Caledonian Mercury, Saturday 5th July 1834

sculptured from the rocks of Caledonia,

THIS EXHIBITION is now opened for the season, with an additional EQUESTRIAN GROUPE, from Lord Byron’s Poem of Mazeppa, and describing the fall of

Open from ten o’clock till dusk, int he area of the National Monument, Calton Hill.
Admission One Shilling.
Carriages drive up to the Monument.

A relative?

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

  • Composer Eve Harrison teamed up with Scottish schoolchildren to write a musical about the horse meat scandal, called The Unspeakable. If I weren’t on the move just now I would dig out a 17th century story in which Scottish children chased and stoned a man known to eat horse meat. (BBC)
  • The FAO reports that the number of horses in the world has dropped by a million every year from 2009–2011, doubtless in response to the recession. The number of donkeys has increased – again, I’m pretty sure that’s down to the recession too. Donkeys make the developing world go round, after all. (Horse Talk NZ)
  • In the wake of the horse meat scandal, Ireland tightened its enforcement of slaughter regulations, with the result that the number of horses entering abattoirs has plummetted. The government is now considering a humane disposal programme for horses that have been treated with bute and other drugs that render them unfit for human consumption. (Irish Times) Meanwhile the UK’s DEFRA will close the loop hole that allowed horses travelling between Ireland, the UK and France to escape a full vet inspection. Racehorses and FEI competitors will still be excused (Horse Talk NZ)
  • In May the Tennessee Walking Horse Breeders’ and Exhibitors’ Association’s executive committee voted in favour of a bill that would end the use of padded shoes and chains. The board of directors nixed it. Now a member of the executive committee is running an unauthorised poll among members to ask them what they think, and feathers are flying (The Tennessean)
  • Archaeologists in Bulgaria have uncovered a 2,500 year-old Thracian chariot and two horses – the twist? The horses were somehow buried standing (Habitat for Horses)
  • Whole Heap of Little Horse Links


    • The US Equestrian Federation has finally – yes, FINALLY – banned the chains, weighted shoes, pads, collars and rollers used to produce the monstruous “big lick gait. Good news for the beleagered Tennessee Walking Horse. (The Horse)
    • This week was, mercifully, a week in which images of Shetland ponies wearing woolly jumpers flooded the internet. This is my favourite account of the story, thanks to the clash  between the chirpy CNN reporter and the indignant Scotswomen she interviews. Don’t tell a Scotswoman that her jumper makes a pony look fat. Just don’t do it. (CNN)
    • The UK Food Standards Agency has issued an update about findings of bute in horse meat. (FSA)
    • Brony fan art. Including porny My Little Pony graphic novels. I remember that there was joke slash fic on the subject years ago, but now it seems to have crossed a line. More fascinating developments in our everchanging weirdness about horses. (Cracked)
    • A horse in Norwich City scarf turned up at Carrow Road to watch a game, sadly on the wrong day. (SB Nation)
    • The Pony Racing Authority has a new fearless leader: ex-Cheltenham racecourse MD, Edward Gillespie. Chief exec Clarissa Daly commented: “The PRA is committed to increase the numbers from non-racing and non-horsey backgrounds and to make racing more accessible to children and young people from all walks of life.  With Edward as our new Chairman we are better placed than ever to achieve this.” (Horse Talk)
    • HSUS is forming a Responsible Horse Breeders’ Council in the USA. Hopefully they will be able to reach irresponsible horse breeders too. (The Horse)
    • Here’s my Telegraph piece on the history of hippophagy, taboo, rite and rational consumption. (Telegraph)

    Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

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

    The Real Finmory Discovered

    I finished If Wishes Were Horses in summer 2010 and handed it in to my editor, Angus. After he’d read it he sent me an email saying that he was sure he knew where we could find Finmory, the house in Patricia Leitch’s Jinny and Shantih novels.

