Thursday, 30 September 2010

Horse in the house?

It took me a while to work out what's going on here, but I've got it now.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Well done Laura....

and the British dressage team, who won a team silver last night at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. I was working late last night, but finished just in time to see Laura Bechtolsheimer's ride on Mistral Hojris, scoring 82.51%. Not a tail swish in sight - it was quite, quite beautiful. Thank you BBC for showing it. I'll post a video as soon as one pops up on the net.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Another old smithy - Carlton on Trent

The visit to the blacksmith's was a helpful plot device for so many pony books; all lost now the farrier comes to you, though there is of course the long wait until the farrier turns up, the sudden dearth of mobile phone contact from said farrier as you wait about, the deep frustration as you finally give up, and then the twilight trek up to the field, armed with threats as you spot someone trudging around there after the horses, only to find it is the farrier, turned up at last.

Below is the traditional scene beloved of pony books:

and here, because I am on a bit of an old equestrian building mission at the moment, is another smithy: this one is at Carlton-on-Trent, and the picture comes from Riding Magazine, July-Sept 1944. At that time, the occupant was F Naylor, who put up the noticeboard with the verse.

F Egerton, who sent in the picture, sent in the text of the verse as well:

Gentlemen as you pass by
upon this Shoe pray cast an eye;
If it be too strait I'll make it wider
I will ease the Horse and please the Rider.
If lame from showing as they often are
You may have them eased with the greatest care.

This smithy still exists; it was listed in 1961. Whether it had acquired its rather unsympathetic black and white colour scheme by then I do not know: listing generally lists a building as it was at the point of listing, so it's at least possible, though a shame. The original probably had a lot more subtlety of colour: even it was black and white, the modern day version looks rather ersatz now.

It looks as if the building is now a garage: the listing describes the arch as being filled in with garage doors. Could be worse, I suppose.

Later photograph copyright Mr Terence G Onyon

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The best dressed child rider

I always thought when Ann won the Best Dressed Child Rider in Ruby Ferguson's A Stable for Jill that there had been another competitor there with flowing ringlets. Alas, there was not. Flowing green velvet with ostrich feathers yes; Susan Pyke in black and silver hanging on her horse's neck yes, but ringlets no.

Never mind.

Here's some flowing ringlets:

This child was a regular fixture in the advertisements in Riding. Here she is in 1942, and she was still going in 1952. Those ringlets are so very much the antithesis of all that good sense and sensible dressing one was recommended in pony books. I wonder if the child rode, and if she did, how long those ringlets stayed in.

I was so delighted by this photograph I had high hopes for the White oeuvre as it developed over the decades, but alas, these more restrained examples are typical of its later output.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Equine buildings - the blacksmith's, Roxby

I came across the photograph below in a World War II copy of Riding magazine from Jan-March 1943. Riding was then down to 4 issues every year, down from the monthly pre-war issue rate. The war was reflected, however briefly, in much of the correspondence columns. J D Robinson contributed this photograph, which is of a blacksmith's shop at Roxby, North Yorkshire, purely so readers of the magazine could see it - a small break from the pressures of war. Another correspondent in the same issue talked of the importance of being able to have some relaxation so that war work could be carried on - "The Managing Director of a certain aircraft factory puts in a superhuman number of hours on the job... He has turned to the horse now, and relies on this to give him the brief relaxation necessary to enable him to carry on work at such terrific pressure."

Looking at this building must have had a little of the same affect. I have never seen anything like it, and my immediate thought when seeing it was to wonder if it still existed. So many fascinating buildings have been bulldozed out of existence in the interests of expedience or profit.

It does. It was listed on November 20, 2001 - rather late bearing in mind its unusual form. J Turton Esq, physician to George III, bought the manor of Roxby from the Boynton family. He died in 1806 and had no children, so his estates were left to Edmund Peters, who took the name of Turton. The Turton family built the school in the village, and presumably this range of cottages as they are inscribed, rather unmissably, Turton Cottages 1858 above the doorway.

The building is no longer a forge. Now that farriers generally travel to you rather than the other way around, I suppose the building became redundant. What the building is currently used for I am not sure; presumably it has not been used as a forge for some time, as a website about the local area is unaware of its former purpose.

It's lovely to see it's still there. I wonder if there will ever be a world in which it will return to its original use.

Original photograph, J D Robinson, Riding Magazine, Jan-Mar, 1943

Modern photograph - © Copyright Stanley Nixon. Many thanks for sending the photograph to me.

