Let’s Ride… NORTH KOREA! Or Maybe Not.

Thank you to Matt for the news that the North Korean leadership has decided it needs some authentic Gangnam style to accompany the gulags and famine. Koryo Tours, a Beijing-based company offering trips to North Korea, sent Simon Cockerell to inspect the facilities at the Mirim Horse-Riding Centre just outside Pyongyang. The former military training academy boasts not just an indoor arena where you can ride while giant TV screens play war films and karaoke videos, but also a museum of the horse in Korea, featuring Kim Jong Il’s favourite white horse – now stuffed. I would absolutely love to learn the story they are telling in that museum… The Orlov trotters in the school look better cared for than many North Koreans.

You can read Simon’s account here. Official video below:


Whole Heap of Little Horse Links


  • Beauty in the eye of the beholders: an artist creates a horse that grows more real as more people watch it (Wired)
  • Zoos specialise in rare animals. But unicorns? Really? (Cheezburger)
  • The Queen and the Duchess of Cornwall visited Ebony Horse Club in Brixton, South London (Sky News)
  • For Halloween, a pair of truly twisted bakers present the Devil Horse Cake (Awesomer)
  • A horse owner in Bavaria was startled to find a drunken man asleep on her horse one morning. The horse looks like it could care less – proof positive that horses have long since accepted that humans are very very odd indeed (The Local)
  • (Your Halloween photo shows one of the guardians of the Taoist underworld, photographed at Dongyue Temple, Beijing. Apologies for the layout today – me and the iPad WordPress app. do not see eye to eye)

    Donkeys, Books, Unicorn Boadiceas and Brixton Ponies

    This is my “what I did on my busman’s holiday” post, except that there will be multiple posts because I can’t do multiple slideshows in a single post.

    My first stop was Dartington Hall, home of this lovely donkey statue. I was giving a talk at the Telegraph‘s Way with Words literary festival – my debut as a jobbing, all-singing, all-dancing 21st-century performing author. Owing to the whole “working from home” effect (The Oatmeal sums it up nicely here), general feelings of inadequacy and a large dollop of overexcitement at the possibilities of Power Point, I prepared for the talk as if it were a PhD viva. As I launched into the talk, which coincided exactly with the beginning of Andy Murray’s Wimbedon final, I realised that (a) it would have been far better if I’d trusted myself to improvise the whole thing and (b) what’s required is not a lecture but a piece of stand-up comedy. If I told you that my first question from the floor was, “Well, why do girls like horses?” then you’ll understand how muddled I was. I live, I learn.

    Once I’d finished I was able to relax and chat to some of the other authors, discovering that Michele Hanson of the Guardian is a secret ex-horsey girl, and that a very reliable Highland pony once managed to slip Monty Halls off his shoulder three times in less than an hour. I then, via a crammed train, a nose bleed and a long wait at Swindon, reached Tetbury where the Yellow Lighted Bookshop had drummed up a fantastic audience who seemed to enjoy the newly written, improved and improvised If Wishes Were Horses talk. Hereward and his team run a beautiful shop, and let me range through the shelves ogling cookbooks which I (rudely) forgot to buy when the talk was over as I was so relieved.

    I spent the night with some friends just outside Stroud, and found this curious welcoming arrangement on my bedroom windowsill:

    Back in London I had an afternoon of setting the world to rights with Rose Spearing MBE at Ebony Horse Club in Brixton. We watched as the after-school club had their lessons (part of which included “wearing” a bridle and being steered around the yard) and the older kids prepared ponies for an event at Hickstead. To be continued…

    A Woman Who Had a Vision of Ponies for Children in a City Park

    Wonderful news: Rose Spearing of Ebony Horse Club in Brixton clocked up an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List. I wrote about Rose’s work in If Wishes Were Horses and was back at the yard this March to see their progress. The stables were built, the ponies installed. The kids who’d taken part in the championships I described in the book were now all at equestrian college getting qualifications. There was a full rosta of lessons packed with children and a lengthy waiting list. Here’s a couple of shots of the ponies in Wyck Gardens, SW9:

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    When we returned to Brixton in the minibus that evening it was dark as we drove from street to street, dropping off the children. The parks outside the pools thrown by streetlights were dark and sinister, the walkways overhead between the stacked maisonettes shadowy and deserted. I thought of what Rose had said, about how riding took the Brixton children out of their comfort zone and challenged them. How would that change when the ponies came to Wyck Gardens? They would be able to ride every week and to have a favourite pony like the girls at Frossarbo. They could be in the yard every day after school, taking round buckets of feed and water and mucking out, perhaps taking their Pony Club tests and going to gymkhanas. Maybe the Lambeth Show would even revive its old riding classes.

    I thought of the reassurance of horses, the earthy smell of pony nuts and leather over traffic fumes, of stables by the railway arches with thick straw beds, carrots from Brixton market, Polos from the corner shop and of ponies grazing in a city park.

    Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

    Spotted by Helen Maguire at the UCCA contemporary art gallery in Beijing

    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: Posh

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    Ebony Horse Club are a brilliant charity who are really making a difference in their community: the true epitomy of Big Society. Here are some images from the time I spent with them while working on the book in February 2010. They’ve since been able to build their own stable in Coldharbour Ward, Brixton, and need support to go on making dreams come true.

    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.