Hermaphroditism in Horses

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When is a mare not a mare?

South African racing authorities have just reclassified a filly called Tuesday’s Child as a colt after post-race checks showed a raised testosterone count. Nothing to do with dodgy injections or rum dealings: Tuesday’s Child is a male pseudo-hermaphrodite, and he had his breeder, owner and trainer fooled. I’ve actually “met” a horse like this – “Ladyboy” is pictured above* in a group of Konik horses kept by the Norfolk Wildlife Trust for conservation grazing. Like Tuesday’s Child’s owners, the NWT had no idea that the young horse was a hermaphrodite. “She” peed backwards from under her tail and had a small udder, like any filly. However, when she reached the age of two, she began fighting for dominance with the harem’s stallion, and trying to steal mares. She was eventually removed from the group and a veterinary examination revealed that the udder was in fact a scrotum, and that there was a rudimentary penis tucked under his tail. The newly christened Ladyboy was all male, although he was never going to father foals. He was gelded and given his own herd of youngsters to supervise, those solving his own frustrations and that of the main band’s stallion.

26/10/2014 Here’s a news item on a new study on pseudohermaphrodites.

* I admit I can’t remember which one he is…

PS. At the time I was researching If Wishes Were Horses, and looking for early instructions for sidesaddle riding. Browsing an eighteenth-century French manual called Le Nouveau Parfait Maréchal, I found a short chapter on hermaphroditic horses who “urinent fur leur queue” (“urinate through their tail”).

 

Here Comes the Cavalry!

Every year the Household Cavalry holidays in Norfolk, my home county. The annual paddle in the sea at Holkham is a press favourite, but not so many people know about the show they hold in Thetford. I went for the first time last Saturday with Mum and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, even if we were too tuckered to stay for the musical ride at the end. Imagine the world’s friendliest gymkhana – not a Pony Club mother in sight – and you will get the spirit of it.

There was showjumping, tentpegging, a lively sidesaddle display from the Flying Foxes (who made one of the soldiers try life aside – cue wolf whistles and a royal wave from the gentleman in question) and a chance to meet the gee-gees. Big bags of carrots were for sale and members of the public were encouraged to wander round the stables, stuffing treats into the horses. It must be hell for the grooms on Monday, but boy was it fun for us and the blacks, the greys and the giant roan drum horses.

We met Merlin (in the video he’s Mercury) and I’ve included photos of his saddle hangings, which list all the battles in which the regiment has been engaged. Note that Merlin is a bona fide drum horse, ie he carries drums for the British Army. Recently some enterprising folk in America have decided to breed and sell “Royal Drum Horses” and I wish the Queen would sue the pants off them. I also wish more shows recruited tentpeggers – the thrill of seeing three horses line up abreast and charge as their riders angled lances or swords for the narrow peg was quite something. I fell in love with a doughty and rangey “cavalry black” called Dreadnought, who won both the showjumping competitions. Bags Dreadnought when he retires.

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If Wishes Were Horses: Costessey

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I don’t have so many images of the riding school at Costessey, but here’s a link to the Stanford Equestrian Center which features in most of these pictures and where I had my first lessons. Tom Barley’s excellent Costessey website has plenty of stories about the village’s history.

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: Mary Breese

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If you know any more about Mary Breese, I’d love to know. I tried contacting the holders of Sarah Josepha Hale’s  library to find out if they could think of her source for writing about Mary (a very long shot) and also perused British sporting magazines and Norfolk papers from the time of her death. Any further leads merrily followed.
I turned up this from the Observer, October 6th 1799:
“Lately died at Lynn, in her 78th year, Miss Mary Breese; she never lived out of the parish she was born in; was a remarkable sportswoman, regularly took out her shooting licence, kept as good grey-hounds, and was as sure a shot as was in the county. At her desire her dogs and favourite mare were killed at her death, and buried in one grave.” (looks as though it wasn’t necessarily Mary’s grave, but still). The same report appears in the Sun on the 7th October, 1799 and the Oracle and Daily Advertiser on the 8th October 1799. Presumably this was serialised to US papers also as a curio and that’s how Sarah Josepha Hale picked it up.

A lovely blog post on Lady Salisbury or Old Sarum. And a snippet about a ferocious huntress from my notes.

This chapter included an out-take that I think deserves reproducing here. I’m still not sure if I regret not adding her to the early-nineteenth-century Amazons, especially as she had a Norfolk connection:

Twenty-two year-old Mrs Alicia Thornton, the daughter of a Norwich watchmaker and wife of a Colonel Thornton, pitted her horse, Old Vingarillo against her brother-in-law Captain Flint on Thornville over four miles at York in 1804. More than £200,000 was wagered on the race by one hundred thousand spectators,  “nearly ten times the number appeared on the Knavesmire than did on the day when Bay Malton ran, or when Eclipse went over the course,” as Thomas Brown noted in his Anecdotes of Horses.  She wore a blue jockey’s cap over her fair hair and, above her voluminous skirts which, in an engraving of the match, are blown against her thighs, a man’s silks with a “leopard-coloured body, with blue sleeves, the vest buff.”

