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.

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.

A Moustache: What the Well-Groomed Stallion is Wearing This Year

A survivor of Spindles Farm, happily esconced at the brilliant Redwings Horse Sanctuary. Not quite as impressive as that sported by Alfie, a Gloucestershire stallion, who featured in Metro this week. Maybe he should have laid off the hair gel?

“And a Grisly New Year…”

  • mutilated pony found in Hampshire ditch, police say “it would appear that its body has been mutilated to prevent it from being identified or its owners traced.”
  • filly with broken neck found in Buckinghamshire. “It was emaciated, had a broken neck and both hind legs were bound together and the rope tied to a gatepost. It is thought that the pony was tied to the gate while on the back of a trailer and was pulled off the vehicle and onto the road as it moved off.”
  • pony freezes to death after being trapped in a lake in Carmarthenshire.
  • Devon man caught on CCTV committing bestiality with horses over ten month period.
  • a herd of seventy stray, abandoned horses is causing chaos in Llanelli.
  • a seventeen-year-old Australian teenager has been charged with animal cruelty after dragging a Shetland pony stallion behind his car on Christmas day.

Good news? Good news there is!

  • Anapka the parasailing Russian donkey has a new home.
  • fourteen of the most vulnerable horses rescued from Spindles Farm by the Horse Trust are now thriving.
  • the wonderful Horse Rescue Fund in Norfolk is preparing for a springtime sponsored walk to raise money. They’re a great small charity who re-home most of their horses and have been campaigning against the live transport of horses for slaughter for decades. I knew a couple of their rescues – Woodstock and Orlando – at Cringleford Riding School in the eighties. One of their current residents snapped by me, below:

Bertie Bassett

Doping Horses

PHOENIX — Found tottering alone in the desert with their ribs visible and their heads hung low, horses play a backbreaking, unappreciated role in the multibillion-dollar drug smuggling industry.

Mexican traffickers strap heavy bales of marijuana or other illegal drugs to the horses’ backs and march them north through mountain passes and across rough desert terrain. With little food and water, some collapse under their heavy loads. Others are turned loose when the contraband gets far enough into Arizona to be loaded into vehicles with more horsepower.

Thank you to Ed for sending me this New York Times piece on some real drug mules. One theory floated about Spindles Farm suggested that James Grey was involved in drug smuggling: drugs stored under the floorboard of an occupied horse box would, in theory, be disguised from the noses of sniffer dogs by the scent of horse and manure. This was never substantiated.

Post-Christmas Trivia

  • On the 30th at 2pm, BBC Radio 7 broadcasts “Cinderella’s Ponies”, a documentary about 100 Shetland ponies who live in a field off the M4 and perform in pantos around the country every Christmas.
  • Jilly Cooper in the Guardian on Sefton, the Blues and Royals’ horse gravely injured in the 1982 IRA bombing at Hyde Park barracks.
  • More on Ireland’s horse disaster in the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal was on top of the US horse-abandonment story in January 2008.
  • The classic Western, True Grit, has been re-made. Here’s a byte about Cowboy, Cimarron and Apollo, the equine stars.
  • An interesting new study compares the British equine economy and structure to that of Sweden and the Netherlands and makes suggestions for improvements. Dr Georgina Crossman found that  “models within the other two countries show that alignment with government objectives and better awareness of the socio-economic contribution of the horse lead to a more rapid progression of industry priorities.”
  • A Spindles’ Farm survivor has been re-homed with the Horse Rangers.
  • I got a voucher for a side-saddle lesson for Christmas and am totally overexcited!