#MemberMonday: Laerke Recht

ridehesten copy


Laerke Recht 

PhD in Classics, Trinity College Dublin


BA in Philosophy and Greek & Roman Civilization, University College Dublin 

 

What got you in to history? In to equine history?

      I’m in that particular branch of history called archaeology. Part of what I work on is actually pre-history, meaning there are only limited evidence from literary sources. I started in Classics, but the courses I found the most exciting were always the archaeological ones, and slowly I was drawn more and more into that perspective. There is something very tangible about archaeology that appeals to all the senses, and for me at least, it has a way of being more reliable. This is in the sense that it is less susceptible to ancient hidden propaganda or personal agendas – anybody can write or say that they did so and so, but archaeological remains are harder to ‘fake’ (of course, there is a whole other set of challenges instead!). Then there is the undeniable thrill of discovery, of slowly peeling away layers of soil deposited by people living over 3000 years ago. I’m not talking about Indiana Jones moments of finding golden cups, but a small change in colour or texture, or that gradual reveal of one stone, then another, and a third, and soon you have a wall (this has become a bit of a joke in archaeology, there’s even a recent book titled after it). It may sound banal, but it’s the sense that something happened here a long time ago, and if we are careful to get as many clues as possible, we can work out what. Maybe a small family had a meal, maybe there was a battle that signified the end of an era. From small everyday acts to large-scale events, I think that quest for knowledge and connection with a deeper past and identity is there no matter what. 

     Equine history (or archaeology) is an almost inevitable combination of my research and my personal interests. I’ve lived with horses my whole life (ridden, trained, broken in, competed). I think I was in my first competition when I was five or six years old, and although I’ve had breaks for studies, it’s never been far away. The fascinating thing about any kind of training with a horse is that it always requires two, and you have to find a way to work together. My research has involved animals in one way or another from the start, but for a long time I’ve wanted to do something dedicated to a specific animal. I chose equids partly because of my personal experiences, and partly because it is an animal that is treated differently in the archaeological record.

Who is your favorite historical horse?

I have two.

     The first is Bucephalus. He was the horse of Alexander the Great, and according to the ancient historian Arrian, Alexander loved and admired him. He is the bold war horse that Alexander uses in his campaigns across western Asia. A city was named after Bucephalus. Arrian writes that “in former days he had shared with Alexander many a danger and many a weary march. No one ever rode him but his master, for he would never permit anyone else to mount him. He was a big horse, high-spirited – a noble creature.”

     The second is Hickstead (if I may call him historical). What a horse! This is totally influenced by my own preference for showjumping. The passion and love of jumping that is evident when watching him is just fantastic. Although the combination of Eric Lamaze and Hickstead could probably not have been better, it is such a joy to watch Hickstead take four different riders on a clear round for the Rolex Top Four Final. All excellent riders, but this was Hickstead taking them for a ride. I also love the fact that Hickstead as a personality and as an athlete was honoured by a minute of silence by all participants after his death in the Verona arena in 2011. This says a lot about human-equid relations in athletic contexts.

What are you working on right now?

     My current project is about human-equid relations in the ancient Near East. It is an EU-funded project (under the 2020 Horizon programme) which lets me do research on this topic in a holistic manner. I’m combining faunal, iconographic and epigraphic material.

     I have just finished looking at one of those incredibly controversial parts of equine history: that is, when horses were first domesticated. There are all sorts of challenges when attempting to identify equid species in the faunal record, and even more so when finding markers of domestication – as I’m sure many of the members here will know much about. What is of interest to me is how humans and equids related to each other, and hunting ‘wild’ animals for meat is a very different kind of relationship than one where they are ridden, or even kept and bred for meat/milk.

     I’ve just moved on to looking at the use of various kinds of chariots in the ancient Near East. Equids were ridden, but chariots were much more common. Since I am more familiar with riding, I’m now learning more about how the different parts of chariots and other wheeled vehicles affect how it can be used or what it is most suited for. It’s important because, to put it crudely, it comes down to a difference between war and peace. Were horses (and other equids) used mainly for peaceful activities (agriculture, processions) or for aggressive activities (battle, hunting)?