Friday, 24 September 2010

Gelding - the invisible practice

I've been reading some of the early animal literature in the Hockliffe Collection, a collection of children's literature which is available on the net. There's rather more about dogs and cats - Mary Martha Sherwood's The Little Woodman and his Dog Caesar (1818), described as being as "thoroughly entertaining and as heavily didactic as it is possible to be," and Mary Pilkington's Marvellous Adventures; or, the Vicissitudes of a Cat (1802) being just two, but there is one about a pony. This is The Memoirs of Dick, the Little Poney (1799 - Anon).

Later children's literature about horses, most notably Black Beauty, does not shy away from cruelty, and leaves readers in little doubt about the miseries of the bearing rein or long and hideous hours of over work. It is strangely shy, though, about gelding. Black Beauty must presumably have been gelded - the vast majority of male horses are - but the subject is simply never mentioned. For Black Beauty, like many of his successors in horse literature, gelding appears to have happened by magic, buried in the blank pages between chapters.

Not so Dick.

"....they next proceeded to an operation, the exquisite torture and fatal consequences of which I still feel in reflection, though delicacy forbids me to explain it. Nature produced me a male, but my tyrants were not satisfied with her decrees, and they deprived me of all the privileges of my sex, except those of mere existence."

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Morning walk

Which actually happened yesterday, but which I haven't had chance to load until today.

It's a very deceptive photograph this - I did it just to show the mist, and it looks a rural idyll on first sight. However, if you look closely, modern life is certainly present. You can clearly see the two railway lines, and also the mobile phone mast to the left. What you can't see is the A45 thundering away behind the tree line. At least the railway is intermittent. Just up from the picture is the village's old station, now thundered through. Nothing's stopped since Dr Beeching.

If the station were still working, my children would have walked past this view every day on their way to the school. As it is, we do a lift share with another family, and have a 10 mile round trip to take the children to our nearest station.

The rabbits have made full use of the railway embankment, and there is a huge warren. It has an eerily empty feel about it at the moment. I'm not sure if I'm just imagining it, but there's certainly not many droppings about, so I wonder what's happened to the rabbits.

There's masses of wild clematis about at the moment, and it's particularly beautiful with the little droplets on it. I'm glad I managed to photograph it as I'm not good at taking the camera out with me as a matter of course, and by the time I do remember, the things I wanted to photograph have changed. Generally it's as much as I can do to get self and dog out in the morning, with me being correctly shod. Have got this wrong a couple of times recently as I completely underestimated the amount of dew on the ground.

It's been a good year for fruit. Despite the hedges being flailed, there's still plenty of sloes. As I still have the ones I picked last year in the freezer, I don't think I'll indulge this year. Must try and think of something sensible to do with them that is not sloe gin, as we still have the unopened bottle a friend gave us last year.

I'm not entirely sure what's going on with the hawthorn here, but it doesn't look like normal autumn colouration to me.

It's amazing how flowers keep going. The scabious and the white campion (though not the red - I wonder why?) keep popping flowers out.

I wonder if my son will miss any of this as he heads off to his city university this Saturday. He was born in London, and spent his first 7 years there, so I wonder if the bustle of city life will seem in any way familiar. It's going to be very odd for us without him (though odd is not the word his sister would use).

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Review: Jessie Haas - Horse Crazy!

Horse Crazy!
1001 Fun Facts, Craft Projects, Games, Activities and Know-How for Horse-Loving Kids
Storey Publishing, 2009
£8.94 from Book Depository

Thanks to Storey Publishing for sending me this book to review.

This is Jessie Haas' book for horse crazy children: the nearest equivalent I can think of in the UK is the Pony Magazine Annual, but this is a much less frenetic read than that. Horse Crazy is full of equine facts, and dozens of projects: you can make a felt horse, find several different ways of plaiting manes; learn how to write your own horse story and make any amount of pony-themed things (and, as they say, much, much more). If you don't have a horse, that doesn't matter a bit: although there are things to do if you have a pony, there is far more that doesn't require one at all.

Although the book is American, and much of its information is based on American breeds and ways of doing things, the vast majority of it is still relevant to the UK, and even if it isn't, it's still interesting to find out how things are done. For any pony mad child, and particularly one who likes making things, this book will keep them quiet for hours.

They are unlikely to notice that the editing is occasionally a little peculiar: the book starts with a few pages on prehistoric horses, and then with a turn of the page you are into making a horseshoe photoframe, with the story of the early horse seemingly left hanging. This bamboozled me until I realised the story was continued after the photo frame. That is a minor quibble though; this is a thoroughly enjoyable book. Jessie Haas has no particular equine axe to grind: she suggests the reader makes their own mind up about contentious issues, which makes her a relief after some of the American authors I've been researching recently. She is always readable, never patronising, and is just the sort of adult I wish had been at my side as a ponymad child - never short of something to suggest, and better still, the sort of thing you actually want to do.

