Rapunzel Horses – the hot accessory of Early Modern Europe?

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I’ve been reading beautifully illustrated books about horses all my life and in the last twelve years I’ve trawled all sorts of academic articles and image libraries, so it’s always delightful to find an image I’ve never seen before. The Palazzo Pitti in Florence just opened an exhibit called Leopoldo de’ Medici: Prince of the Collectors to celebrate what would have been the cardinal’s 400th birthday. Someone shared this image of the young Leopoldo in a Facebook group for Lipizzaner fans, and I was smitten. The 1624-1625 painting is by Justus Sustermans, a Flemish court painter to the infamous Medici clan. Look at the detail: the flecks of foam on the paving under the horse’s mouth, the way it’s patiently resting one hind hoof. What I’d give for a huge poster of it!
But of course the really striking thing is that MANE. ALL OF IT. Has anyone written about the meaning (if any?) of the turnout of court horses in the Early Modern era? I’ve seen great articles on baroque bits and read about the costumes worn in carrousels, but do we know anything about this commitment to hair? It’s not mentioned in the rather beautiful part of Guerinière’s The School of Horsemanship that describes exotic coat colours and the significance of whorls (read an earlier post about that here). But it does feature in other images, like those in the Certamen Equestre (Gallica has a facsimile online for extended tea-break consideration and these screengrabs are sourced there):

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This book records a carrousel and procession that took place in Stockholm on 18 December 1672 to celebrate the coming of age of Karl XI at 17. It was illustrated by the court painter, David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl, and these plates were later engraved by Georg Christoph Eimmart in Nuremberg. Lena Rangström has written the most detailed account in volume II of Mulryne, Watanbe-O’Kelly and Shewring’s Europa Triumphans, a collection of studies of European court and civic festivals in the period.
Rangström describes the decking out of Stockholm with triumphal arches, tapestries, a firework display and even a wine fountain. The 560-strong procession, which included 100 nobles on horseback and 80 more horses led in hand, culminated at the tilt yard in the riding school at the Hay Market or Hötorget. It was meant to depict the young Karl as a force for unity in Europe against the Turk, and so he led the “Roman” quadrille, Field Marshall Gustaf Banér the “Turks” in their caftans, Count Bengt Oxenstierna led the “Poles” (see their “winged horses” below) and Privy Councillor Krister Horn was captain of the “European States” in modern dress. Here are images of the quadrilles:

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Karl as a Roman. Certamen Equestre, via Gallica.

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The “Turkish” horses in the Certamen Equestre, via Gallica. It looks as though all the Black grooms in Stockholm were drafted in to add extra “exotica” (oof).

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“Polish” horses, Certamen Equestre, via Gallica.

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“Europe” in the Certamen Equestre, via Gallica.

It was – of course – spectacular. “On knights and horses everything shimmered: gold, precious stones, and rich pearls,” says one account, and, “On the horses, one saw different ornaments on their heads, different ones on their feet, and different ones on the other parts of their bodies.” Pine branches hung from the ceiling and the riding school was lit by thousands of candles on hundreds of chandeliers against the dark Stockholm winter.
There was only one game – running at the ring – and the King won, for:

“None deserved it more, none knew how to control and turn his horse with such gentleness; nobody bore off the ring with such pleasing gestures and such grace of the whole body.”

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For other long-haired horses stories, I present the eighteenth century Swan of Arnstadt and a nineteenth-century freak, The Wild King of Oregon Wonder Horses.


UPDATE: From Charles Hamilton Smith’s The Natural History of Horses (1841), talking about Russian trotting horses:

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Woman Climbs into Horse Carcass

Oh, the weird:

A woman who crawled inside the gutted carcass of a horse and took photos of herself and her boyfriend holding the animal’s organs will not face charges. The woman, 21, told Washington County sheriff’s deputies that she enacted the gruesome scenes in order to “feel one” with the horse, KOIN reported Thursday. In addition to the shot of the woman inside the horse, there is a photo of the couple holding what appears to be the animal’s heart and a shot of the pair holding an unidentified piece of the horse near their mouths as though they are about to eat it.

A more artistic image shows the woman, drenched in blood, standing beside the animal she has just been inside. According to a Washington County Sheriff’s Office incident report, the couple killed the horse with a single rifle shot to the head. They said they intended to kill the horse humanely and to eat it. But the woman’s desire to “feel one” with the horse carcass soon took over.

This is one up on Marion Leval-Jeantet’s May the Horse Live in Me art project (in which the artist had herself injected with horse blood). May I Live in the Horse? These people have problems…

Edited to add: there’s a little more about the horse here. It was 32… The authorities ruled that it had been killed humanely.

Neglect and the Manhattan Carriage Horse

This week a horse that pulled tourist carriages in New York dropped dead in the middle of Manhattan, provoking cries of cruelty and mistreatment. I’m aware that there’s a long-standing campaign to end the practice of using these horses in the city, and that the only other equines in central New York, at the Claremont Academy, have now gone. I’m aware that some of the carriage drivers may not have great records, that a nine-hour shift is very long and that the worst days of summer in that sweltering city are not good conditions for horses. However, it’s autumn now, not August, and humane societies are satisfied with the welfare measures that are in place for the horses, as Mayor Bloomberg pointed out in this NYT piece:

“The horses here are supervised by the health department, the A.S.P.C.A.,” he said. “They’re well taken care of. And most of them wouldn’t be alive if they didn’t have a job.”

