PhD, ‘Sense and Sentimentality: The Soldier-Horse Relationship in The Great War’, The University of Derby (2016)
MA, Masters in Humanities by Research, The University of Derby (2011)
PGCE, English with Drama, The University of York (2000)
RSA Cert., Teaching English as a Foreign Language, The British Council, Hong Kong (1996)
BA, English Literature and Theatre Studies, The University of Leeds (1995)
What got you into history? Equine History?
I was introduced to ponies and riding when I was two. A local family would occasionally call my Mum and ask if I’d like to go out for a ride. Donned in wellies, my checky trousers and favourite “jazzy jumper” I was ready to go, and always beside myself with excitement. I remember Noodle and I demonstrating my trot (very bouncy) to my Mum and Dad, and how I could get off by myself. Noodle was an absolute star; a proper Thelwell pony who was wise beyond measure, but not without his cheeky moments! Since then little has changed – the ponies just got a wee bit bigger!
This was the start of a life-long obsession I am now lucky enough to be able to combine with my academic work. I started off as an English Literature person, so my interest in Equine History really began with a steady trickle of the likes of Surtees, Somerville and Ross, Sewell, and Sassoon. It started turning into a historical interest when I found a copy of Glenda Spooner’s For Love of Horses at an antiques fair. The rest is history!
The many wonderful (and very memorable) horses and ponies I have met and ridden over the years inspired me to do what I do now. Especially my old boy Toby, who taught me so much, gave me countless wonderful memories, and to whom I dedicated my PhD.
Who is your favourite historical horse?
Soldiers often had their favourite horses, and it is they I immediately think of. They are too numerous to mention here, and I could write for hours about each and every one, but here are a few notable examples. Slogger earned his name, and the respect of the men in his unit, because he always tried his best. He was particularly admired for his ability to get waggons and limbers out of the mud when other horses, and even mules, would have given up long before. Lion was a mule who knew his own mind. It took four men to groom him, but for his driver he would do anything. Kitty patiently withstood all the noise and chaos around her. She featured regularly in the letters of the soldier to whom she had been assigned. He was clearly very fond of her; often expressing concern about her, or telling amusing tales of their adventures and exploits.
Last, and by no means least, was a chestnut gelding called Songster. Songster was a firm favourite of the Leicestershire Yeomanry, and after the War became something of a local hero. He was affectionately described as having been “as artful as a barrowload of monkeys” – a character trait to which his survival of the War was largely attributed. After a long and active life (he hunted with the Quorn, and attended every Yeomanry camp until his last in 1935) Songster died at the grand old age of forty in 1940. Slogger, Lion, Kitty and Songster survive into modern memory, but only because they were remembered with such respect and affection by the soldiers who had known them.
What are you working on right now?
I am currently working on a book project entitled Soldiers and their Horses: Sense, Sentimentality and the Soldier-Horse Relationship in The Great War. My proposal is under consideration at the moment, so watch this space!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I will be presenting “The Pitiable Martyrdom of Man’s Faithful Friend: Portrayals of the Soldier and his Horse in The War Illustrated, 1914 to 1918” at the Artistic Expressions and The Great War conference at Hofstra University, New York, November 7th to 9th 2018.
I will also be presenting “A Weapon in the Hands of the Allies: Transporting British Army Horses and Mules during The Great War” at the Maritime Animals: Telling Stories of Animals at Sea conference, at The National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, April 25th to 27th 2019.