Thursday, 16 September 2010


I do love what the book trade calls ephemera: magazines; letters; all those other bits and pieces of paper that add to one's store of knowledge. In the copy of The Horse in Action I wrote about yesterday was a copy of the original bill, for £2 6 3, and bought on February 21st 1955.

J A Allen were famed as equestrian publishers and booksellers. Established in 1926, they had a shop in Lower Grosvenor Place, selling books both new and old. J A Allen were taken over in 1999 by Robert Hale. The imprint still exists. The shop, alas, no longer does: it is one of my lasting regrets that I never got to visit it, but its unique savour is marvellously described by Caroline Baldock, who worked there.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Boughton House

Despite having lived pretty close to Boughton House for most of my life, I have never actually been. The house is open for a month every summer, and usually when the place swims into my consciousness as somewhere to look at, it's closed. So, it's taken me jolly nearly half a century, but at last I've been round. Here's Boughton, which is the Northamptonshire home of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry. It is very, very grand. As far as I know, nothing of the original Medieaval buildings remains. The house took its present form when Ralph, 1st Duke of Montagu returned from the court of Louis XIV, where he had been an ambassador, inspired by Versailles. The house is very unified externally; it's not the glorious hotchpotch that is Apethorpe, and which I must admit I prefer.

Apethorpe though is utterly empty. Boughton is very, very full. It is one of those houses where things turn up which had been forgotten about for centuries. You are not allowed to photograph anything inside the house, but I can assure you the tours are well worth it. The paintings are stupendous, and if Boulle is your thing, you will be happy. Boughton House was never actually finished, and the tour includes the unfinished wing.

In common I suppose with a lot of large houses (certainly National Trust ones) the stables aren't used. One set has been converted into a rather good café, and the other has maintained its stable format, which I was cheered to see, as I do enjoy a good stable, and Giles Worsley's The British Stable, an Architectural and Social History, is on my Christmas list.

The splendid carriage defeated my photographic skills as it was beneath a very large window.

I liked the beautiful matching fire extinguishers:

and was utterly charmed by the leather boots worn by the pony who pulled the lawn mower.

I was rather less charmed by the gardens, or at least the new feature, Orpheus - there is a beautiful, and immaculate, white garden in one of the courtyards. The gardens as a whole had suffered from benign neglect and have been undergoing restoration for the last 30 years (and they're not there yet). Orpheus, the current Duke says, is "a vision of power and intelligence, prompting awe-tinged surprise. Here we can rediscover the importance of landscape, ponder how it plays on our senses and how we take our place within it. The creative Montagues of the 18th century, would, I think, have been intrigued."

I think I am obviously not the sort of intellectual gardener at whom this is aimed, as although I like the sharp lines of the stone rill I am left completely and utterly cold by the rectangular metal structure you can see to the left of the photograph above, which certainly appears to have little to do with the rest of the structure from a distance. Maybe one is supposed to ponder this relationship, or it becomes clearer once one is nearer. As we walked away, the thing I was left pondering was how on earth they manage to cut the grass in the inverted pyramid.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Fancy dress is still not dead

And if you don't have the time to make the costume yourself, why not pay someone else to? Thanks to Susannah for sending this.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Horses in Ireland

There are more horses per head of population in Ireland than in the rest of Europe (150,000) and more are being produced all the time. Unfortunately, the Irish economy is no longer producing the money to care for these horses. In good times, horses were bought as status symbols; kept for sentimental reasons; bred because you could. Now horses are being dumped or neglected. Irish rescue centres are already full, in the summer, when usually they expect not to be. Horses are more likely to be handed over in the winter, when forage disappears and horses are expensive to keep, but the centres are already full.

Is a cull the only answer? This excellent article is sad, particularly, for the way it makes clear how much of horse keeping (not only in Ireland, of course) is down to what humans think and want, which unfortunately does not necessarily have anything to do with what the horse wants.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

The joys of cataloguing

I haven't catalogued anything for ages, so have boxes and boxes of books lurking. So, it is about time I got on with it, and I am tackling my main love, the horse and pony books, first. Sometimes it's a good job, mine. Particularly gorgeous is C W Anderson's Heads Up - Heels Down, which will be in the next set of books uploaded to the database, hopefully at the end of this week.