She started the favourite among the menfolk on the course, who’d been impressed by an earlier exercise ride she’d turned in, and for the first three miles of the race, “the oldest sportsmen on the stand thought she must have won,” only for her horse to go lame and her to pull him up. “Never, surely,” wrote Brown, “did a woman ride in better style. It was difficult to say whether her horsemanship, her dress, or her beauty, were most admired – the tout ensemble was unique … She flew along the course with an astonishing swiftness, conscious of her own superior skill.”   In 1805 she matched top jockey Francis Buckle over two miles, and – sporting embroidered stockings and a purple waistcoat – trounced him by half a neck to the ecstasy of the crowd.

Here’s a poem by a contemporary spectator:

See the course throng’d with gazers, and lots of ‘Old rakes’,

To view the ‘beautiful Heroine’ start for the stakes;

With handkerchiefs waving, the spectators all clap,

Half dressed like a jockey, with her whip and her cap.

With spirits like fire, behold her mount the gay prad,

And the cheers and the smiles make her heart light and glad;

And Mrs Thornton’s ‘the favourite’ through thick and through thin,

And the swell and the jockeys all bet that she’ll win.

UPDATE: no Mary, but the Taverham poem features in Jane Bevan’s PhD on Foxhunting and Landscape from 1700 – 1900, available at the UEA website.

 

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: Saving Beauty

Ann Lindo’s Horse Trust, Tettenhall Horse Sanctuary, the Horse Rescue Fund and World Horse Welfare are just some of Britain’s great horse rescues. I have to put in a special shout out for the Horse Rescue Fund. Established in the 1960s by a family who wanted to make a difference, they are part of the fabric of Norfolk equestrian lives. Generations of Norfolk children have grown up riding their rescues, some of whom were rehomed at Cringleford Riding School. Most of their horses are not kept at the sanctuary, but are on longterm loans. The Walbanckes originally took in old tradesmen’s horses that were being retired as they were replaced by motor vehicles, and they later campaigned doggedly for improved transport conditions and better riding school standards. The HRF provided me with a pamphlet called Beyond the Stable Door that tells their story up till Black Beauty’s centenary year. I was spoilt for material in this chapter and ultimately had to cut my visit to the HRF although their work dovetails with the history of equine welfare efforts and legislation that I was tracing. I hope, when I have the time, to write a longer blog post about them. Here’s a short Pathé film about the early 1960s scandal concerning the export of horses from Ireland for slaughter on the continent: the Walbanckes’ first major rescue efforts concentrated on just these animals, including Robbie, a coalman’s Arab/Connemara gelding, who drew wedding carriages and helped to raise funds to purchase more horses from the Dublin docks. Other Walbancke “saves” went on to be cracking performers in local shows.

If you’re in Norfolk and want to see places where Anna Sewell lived, the Sewell Barn Theatre Company is based in Anna’s brother’s barn and is popularly thought to have been the home of Bess, a horse who inspired Anna’s creation. Anna’s birthplace is now a tea room in Yarmouth, and her tombstone is set in the wall of the former Friends’ Meeting House in Lammas. Nearby Dudwick Park belonged to Anna’s grandparents, and she’s thought to have learned to ride in the local lanes. Sewell Park in Norwich encloses the family’s former land, and features a horse trough (now filled with flowers) that commemorates Anna. The house where she died stands in Old Catton and her first publisher, Jarrold, is still in operation and also has a museum dedicated to printing.

There’s an excellent fansite for the TV version of Follyfoot here and a book called Follyfoot Remembered by Jane Royston, who worked as horse manager on the series.

Redwings Horse Sanctuary were wonderful hosts when I was researching the book, and generously showed me around their headquarters at Hapton. Here are some photographs from the trip and also a short clip of Norris, the Spindles Farm pony I mentioned in the chapter:

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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: Housework

Cringleford Riding School was opened by Paula Sykes just outside Norwich in 1963, and closed in 1997 after being crippled by a rates rise. It was the first horsey home for generations of Norfolk children, and I was tremendously sad to hear that it had closed. Here’s a brief slideshow of some of the ponies from my family photo album. I’d love to hear from anyone else who remembers them. Orlando was a rescue from the Horse Rescue Fund.

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When I was searching for material to share on Cringleford, I stumbled across this beautiful set of black and white shots taken by Ian Drake in 1976. See if you spot any ponies you recognise!

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: Tav

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Tom Barley has some pages on Alfred Munnings and Costessey, where you can see some of the artist’s paintings from the neighbourhood, featuring Shrimp, the grey pony and the romany wagon.

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.