     My particular take on this topic is to look for the agency of equids – to recognize their behaviour (an attentive turning of the ear, an impatient stamping with a leg) and their shaping of human lives as well as the other way around.

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#SheflieSunday: Riding for Caesar

ridinfforc
Riding for Caesar: The Roman Emperors’ Horse Guards

Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts
1994
ISBN 978-0-674-76898-7
Michael P. Speidel

Review by Miriam Bibby

     Last summer (2017), the dispersed exhibition “Hadrian’s Cavalry” took place at venues along the length of Hadrian’s Wall, attracting large numbers of visitors. There were not only static exhibits, but also live displays of horsemanship drawing attention to the nature and function of the (almost exclusively auxiliary) cavalry units that occupied the northern Roman frontier.  

     In contrast, Speidel’s book brings to life a different and perhaps lesser-known aspect of the Roman cavalry – the emperor’s horse guards. Among many interesting aspects revealed in the book is the nature of the close networks that existed between those who served in the frontier cavalry and those who accompanied the emperor in Rome and also on his imperial journeys in peace and war. Whether in gala dress on the parade ground, clearing the crowds (often brutally) for the emperor as he passed through the streets, or skewering his enemies in battle, the elite horse guards of the ruler of Rome were a force to be reckoned with. 

     The relationship between the emperor and his horse guards offers a great opportunity for political and psychological exploration. Speidel’s examination of this aspect results in some reassessments of well-known incidents such as Caligula’s apparently random behaviour at Puteoli and on the Rhine.

     The keynote of the relationship, stressed throughout the book, was loyalty. Members of the horse guard were “tall, fierce and faithful” mounted warriors, drawn originally from the tribes of the lower Rhine, thus giving the guards the descriptive title “Batavi” that would accompany them through various incarnations. Plenty of pay, dispensed frequently, encouraged loyalty, but so did the emperor’s own ability to relate to and inspire his guards, not through words but deeds. Emperors such as Septimius Severus had the capability if not the charisma, but it’s easy to imagine others less able standing white-knuckled in front of their fearsome guard in a display of fake nonchalance.

     All the evidence suggests that the horse guards’ reputation, both as skilled horsemen and dangerous foes, was well-deserved. The tribes of the Rhine had a skill at their disposal that was the equivalent of an ancient secret weapon – dauntless courage in crossing rivers alongside their horses. The Rhine remained a psychological as well as a physical barrier during WWII, as Speidel reminds us with a modern description.  How this skill proved ultimately to be their downfall makes a gripping conclusion to their story.

     Speidel re-examines and reassesses the textual evidence relating to the guards to great effect. It is the funerary monuments of individual guardsmen that will probably prove most compelling to researchers of equine history. Here we see the grooms preparing horses by long-reining, a grizzled-looking trooper with his two horses, heads turned towards him, and observe the guardsmen’s devotion to the goddess Epona.

     By putting the focus onto the relationship between the emperor and the horse guards, Speidel gives genuinely new insights into the tense four-cornered game played out between the emperor, the imperial guards, the senate and the populace. Along the way, he also opens up new areas of interest to equestrian historians.

CFP: Relationships with Humans and Animals in the Middle East and North Africa Region

Middle East Studies Association Call for PapersScreen Shot 2018-01-15 at 11.26.23 AM

     Humans and other animals share spaces, impact each other daily through work and leisure, and create communities together. Levi Strauss is famous for saying animals are “good to think with.” As anthropology is beginning to make the post-humanist or animal turn, it is time to think about how animals affect and create each other and humans in various symbolic and material ways, constantly crossing and redrawing communal, ethical, and practical boundaries. Tim Mitchell writes about “making the mosquito speak”, and how these small malaria-carrying animals had an impact on the outcome between the British and German forces during the Second World War in Egypt. Scholars have gradually asked questions about the human-animals in the West or Global North, but what about the Global South, specifically the Middle East and North Africa (MENA)?

