While I’m housebound working on book two, Mum is filling in as our roving reporter on horse history. Here’s a “Dandy Cart”, snapped at the National Railway Museum in York. Working-horse history is intertwined with the history of the railways, so it’s no surprise to see a horse or two in this museum. According to the caption, it wasn’t just steam-engines that used railways. Sometimes genuine horse power was used for haulage. Of course, when the wagons were coasting downhill, there wasn’t much for the horse to do, hence the dandy cart. The horse would be loaded up for an easy ride down the slope, and recoupled to the freight wagon at the bottom.
This is an out-take from If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of Equine Obsession. I’ve just found an image of her in the National Portrait Gallery’s collection: click here and again on the picture to enlarge.
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.
Yes you can spend €15 million on a horse. Yes you can spend a little less than that but remain comfortably in the six-figure bracket. But you can also spend £2,500 on a three-year-old advertised in the Yorkshire Post small ads and end up with this:
Stephanie Croxford and Mr President score 70,750% at the FEI Grand Prix Kur at Olympia, 2010.
Bless. The Guardian has published a selection of photographer Gary Carlton’s images of Yorkshire county shows, including this “wolf”, ridden by Red Riding Hood. If you enjoy the spectacle of the pony fancy dress party, please spend a little time on Jane Badger’s blog, because here, here, here and here you can find some truly wonderful examples from the 1950s. It’s hard to top Humpty Dumpty and the wall, but the Abominable Snow Pony is ambitious, as is the woolly mammoth and accompanying cave children, while Mrs J Beaton’s Zulu warrior is, er, quaintly unselfconscious.