Sparky the Pit Pony’s Days in the Sun

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: March of the Pink Hooves

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Pink pink pink at Olympia in 2006, although I was too mesmerised to get any good shots of the showjumping. The NYT piece by Peggy Orenstein that I mentioned in the chapter is here, and you can see photos of the horrible, “sexy” Struts pony toys on Princess Sparkle Pony’s blog. Thank you to Dominique for the photo of her Christmas pony who, disappointingly, turned out not to be a My Little Pony but a real pony after all.

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.

Pony Girls in Socialist Germany

I hope Pferdemä don’t mind my very sketchy translation of their new post on an East German classic:

“The 1979 DDR film, “The Horse Girl”, was based on a novel with the same title. The eponymous children’s book by author Alfred Wellm was first published in 1974 by an East German children’s book press in Berlin.

Alfred Wellm (1927 – 2001) lived in Lohmen/Mecklenburg and published a range of novels and stories for children (including “Kaule the Girl with the Cats”; “The Little Wruk”). The film has a sometimes dryly melancholy story as its basis, in which decisions have to be made and partings taken. The director Egon Schlegel directed in “The Horse Girl” a film which goes far beyond the pony-yard cliché. He studied directing at the German Academy for Film Art Potsdam-Babelsberg from 1961 to 1966 and made children’s films in the DDR from the 1970s onwards.

The story of the girl, Irka, plays out in the north of the DDR. Irka lives on a farm with her family when Raya, a former show horse comes into her life. The mare is old and blind, but despite her advanced age she brings one more foal into the world. Well, there’s only room for one horse and now Irka must make her choice – which of the family should stay. Contrary to the West German films à la “Mädels von Immenhof/Girls from Immenhof” where one needs a happy ending, whatever happens, you won’t find one here…”

It’s like “Sophie’s Choice” for horse-mad girls. The Pferdemädchen post with a still and links to the film’s IMDB site is here. Film poster from OstFilm.



Feeling Your Oats?

When I visited Redwings Horse Sanctuary they told me they kept Weetabix to feed to colicky horses. I don’t think this is what they had in mind…

Non-UK readers might need to watch the original 1970s TV credits, repeatedly, to get the joke, or just because it’s guaranteed to make you misty-eyed. This is my ring tone. Honest.

The Equine Etymology of Jungle Bunny

How laughably poor are the excuses made by Tory councillor Bob Frost for using the racist term ‘jungle bunny’ to describe London rioters?  The Telegraph quotes him:

‘Looking at the dictionary it would appear that the term jungle bunnies is pejorative and is a racist slur relating to African-Americans.

Needless to say I did not mean to use any offensive racist term and was referring to the urban jungle.’

He added: ‘As for the bunny bit it was originally “animals”, but I thought people might object to me calling fellow humans this so I chose something I thought was innocent and also cuddly.’

What a load of royal rollocks. According to the OED, it was first quoted as offensive Australian slang in the Sunday Times in 1973, and it clearly slipped easily into British vocabularies. In the 1970s, one of the UK’s top showjumpers, Lionel Dunning, even christened a new horse Jungle Bunny. At the time, showjumping was a hugely popular and much-televised sport, and Britain was lurking in something of a dark age of racial sensitivity (to put it mildly). I can’t imagine that a man of Mr Frost’s vintage had never come across the term before.

Anyhow, here’s the blameless horse in question, with Lionel in 1981:


EDITED TO ADD: thought we lived in more enlightened times? No. There’s a horse called “My Gollywog” on the show jumping circuit in New Zealand.