May the Horse Live in Me

One of the less than lovely things about writing a book is acknowledging that your favourite lines of enquiry sometimes just don’t fit into the finished product. They are the wildest, most fascinating goose chases, but they just will not bend and be shaped into that book thing you’ve built. They won’t be twined into the narrative, or at least, if you try to do just that, you end up with a narrative that sprouts at extra branch just at the juncture where you need it to be a nice, neat, battened-down hedge. At this point, you can probably tell that my similes are currently somewhat overgrown, so I’ll prune them now and get on with the post.
In writing about girls and horses I knew I would need to tackle the subject of imaginary horses, and all the joys and creativity that come with them, and so I set about building a chapter which, in its earliest finished draft, incorporated reams of psychology theory on the development of the imagination, detailed descriptions of paracosms and, finally, the wildest, least controllable goose of all, metamorphosis. Because really, that’s what the little girl who tosses her mane and stomps her hooves is attempting: mutation into a horse. If you love something, what better fulfillment can you find than becoming it yourself?
Much of this remains in the book, but I had to lose the examples I found in folklore and legend of women transformed into horses or donkeys – although, interestingly enough, it is always as a punishment, not a sublimation. There’s Amina, a demonic, corpse-eating young wife in 1001 Nights, whose husband employs the help of a witch to magic her into equine form. “Donkeyskin” is a princess in Perrault’s classic renderings of traditional fairy tales who disguises herself as an ass to escape the incestuous desires of her father. Here’s Catherine Deneuve in the 1970 Jacques Demy film:


And lastly, Ocyrhoe, a nymph and daughter of a centaur in Greek myth who, Cassandra-like, foretells her father’s future and is punished by being transformed into a mare. This extract is from A D Melville’s translation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses:

“Soon she was whinnying clearly, and her arms
Walked on the grass, and then her fingers joined,
And their five nails were bound in a light hoof
Of undivided horn; her mouth and neck
Increased in size; her trailing dress became
A tail; that hair that wandered on her neck
Fell as a mane down on the right-hand side;
And so her voice and shape alike were new,
And that weird change gave her a new name [Hippe – mare] too.”

What inspired all this metamorphic musing? Well, my friend Aimee just sent me a link to this piece on Wired by Olivia Solon about the French artist Marion Laval-Jentet who is, I feel safe in saying, the most dedicated pony girl in history.

Laval-Jeantet and her creative partner Benoit Mangin (working as the collective Art Orienté Objet) were keen to explore the blurring of boundaries between species in the piece, entitled May the Horse Live in Me. Laval-Jeantet prepared her body to accept the horse blood plasma by getting injected with different horse immunoglobulins over the course of several months.

When she had the actual injection, there was quite a performance:

As part of the performance piece she also wore a set of stilts with hooves on the end to feel at one with the horse. She walked around with the donor horse in a “communication ritual” before having her hybrid blood extracted and freeze-dried.

She explained to Centre Press that the whole process made her feel “hyperpowerful, hypersensitive and hypernervous.” She added: “I had a feeling of being superhuman. I was not normal in my body. I had all of the emotions of a herbivore. I couldn’t sleep and I felt a little bit like a horse.”

Here’s a video of May the Horse Live in Me:

EDITED TO ADD: and here’s a fantastic site dedicated to human–equine transformation.

UPDATE 23/11/2017: Thank you to Adrian Arrattoon for this video of Dutch-Iranian singer-songwriter Sevdaliza, filmed at Hollandesche Manege in Amsterdam:

What Behoofs You

I hope this is a hoax. The Mail is reporting that Betfair have commissioned some “limited edition” boots in the shape of horses’ hoofs to mark the 100th anniversary of the Cheltenham Festival. Click here for hideosity.

UPDATE: a commenter on the Guardian points out that they look like a bad rip-off of these artworks.

The Pony Cull

UPDATE: I’ve added a second post here with a historical perspective on ponies on the moor.

A tip off about the mass culling of Dartmoor Hill ponies appeared on Horse and Hound On-Line yesterday, and appears to have been taken up by “Daily Mail Reporter”:

Over 700 Dartmoor hill ponies have been killed in the last 12 months as breeders attempt to reduce their herds.

In 1980, the population was estimated at around 30,000, but this figure has steadily dwindled to around 1,500 this year.

My little pony: But the problem for ponies on Dartmoor is that not enough people want, or can afford them. Around 700 of the ponies have been shot in the last 12 months – 100 of which were healthy foals that had not been sold at market due to the recession

Around 700 of the ponies have been shot in the last 12 months – 100 of which were healthy foals that had not been sold at market due to the recession.

The others were older ponies rounded up for slaughter by breeders who were ordered to reduce the numbers in their herds to help the market recover.

Frankly, I don’t think it’s really about the recession, as this report suggests. The Daily Mail itself ran a similar report in 2001, which prompted Georgina Andrews to write a piece for them about rescuing five foals. At the time there was no global recession, and yet the Dartmoor Hill Ponies were selling for 50p a time.

The breeders of the ponies who end up in these sales can’t get good meat money for them any more as the market is flooded – by other breeders like themselves. If they don’t immediately go for slaughter, the ponies have to be chipped and passported, which of course costs far more money than a slipshod pony breeder is prepared to spend, and much more than the market value of a worm-ridden, unbroke and feral pony foal or its carcass.

This new cull is grim news but perhaps will save a section of a few future generations of Darties from being bred indiscriminately by owners who aren’t prepared to put the time, money and effort into keeping them healthy and making them an attractive proposition to buyers who want riding ponies, rather than handbags (as suggested by Equine Rescue France, who noticed tiny spotted British ponies being sold for unfeasibly large sums in France, very possibly for the fashion trade in Italy). However, how long will it last?

I’m sure there are responsible breeders of Dartmoor Hill Ponies out there, but they’re being let down by others who appear to think that it’s more important to have a lot of uncared-for, shonky foals on the hills than to step up and manage the herds properly. I’m pretty certain that deer on the moors are better managed than some of these ponies. Perhaps their breeders could take a leaf out of the gamekeeper’s book, or, above all, stop passing the buck to the general public and the kill buyer (as at this Brecon semi-feral hill pony sale), and just refrain from breeding foals that they can’t care for. You don’t have to cull foals that don’t exist.


Edited to add: and here’s a 1998 Independent story about “the bottom dropping out of the Dartmoor pony market”. It’s not like they haven’t had notice…