Dutch Stables: Horses in the Heart of Amsterdam

I went to Amsterdam last weekend to see friends I hadn’t seen for far too long, and ended up doing a little unscheduled horsey tourism. I hadn’t planned it, honest! I had no idea that Amsterdam had a nineteenth century riding manège right by its main park, nor that the building was still home to horses. And I didn’t realise until I wandered into the Van Loon House museum on the Keizersgracht that there was a beautifully preserved coach house and stables tucked away at the end of its garden. Maybe it’s the canals and narrow streets – boats and bikes dominate – but Amsterdam is not Venice, and there are plenty of cobbled streets once traversed by the thousands of horses that made the city on the Amstel function in the nineteenth century and earlier.

Van Loon House Museum, coach house

Van Loon House Museum, coach house

This palladian construction sits at the end of the garden of the Van Loon family’s townhouse. The house itself was built in 1672 and the wealthy Van Loons moved in in 1884, only departing in 1945. The coach house was home to up to six horses (cared for by two grooms, a coachman and a footman) and was enough of a source of pride for the family to take guests to view it. They also had country estates, and the stable has now been reconstructed using mangers from one of these homes. When in town, the family’s equestrian activities were probably confined to the Vondelpark, where they could ride or drive as the fancy took. There are some photographs of the family sleigh in the park, and the sleigh itself is sitting on the old brick floor, opposite a cabinet of harnesses decorated with the family colours:

Sleigh

Sleigh

And this is the charabanc, from the French for “wagon with benches”, also in the family colours (yellow and black). One of the Van Loons was hunting master to King William III, and his hunting horn is strung up on the stable wall, along with a black-and-white photo of a Van Loon lady leaping sidesaddle over a hurdle on an affable, old-fashioned-looking grey.

Charabanc

Charabanc

There’s also a model of the stable as it once looked – a family children’s toy, complete with saddles hanging on the partitions and horses with plaited tails. If you look closely you’ll even see the nameplates over each stall. I bought some postcards with old images of the stables, horses, grooms and coachman. The horses look just like Gelderlanders – chestnut or bay with backs as long as fire dogs.

Children's model stable

Children’s model stable

Mention of the Vondelpark led me to the Dutch Equestrian School Museum on a leafy, blossom-lined street just yards from the park itself. The large detached houses give way to this façade:
IMG_0953Slip under the archway and there’s a potent whiff of horse and horse by-products, a long corridor with a red carpet and a large door that opens into the Hollandesche Manege,  originally founded in 1744 and in its current form since 1882. It’s still in use as a riding stable and still hosts “carousels”. Here are a selection of blurry cameraphone shots (no flash) of the hall, foyer and stables: the grand staircase with its treads worn down by 130 years of riding boots, the loose boxes and their friendly (and hungry) inhabitants and the stucco decorations, with some visual depth added by a layer of manège dust. The foyer is the most beautiful riding “club house” I’ve ever been in (although most of the riding club houses I know where full of janky old heaters, dirty tea mugs and folded up horse blankets, but I digress). Alongside the pony club summer camp adverts, copies of Black Beauty and old plates of “Equitation Around the World”, is a huge nineteenth-century gouache drawing of gentlemen in top hats playing at quintain and running at rings. One of the information cards provided says that women were very much involved at the reopening ceremony in 1882, and there were sidesaddles for sale and on display. My ticket included a free cup of tea, so I sat on the balcony and watched the current crop of riders go through their paces before wandering out to the crowded Vondelpark and hunting for old bridle paths.

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Sunday Morning Time Travel

Wonderful news for overworked writers who don’t have time to maintain their blogs: British Pathé have uploaded their stock of vintage film clips to YouTube. As the old slogan of the British tabloid the News of the World used to claim, “all human life is there”, and quite a bit of horsey life too. So where shall we go today?

Maybe to Soviet-era Dagestan to watch the locals ride:

Or a ladies’ point-to-point in 1920s Britain, with half the field sidesaddle and half riding heels-first like sulky drivers:

To 1920s Vienna, where the lipizzaners at the Spanish Riding School look as though they are about to join in the human conversation to clarify some of the finer points of the piaffe:

And Liverpool’s cart horse parade in the 1920s, featuring shires got up in elaborate floral rigs and stepping out for the lady mayoress. For more about the tradition of the parade, click here.

Steed Poll: Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragon & Anne Boleyn

Steed Poll is an irregular series of brief blog posts about the mounts of famous figures – horses, ponies, donkeys, mules and even zebras who have strayed into texts and been preserved in some small way for history.

