This eighteenth-century imagining of ancient Syrian horse armour seems bold, if a little impractical.
In The Age of the Horse I gave readers some idea of the ingenuity humans used to recycle the bodies of horses used in the nineteenth century west. Of course, this inventiveness was not restricted to the Victorian era nor to the more rapidly industrialised nations – and we’re still finding new uses for horses’ bodies. Here is a brief, morbid and often suprising list of them, from armour to face lifts.
As shelters in the eighteenth century by the Puelche and Pehuenche of Argentina and Chile. (Horse Nations: The worldwide impact of the horse on indigenous societies post-1492, by Peter Mitchell, 2015, p281)
The skin from colts’ and mares’ lower legs were used to make gauchos’ “bota de potro” footwear. (Mitchell, 2015, p282)
Drumheads; Blackfoot Indians, (The Role of the Horse in Man’s Culture, by Harold B Barclay, 1980, p177)
Leather for covering large boardroom and office tables (Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances: Or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields by Peter Lund Simmonds, 1862, p364)
“Leather guards on [German] cavalry trousers”, carriage roofs or whip lashes. (The Horse-World of London by W J Gordon, 1893, p187)
Shoe leather or “porpoise hide” (“Horse Meat for Food” by Frank G Carpenter, The National Tribune, 19 January 1893, p9)
Saddles and boot tops (twentieth century America)
For making braided reins, bridles, girths, cruppers and whips in Kazakhstan. (Barclay, 1980, p319)
Bags and shoe soles in Mongolia (Barclay, 1980, p302)
Cordovan leather, shield and buckler parts, coat worn under armour, harness (Barclay, 1980, p133)
Distilled for use in lamps, etc. (Waste Products and Undeveloped Substances: Or, Hints for Enterprise in Neglected Fields by Peter Lund Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Sausage skins, gut strings (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Grease and bones burned for fuel on the Pampas in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. (Barclay, 1980, p187)
“Lucifer matches” (Simmonds, 1862, p340)
Knife handles, phosphorus, super-phosphate of lime (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Oil for candlemaking, leather dressing and lubricating. (Gordon, 1893, p186)
Ground and mixed with sulphuric acid for fertiliser, or simply ground into bone meal for manure making. (Gordon, 1893, p186)
Button-making (Gordon, 1893, p186)
Ribs and scapulae for smoothing clay pots, cannon bones for spear heads, jawbones to scrape leather thongs, pastern bones to make ornaments. (Copper Age Botai culture, Kazakhstan)
As necklaces by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)
Glue and gelatine (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
“Nithya” – a botox-like cosmetic treatment that stimulates the cells that produce collagen.
Hair of Mane, Tail
Tapestry making, girths, ropes, fetters, collars for horses and cattle, shoe covers, rain hats and fishing nets in Buryatia, Siberia.
Hair-cloth, mattress stuffing, woven into bags for crushing seed in oil mills (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Furniture stuffing, fishing lines. (Gordon, 1893, p187)
Plaited to make ropes, nets, lassoes and fly whisks by the Yakut of Siberia, who also use it for decorative work and stuffing saddles. (Barclay, 1980, p327)
Tipi decorations among some Native American groups (Barclay, 1980, p177)
Clothing or harness decoration by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)
The shirts of penitents (Barclay, 1980, p133)
Mixed with rubber to create “hairloch”, which was used as padding for the equipment dropped into Occupied France for use by the Special Operations Executive in World War Two (The Women who Lived for Danger, Marcus Binney, 2002, p26)
As crests for helmets (Ancient Greece, Persia) and on war standards carried by the Mongolian Army.
Used in perfume making by the Blackfoot (Barclay, 1980, p177)
Boiled for men, dogs and poultry (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Cat and dog meat (Gordon, 1893, p187)
Fed to animals on fur farms (Horse meat for fur farms: its chemical composition by Sedgwick E Smith, Washington, Department of the Interior, 1940)
Fed to zoo animals in Central Park (The Daily Yellowstone Journal, 2nd December 1887, p1)
Fed to hunting hounds (UK)
Fed to pigs raised at knackers yards and sold for commercial pork-pie making in the UK (Among Horses in Russia by Captain M H Hayes, 1900)
Trimmings turned into funeral wreaths (Luc Sante’s The Other Paris); bright blue dye (Simmonds, 1862, p340)
Gelatine, prussiate, “fancy snuff boxes” (Simmonds, 1862, p364)
Glue, blue-maker manufacture (Gordon, 1893, p186)
As pendants by some Native American groups, (Barclay, 1980, p177)
Armour – “These mares [the Sarmatians use] not only use for war, but also sacrifice them to the local gods and eat them for food. Their hoofs they collect, clean, split, and make from them as it were python scales. . . . These pieces they bore and stitch together with the sinews of horses and oxen, and then use them as breastplates that are as handsome and strong as those of the Greeks. For they can withstand blows of missiles and those struck in close combat.” (Description of Greece, Pausanias, translated by W H S Jones)
Button manufacture; albumen extracted and used for making photographs (Carpenter, 1893, p9)
For making cores/loose internal parts of casting moulds in foundries “in some foreign countries” (Simmonds, 1862, p368)
Collected, moulded into cakes for fuel and sold (China) (Simmonds, 1862, p369)
To insulate roofs (Copper Age Botai culture, Kazakhstan)
For making PreMarin, a hormone used to allay menopause symptoms and in feminizing hormone therapy for transwomen.
