The Noblest of Animals: The Horse, ‘Breed’ and British National Identity, 1900 to 1914.
“As the poet Lindsay Gordon put it, and many British horsemen and women genuinely believed, without ‘the stud’ and ‘the land’ and ‘the chase’ the British ‘breed’ would itself die. Portrayals of the horse’s place in British society in the early twentieth century reflected the ideas and attitudes of the people by, and for whom, they were created. This paper will explore such portrayals to discover what Gordon meant by ‘breed’ and why it was that the horse was so closely allied with imagined ideas of Britishness. It was thought, for example, that the horse shared many admirable strengths with those of the British people; such as kindness, courage, sagacity, gentleness and strength of character. All of these traits were thought to be found upon the hunting field and amongst those most closely connected to the horse and ‘the land’. The British ‘breed’ may only ever have been an illusion in reality, but it was nevertheless a powerful driver of British national identity in the early twentieth century. Inevitably the horse’s symbolic and emotional connection with ‘breed’ leads us into a complex world of contrasts, contradiction and moral complexity.”
I’ll let you all know once it’s published. Meanwhile, back to the book proposal… TTFN!
This week, the ongoing saga of the publishing proposal took a new and interesting turn. Feeling that my project as it stands would be too “narrow”, my (hopefully) publisher have suggested that I might like to expand it to cover The Boer War, The Great War AND The Second World War. My first reaction was one of, I have to confess, utter horror. However, after a brief foray into the archives and a preliminary snoop about, the idea of delving into the soldier-horse relationship post-1939 really appeals. Already, interesting material is revealing itself. Not least, some very interesting interviews with veterans, who all talk about the respectful approach to their mules that soldiers quickly came to find worked the best. I have never met a mule, but I imagine they prefer to be ‘asked’ rather than ‘told’. Who was ‘the boss’ in this relationship is debatable, but I would be inclined to suggest that it was the soldiers who worked with the mules and that it was the mules who, in fact, did most of the training. So, the next task is to review (again), revise (yet again) and resubmit (third time lucky?) my proposal and hope that this time it gets the go-ahead. Fingers crossed!
Last week Matt Edwards and I finished working on ‘Horses and Stables’. We used a similar approach to ‘Animal Management 1933’. I think it is safe to say that what we have achieved is nothing if not miraculous. What an improvement! This isn’t a particularly valuable or rare title, but it is one that I have used a lot in my work, and continue to use on a regular basis. I would like to think that Colonel Fitzwygram would have been pleased to see his excellent book still being read, and admired, in the twenty first century. Here’s to another hundred and something years!
‘Between 1840 and 1869 almost three hundred thousand
men, women, and children undertook an epic overland
journey across North America in search of new lives
and new opportunities. This voluntary human emigration
has been well documented. However, until now,
nothing had been said about the tens of thousands of
oxen, horses, and mules who enabled them to accomplish
the journey. Diana Ahmad’s book addresses this oversight
by writing animals back into this important period
of North America’s history.’
Please follow the link below to read the full article:
This is Colonel Frederick Fitzwygram’s wonderful book on horse and stable management. First published in 1862, it was in print well into the 1900s. Fitzwygram was influential in improving veterinary care in the British Army. He had a particular interest in farriery – I believe there is a shoe named after him. Fitzwygram also advocated the good care of all horses. Although his advice has of course dated in some respects, and certainly in terms of the treatments that are now available to veterinarians, much of what he has to say is just as valid today as it was in 1862.
Pictured, is my copy of Horses and Stables which was purchased in a second-hand bookshop in London (for a song) about ten years ago. Little knowing that it would become one of the books I would endlessly refer to during my research!
Here is a sample of Colonel Fitzwygrams’ sage advice from the 1869 edition. He outlines the basic principles of good stable management as being: 1. a well-ventilated stable; 2. judicious watering and feeding; 3. good forage; 4. good grooming; 5. good shoeing; 6. sufficient and well-regulated exercise. He then goes on to tell us:
These are no doubt simple recipes for successful stable management, – too simple perhaps for many, who believe that there is a mystery in stable management known only to a few. Yet from neglect of these common and obvious requirements, few horses look as well as they ought to do. Many become sick or lame, and thus entail trouble, expense, and loss, which might easily have been avoided. To ensure the highest development of health and strength, not one or two or even three of these essentials are sufficient, but all must be combined. Your cannot have strength in a chain, if any one link be defective.
If you are the sort of horse person who notices when Poldark’s horse keeps changing colour, or that the horse Merlin set off on several hours ago (usually at a gallop) is miraculously still also trotting about in Camelot, then you’ll enjoy Tim Pears’ The Horseman. It proceeds at a steady pace, with lots of wonderfully wrought horse-centric details. The story is set in the early twentieth century and centres around a boy called Leo and his love of the horses around him. I say it is steady, but perhaps evocative and stately would be more appropriate. But don’t be fooled, there is drama too. ((I won’t spoil it.) Published by Bloomsbury.
Bit of a change today, as I am currently writing a review of Diana Ahmad’s Success Depends on the Animals for H-Net. I have to say that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Diana’s book about emigrants and their animals on the overland trails in America from 1840 to 1869. What has perhaps fascinated me most are the strong parallels that can be drawn between the emigrants and their livestock and my own research into the soldier-horse relationship during The Great War. Diana describes how emigrants often knew very little about oxen, horses, or mules before undertaking their epic journey, but soon came to trust and respect the animals with whom they shared the dangers and privations of the overland trails. Like many soldiers of the First World War, they also realised the importance of always putting their animals’ needs first; often risking their own lives to save them from danger.
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