Haunted by Horses in St Petersburg

Last weekend I travelled to St Petersburg to start research on a new book and I thought I’d share my equestrian shots. I was only in this fascinating, complicated city for two and a half days and did not venture out of the very heart of it but I still found some horse history of interest – and some living horses too. There aren’t many hours of sunlight at 60 degrees north in December, so the photos are a bit brooding and murky – be warned. Also murky, the information in this blog post as my Russian is very, very limited and I can’t find guidebooks that really meet my horsey needs. Anyone with local historical knowledge is welcome to step in and correct what I’ve managed to tap out here!

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This (above) is St Petersburg’s most famous horse. He carries “the Bronze Horseman”, a statue of the city’s founder, Peter the Great, erected by Catherine the Great in 1782. The French sculptor Etienne Falconet intended it to be more allegorical than your average equestrian statue – the horse is Russia and under its feet it tramples a serpent that represents any treasonous opponents to Peter’s sweeping reforms. The repercussions from Peter’s rule and the subsequent history of the city have been embodied in references to the Bronze Horseman in literary works by great writers from Pushkin to Anna Akmatova. Quite often the horseman in these stories pursues deranged literary heroes through the city.

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You know that the Hermitage was the Russian royal family’s palace and is now an enormous compendium of a museum. You maybe didn’t know that its stables are still standing and currently under restoration. This is Konyushennaya Ploschchad or Stable Square, about ten minutes walk away along the Moyka river on icy, sloping pavements. It once housed a “stables museum” featuring the family’s carriage and sleigh collection as early as the 1820s. According to this piece on the Hermitage’s website by Igor Arsentyev, there are now over 40 vehicles in the collection and the ceremonial harness to go with them:

A coupé acquired from [leading carriage builder Johann Conrad] Buchendal for Catherine II in 1793 was reproduced in miniature in 1897 by craftsmen working for the firm of Carl Fabergé; this little gem was then placed inside an Easter egg commissioned by Nicholas II for his wife, Empress Alexandra Fyodorovna. A sledge for ten passengers, also made by Buchendal in 1793, was intended for trips around the park by the imperial family during the cold Russian winters. Eight horses were required to pull it and as well as the coachman required postilions riding on the first two pairs.

One charming piece is a mechanical droshky made in Nizhny Tagil between 1785 and 1801 by the craftsman E.G. Kuznetsov. Its mechanism includes a little organ that plays six melodies as the wheels turn and a verstometer (to measure distance) of ingenious construction (a similar principle underlies the speedometers used in modern forms of transportation).

I cannot work out if these carriages are currently on display in the main museum or will go on display in Konyushennaya Ploschchad. This site says the stable building is currently being decontaminated (having housed a petrol station) and converted into “a place for interaction between the city and its citizens, including a public communication centre, an exhibition hall, shops, cafés and a Start Up Center” but a word of caution – I was unable to verify this information or find much else in English about the old stables. What’s more, I’m not entirely sure that they are the Hermitage’s stables. Bear with me.

About five minutes walk from the Konyushennaya Ploschchad is the Mikhailovsky Palace, now a branch of the Russian Museum (which is not the same thing as the Hermitage). Construction began on it for Grand Duke Mikhail Pavlovich in 1819, and the German traveller Johann Georg Kohl, who described it in a book published in 1841, was impressed by not just the building but its surroundings, including a nearby stables and riding arena:

this quarter of the city might almost be called [the Grand Duke’s] kingdom. Here are the dwellings of his officers, his stables, his riding-school, etc. The latter deserves particular mention, as the finest of the kind that exists any where. In the establishment fifty young people are instructed in riding and in all arts that have the remotest reference to horse or rider; for this object, and for the carousels in the fine riding-house, at which the count is often present, a number of the finest horses are kept, and both horses and riders are so well lodged and fed, that it is a pleasure to pass through the range of clean and elegant sleeping-rooms, sitting, and school rooms, saddle-rooms, stables, &c. All these apartments have double folding-doors in the centre, which stand open the whole day. A long carpet is laid along all the floors down to the stable, and the inspector at a glance can overlook every thing; can satisfy himself whether the beautiful white Arabian Asir, so celebrated for his silken hair and broad forehead, and the fiery Haimak of English blood, out of a mare from the Orloff stud, are in good condition; at the same time he can see what the young cadets, who value themselves so much on their rosy cheeks and sprouting beards, are doing in their chambers. It is wonderful how pure the air is kept in spite of this slight separation; it is as if the stud were perfumed with eau de Cologne, as well as the cadets.

