Another Happy Ending After Amersham

I wrote about Redwings Horse Sanctuary and the Amersham case in If Wishes Were Horses. Spindles Farm in Amersham was a horror show: dozens of horses in a state of starvation and neglect that was hard to comprehend. Redwings were instrumental in coordinating the rescue, and are still caring for many of the horses. Here’s one of them kicking up his hairy heels for joy.

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: Diminutive Dianas

Here’s some Pathé footage of the International Horse Show at Olympia in 1920 (spot the hydrangeas and the standard lamp shades!), the King’s Gold Cup in 1921,  opening day in 1922 (plus side-saddle) and a little showjumping. You can just make out the backdrop of Lowther Castle in this film from 1923.

And this – now, how I wish I’d found this when I was writing the book! – this is a special clip of women, girls and their horses at Olympia in 1930. “Motorcars have not driven from Eve her love for a four-footed friend.” Quite right! And my goodness, the elegance of those top-hatted ladies riding side-saddle (there’s even an arena-level shot), the smart pony carriages and the girls in their felt hats. Towards the end of the film they all don costumes from the 1860s and climb onto stage coaches. Magic.

Karen Krizanovich alerted me to this site which features a “midget handsome cab” at Olympia in the 1920s: pony up front, little girl riding inside and boy playing cabbie.

World Horse Welfare have some biographical details about their founder, Ada Cole, here, while the horse home named for her is now managed by Redwings. Dorothy Brooke is celebrated by the aid organisation she launched to save old British war horses in Cairo; the Brooke has now evolved into an international charity which uses direct aid and education to improve the working lives of the donkeys, horses and mules that sustain the economy of the developing world. There’s nothing sentimental about the fact that the health of these animals can make a critical difference to the welfare of the families that own them.  I can’t endorse them strongly enough!

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.

Fly Grazing: Legal Precedent?

Vale of Glamorgan council are moving faster now, perhaps in light of the episode in which forty horses were left to trash Woodland Trust land. Sixty horses dumped on land near Cardiff Airport have been rehomed via charities like Redwings, Horse World and the Bransby Home of Rest for Horses. The BBC reports:

… as the landowner, the council had been left to foot the bill for their care and welfare.

Under the Animals Act 1971, a landowner can issue a 14-day notice for the owner of animals left on its land to claim them, after which the landowner becomes the legal owner.

A letter in the local Penarth Times draws attention to the frequency with which fly grazing occurs in the Vale:

This mass grazing started around mid-January 2011 and by the end of February, to local knowledge, there had been at least six to seven deaths, including two fatalities before December 2010.

The numbers of horses and ponies vary from 150 to 400 at any stage, all at different locations, however when they don’t have food they break out or are let out. Every day horses are out on public highways, dual carriageways, school rugby fields, and busy A roads. Police are regularly called out, up to 30 times in any one week.

In the spring of 2011, 20 horses were dumped at Rhoose Airport site. All were re-homed except for one which had to be put to sleep.

However, later in the year a considerable number of foals were dumped in the same field, with one thrown over the fence. She was taken in by the Society for the Welfare of Horses and Ponies but later had to be put to sleep due to a broken pelvis. A number of others also died from Strangles, a dreadful disease. But these horses and ponies are still being moved around, spreading the disease.

Horses are struggling in South Wales, through no fault of their own. Last year commoners on Gower complained about the low value of their horses, which grazed on public land, and seventy strays were abandoned in Llanelli. Free-roaming horses were fitted with high-visibility collars after being hit by cars. The admin involved in introducing horse ownership licences would be huge and the loopholes inevitable, but when you read about case after case of fly grazing and neglect, it’s hard not to consider it.

21–05–2012 update: Horse and Hound on a bid to alter the law so that field owners can passport and sell horses left on their land.

Whole Heap of Little Horse Links

Thank you to Christina for this link about an Olympic three-day-event hopeful who survived a catastrophic barn fire. The NYT features includes a short film and a slideshow.

Christina also sent this extraordinary story about a rescued horse. It’s not so much the rescue that stands out, as the practice it sheds light on. Apparently the height of sophistication of STD testing in the horse world consists of breeding a mare to a newly imported stallion and seeing if the mare develops any diseases. Every bit as foul as the Premarin mares… This mare was lucky to be rescued, albeit with permanent damage to her reproductive system. UPDATE: Corinna has researched the story behind this, and I suggest you mosey over to her blog to have a read.

The Independent on Sunday has a long feature on the epidemic of horse abandonment and neglect in the UK. Redwings Horse Sanctuary has declared itself full. Redwings. ENORMOUS Redwings. I visited their HQ at Hapton in Norfolk two years ago for a chapter of If Wishes Were Horses, and was amazed by their incredible facilities: post-and-rail paddocks as far as the eyes could see, a fully equipped veterinary hospital, rehab facilities and retraining for adoption. They also have a healthy annual income. If Redwings can’t cope with the demand for shelter for unwanted British horses, no one can. Worrying stuff.

Side-saddle enthusiast Cindy Simms (whose grandmother was at the vanguard of the side-saddle revival movement of the 1970s) is looking for an off-side saddle. Blogger Sidesaddle Girl may have found the solution: a brand new piece of tack made by Zaldi in Spain.

More cheerily, someone at HHO provided a link to British eventer Phoebe Buckley’s 2010 round up of bloopers, which is great fun. Watch for the hair-raising stuff at 1.20!

Déjà Vu is Bad for Horses

In 2008 an obscene benchmark was set in the large-scale abuse of horses when RSPCA inspectors finally gained access to the premises of a horse dealer in Amersham, Buckinghamshire and discovered 125 horses, ponies and donkeys in an advanced state of neglect , surrounded by the corpses of a further 35 animals. The words “Spindles Farm” evoke some horrendous sights, and are also shorthand for an equine nightmare. Sad then, to see a thread on HHO about “another Spindles Farm” – this time in Northern Ireland. At Lisnevenagh Road in Antrim over 60 animals required immediate treatment and rescue. Redwings reports:

Investigating officer Sgt Alison Liddle said, “When police arrived at Lisnevenagh Road we were met with a truly heartbreaking scene. These animals were effectively starving to death in the most dire of conditions – there was no clean bedding, no water and nowhere for them to move around. Live animals were being forced to live next to the rotting carcasses of other dead animals. No animal should be made to endure such horrendous cruelty.

“Every officer who attended has been affected by what they saw. This has made us determined to pursue the persons responsible and make sure they are found amenable for their despicable cruelty in a court of law.

The charities leading the rescue effort are Redwings, Crosskennan Lane Animal Sanctuary and the Donkey Sanctuary. Crosskennan are already hard pushed to meet rising numbers; if you can help as a volunteer or by raising funds, please click here. Video footage from the BBC here.

Feeling Your Oats?

When I visited Redwings Horse Sanctuary they told me they kept Weetabix to feed to colicky horses. I don’t think this is what they had in mind…

Non-UK readers might need to watch the original 1970s TV credits, repeatedly, to get the joke, or just because it’s guaranteed to make you misty-eyed. This is my ring tone. Honest.