Boiled to preserve seeds, in a mythical Chinese pharmacopoeia.
Bezoar (a solid mass that forms in the digestive tract of some animals)
“It has the medicinal properties of settling fright and resolving phlegm, clearing heat and dispelling poisons. It is used to treat internal proliferation of phlegm-heat, manic depression (diankuang) and fright epilepsy (jingxian), malign poisons, ulcers and swellings, disturbances of consciousness, etc.” (Bencao gangmu, a Chinese Systematic Materia Medica by Li Shizhen, 1590)
Shipped to China, straightened and sharpened into razors (Carpenter, 1893, p9)
“Horse-shoe nails, kicked about the world by horses innumerable, are not the useless fragments we might naturally deem them. Gun-makers tell us that no iron is so well fitted for their purpose as that which is derived from horse-shoe nails and similar worn fragments. The nails are, in the first instance, made of good sound iron, and the violent concussions they receive when a horse is walking over a stony road, give a peculiar annealing and toughnening to the metal, highly beneficial to its subsequent use for gun-barrels” (Simmonds, 1862, p418)
If you’ve had your horse cremated, the cremains can be transformed into diamonds or glass jewellery as a keepsake.
Alternatively, the horse can be allowed to break down into compost.
The Mare with a flowing mane, which was never broke to any servile toil and labour, composed an eighth species of women. Those are they who have little regard for their husbands, who pass away their time in dressing, bathing and perfuming; who throw their hair into the nicest curls, and trick it up with the fairest flowers and garlands. A woman of this species is a very pretty thing for a stranger to look upon, but very detrimental to the owner, unless it be a king or prince who takes a fancy to such a toy.
I went to Amsterdam last weekend to see friends I hadn’t seen for far too long, and ended up doing a little unscheduled horsey tourism. I hadn’t planned it, honest! I had no idea that Amsterdam had a nineteenth century riding manège right by its main park, nor that the building was still home to horses. And I didn’t realise until I wandered into the Van Loon House museum on the Keizersgracht that there was a beautifully preserved coach house and stables tucked away at the end of its garden. Maybe it’s the canals and narrow streets – boats and bikes dominate – but Amsterdam is not Venice, and there are plenty of cobbled streets once traversed by the thousands of horses that made the city on the Amstel function in the nineteenth century and earlier.
This palladian construction sits at the end of the garden of the Van Loon family’s townhouse. The house itself was built in 1672 and the wealthy Van Loons moved in in 1884, only departing in 1945. The coach house was home to up to six horses (cared for by two grooms, a coachman and a footman) and was enough of a source of pride for the family to take guests to view it. They also had country estates, and the stable has now been reconstructed using mangers from one of these homes. When in town, the family’s equestrian activities were probably confined to the Vondelpark, where they could ride or drive as the fancy took. There are some photographs of the family sleigh in the park, and the sleigh itself is sitting on the old brick floor, opposite a cabinet of harnesses decorated with the family colours:
And this is the charabanc, from the French for “wagon with benches”, also in the family colours (yellow and black). One of the Van Loons was hunting master to King William III, and his hunting horn is strung up on the stable wall, along with a black-and-white photo of a Van Loon lady leaping sidesaddle over a hurdle on an affable, old-fashioned-looking grey.
There’s also a model of the stable as it once looked – a family children’s toy, complete with saddles hanging on the partitions and horses with plaited tails. If you look closely you’ll even see the nameplates over each stall. I bought some postcards with old images of the stables, horses, grooms and coachman. The horses look just like Gelderlanders – chestnut or bay with backs as long as fire dogs.