The riding school contained six mirrors large enough for horsemen to see their entire position. While, as Kohl proudly notes, it was Germans who brought the art of riding to Russia, the Russians had recrafted it in their own form. It took six years to prepare each cadet to become a riding master in the army. However, the high standards required were brutal on the horses themselves, who, though dazzling in quadrilles, were soon broken down by keeping up “parade paces”.

Kohl then writes about the “colossal Exercising-house”, and the description makes me wonder if it’s under that rounded roof on the Konyushennaya Ploshchad:

This manege covers a space, unbroken by a single pillar, of 650 feet long, and 150 wide; a regiment can go through its evolutions there with perfect convenience; a battalion may manoeuvre there, and two squadrons might fight a battle there. This establishment originated, as did nearly all such places in St. Petersburg, in the time of Paul. Sixteen giant stoves warm the buildings and the walls are lined with thick woollen-cloth. The roof with its appendages presses on the thick walls with a weight of 300,000 hundred weight; the iron rods alone weigh 12,840,000 pounds, and to this must be added 3000 great trunks of trees made use of in the woodwork, and 2,000 square fathoms of iron plates with which the whole is covered without. The Circassians may be generally seen here busied in their feats of horsemanship, or shooting at a mark, at which times a student in acoustics may make many interesting observations. A pistol-shot awakens so prodigious an echo, that heard from the street one might fancy the whole building falling in one crash.

At this point, anyone who can sort out this mess of the Hermitage and Mikhailovsky Palace stables for me is begged to step forward and save me in the comments. Meanwhile, here’s a more easily identifiable manège:

dsc07501This is the old Horse Guard’s Manège (Konnogvardeyskiy Manège), now an exhibition hall. It was built between 1804 and 1807 and is guarded by twin statues of Castor and Pollux of the “youth trying to stop a rearing horse” variety. They are copies of originals that stand at the Quirinal Palace in Rome, and according to this site they had to be moved to the rear of the manège for a long period after the priests at St Isaac’s cathedral (just over the road) complained about their nudity and pagan nature. You can see some shots of the interior as it is today here, along with a potted history of the building and some earlier images.

It looks as though the facade has lost its more elaborate decorations in the course of the twentieth century. I am not sure if this was the cavalry school at which the famous English écuyer James Fillis taught after Grand Duke Nicholas poached him from the Ciniselli Circus but it seems highly likely. As for non-military riding in the city,  Mrs Alice Hayes, one of my favourite sidesaddle authors, spent some time in Russia later in the nineteenth century than Kohl and was unimpressed. In The Horsewoman she comments:

Although the riding schools of Paris are not to be compared to those of Berlin, the worst of them is far superior to the two miserable civilian riding schools in St. Petersburg, where riding is almost entirely a military function. Very few Russian women ride, although history tells us that Peter III. kept a pack of hounds, and that his wife, Catherine II., according to her memoirs, listened to the loving solicitations of Soltikov while they were riding together “to find the dogs.” A saddle belonging to this amorous lady, which I saw at the Hermitage, was like an Australian buck-jumping saddle, with large knee rolls and a high cantle. It was covered with red velvet and decorated with cowrie shells. The side saddle appears to have been first used in Russia by the daughters of the Emperor Paul.

So where were the civilian riding schools? Where did people ride in summer? Where were the horses kept? And what about the ordinary working horses rather than the fancy parade horses and hunters? The standard housing unit appears to be a series of courtyards, as in Berlin (I wrote about these buildings here in a post on Clever Hans) – could there have been stable buildings in the courtyards? How did people keep horses of all kinds in such low temperatures? How did they cope with the slippery winter conditions?

Had I the Russian I could have asked someone. There are still horses in the very heart of St Petersburg – trotting smartly across terrain that I needed hiking boots and much concentration to cover. Before I caught a glimpse of one, I saw here and there piles of horse manure left neatly on the pavements – once even in a plastic bag, as if it were dog poo (I guess if the manure freezes on the road itself it becomes a hazard). The horses themselves appeared in due course, albeit in a rather more romantic fashion than their road apples.

The time difference of two hours between St Petersburg and Berlin is not large but it is annoying. Combine it with overexcitement about being in a city you’ve dreamed of visiting since you were a teenager and, well, not much sleep is had. My hostel room looked out over the Griboyedov canal – also frozen and much frequented by skating hooded crows – at the Kazan Cathedral and was just around the corner from Nevsky Prospect, which is the Oxford Street of St Petersburg. Despite that I woke groggily early on Saturday morning to the sound of hoofs on icy road, and got to the window in time to see a dark horse trot by pulling a battered black droshky with a bale of hay in the foot well.

