to Stubbs, and a collection of 30 breeds from Indian Marwaris to Shetland ponies.

Your reason to go this weekend? The museum is reopening after a hefty makeover, thanks to the Aga Khan. Tens of millions have been spent restoring the stables and dusting up the exhibition, and you can see some highlights in a slideshow here at CNN. You can also catch displays of equitation and an extensive collection of historic items. As the Aga Khan is not just a hippophile but also a living god, there’s something pleasingly circular about the tale: from a prince who wanted to be a horse in the afterlife, to a horse-loving prince who’s already divine.