And this, I think, is the nub of it. The grey who died had only been working a month, and frankly from the photos I’ve seen, he did not look neglected. He looked like he was in great shape. Horses are mortal and, like humans, they do die of heart attacks without being overworked – in fact, they’re far more likely than humans to have such an episode. As this Horse and Hound article shows, a horse doesn’t have to be “worked to death” to have a cardiac crisis:

In a recent study funded by the International League for the Protection of Horses 25% of sudden death fatalities were pleasure horses, and exercise doesn’t even have to be that strenuous or fast. Healthy horses are on average 50 times more likely to die during exercise than healthy people, but the causes of death are very different. The human casualties who collapse during marathons are much more likely to have succumbed because of an inherited disorder of the heart muscle or of the electrical activity in the heart. These conditions do not exist in horses to our knowledge. When the sudden death of an apparently healthy horse occurs during exercise, almost half are due to massive fatal haemorrhage (bleeding) from arteries or veins of either the chest or abdomen.  The remaining, largest and most perplexing group of sudden death fatalities has no distinct abnormalities to explain the demise at post-mortem, except non-specific signs of sudden cardiac failure. Unfortunately, the underlying reason for a large blood vessel in the abdomen or chest breaking and causing major bleeding in a horse is usually not clear.

Bloomberg may sound callous when he says that the horse would be dead if it had no job, but he’s also correct. The US horse population is in crisis. Even before the recession a surge in hay prices led to a rise in welfare cases, and this problem  has only worsened – as I noted in an earlier post, there are an estimated 100,000 unwanted horses in the States, and only 13,400 places in sanctuaries and recues. If you want to see what neglect and cruelty look like, here are some current cases in the US, drawn from a quick Google News search of the last week or so:

And that’s without counting the 140,000 horses per year making long, cruel journeys to slaughter in Canada and Mexico.

EDITED TO ADD: Aaaaand the necropsy results. Charlie had only been on the job a few weeks after a working life with an Amish farmer, and by the looks of it, a more thorough vetting should have been done.  He had a tooth problem and stomach ulcers. Would a five-stage vetting have picked up the ulcers? The teeth should have been one of the first things to be checked. Whether either of these resulted in a heart attack, I have no idea, but if something like a cracked tooth wasn’t assessed before he started work in the city, then there needs to be stricter monitoring of the horses chosen for work.

EDITED TO ADD: the vet who spoke on behalf of the ASPCA on the necropsy has retracted her allegations of neglect. The ASPCA promptly suspended her. From the NYT:

… a few days later, the society’s head equine veterinarian took it upon herself to issue a “correction” stating that in fact there was no evidence that the horse, Charlie, was experiencing any pain, that the ulcers he had were common in all breeds of working horses, and that any implication that Charlie was being abused was misleading.Now the vet, Pamela Corey, has been suspended without pay by the society in the latest volley over the contentious subject of carriage-horse welfare in New York City.

The society declined to discuss why Dr. Corey had been suspended but said it had gone back and forth with her over drafts of its original news release about Charlie’s death. “We believe there are no factual differences between our original statement of 10/31/11 and the one Dr. Corey asked to issue,” said Elizabeth Estroff, senior vice president of communications for the A.S.P.C.A.

Here’s a link to an open letter concerning the pressure Dr Corey felt she was under to spin the necropsy results – which, along with Charlie’s body, have not been released by the ASPCA.


December 4th, 2011, update. A new piece in the New York Post:

An NYPD cop-turned-animal-welfare agent is stepping forward to charge that the ASPCA is cutting ethical and legal corners in its attempt to abolish the city’s horse-carriage industry.

“It’s like targeting. It’s like racial profiling,” Henry Ruiz said of the agency’s efforts to uncover wrongdoing in the century-old industry.

Ruiz said the ASPCA commissioned an independent study about four years ago that determined the horses were well cared for. He said the study was never released because it clashed with the ASPCA’s agenda. The agency claimed no such study exists.

In his nine years with the ASPCA, Ruiz said he never witnessed cruelty involving a carriage horse.

But he said that didn’t stop the agency from routinely dispatching agents to patrol the horse line outside Central Park, especially around the Christmas holidays.

“You were supposed to give out at least 10 [summonses] that night,” he recalled.

Necropsy report for the horse here.

Strange Girls and Fairytale Horses

Please click through to see these wonderfully sinister horse-headed girls and a horse called White Wings with a trailing, Rapunzel mane and tail, which led me on to this page of long-haired Oregon horses of the nineteenth century:

“In the early history of Oregon traditions of a herd of magnificent wild horses that roamed at will over her mountains and valleys were told the settlers, and, like many other tales of like character, seemed beyond belief. It was said this herd was led by an enormous chestnut stallion, whose mane and tail were so abundant and of such length as to almost envelop the entire animal in a wealth of flowing hair. For years this ‘Wild King of Oregon Wonder Horses’ roamed over the country, ever alert to stampede his followers and flee with almost the rapidity of the wind at the approach of a human being.”

Thank you to William13 for the link.