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I caught up with the droshky horse that afternoon in Konyushennaya Ploschchad – he’s on the left of this photograph, in the background. Squint and you can make out a little red square over the grey horse’s neck. That’s a prop banner being used to film a crowd scene in a period drama. I’m not sure if the droshkies were involved or just hanging out, but they didn’t get hustled behind the cordon with the rest of us when filming began, and they were also patiently standing in a fog or pall of smoke being generated by the film crew’s machines.

I haven’t had the chance to look into many Russian equestrian sources for the nineteenth century, but even my scanty reading of Russian literature suggests that horses of all kinds were just as culturally important there as in Europe. What about the infamous horse race in Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina, or his tale of Kholstomer, the talking horse? The most disturbing literary set piece is Raskolnikov’s dream in Crime and Punishment, written some twenty years after Kohl’s account of the city. In it he revisits a childhood scene in the town where he was born:

He always liked looking at those great cart-horses, with their long manes, thick legs, and slow even pace, drawing along a perfect mountain with no appearance of effort, as though it were easier going with a load than without it. But now, strange to say, in the shafts of such a cart he saw a thin little sorrel beast, one of those peasants’ nags which he had often seen straining their utmost under a heavy load of wood or hay, especially when the wheels were stuck in the mud or in a rut. And the peasants would beat them so cruelly, sometimes even about the nose and eyes, and he felt so sorry, so sorry for them that he almost cried, and his mother always used to take him away from the window.

As the child-Raskolnikov watches in the dream, the sorrel’s driver begins to beat her as more and more bystanders climb into the cart, laughing. As the old mare struggles, her driver hits her harder, and soon loses all control – eventually battering her to death with an iron bar (I did warn you it was awful). The mare’s death foreshadows Raskolnikov’s later murder of the elderly money lender Alyona Ivanovna. I should have read Crime and Punishment before I travelled as it turned out that I was staying on the same street where the novel was both set and written – the Griboyedov canal outside my hotel winds its way south west through Kolomna, where Ivanovna, Raskolnikov and Doestoevsky all lived.

Our German traveller Kohl saw peasant horses bought and sold at “Zimnaia Ploshchad” at the end of Nevsky Prospekt. Though less literary than Dostoevsky, he also made a parallel many critics have made between the sorrel in Crime and Punishment and the beleagured peasants of the empire:

The horses sold in this market are duly imbued with the national character. Like their masters they are small, but active and supple; with long manes and beards, ragged hair, delicate joints, and iron constitutions. In the stable they are dull and heavy, but in harness full of spirit, unwearied in the race, and even after the hardest labour tricksy and playful. Cold, heat, hunger, and thirst, they endure with a patience truly admirable, and often receive their dirty straw with more apparent relish than their German brethren do the golden corn. Yet after all, there is but little energy in the Russian horse. He knows not how to husband his force, and if unable to clear the hill at a gallop he remains hopelessly fixed in the mud.

He noted that well-to-do Russians preferred Tartar coachmen – indeed, a visiting Duke of Devonshire even took one home as a souvenir – and that much of the vocabulary for coaching and driving was Mongolian or Tartar. These full-bearded men dressed typically in “a fine blue cloth caftan, fastened under the left arm with three silver buttons, and girded round his middle by a coloured silk sash.” Their postillions were “pretty boys, from twelve to fourteen years of age”. Kohl later comments that literacy was gaining pace in Russia and many servants aspired to learn the alphabet and read, for “even the little postilions may often be seen in a corner of the stables diligently forming the letters with their frozen fingers.”

Mrs Alice Hayes might not have been impressed by Russian ladies but she has nothing but praise for Russian cab men – quite something when one considers the reputation cab horses had for suffering:

… the Russian ishvoshik (cabman), treat their equine charges with far greater sympathy and kindness than our English grooms and cab-drivers do. … When passing through London on my return from a visit to Russia, we put up at an hotel in Oxford Street, where the night was rendered hideous to me by the brutal slashing of cab horses; for one hears nothing of that kind in Russia, and yet we English people pride ourselves on being a horse-loving nation! The speed of Orlov trotters is very great, but no whip is used in driving them; the coachmen drive with a rein in each hand, like the drivers of American trotters, and shout after the manner of firemen to clear the road, for these animals seem to require a good deal of holding. The Russian cabby uses a small whip like an ordinary dog-whip, which he tucks away somewhere under his seat, and when his horse is taking things too easy, it is only necessary for him to show it him, for he is driven without blinkers, to cause him to at once hasten his pace. Very often the man is unprovided even with this toy thing, in which case he obtains a similar result by abusing the animal’s relations! During the whole time that I was in Russia, I never once saw a cabby hurt his horse with the whip. Russia is the last country to which one would go to learn anything about the treatment of human beings, knowing what we do of her past and present history; but we certainly should emulate the Russian coachmen in their kindness to horses, and not shock our neighbours by exhibitions of brutality which may be seen daily in the London streets.