I had to have another look at this book to restore my faith in readers after opening the next book in the pile. It was obviously owned previously by a very, very heavy smoker. I was knocked back by the reek. The book is now consigned to the book deodorising crystals, where I think it might have to be for some time. This wasn't such a grim experience as some I had when I worked at the library. This was in the dim and distant past when we still hired out videos (them new fangled DVDs were few and far between). When one came in, we had to open it up to check the video was actually there, and hadn't been chewed by either the baby or the dog. The absolute worst videos to open were the ones which had been borrowed by people who smoked and had an addiction to deep fat frying. There was something about the videotape which seemed to take the worse elements of both, add in a touch of rancid decay, and then stew it all to a fetid reek which then leapt out at you when you opened the case. Very good at holding in the stench, is your average video case.

Heads Up - Heels Down is a very useful thing to focus on when your stomach is heaving.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Dressage again

Thanks Haffyfan for this video.

Again I'm handicapped by my ignorance of both disciplines: can anyone tell me why the reining horse is holding his head so low? Whatever his head's doing, I thought the reining rider was incredibly relaxed, and I know which horse I'd rather be on. The dressage horse looked stiff in contrast (imo), particularly in the pirouette, which he looked reluctant to do.

Here's the video Susanna mentioned in the comments to the Rollkur piece. This shows Stephanie Croxford and Mr President:

I particularly like the end, where he's enjoying the applause - as you will probably have gathered by now, I don't have a lot of sympathy for the "I can't do a prize presentation as my oh so sensitive horse will explode" brigade. If a horse can't stand noise like applause, it makes me wonder a. what life's like at home - does everyone creep round in cowed silence? and b. why some time can't be devoted to training the horse to become used to noise/umbrellas/mice or whatever else spooks it. Like normal people do, in fact.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Model Horses in the early 1950s

I have a feeling that heading might be promising a lot more than I can actually deliver: I've recently bought a collection of 1940s and 1950s Riding Magazines, and here are the three model horse advertisements I've found.

Firstly, there's Edith Reynolds. The ad below appeared in the November 1949 edition.

Here is Edith Reynolds two years later, in the November 1951 edition. After two years, she evidently had not sorted out her supply problems, which leads me to think the company was a one woman operation. Demand was obviously still high, despite the cost. These creatures were only stocked in expensive London shops.

Julip have just one advertisement in the magazines I have. The company was just seven years old when this advertisement appeared in August 1953.

These models must be among the earliest of the Julip originals. The models certainly looked quite different when the company was created in 1945. Ursula Hourihane wrote a book called The Tale of Julip, published around 1948, illustrated with photographs by Gee Denes of the current Julip models, which were completely unlike what was to come. Positively fanciful, these ones were. Scroll down this link, which shows the horses being made.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Review: Patricia Leitch

Patricia Leitch: For Love of a Horse & A Devil to Ride
Catnip, 2010

The Jinny books have been odd ones to review. It's the first time that I've had to take a book I read as a teenager, and look at it from a critical, adult point of view. I wasn't at all sure how the process was going to end up. I liked the Jinny books I'd read as a teenager - actually only these two, the first of which, For Love of a Horse, came out when I was 14. After the second one, I decided I was Too Old for pony books (not old enough to give them away - sister and I packed them all up and kept them) and so didn't read any of the rest of the series until I was in my 30s.

Jinny, when I read her first, was a bit too close for comfort. Sensible, funny Jill was who I wanted to be, winning prizes and having copable-with adventures. Jinny was so emotional - pigheaded, awkward and just plain wrong at times. I didn't, at the age of 14, think the way that Jinny actually gets Shantih was a tad unbelievable, and that was something that struck me this time round. Jinny Manders and her family are moving from urban Stopton to Finmory, in the Highlands of Scotland. On the way, they visit a circus, where Shantih is appearing as Yasmin, the wild Arabian mare. She is badly treated, and from the moment Jinny sees her, she is obsessed by the mare. Jinny and her family witness a road accident, in which the circus is involved, and Jinny manages to free Shantih from the wreckage. She gallops off into the moors, and is sold off by the ringmaster to a local farmer, the Manders' neighbour.

Jinny is determined to find the mare for herself. She calls her Shantih, but Shantih attaches herself to Mr Mackenzie's herd of Shetlands, who run on the moors, and Jinny cannot get near her. It takes almost complete disaster for Shantih before Jinny succeeds.

