From Taboo to “Ecoterrorism” – Horsemeat’s Troubled Political History in America

I’ve written something for The Atlantic‘s Object Lessons blog on the long (if potted!) history of horsemeat in America. A much fuller account is on offer in The Age of the Horse!

During World War II food shortages, horse meat once again found its way to American tables, but the post-war backlash was rapid. “Horse meat” became a political insult. “You don’t want your administration to be known as a horse meat administration, do you?” the former New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia demanded of his successor William O’Dwyer. President Truman was nicknamed “Horse meat Harry” by Republicans during food shortages in the run up to the 1948 “Beefsteak Election.” In 1951, reporters asked if there would be a “Horse meat Congress,” one “that put the old gray mare on the family dinner table.” When Adlai Stevenson ran for president in 1952, he was also taunted as “Horse meat Adlai” thanks to a Mafia scam uncovered in Illinois when he was governor.

Sparky the Pit Pony’s Days in the Sun

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The last working horses at a colliery in Britain retired – astonishingly – in 1999. Here’s a story from The Mirror about one of the other “last pit ponies”, Sparky:

Since his retirement in 1988, Sparky has been taking it easy at the National Coal Mining Museum and has been looked after by Wendy and her colleague Bonnie Littlewood.

“When he first came out of the mine, he had to blink his way into the light,” says Wendy. “He hadn’t seen much sun and wasn’t used to it. The change in pace also took some adjustment.”

Now, Sparky’s life consists of staying out in a field overnight and spending his morning in the stable eating oats and barley, and meeting visitors.

The oldest pony in the museum, he is something of a living legend. “He’s a real charmer,” says Wendy. “It takes a while for him to warm to someone but once he does, he’s your friend for life. He’s stubborn and knows his own mind. He’s a real Victor Meldrew. But eventually, if you’re patient, he comes round.

“And he likes women. The gentle touch is what works with him. If you shout at him you have no chance.”

 

If Wishes Were Horses: Young Riders

Mum and a friend's horse, Beauty, with a red rosette.

Ponymadbooklovers have a good information page on Golden Gorse, as does Jane Badger. The only pony I ever got to Christmas was an Exmoor “adopted” from the Moorland Mousie Trust in Devon, who work to preserve what is now sadly a rare breed. They have commissioned a hardback re-issue of the novel, complete with original illustrations by Lionel Dunning: impossibly good value at £11.99.

The Pony Club has a downloadable history available on their home site, as well as a collection of classic old photos of many generations in Pony Clubbers in action. Health and safety fanatics look away now!

If you’re interested in learning about Enid Bagnold – above and beyond National Velvet – this Telegraph piece by Sarah Crompton is a good place to start, and Anne Sebba’s biography gives you the measure of a very formidable (and often endearingly silly) woman. I liked Bagnold immensely after reading Sebba’s portrait, and I’m glad that it’s now available on Faber Finds. Liz Hunt interviewed Bagnold’s daughter, Laurian, Comtesse d’Harcourt, for the Telegraph: a life quite as colourful as her mother’s.

For other pony book authors like the Pullein-Thompsons, Primrose Cumming (Silver Snaffles), Joanna Cannan and Ruby Ferguson (the Jill books), there’s Jane Badger’s comprehensive site.

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: Lost Heroines

Paula Sykes on Scorchin' at Ostend. C/o Jane Martin.

There aren’t many web resources on Pat Smythe; it’s best to rely on the books she wrote at the height of her fame and her later autobiography, Leaping Life’s Fences. British Pathé has come up trumps however, and you can spend hours there looking for footage of all the showjumping greats from Stroller to Mr Softee. Here’s Pat jumping Prince Hal at the 70th National Horse Show in New York in the 1950s, receiving her OBE in 1956 (I think the vicar accompanying her is her brother) and training for the Olympics in the same year. She’s winning at Hickstead on Flanagan in 1962 (although I think the first horse shown might be Scorchin) and taking part in an educational documentary called The Young and Healthy with Tosca. I suspect this last film was the inspiration for Harry Enfield’s Cholmondeley-Warner…

Update: the Express ran an extract from this chapter which you can read here.

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.