     Animals of any size are on the fringes of the human world, but play important and interesting roles in the various cultures of the MENA. Horses and falcons enjoy valorization and continued elevated status of “noble” creatures, are bought and sold for thousands of dollars, thus leading to their own industry in terms of racing, breeding, hunting, and other elite leisure pursuits. Donkeys and mules in Fes, Morocco continue to be of vital importance carrying items up and down the winding streets of the old city, which are two narrow and steep for cars and most motorcycles. Native snakes are continually needed for the snake charming tourist acts in Marrakesh. The Arabian oryx was hunted to extinction in the wild, reintroduced, and is the national animal of Jordan, Oman, UAE, Bahrain and Qatar. Whale and dolphin watching tours are a popular activity in Oman. ISIS fighters used the Mosul Zoo as a staging area in October 2016.  The zoo saw severe losses and the final two animals were evacuated in April 2017. Animals are constantly in the crosshairs of society, conflict, cultural meanings, sports, and leisure pursuits. This panel invites papers addressing the status of animals in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) through history, anthrozoology, anthropology, political science, geography, and other relevant disciplines.

     The animals in this region pervade almost every aspect of culture and history. This panel asks: what is the human-animal relationship in the MENA region, how are animals used and viewed, how are animals (livestock, pets, sporting animals, wildlife) treated and what are the attitudes toward them. This panel will examine this interchange of animals in cultures past and present. Papers focusing on single countries, regions or comparative studies examining multiple locales or countries are welcome, as are papers from any single or combined disciplinary perspectives. 

     Authors are asked to submit a paper title, abstract (300-400 words), their professional or institutional affiliation, and contact information. Academic, non-academic, or other professional authors are invited to apply. In cases of co-authored works, only one submission (including the same information for each author) should be made. Papers will be accepted in English only. The deadline for abstract submissions is midnight 31 January 2018. You will be informed of the result by 2 February 2018.

     If the proposal is accepted, you will be required to register with MESA by 15 February 2018, although acceptance of the panel by MESA is not assured. Please consult the MESA website for further information about conference and registration procedures.

     We look forward to receiving your proposal, which you should send to guj.talley@gmail.com Please include MESA in the email title.

     We intend to publish the papers in a collective book, so strong preference will be given to authors/speakers who will subsequently be prepared to submit their papers by 15 January 2019.

#MemberMonday: Joshua C White

joshuawhiteJoshua C White

Bournemouth University – BA (Hons) Prehistoric and Roman Archaeology

University of York – MSc Zooarchaeology

  

 

What got you in to history? In to equine history?

   I first went on a field excavation school around 14 years of age and I haven’t looked back since. It ticked all the boxes as I loved learning about the past and loved being outside. And I still do at 24, however being on-site in the middle of winter does sometimes make me question that decision I made ten years ago.

   I’ve always had a fascination for animals, particularly how humans interact with them in a variety of contexts. In an attempt to blend this interest with my archaeological studies, the discipline of zooarchaeology just seemed like the perfect home for me. And yes it is the horse out of all animals that I am primarily concerned with, which I think is simply down to personal bias through having a significant level of exposure to horses from a young age and being an equestrian myself. Human history has ridden on the back of a horse and I just find myself drawn to exploring it more and more.

Who is your favourite historical horse?

   A difficult question to answer, but I think I would have to go with Incitatus, the horse of the Emperor Caligula. The story of this little equid is utterly unique and entirely bizarre, thus I find him completely fascinating. Suetonius lists that Incitatus had his own house, a stall of marble, a manger of ivory, blankets of purple dye, a collar decorated with precious gems and numerous personal slaves. The standing of this horse, at least in Caligula’s eyes can be ascertained through the decrees apparently sent out to soldiers passing through the neighbourhood, ordering them to be silent as to not disturb Incitatus. In addition to this it is reported that the Emperor had promised his favourite horse that he would make him consul! The validity of the statements made by individuals writing around one hundred years after his death can be heavily questioned; however Incitatus (even in a legendry capacity) stands out as one of the most notable horses from the Roman world.

   In many ways Incitatus is probably more relevant today than people consider. In many ways, the luxurious and extravagant lifestyle he had is secretly what most modern day owners aspire to replicate or achieve for their horses. Although I am yet to come across an animal with a head collar of precious gems, I do frequently encounter horses that have in their possession numerous slaves.