Kohl had a more nuanced take on this:

The Russian cannot be said to illtreat his horse. He rarely flies into a rage against his animal, and expends at all times far more words than blows upon it; on the other hand, however, he bestows but little care upon it, and spoils it as little with over-cherishing as he is himself spoiled with kindness by those in whose school he has been trained and broken in.

So this was a hasty little insight into Russian horses high and low in St Petersburg. As I wrote the bare bones of it I began to Google and turn up more sources that required cross-matching and confirming, and the whole piece began to spiral out of control, so it’s best if I stop now before I accidentally write 10,000 words and forget to write up my notes on the research I actually flew there to do. I’ll leave you with a final Petersburg scene.

At 3am on the Sunday morning I was awake again. The couple in the room next door had argued for hours and were now snoring. Outside, young men were screeching along the Nevsky Prospect in cars whose booming stereos rattled the window just above my head. Women were screaming at their boyfriends and drunks were raging. And then there was a brief lull and I heard hoof beats again – nippy, trotting hoof beats. I hauled myself up to the window sill and poked my head through the curtains.

The road was covered in patches of brown ice two inches thick. On it, trotting south along the Griboyedov canal towards where the droshky horse had come from and the homes of Dostoevsky, Raskalnikov and Alyona Ivanovna, was a bare-headed man with a heavy hood hanging down his back, mounted on a dark horse that moved without fear or hesitation past the neon-lit bars and kiosks and away into the pitch-black early morning.

Talking Horses: “The Cavalier’s brave warlike horse bids them kiss his arse”

Screen Shot 2015-02-25 at 11.46.14Here’s a gem. This salty poem appeared on a pamphlet during the English Civil War, and it pitches the Royalist Cavaliers against the Cromwellian Roundheads through the medium of a fancy, boastful war horse and a humble mill horse or ass. Some tart words are exchanged between these two, reflecting on the ideologies of opposing sides in the war, and on class and the fate of equines in general. I copied it from a microfiche in Cambridge University Library that was not always legible, so my apologies for the omissions or errors. The spelling is also “authentic”, but reading it is rewarding, I promise!

A Dialogue Betwixt a Horse of warre and a millhorse
wherein the content and safety of an humble and painfull life, is preferred above all the Noyse, the Tumult, and Trophies of the Warre.

Full of harmeless Mirth, and variety

London, printed Bernard Alsop, published according to order, 1645

A discourse between the Cavalliers Warre-Horse and the Country-mans Mill-Horse

Cavalier’s horse:
Well met old Mill-Horse or indeed an Asse,
I must instruct thee before we doe passe
How to live bravely; look on me and view
My Bridle and my Saddle faire and new;
Warre doth exalt me, and by it I get
Honour, while that my picture is forth set
Cut out in Brasse, while on my back I beare
Some Noble Earle or valiant Cavallier.
Come therefore to the Wars, and doe not still
Subject thyself to beare Sacks to the Mill.

Mill horse:
Despise me not thou Cavallier War-horse
For though to live I take an idle course
Yet for the common-wealth I alwayes stand;
and am imploy’d for it, though I’m nam’d
A Mill-Horse, I am free and seem not under
Malignants that doe townes and houses plunder,
Transported on thy back, while thou must be
Halfe guilty of their wrong, and injurie
Done to their country, while without just cause,
Thought fightest for the King against the Lawess
Against religion, parliament and all
and leave the Pope and Bishops down would fall
Thou art expos’d to battle but no thanks
thou hast at all when thou dost break the Ranks
of our stout Musketiers, whose bullets flye
In showeres, as in the fight at Newbery,
And force thee to retreat with wounds or lame,
is this the glory of thy halting fame
Whereof thou dost so bragge? … [illegible] thy fault
of fighting for them who have alwayes fought
Against the common-wealth, is such a sin
That both stick closer to thee than thy skin
What though upon my back I carry sacks;
Thy meat is plundered out of barns and stacks
While thou dost feed on stolen oates and hay
the wronged farmers curse the strength away
of all thy Diet, often inviting that
diseases may consume they ill-got fat,
therefore recant and never more appeare
in field a Champion for the Cavallier;
Let not his Spurre nor false fame prick thee on
to fight in unjust warres as thou hast done.

