The Mule – and his Friends – Put Man on Trial

The Brethren of Purity were a secret group of Islamic philosophers based in Basra, Iraq sometime during the eighth or tenth centuries. So secretive were they that very little is known about them, but some of their writing survives, including a letter known as The Case of the Animals Versus Man Before the King of […]

The Emininently Recyclable Horse

  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 […]

Scandal! Did the Icelandic tölt come from England?

Researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wild Animal Research (IZW) in Berlin have announced a fascinating discovery in the history of gaited horses. By studying the genomes of ninety horses that lived between the Copper Age and the eleventh century, they have traced the spread of the fifth equine gait or amble. This […]

A (Not So) Short History of Women Riding Astride

I enjoyed talking about the history of sidesaddle on Countryfile – it was my first experience of TV and everyone was incredibly friendly and easygoing. We did a few takes of different parts of the interview and it was hard to know whether to embellish what I’d said each time or to say the same […]

Polo Week: The Imperial Polo Ritual

An account of a polo ritual in China under the Sung dynasty (960 – 1279 aD). The somewhat reserved and “civilised” Sung dynasty followed the T’ang dynasty, which was far more keen on actually playing polo. “The emperor arrived on horseback. … A eunuch opened a golden box, took out the vermillion-painted ball, and threw […]