What are you working on right now?

   I am currently researching horse husbandry practices in Iron Age Britain. In zooarchaeological terms horses are a bit of an oddity as we usually talk about animals in terms of the exploitation of primary and secondary products, trying to quantify the economic significance of for example cattle, sheep and pigs. Through not providing a ‘product’, the economic contribution that horses make is more ambiguous and difficult to quantify in numerical terms, thus the mechanisms behind their husbandry are often overlooked. For the Iron Age in Britain this is currently the case and I am in the process of assessing the current state of our knowledge, going out and collating data on horse remains from this period, and essentially establishing a new model for how horse were managed in the 1st millennium BCE. This originally started off as my Master’s dissertation and has spilled over into something else. I’m currently in the process of drafting up two papers to publish my findings.

#ShelfieSunday: Mr. Darley’s Arabian

darley    Review by Katherine Mooney

    Christopher McGrath begins Mr. Darley’s Arabian in the starting gate at Newmarket and follows Frankel to victory in the 2011 running of the 2000 Guineas. Watching on YouTube, you can hear the swelling roar of the crowd, the joyous acknowledgement of people who have together seen something numinous. The impetus for McGrath’s book is in that sound, as he spends the next 350 pages explaining how a creature like that came to be in that place at that time. Beginning with the Darley Arabian and following the top line of pedigrees sire to sire for twenty-six generations to Frankel, he tells the story of the modern Thoroughbred.

     McGrath grounds his project with Federico Tesio’s maxim: “The thoroughbred exists because its selection has depended…on a piece of wood: the winning post of the Epsom Derby” (292). The Derby gives the book a central focus, but it also dictates the scope of the analysis. If the Derby winning post is the thing that defines the Thoroughbred, then McGrath’s definition of the Thoroughbred exclusively encompasses high-stakes flat racing, mostly in the English Classics, and the stud careers of particularly influential progenitors.

     McGrath’s underlying premise is that the racetrack was not just a space of performance; it was a nexus of power. Everyone was there, and everyone cared about racing. His anecdotal examples range from Admiral Rous crossing the Atlantic in a dangerously decrepit frigate to attend the second autumn meeting at Newmarket to 1926’s General Strikers making way through their lines for Spithead, the gutsy winner of the Chester Cup (154, 282). But McGrath is mainly concerned with the men who paid the bills. “[T]he Darley Arabian line has followed a constant arc—as a monument to economic power. However random its biological provenance, for three centuries the thoroughbred has remained a faithful index of a changing world beyond the racecourse” (6). He begins at the turn of the eighteenth century, as political and economic factions battled through the Restoration and the rise of the Hanoverians. From 1750 to 1846, landed aristocracy and gentry controlled the Thoroughbred world. With the repeal of the Corn Laws came the rise of the industrial magnates, and after World War I the turf came firmly into the hands of a fantastically wealthy global elite. These periodizations remain fuzzy, as McGrath does not so much argue as chronicle. But he broadly paints the evolution of the Thoroughbred as a component of the evolution of British national and imperial identity and power. And he suggests that the results of the Classics are invaluable indicators of shifts at the top, as coal barons, diamond merchants, and Jewish bankers were grudgingly accepted into Newmarket, Epsom, and Doncaster (250). Though he describes today’s partnerships between racing professionals and international moneymen as purchased connections “between the lore and the profits,” his own work makes clear that these relationships stretch back centuries (297).

     McGrath largely takes the realities of power for granted. Indeed, sometimes this chatty amorality is jarring, as when he drily tells us that John Scott’s Whitewall training stable “was never the same once Colonel Anson was posted to India…. Mind you, nor was India.” Anson was in command of the Bengal Army during the Indian Rebellion of 1857 (128). The suffragist Emily Wilding Davison, surely the most famous person ever to treat the track as a political space, appears unnamed in a single sentence (259). But McGrath does sometimes step back and remind us of the cost of accumulated wealth and authority to the most vulnerable people in and out of the Thoroughbred world. He does not mince words about the systemic cruelty of industrialist James Merry to the coal and iron workers who made him rich (190). The genial racing man Lord Derby managed to get the jockey Fred Rickaby a safe World War I post in the Veterinary Corps so he could be handy to ride. But when awkward questions were asked in Parliament, Rickaby was reassigned to tanks. Derby got over the embarrassment and in 1918 became Ambassador to France, where his colleagues drew up a “form guide” to help him stumble through his diplomatic obligations. Rickaby died of wounds in France that autumn at the age of twenty-three, leaving a widow and two young sons (275-78).