Cav. horse:
Fame is not what I aime at, but the knowne
Right of the King, the trumpet that is blowne
Into the Battell doth not give me more
Courage, than what I had in him before,
As if we did partake of more then sense
and farre exceeded man’s intelligence,
In Hooping unto Kings, and doe prove thus
Ourselves descended from Bucephalus,
That Horse who did no loyall duty lack
But kneeling downe received on his back
Great Alexander, while men kick and fling
Against the power of so good a King
As time has blest us with, O let this force
A change in thee who art dull Mill-horse.
Thou art no Papist being without merit,
Nor zealous Brownist, for thou dost want spirit.
But with a Halter ty’d to block or pale,
… [illegible] pennance, while they master drinks his Ale
In some poore Village; such a poore thing art thou
Who Gentry scorne, beare till thy ribs doe bow
Burthens of corne or meale, while that Kings are
My Royall Masters both in Peace and Warre.

Mill-horse:
Boast not of happy fortune, since time brings
a change to setled states and greatest Kings,
England was happy; peace and plenty too
Did make their rich abode here, but now view
the alteration, warre hath brought in twos [?]
and sad destruction both this land o’flow;
Now thou art proud, but if this Warre in peace
Should end, they high ambition would then cease;
Thy strength and courage would find no regard,
Thy plundering service would get no reward,
Although in warre thou trample downe and kill
Thy foe, in age thou shalt beare sacks to mill
As i doe now, and when thy skinne is grizzle
… [illegible] underneath thy burthen, fart and fizzle
… [illegible] an old horse, a souldier of the kings
‘All imploy’d valour sad repentence brings,
when thou art lame, and wounded in a fight
not knowing whether thou dost wrong or right,
or what is the true ground of this sad warre
Where king and subjects both ingaged are;
both doe pretend the justnesse of their cause
One for Religion, Liberty and Lawes;
Doth stand, while that the king doth strive again
his right and due prerogative to maintaine;
the king keeps close to this, while subjects be
Growne mad to eclipse the sonne of Majestie
by enterpoling differences; how canst though judge
Where the fault is? both at each other’s grudge,
I know that this discourse is farre too high
For us, yet now to talke of Majesty;
In boldest manner is a common thing
While every cobler will condemn a king,
And to be politick in their discourse
Yet know no more then I a poor MIll-Horse;
Who for the common-wealth doe stand and goe
Would every common-wealth man doe so.

Cav. horse:
Mill horse in this thy space and speech agree
Both wanting spirit dull and tedious bee;
The King and commonwealth are vexed the ames
writ on by many; prathee think on Beanes
And Oates well ground, what need hast thou to care
How the deplored common-wealth doth fare;
for policy this rule in mind doth keep,
‘Laugh when thou hast made others grieve and weep,
what care we how the State of things doe goe?
‘While thou art well, let others feel the woe.
If I have store of provender I care not,
Let cavaliers still plunder on and spare not,
When Ockingham [?] was burned I stood by
and like rich widdowes wept at ne’re an eye;
When the town burnt a fellow said in leather
‘He loved to see a good fire in cold weather;
and with the simple clowne I doe stay still,
‘If I do well I care not who doth ill;
For with the Cavalliers I keep one course,
And I have no more Religion then a Horse.
I care not for Liberty nor Lawes,
Nor priviledge of Subjects, nor the cause,
Let us stand well affected to good Oates,
While that the ship of State and Kingdom floates
on bloody waves, the staved rack shall be
Crammed with hay, a common-wealth to me.

Mill horse:
I pity thee thou great war horse
As thou art like Cavalliers without remorse;
The sad affliction which the kingdom feeles
Regarding not thou casts it at thy heeles;
And so doth prove that horses have no brains,
Or if they have they little wit containe.
Into the kingdomes tale thy prick eares lend
A whole griefe I will describe, and right defend.

Cav-horse:
Though defend right, thy right to the high way
is lost, as sure as thou dost live by hey,
In telling of a tale without all doubt
Thou needs must be humble, and wilt soon run out
of breath and sense, good Mill-horse, therefore prethee
Leave tales, there are too many tales already,
That weekly flye with more lies without faile
Then there be haires on a horses taile;
And if the writers angry be I wish,
You would the Cavalliers horse arse both kisse,
Not as the Miller thy back doth kisse with whip,
But as a lover doth his mistresse lip;
For know the Cavalliers brave warlick [sic] horse
Scornes vulgar jades, and bid them kisse his arse.

Mill horse:
Thou pampered Jade that liv’st by plundered oates
My skin’s as good as thine and worth ten groates,
Though slow of foot, I come of good kind,
of Racers, gotten by the boistrous wind
… [illegible] when the mare turned her back-side in the mouth
of Boreas, being northerne breed not South
The Miller’s horse before the warres began,
Would take the way of Lords and Gentleman;
And when peace shall malignants keep in aw,
I shall see thee in coach or dung cart draw.

