How Byron Invented the Wild Horse – and How to Tune into The Age of the Horse

I have a new essay for LitHub about the surprisingly scandalous story behind our Romantic ideas about wild horses, and some lovely news: The Age of the Horse is now available as an audiobook.

I’d have loved to include this bit of doggerel I found when researching the story of wild horses – it’s clearly inspired by the stage play and was published in the Bristol Mercury, on March 19th, 1836. In The Waterfall, a series of wild animals approach a waterfall but all turn away in fear, until the last verse:

The wild horse thee approaches in his turn:
He changes not his proudly rapid stride;
His mane stands up erect, his nostrils burn—
he snorts, he pricks his ears, and starts aside;
Then, rushing madly forward to thy steep,
He dashes downward into thy torrents deep.

The photo above is the last “tarpan” in captivity. The colt was captured on the Zagradovsk steppe in 1866 and is unlikely to be a “pure” bred wild horse. He was kept in Moscow Zoo. Image and information in public domain, via Wiki Commons.

The Half-flayed Horse: your Hallowe’en story

Some men drove their horse and gig to Greenbank on the island Yell in Shetland. They left the horse outside a pub and went in to drink without ensuring it had water. The frustrated horse pawed at a barrel of porter, split it open and drank all the booze.
When the men re-emerged much later, the horse was not looking good. They climbed into the gig and shook the reins and the horse keeled over – apparently dead. Loathe to lose money, the men flayed its hide and went home on foot.

They were woken a short time after they clambered into their beds by a clattering in the yard. To their horror, it was the horse, skinless, and “very cowld”.

The farmers had recently killed some sheep for the winter so they hastened to get the sheepskins and clap them onto the flayed horse.

The sheepskins grew very naturally onto the horse, and thereafter the farmers got the wool of five or six sheep from it each year.
Adapted from The Lore of Scotland: a Guide to Scottish Legends by the peerless Jennifer Westwood and Sophia Kingshill.

Welcome to The Age of the Horse


“In 5,500 years of domestication humans have transformed horses’ bodies into everything from buttons to a physical reincarnation from the mythical past of a nation. This is not a history of the horse, but it is a story of six ways in which we have recreated it, from Wildness to Culture, Power to Meat, Wealth to War.”

The Age of the Horse was published by Atlantic Books in the UK and by Grove Atlantic in the USA. Kyoko Matsuo translated the book for Hara Shobo, who published it in Japanese.

Amazon UK  Book Depository  A Great Read  Alibris  Angus & Robertson Waterstones   Booktopia

US: Amazon   Barnes and Noble  Books a Million  Powells  Shop Indie! Hudson Booksellers

Australia: Booktopia

Japan: Amazon

Audiobook: Tantor.