     McGrath has the advantage of being a superbly gifted writer (this month he was awarded the prize for the Racing Writer of the Year in the U.K. for the third time). He can wield a dependent clause like a stiletto. And his access to today’s mightiest figures in racing greatly enhances the book’s final sections. McGrath’s bibliographical essay references an impressive array of primary and specialist secondary sources. As they tumble over one another in his lists, he demonstrates, in this driest of formats, just how much fun this book was for him to write. It seems churlish to complain about its inevitable shortcomings.

     Scholars will find the book frustrating in its lack of readily available citations, and, for those who have closely followed recent publications in the history of the Thoroughbred, there is not much new. The argument is largely implicit and unsurprising. But for both popular and scholarly readers who love horses and horse stories, the book is amply worth reading; McGrath has convinced me that Running Rein’s Derby of 1844 deserves at least a miniseries. It is a tribute to the author and his framing of his subject that, as he speculated briefly about the possibilities for Frankel’s progeny, my first thought was of Cracksman. Frankel’s three-year-old star took the Champion Stakes at Ascot this year. Will it be Frankel, then? Or will Nathaniel, like Frankel a son of Galileo, carry the blood into the next generation? Nathaniel has, after all, already produced Enable, the three-year-old filly who triumphed in the Arc this year, while Cracksman refused to face her. Both are slated to remain in training. And next spring the story will continue.

 

 

#ShelfieSunday: My Colourful Life: from Red to Amber

ginger

Review of Ginger McCain, My Colourful Life: from Red to Amber. London: Headline Book Publishing, 2005, 2006, 2014.

Review by Anastasija Ropa

    In this lively autobiography, Ginger McCain, a trainer of racehorses, best-known as the trainer who has won the Grand National four times, tells of his experience of horses on and off the racetrack over more than half a century. Not only is Ginger McCain a man who made history, having trained Red Rum, a three-time Grand National winner and a national sporting hero, but he also lived through a period of change, as the jockeys and trainers of the post-war Britain retired to give place to the men – and women – of today’s racing world. Much of the book, is, appropriately, about Red Rum, who, the author declares, “changed the course of my life as no man or woman or child could ever do.” Arguably, Red Rum influenced the lives of many other people, both those who were directly involved with the horse and the countless racing enthusiasts, those who place their bets at the Grand National, or simply watch the great race. Indeed, Ginger and Red Rum had contributed to saving the Grand National when the race undergoing a rocky patch in the 1970s and was nearly closed.

     Ginger’s involvement with horses – and horse people – is no less remarkable than the Red Rum phenomenon. It began at the time when horses were still part of daily life rather than a luxury or an oddity. The day-to-day reality of working horses and the care the drivers took of the animals laid the foundation of Ginger’s respect and care of his race horses.

     Throughout the book, Ginger outlines his position on several issues that make today’s British racing world very different from that of the previous century. Some of his statements may be hard to accept for a reader raised in the age of tolerance, animal rights and globalisation. Thus, when Ginger describes the treatments applied in an attempt to improve the condition of lame racehorses – which he applied himself as a cure or prophylaxis to some of his horses – one is vividly reminded of medieval hippiatric treatises. For instance, a treatment colloquially known as a “blister” meant clipping the problem leg and rubbing a red mercury blister into it, then bandaging the leg for six weeks. Another common remedy was bar-firing the legs (illegal in the UK, bar-firing is still used in other countries). Doubtless, such medicines have no place in modern veterinary, yet, as Ginger claims, they worked. Even if we may not want to reintroduce these very risky treatments, Ginger’s experience may lead us to reconsider our views on the efficiency of veterinary medicine in the past.