Cav-horse:
I scorne thy motion, after this sad Warre,
Perhaps I may draw in some Coach or Carre,
and which doth grieve me, Cavaliers most high-born
I may be forced to draw on to Tiburne:
In time of Peace I serve for Triumphs, more then that
I shall be made a Bishop, and grow fat,
As Archey said ‘When bishops rul’d t’was worse,
that had no more religion than a horse.’
But thou shalte weare thy selfe out, and be stil
an everlasting drudge unto some Mill.

Mill-horse:
No matter, I will spend my life and health,
Both for my country and the common-wealth,
And it is Prince-like (if well understood)
to be ill-spoken off for doing good,
and if a horse may … [illegible] his good intent
some asses raile thus at parliament
scorn is a burthen laid on good men still,
which they must beare, as I do sackes to the mill:
But thou delighteth to hear trumpets rattle
and animal rushing into lawlesse battle;
If thou couldst think of thoe who are slain and dead,
they skin would blush, and all thy … [illegible] red
with blood of men, but I do with for peace,
on that condition Dogs may eat thy flesh.
then should the Mill-horse meat both fetch and bring,
Towns brew good Ale, and drink healths to the king.

Cav-horse:
Base Mill-horse have I broke my bridle, where
I was tyed by my master Cavaliere
To come and prattle with thee, and doest thou
wish dogs might eat my flesh? I scorn thee now?
My angry sense a great desire not feeles,
to kick thee into manners with my heeles.
But for the present I will curb my will,
If thou wilt tell me some newes from the mill.

Mill-horse:
If thou wilt tell me newes from camp and court,
I’ll tell the Mill-newes that shall make thee sport.

Cav-horse:
If country news thou wilt relate and shew me,
Halters of love shall binde me fast unto thee.

Mill-horse:
It chancced that I carried a young Maid
to Mill, and was to stumble much afraid,
she rid in handsome manner on my back,
and seem’d more heavie then the long meale sacke
on which the fate, when she alighted, I
perceive’d her belly was grown plump and high;
I carried many others and all were
Gotten with childe still by the Cavaleer [sic],
so that this newes for truth I may set downe,
there’s scarce a Mayd left in a market towne;
A woman old with … [illegible] on her chin,
did tell the miller she had plundered been
thrice by the Cavaliers, and they had taken
her featherbeds, her brass, and all her bacon
and eke [?] her daughter Bridget that should wed
Clodsforms, was plundered of her maidenhead,
besides I heare your Cavaliers does still,
Drinke sacke like water that runs from the mill;
we heare of Irish Rebels comming over,
which was a plot that I dare not discover,
and that malignant Army of the king,
Into this land blinde Popery would bring.

Cav-horse:
Peace, peace, I see thou dost know nothing now,
They fleering jests I cannot well allow;
and there are Mercuries abroad that will,
tell better news then a horse of the Mill;
But I will answer thee, and tell thee thus,
thou lyest as bad as ere did Aulicus.
Who thought he write Court-newes I’ll tell you what,
he’ll lye as fast as both of us can trot.
You tell of Maydens that have been beguild,
and by the Cavaleers [sic] are got with childe,
and hast not thou when thou wast fat and idle,
often times broke thy halter and thy bridle,
and rambled over hedge and ditch to come,
unto some Mare, whom thou hast quickly wonne
to thy desire, and leapt her in the place,
of dull Mill-horses to beget a race;
while that the Cavaliers when they do fall
to worke, will get a race of soldiers all.
It had been newes whereat I would have smilde,
If the maids had got the Cavalliers with childe.

Mill-horse:
I ramble over hedge, thou meanst indeed [?]
The Cavaliers, who were compelt, with speed
both over hedge and ditch away to flee
when they were lately beat at Newbery,
the proverb to be true is prov’d by thee
that servants like unto their masters bee;
those plundering … [illegible] on thy back doe ride,
have fill o’thee with a pamper’d spirit of pride,
and hath eaten too much Popish Dates [?]
That in thy belly thou hast got three Popes;
the great grandfather of that race did come
that bore [?] Pope Joane in triumph through Rome
I heare to Mill of corne a plump long sack,
thou carriest a great Pluto upon thy back,
… [illegible] Cavallier and who can then abide thee,
when that malignant fooles and knaves do ride thee
from town to town and plunder where they come,
the country is by Cavlliers undone.
and these thy matters are, who fight and kill
and seek the blood of the protestants to spill;
for thus the newes abroad doth alwayes runne,
that the kings forces are in horse most strong
whereby it doth appeare the … [illegible] War-horse are
guilty of blood-shed, in this cruell wars
and yet the Cavalliers horse I heare
at Kenton Field beshit themselves for feare.
and the Cavalliers being kill’d, they run about
the field to seek another master out,
therefore love war, and have of wounds thy fill,
while I in peace doe walk unto the mill;
I will be alwayes true unto my selfs
and love the kingdome and the Common-wealth.