    Here’s the first description of Finmory House in For Love of a Horse:

    “At the far edge of the moorland, mountains shouldered up against the sky. Cloud shadows raced over them so that their colours seemed to flow and change as you watched – deep purple turned to blue that faded into bleached pinks and mauves. Waterfalls streaked black gorges with threads of brilliant white as they crashed down the mountains’ sides, and patches of dried moss were a vivid saffron gold. Ravens croaked, disturbed by the car, and two buzzards flew up from the telegraph wires that followed the road. …

    The track turned and dropped down to a farm, half-hidden in a clump of pine trees. …

    The car crawled slowly along a muddy, rutted track, twisted through a broken-down gateway, and followed the overgrown drive that pushed its way between top-heavy, fungussy trees to Finmory House. … They all burst out of the car to stand staring at the four-square, solid, stone house.

    ‘It’s smashing,’ breathed Mike.

    ‘Sea at the bottom of the garden!’ exclaimed Jinny. ‘And mountains peering down the chimneys!'”

    I think everyone who loved those books wanted to live in Finmory. And it turns out that, for several summers as a student, Patricia Leitch did just that. In an interview with Jane Badger she said that:

    “Kilmacolm is part of the setting for the Jinny books, but only part.  If you want to go looking for the locations you’ll have to be prepared to travel, as the setting is actually a combination of two different places.  Finmory House, the house to which Jinny and her family move, is on the Isle of Skye, and is the house at which Pat worked as a housemaid for several summers.  The moors around Finmory are in Renfrewshire, around the village of Kilmacolm.”

    Now Angus’ family comes from Skye, and he too has lived there, so when he told me that he’d found Finmory, I knew we were onto something. His email had read:

    “although Talisker is justifiably praised as a fine single malt, the distillery itself is not at Talisker but Carbost. Talisker Bay is a few miles away over moorland and a single-track road, down which you pass eventually to glimpse the sea and find a farmhouse and another, much bigger house, this surrounded by trees and tucked in the lee of a huge, rearing rocky outcrop. It is quite the most beautiful place in the world. I think the house is now a hotel of some sort, although if I ever won a lottery, I would attempt to buy its owners out. You can walk past it and down a rowan-shaded path alongside a burn to the bay itself, which faces west, between great headlands, and has the blackest of sand.”

    When my book was published I sent a copy to Patricia along with a note about Angus’ theory, and a few weeks later I had a letter from her:

    “YES YES YES YES YES. Finmory is/was Talisker. Am staggered that you and your editor tracked it down. Many lifetimes ago I worked there three college summers in I am sure, another life. Cannot even think of it, what memories. One of the Jinnys uses the name Talisker and many of Finmory’s background was Talisker, but not the moors, they were/are the moors at Kilmacolm. … If you would be interested I could tell you more about Talisker. It was indeed a wonderful place. The dream was then to stay in one of the stables with Kirsty/Bramble. Nearly happened. … One white moon night was remembered vividly but I bolted and wrote instead.”

    Talisker House is now a listed building. I haven’t been able to find a site for it as a hotel, but there’s some information on the structure and history here (Boswell and Johnson stayed there in the eighteenth century) and a shot here from behind. This absolutely stunning photograph shows you the location – as described by Jinny. WalkHighlands has both photographs of the spectacular bay (do you think that “stack” of rock was the inspiration for the dramatic rescue in Ride Like the Wind?) and details of a walk you can take in the area.

    UPDATE: My parents pointed out that I spent some time nearby too, although I was too young to remember. We stayed in a holiday cottage called Skerinish just up river from Talisker Bay. It’s the two-storey building on the right here. I dedicated a lot of time to trying to reach the farmer’s bull in the field nextdoor.

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    If Wishes Were Horses: The Red Horse and the White Mare is a comprehensive one-stop-shop for all the known sources on the Gallo-Celtic horse goddess, Epona. There’s an on-line shrine complete with funky flute music here.

    Devon, Maid of Epona has provided a prayer for the goddess here, and ideas for honouring her in ritual here.

    Jane Badger has an interview with the author of the Jinny and Shantih books, Patricia Leitch, whose books are being reissued by Catnip Publishing. The covers for this new editions were shot by photographer Karen Budkiewicz, a fan of Leitch’s since childhood, who grew up to own her own chestnut Arab mare called Shantih: the horse you see on the new covers. The horse on the “horseshoe” series above is a stallion called Prince of Orange.

    UPDATE: read about the real Finmory here!

    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.