Presents continued to come from the Emperor in Spain to signify his serious intentions: two mules with crimson velvet trappings and marvellous garnishing of silver and gilt for King Henry, and mules with equally rich trappings but ‘after the Spanish fashion’ for the Queen [Catherine].

and one divorce later…

At least her accounts show that Queen Anne had the bravado to keep up her royal state – and her royal spending [in 1536]. … There were decorated leading reins for the Queen’s mules, green ribbons (the Tudor colour) for her clavichords and expensive caps for her ‘woman fool’.

The Wives of Henry VIII, by Antonia Fraser.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

New York Subway Art

New York Subway Art

  • I’m usually sceptical about “horses stolen for meat” stories (unless they come from Florida), but this one rings true. A Romanian has been arrested in connection with the theft of several draft horses in eastern France, allegedly for the slaughter trade. Some of the horses were already being raised for meat. (The Horse)
  • The English police horse who was punched by a drunk football fan has received boxes of polo mints from fans of the opposing team. (Daily Mail)
  • A British university claims that the Carneddau ponies that died of starvation and exposure in Wales earlier this year are part of a genetically distinct breed that shares a common, but centuries-removed ancestor with Welsh Mountain ponies. (BBC)
  • Ipswich Transport Museum is restoring a horsedrawn tram. The lightweight draft horses that drew these vehicles were dubbed “trammers” and in the nineteenth century typically only lasted a year between the shafts because of the effort of drawing the tram through often clogged tracks. (BBC)
  • “Thank God for the horses. Thank God for the bloody horses,” – a trooper at the 1917 Battle of Beersheba. (ABC)
  • Wild horse and burro sanctuaries in California, and how to visit them. (SFGate blogs)
  • Awards for teenage boys who saved a trapped Shetland pony from drowning. (HorseTalk)
  • I can’t keep up. Now the NYT is saying there will be federal approval for a horse slaughter house in New Mexico.. (NYT)
  • A horse had to be euthanised in Belfast after hitting a car. The case raises ongoing concerns about horses that are kept untethered (or tethered, come to that) on housing estates in the city. (Belfast Telegraph)
  • Interesting, given the cheap meat scandal: the value of horse meat exported from the UK has more than doubled in five years. (This Is Wiltshire)
  • Horse racing begins again in Libya. (Al Arabiya)
  • Seventh century horse armour/tack unearthed in Japan. (Asahi Shimbun)

Saudis Seek to Bolster Their Claim to Earliest Horse Domestication

A new piece on the BBC website adds more to speculation over Saudi Arabia’s Al Maqar site: could the fragments of horse figures discovered there depict harness? If this could be definitively proved, the Saudis’ claim to earliest horse domestication would be verified. However, as I pointed out in an earlier, more detailed blog post on the Al Maqar hypothesis:

what sort of harness would that be? Horse collars and breast yokes for draft are not believed to have been invented until 4th century BC China, and a loose strap on the neck would provide little control for a rider. Even if domestication had happened in the peninsula at that period, it became obsolete as the hypothetical Al Maqar domesticated horse died out: new DNA research shows that all modern domestic horses are descended from animals of the Eneolithic Eurasian Steppes.

It now occurs to me that there’s another potential answer. Many equids have what are called “primitive markings” like “eel stripes” running the lengths of their backs, or zebra-esque stripes on their lower legs. One of these markings is a stripe lying across both shoulders. In donkeys it’s been attributed to the fact that Jesus rode an ass – and hence the eel stripe and shoulder band make the shape of a cross. And here’s one, photographed by Wikicommons contributor Barbirossa:
Aalstreep
And here’s the Al Maqar horse. What do you think?

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

1967 Yemeni stamp, c.o WikiCommons.

  • An Irish Draught called Rupert performs on stage at the Royal Opera House in London (simplymarvelous)
  • Elizabeth I’s sidesaddle came up for auction in England. (Sidesaddle Girl)
  • A British farmer working a 265-acre farm with a team of Percherons (simplymarvelous)
  • Facebook is hot on the heels of a self-styled record breaker in the US who is “riding around the world” but seems to have already broken two horses doing it (Star Telegram)
  • Recycling racehorses at Suffolk Downs (Boston.com)
  • Canada and Mexico say no to slaughtering US horses. All I can say about this is MORE ANON (Fugly Horse of the Day)
  • Living with an equine comedian (TheHorse.com)