Plot quibbles apart, I suppose I am struck most, on re-reading, by how much I identify with Jinny now. When I was Jinny's age, I didn't want to be her. I was at the age when being the one who was different was something I desperately didn't want. Jill fitted in. Why couldn't I be Jill? Jinny accepts she's the way she is in a way that's taken me decades to do. It's Patricia Leitch's genius, I think, in portraying a teenage girl with such accuracy and passion. Although there are many, many pony books which have heroines who love ponies, there are few which have the great galloping passion that Enid Bagnold gave Velvet Brown in National Velvet, and which Patricia Leitch gave Jinny. Enid Bagnold wrote this about Velvet:

“I tell myself stories about horses,” she went on, desperately fishing at her shy desires. “Then I can dream about them. Now I dream about them every night. I want to be a famous rider, I should like to carry despatches, I should like to get a first at Olympia, I should like to ride in a great race, I should like to have so many horses that I could walk down between the two rows of loose boxes and ride what I chose. I would have them all under fifteen hands, I like chestnuts best, but bays are lovely too, but I don’t like blacks.”

And couldn't that be Jinny? The first book's misnamed really: it's not just love Jinny has for Shantih, it's passion. Nothing stands in its way; not Jinny's family, and certainly not her safety.

I suppose that to love ponies is acceptable: lots of girls do it and it's seen, rather indulgently, as a phase they go through before they move on to boys. What a lot of people don't realise, or would prefer not to see, is that teenage emotions run very deep indeed. Passion is something that's rather different to the quieter shores of love, and that's why I think Jinny can be uncomfortable reading. Passion isn't comfortable.

Now I'm older, I can absolutely appreciate Jinny. She was never going to take life quietly, and certainly never going to go meekly off and do a secretarial course, like Jill. Re-reading these first two stories has been an experience. I hope sales mean that Catnip republish the whole series.

These new editions are, I think, the most attractive of the Jinny editions. They're trade paperbacks, and therefore larger than the originals, and are printed on decent paper, so should last rather better than the originals. The horse on the cover is owned by Karen Budkiewicz, who took the photographs for these new editions. You can see more of Karen's work here, and some mock ups of covers on this post on my forum. "Do they want to use my horse for the cover?" she said. Well, yes, they did.

Ponies in a pub

Despite the cosy title to this post, which sounds like a slightly off Lucy Daniels, this isn't a cutesome post; what you see in the clip below is just vile. The way these ponies are kicked, pulled about and spat on is appalling.

Jinny Quiz - the results!

Congratulations to Mairi Mackechnie, the winner! The answers to the quiz are here.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Rollkur again

Or should that be LDR? Anky van Grunsven, Dutch dressage gold medallist, is suing Astrid Appels, a journalist on, for illustrating an article on rollkur with a picture of Anky's horse Salinero. Anky says her method of training is not rollkur, despite looking to the uninitiated (and I include myself here) remarkably similar. I've written about rollkur before; it's a training technique used by some dressage riders. Anky's version of this she calls Low, Deep, Round. To me they both look the same: the horse is ridden for long periods with its chin pulled into its chest.

I don't like the way a lot of dressage at the top level looks: I am not even at the foothills of dressage, but to me a horse swishing its tail, with its ears back, is an unhappy and tense horse, and that is how some horses look at the top level of the sport. I still think it ludicrous that Anky won the gold medal at the Beijing Olympics with a halt that was nothing of the sort, and Isabell Werth won silver with this display:

Dressage judges are doing the sport no favours at all allowing its stars to still win medals with performances which contain such gross errors. It wouldn't happen in other subjectively judged sports: fall off the beam in gymnastics and your chances are gone; hit the ice in figure skating and you have no chance.

Here is Reine Klimke, and Ahlerich in 1984, having won the Olympic gold:

Lovely relaxed horse, and none of this ridiculous oofing about not doing the victory parade because your horse cannot cope with it.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Tony Blair

Doing the school stationery run with daughter today in WH Smith, saw plenty of copies of Tony Blair's memoirs, A Journey, out today. Did briefly consider buying it, TB being a politician who arises in me the sort of ire only Margaret Thatcher has previously (I am catholic in my loathing). I do enjoy a choleric splutter every now and then at something I know will infuriate me. Do not want, however, to encourage him to write more by increasing sales, so decided to borrow the library's copy, for which I feel I can wait, should there already be a long list of prospective borrowers. Adding a bit more to the library's borrowing figures will after all be a help.

I was struck though by a mention in the radio coverage earlier this week, of "a lengthy passage in which he expresses his regrets over the hunting ban, which he never really supported but which he found himself “trapped” into accepting. Most controversially, he says that he did his best to ensure that the ban was never properly policed."
(The Times, Sept 01, 2010).

Oddly, this does not make me think what a decent chap TB, must, after all, be. If something is a free vote, as the vote on hunting was supposed to be, why not express one's opinion at the time, freely? And where on earth is the merit, the pat on the back, for enmeshing the judiciary and the police in an unworkable law?