Cav-horse:
Mill-horse, because thou shewst thy railing wits,
I’ll give thee a round answer with some kicks,
which I’ll bestow upon thee, but I’m … [illegible] done,
Yonder my Cavallier doth come
to fetch me back, and Yonder too I see
the miller comming for to take up thee
if thou lik’st not my discourse very well,
Mill-horse take up my taile, and so farwell.”

Talking Horses: Honhy, Honhy, Hon! A Victorian Policeman is Saluted.

 

Street-cab horses drinking from half-barrel of water provided by the A.S.P.C.A. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress).

Street-cab horses drinking from half-barrel of water provided by the A.S.P.C.A. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress). Note hat on right-hand horse.

In his 29-year career as a policeman in Victorian London, John Pegg oversaw over 1,300 convictions for cruelty to horses. This poem was written “on behalf” of those horses by George H Hutt in 1892. Read more about Hutt – “the police poet” – and Pegg here, along with a collection of other “horses’ letters” on Christopher T George’s ripperology blog.

“A Horse’s Letter to Ex-Police Constable 365 John Pegg”

Dear Mr. Pegg, you’ve proved our friend,
No one can deny,
By oft detecting cruelty
While others pass it by.

Your life has been devoted to
The ailments of my race,
And when the tongue was devoid of speech,
Yours kindly took its place.

Before we had your kindly aid
Our pleading proved in vain,
And often with a heavy load
We’ve struggled on in pain.

While drivers in their ignorance
Have vowed that we did shirk,
And though we have been weak and ill
Have urged on to work.

‘Tis you and only such as you
Who mark the mute appeal,
Of us poor helpless quadrupeds
When indisposed we feel.

I’ve had the horrid toothache, Pegg,
And fast I could not go,
But as a medicine received
A cruel, stinging blow.

Again I’ve stood hour after hour
Till corns have made me kick,
And blamed for vicious temper been
Belaboured with a stick.

Sometimes a drunkard held the reins,
And muddled, did not think
That I as well as he required
A cool refreshing drink.

He loitered, tippling on the way,
Till working hours were past,
Then homeward thrashed me, and all night
Left me, unclean, to fast.

But dear old Pegg, you found it out,
And when ’twas brought to light,
You had the rascal punished well,
While Sangster set me right.

Now nearly thirty years you’ve been
An agent of the law,
And through your tact oft saved us pain
By finding out the flaw.

And though we are but helpless brutes,
Without the power of speech,
Yet in our gratefulness, dear Pegg,
A moral we can teach.

So horses, mules, and asses, too,
Their wishes to you give
By neighing “Honhy, honhy, hon!”
Which means “Long may you live.”

May those who have the care of us
With your kind acts agree,
Then animals of every class
Will better treated be.

Talking Horses: Ponies Plot

Talking Horses is a series of extracts from novels, poems and short stories both classic and obscure that feature fictional horses who enter into the conversation.

Ponies Plot is a 1965 curio by the British naval historian C. Northcote Parkinson. Curious because it sends up the classic pony book delightfully. It tells the story of a riding school on the verge of closing, where the ponies conspire to end up with the right kind of little girl who will cater to their whims – as you’ll see from the cover, it’s most definitely the ponies who are on top here. As the preface explains, “This … is a book about children, written for ponies.” In this extract, the ponies are gathered in their field and discussing ways to get themselves thrown out of the riding school. The oldest, Smokey, takes them all to task:

“You youngsters don’t see what the problem is. It is not enough to be unwanted here. You have first to find the girl you want and a home you would prefer. You must learn to look ahead! Decide, first of all, what it is you want.”
“Well,” said Skylark, “I should choose a girl of about nine, standing about fifteen hooves and weighing not more than four stone twleve pounds.”
“Or less,” said Dunblane quickly.
“She should have a snub nose,” said Brighty in a dreamy way, “with fair or red hair – yes, and freckles –”
“Freckles, yes,” agreed Skylark. “But a brunette can be all right too, so long as her back is straight and her legs are long.”
“I actually prefer a brunette with straight hair,” said Spice. “But she needs to be dependable, generous and kind, nicely mannered and reasonably intelligent.”
“Not too confident or rash,” suggested Dunblane.
“But with at least three years’ experience,” said Unbeatable.
“All right!” grunted Smokey. “Those are the Points we look for in the child. But what about her family and background?”
“She should have a prosperous father,” Unbeatable replied, “a doting mother – both reasy to help out in the stables. Yes, and two younger sisters aged five and one.”
“And what about brothers?”
“Only one, I think,” said Unbeatable. “Well-behaved and useful with apples.”