     At other points, Ginger’s position is full of contradictions. On the technical side of racing, he deplores the fact the jockeys nowadays have shorter stirrups, making it impossible to apply the leg when racing – but he also claims the new regulations on using the whip are do not take into consideration individual peculiarities. While conceding that he does not condone beating a horse that has already lost the race, he believes that some horses would be stimulated by harsher application of the whip: “It has to be an effective way of encouraging a horse to dig deeper within himself.” Yet he remembers the first Grand National won by Red Rum and the state in which the horse, ridden by Tommy Stack, arrived at the finish, in a somewhat apologetic tone. “Red Rum was striped on both flanks – he wasn’t just a sergeant, he was a top sergeant.”

     At many occasions throughout the book, Ginger expresses his attitude to women in the racing sport, opening him to possible accusations of chauvinism. Indeed, should women be excluded from racing just because the weighting room used to be “was a man’s domain, like a fighter’s gym”, and now it “smells like a pool’s parlour”? Ginger may be excused, though, when he explains that “in the years after the war most of the jockeys were senior riders who’d been in the forces, like Brian Marshall, Dave Dick and Dick Francis”, implying that racing is, in fact, a dangerous and cruel sport and that women should not risk their necks on the racecourse.

     Among Ginger’s less controversial remarks are his observations on the management and practice of training. He compares the situation in his early years, when few trainers would have as many as forty horses in the yard, to the later developments, when many yards have expanded to include over a hundred horses, so that a trainer cannot possibly pay attention to all animals and must rely on assistants. Again, Ginger’s attitude may seem old-fashioned, but he has a point: quantity does not always lead to quality. A horse like Red Rum, who had chronic leg problem prior to arriving on Ginger’s yard in Southport, and who showed lack-lustre performance over the less challenging jumps would have a high chance of being overlooked at one of the bigger yards. Whether this is outweighed by the availability of better facilities – something that was not available in the earlier post-war yards – is a question Ginger does not countenance.

     In all, My Colourful Life is not a critically balanced study; it is a subjective account of an individual trainer, tinted with his personality and opinions. Not everything of what the author says is to be taken at face value, and, with characteristic wit, Ginger is prone to undermine many of his own statements. However, the book captures the atmosphere of the racing world it portrays and sketches vivid images of the jockeys, trainers and owners who inhabited it: Red Rum’s owner Mr Le Mare (“the Guv’nor”), the jockeys Tommy Stack, Brian Fletcher, Jonjo O’Neill and Jackie Grainger, the trainer Bobby Renton, and many others. To counterbalance Ginger’s views, the book includes many testimonies written by other people, including his wife and his business partners. Complete with photographs of Red Rum and other horses with which Ginger McCain was involved, the book will be captivating reading for all who are into horses and history.

#MemberMonday: Anastasija Ropa

Lady Ana

 

Education:

Bangor University
PhD, Arthurian Literature

University of Latvia
BA & MA

 

What got you in to history? In to equine history?

     It probably suffices to say that my role models as young adolescent were Tolkien’s riders of Rohan and Dumas’s musketeers… As a postgraduate, my principal research interest was medieval literature, and especially Arthurian romance, while horses were my private passion. A natural step forward after completing the PhD was to combine the two.

Who is your favorite historical horse?

     Eclipse: his is a fairy-tale scenario of a horse who was deemed unfit for sport by his contemporaries and retired from racing an unbeaten champion. Eclipse went on to become a prize breeding stallion, so most of today’s Thoroughbreds – including my own ex-racing horse – are his descendants.

What are you working on right now?

     A lot of diverse projects, mainly to do with the Middle Ages. I am involved in organizing sessions on the medieval horse at the International Medieval Congress in Leeds, and related activities. I am also preparing articles on the prices of medieval horses and horse welfare in the Middle Ages. I am currently on maternity leave, with fewer opportunities to ride, but, in the summer, I will resume training horses, which gives me an opportunity to gather empirical evidence for my long-term project on medieval horse training.

Anastasija is the organizer of the “Equestrianism” strands at IMC Leeds and several other equine history projects. She is currently a lecturer of English and translator at the Latvian Academy of Sports Education. Find her here.