Mention of the Vondelpark led me to the Dutch Equestrian School Museum on a leafy, blossom-lined street just yards from the park itself. The large detached houses give way to this façade:
Slip under the archway and there’s a potent whiff of horse and horse by-products, a long corridor with a red carpet and a large door that opens into the Hollandesche Manege, originally founded in 1744 and in its current form since 1882. It’s still in use as a riding stable and still hosts “carousels”. Here are a selection of blurry cameraphone shots (no flash) of the hall, foyer and stables: the grand staircase with its treads worn down by 130 years of riding boots, the loose boxes and their friendly (and hungry) inhabitants and the stucco decorations, with some visual depth added by a layer of manège dust. The foyer is the most beautiful riding “club house” I’ve ever been in (although most of the riding club houses I know where full of janky old heaters, dirty tea mugs and folded up horse blankets, but I digress). Alongside the pony club summer camp adverts, copies of Black Beauty and old plates of “Equitation Around the World”, is a huge nineteenth-century gouache drawing of gentlemen in top hats playing at quintain and running at rings. One of the information cards provided says that women were very much involved at the reopening ceremony in 1882, and there were sidesaddles for sale and on display. My ticket included a free cup of tea, so I sat on the balcony and watched the current crop of riders go through their paces before wandering out to the crowded Vondelpark and hunting for old bridle paths.
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.
A list of horse coat colours taken from The School of Horsemanship by François Robichon de la Guérinière (first complete edition 1733. Translated by Tracey Boucher. Published by J A Allen, London, 1994):
tiger (grey with black spots and large solid black areas on white undercoat)
pied (black, bay, chestnut)
moor’s head roan (blue roan)
wolf-coloured (with dorsal stripe)
all-flower or peach blossom
trout (a black undercoat and a body and head dotted with reddish or chestnut spots)
blue-grey (“a white undercoat and spots over the entire body, such as one sees on porcelain vases”)
UPDATE 17/1/2017: I rediscovered my copy of The Wilton House Riding School, a reproduction of 55 paintings by Hapsburg riding master Baron Reis d’Eisenberg depicting haute-école movements. I can’t find a date for the completion of the paintings but in his introduction Dorian Williams says that the baron lived in the mid-eighteenth century. As I flipped through the pages I noticed that several of the colours mentioned by Guerinière appear, which might help to decipher the original French list.
There’s a German-bred horse described as a “porcelain piebald” which turns out to be a dapple grey (he’s called “Superb”). A Turkish horse is “silver trout” – what we would call flea-bitten grey. A leopard-spotted appaloosa is “tiger” (a confusion I’ve come across in some nineteenth-century descriptions of spotted horses). Our mysterious “mille fleurs” or all-flower looks rather like a blue roan with black freckles.
Some randomly selected acts from eighteenth and nineteenth century equestrian circuses:
“The LITTLE DEVILS, Masters Robinsons and Sutton, will leap from two Horses through a Hogshead suspended in the Air, by a Rope, and alight on the Saddles, the Hogsgead headed up with strong Paper; notwithstanding, the aforesaid Little Devils jump through it with such Force, as breaks the Paper, and alight on the Horses again, on full gallop” (1786)
“The BLACK HORSE BUCEPHALUS, which is 16 hands high, will appear on the stage, mounted by two Equestrian Performers, with ornamental Fire Works on their heads. When the Fire Works are playing, Hughes’ unequalled vaulters will jump over the riders heads, and through the fire works..” (1786)
“One of HUGHES’ sagacious HORSES will run from the Ring upon the Stage, and from thence up to a Balcony, and fetch a Cap from a young Lady’s Head sitting in the Balcony.” (1786)
“Surprising and inimitable Equestrian Exercises by Mr. Astley, Junior; with the astonishing LEAP over the GARTER, beyond comparison higher than ever attempted by any other person whatever.” (1786)
“Mr. Ducrow will appear with his Fairy Stud of six Ponys, and the celebrated Pony Fire-fly will leap over five others of the same size.” (1831)
“The principle novelty in the ring was the ‘Elfin Equestrian,’ a young child scarcely five years of age, who exhibited such equitating proofs of genius, as to elicit the plaudits of the whole audience.” (1831)
“Mr Ducrow will introduce his high trained steed, termed the Golden Feathered Horse of Olympus.” (1832)
Ducrow was also responsible for “A Spanish Bullfight” in which the bull was played by a “gentle and beautiful white horse with a bull’s skin over his padded neck and body, his head supplied with horns, and his hoofs painted as if cloven, in every respect appearing like a tremendous bull, wild and fierce.
On entering the circle he stares wildly around, and then rushes at the principle cavalier, personated by Mr. Ducrow, who receives the attack, and by exercising his spear dextrously, goads the bull into madness.” (1835)