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.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

Schooling Over Fences

Willy Twiston-Davies (son of trainer Nigel) has just won the Foxhunters Chase over the National fences at Aintree at age 16 with the fittingly named Baby Run. I last saw Willy in action at the 2007 Charles Owen pony racing championships at the Liverpool course, where he was riding a 13.1hh pony called Sparky Boy. He finished 3rd, and his older brother Sam – also an up and coming jock – won the 148cm race on Otterburn Lady. Checking an old Olympia programme, I now realise that the first time I saw Will in action he was riding Ulverscroft Drambuie in the Shetland Pony Grand National in 2006. Plenty of race-riding experience on a smaller scale!

Bit of an Aintree theme here, no? I wonder when we’ll see him in the National itself.

Class War in the Hunting Field

“On Saturday, I went out fox-hunting – seven hours in the saddle. That sort of thing always keeps me in a state of devilish excitement for several days; it’s the greatest physical pleasure I know. I saw only two out of the whole field who were better horsemen than myself, but then they were also better mounted… At least 20 of the chaps fell off or came down, two horses were done for, one fox killed (I was in AT THE DEATH).”

Thus wrote Friedrich Engels to Karl Marx in 1857. The most tantalising thing? That if (big if) it’s true that the teenage Catherine Walters or Skittles rode with the Cheshire Hunt in the late 1850s, as it’s rumoured, she might have ridden alongside Mr Engels.

Heavy Horse Week: Cart Horses in Bloom

The Liverpool tradition of May Day parades began in the 1850s when drivers of working horses and their families took to the streets in holiday spirit. By the 1880s the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and various promoters of heavy horse breeds had turned the parades into not only a free show for Liverpudlians, but also a chance to reward the owners of well-kept, healthy horses and encourage higher standards both of equine welfare and breeding. Later parades flourished in many other British cities, although all but the London shows faltered and faded away after 1939. The Liverpool May Horse Parade was revived in 1985, but seems, apart from one brief flourish at the Millennium, to have fallen once more by the wayside.

In its halcyon days it must have been a wonderful sight. The horses were decked out in ribbons, braids and piles of flowers, as you can see in this brief, blurry piece of footage. The picture below shows Thomas Stopforth with one of his horses in Coronation year, and was lent by his granddaughter Julie Brown to the excellent Liverpool Retired Carters’ Association Archive here.

The carters’ archive is a superb resource which also documents the campaign for a lasting memorial to both the horses and the men who kept the city going not only in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, but also through the bombings and devastation of World War Two. “Waiting”, a statue of a draft horse was unveiled on Albert Dock on May 1st 2010 on the anniversary of the old May Horse Parade.