Talking Horses: My Name is Red

Talking Horses is a series of extracts from novels, poems and short stories both classic and obscure that feature fictional horses who enter into the conversation.

 

 

My Name is Red (1998) by Orhan Pamuk, translated by Erdağ M. Göknar:

Ignore the fact that I’m standing here placid and still; if truth be told, I’ve been galloping for centuries; I’ve passed over plains, fought in battles, carried off the melancholy daughters of shahs to be wed; I’ve galloped tirelessly page by page from story to history, from history to legend and from book to book; I’ve appeared in countless stories, fables, books and battles; I’ve accompanied  invincible heroes, legendary lovers and fantastic armies; I’ve galloped from campaign to campaign with our victorious sultans, and as a result, I’ve appeared in countless illustrations.

Talking Horses: Strider

Talking Horses is a series of extracts from novels, poems and short stories both classic and obscure that feature fictional horses who enter into the conversation.

Strider: The Story of a Horse, (1886) by Leo Tolstoy. Also known as “Kholstomer”:

Old age is sometimes majestic, sometimes ugly, and sometimes pathetic.

But old age can be both ugly and majestic, and the gelding’s old age was just of that kind.

He was tall, rather over fifteen hands high. His spots were black, or rather they had been black, but had now turned a dirty brown. He had three spots, one on his head, starting from a crooked bald patch on the side of his nose and reaching half-way down his neck. His long mane, filled with burrs, was white in some places and brownish in others. Another spot extended down his off side to the middle of his belly; the third, on his croup, touched part of his tail and went half-way down his quarters. The rest of the tail was whitish and speckled. The big bony head, with deep hollows over the eyes and a black hanging lip that had been torn at some time, hung low and heavily on his neck, which was so lean that it looked as though it were carved of wood. The pendant lip revealed a blackish bitten tongue and the yellow stumps of the worn lower teeth. The ears, one of which was slip, hung low on either side, and only occasionally moved lazily to drive away the pestering flies. Of the forelock, one tuft which was still long hung back behind an ear; the uncovered forehead was dented and rough, and the skin hung down like bags on his broad jaw-bones. The veins of his neck had grown knotty and twitched and shuddered at every touch of a fly. The expression of his face was one of stern patience, thoughtfulness, and suffering.

His forelegs were crooked to a bow at the knees, there were swellings over both hoofs, and on one leg, on which the piebald spot reached half-way down, there was a swelling at the knee as big as a fist. The hind legs were in better condition, but apparently long ago his haunches had been so rubbed that in places the hair would not grow again. The leanness of his body made all four legs look disproportionately long. The ribs, though straight, were so exposed and the skin so tightly drawn over them, that it seemed to have dried fast to the spaces between. His back and withers were covered with marks of old lashings, and there was a fresh sore behind, still swollen and festering; the black dock of his tail, which showed the vertebrae, hung down long and almost bare. On his dark-brown croup – near the tail – was a scar, as though of a bite, the size of a man’s hand and covered with white hair. Another scarred sore was visible on one of his shoulders. His tail and hocks were dirty because of chronic bowel troubles. The hair on the whole body, though short, stood out straight. Yet in spite of the hideous old age of this horse one involuntarily paused to reflect when one saw him, and an expert would have said at once that he had been a remarkably fine horse in his day. The expert would even have said that there was only one breed in Russia that could furnish such breadth of bone, such immense knees, such hoofs, such slender cannons, such a well-shaped neck, and above all such a skull, such eyes – large, black, and clear – and such a thoroughbred network of veins on head and neck, and such delicate skin and hair.

There was really something majestic in that horse’s figure and in the terrible union in him of repulsive indications of decrepitude, emphasized by the motley colour of his hair, and his manner which expressed the self-confidence and calm assurance that go with beauty and strength. Like a living ruin he stood alone in the midst of the dewy meadow, while not far from him could be heard the tramping, snorting and youthful neighing and whinnying of the scattered herd.

If you are in New York the Bolshoi Puppet Theatre will be giving a performance of Kholstomer at the Baryshnikov Arts Theater from 18th to 20th October. Looks absolutely wonderful!