#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.

 

 

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#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.

#SourceSaturday: The General Stud Book

     It’s racing month here at EHC, so we’re kicking off our first #SourceSaturday with the General Stud Book, originally (and still) produced by the Weatherbys. First published in 1791, it is still the registry for British Thoroughbreds. As Margaret Derry points out, the pedigrees listed in the first General Stud Book were not detailed or usable by modern standards; the book was initially more concerned with proving identity, in order to confirm age and performance records, so that horses were entered in the correct races. While the initial pedigrees may not be detailed (and an error here or there has been discovered in later ones), it is still a spectacular source for early racing history, full of anecdotes, breeding choices being made, race records, and descriptions.

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   Digitized copies of some volumes are available on GoogleBooks and Archive.org

 

   Original bound stud books available at the National Sporting Library, the Huntington, and other institutions.

“The Perfect Horse” Book Talk

     Agriscapes and the Horse Center at Cal Poly Pomona will be hosting a talk by Elizabeth Letts on her research on the daring U.S. mission to rescue the priceless stallions kidnapped by the Nazis.” Along with the Lipizzans, there were Arabians: these ended up at the W. K. Kellogg Arabian horse ranch, now the site of Cal Poly Pomona. Come listen to, and walk in, a bit of history.

Tickets (free, but RSVP required) are available here.

Letts-lecture

#SelfieSunday: The Medieval Horse and Its Equipment by John Clark

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     John Clark is a curator (now Emeritus) at the Museum of London, and as such his book The Medieval Horse and Its Equipment is primarily focused on objects on display at the museum, which are themselves primarily English in origin. What sets Clark’s book apart from similar catalogs is his in-depth analysis of each object. Rather than just the little “where and when” blurb found on each items placard, Clark gives a full account of how each item was found; how it was used; and what implications the usage, motifs, or material have. He also shows examples, where available, of each item in art contemporary to itself, and relates it all to current scholarship. John Clark applies in this way the research of not only Ann Hyland and R.H.C. Davis, the major authors on medieval equines, but also of dozens of scholars in art, archeology, agricultural and military history.           

     Because many of the smaller items, such as bits and horse shoes, were found in archeological digs, Clark provides diagrams of the most important sites. With the long and complicated history of horses in England, these help illustrate which items are clark2Roman in origin, which are Saxon, etc. In addition to the assorted bits, spurs, brushes, shoes, and other equine implements, Clark also presents equine skeletons found at theses digs. These corroborate his own and Ann Hyland’s theories regarding the size of the animal that would have worn the shoes, bits, and armor we have available for measurement. Because the size of the medieval “Great Horse” has been the subject of debate for much of the past century, Clark opens his book with this skeletal evidence, and a long historiography on the topic. Clark is very meticulous in all of his reports, and these skeletons are no different. He gives the location where they were found, not only geographically but also whether it was a burial, a trash heap, or a butchers yard. He provides the approximate date they were buried (or otherwise disposed of); and he notes the measurements and what marks the bones carried, such as injuries from weapons, marks of butchery, or “pathologies indicating stress on the joints and back.”[1] Those with weapons marks, of course, are used to support the idea of a much smaller “Great Horse” than that supposed by Davis and other early scholars. He largely omits the “stirrup controversy,” but that is somewhat outside the scope of this work. Clark also uses the skeletal evidence to touch on a second highly debated topic, hippophagia. By noting the complete absence of butchery marks on horses found in dump sites near London later in the period, Clark can suggest that by the 14th century butchers were not taking old horses for meat near London. Finds further from the city did have butcher marks, but Clark does not posit a theory for these. In sum, this book is invaluable in providing careful analysis alongside archeological and material evidence.

     John Clark also presented this past year at IMC Leeds on “The Development of Bits from the Viking Age to the 16th Century, in England and Beyond,” and we look forward to his chapter forthcoming on this topic.

Other reviews:

Review by: Amanda Rosenstock Luyster
The Medieval Review 05.11.05

Boydell & Brewer

[1] John Clark. The Medieval Horse and its Equipment. (Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press, 2004) 22

#ShelfieSunday: The Medieval Warhorse: Origin, Development and Redevelopment by R.H.C. Davis

     R.H.C. Davis’s 1989 The Medieval Warhorse: Origin, Development and Redevelopment shelfiedavisgives a remarkably in depth view of medieval horse breeding and management practices, alongside the more commonly found military applications. He uses an impressive array of sources, including breeding records, letters, law codes, and art. Unfortunately, he often fails to make clear when he transitions from paraphrasing a source to giving his own suppositions on it. Furthermore, he also jumbles time periods with very little organization or warning to the reader. Finally, his work contains several terminological mistakes that make specialists concerned about leaning on the remainder of the work. This book remains one of the most complete and respected on medieval horses, and his mistakes are still widely propagated despite newer scholarship; Davis’ usual meticulousness is oddly absent, but this may not be clear to those not already familiar with his sources.

     The horses of King Henry VIII of England are among the more thoroughly documented pre-modern animals. Davis describes a horse acquired by Henry as “a fine horse of the breed of Isabella”.[1] “Isabella,” in the modern sense, is a term for horses of a pale golden color.  There are many color breeds, and it is reasonable to suppose that proto-breeds[2] were bred along color lines; the ‘black horse of Flanders’ is certainly noteworthy. However, “Isabella” is a color that has changed meanings rapidly over the last two decades due to the advent of genetic testing. It has in the past been used for a number of very different colors, many of which would not “breed true,” i.e. may not reproduce themselves. The mistake of calling palomino[3] (a color still sometimes called Isabella) a breed is still made by novice horseman. It may be that the mistake was in Davis’s source. There is also some conjecture that the Royal Hanoverian Creams, which pulled the English Royal carriages until the 1920’s, where descended from Spanish “Isabella” horses. A few American Champagne breeders claim their unique color comes from the Hanoverian Creams, but the small amount of evidence available seems to contradict this.[4] These horses may have been an unknown mutation, or most likely they were double “pearl” dilutes. This color has only recently been genetically identified, but could breed true. The “isabella” color in Spanish bred and American frontier horses was, after the discovery of the pearl gene, found to often be a case of one pearl gene, and one cream gene. [5]After the discovery of the pearl gene, the term “isabella” has been slowly changing from meaning any “café au lait” colored horse (including double pearl, cream pearl, pale palomino, and champagne) to meaning one that is homozygous for the cream dilution. This is a color that would breed true, but up until recently it was considered very undesirable, as it was thought that they were albinos. This meaning for the word ‘isabella’ also was not yet being used when Davis was writing. This color also does not match with any prior description of “isabella” horses, including the Royal Hanoverian Creams, which very specifically did not produce palominos as a double cream would. Davis, who elsewhere gives detailed etymologies and explanations of unusual words in his sources, does not address any of these factors, leaving the reader to wonder what “Isabella” and even “breed” mean in this case.

     Unfortunately, there are other cases where the mistake is not one of possible omission. Most striking among them are grouping trotters with pacers as all being amblers. He writes that some “were pacing horses which…moved both left feet forward, then both right feet…various terms for these horses [include] pacing horses (gradarii), amblers (ambulatorii), or trotters (trottarii).”[6] His use of the original words is exemplary and shows attention to clarity;[7] however, a trotter by definition is not a pacer.[8] There is also some mis-defining of military maneuvers that are still in use today.  In describing the downfall of the “17 or 18 hand”[9] Great Horse, he illustrates the need for horses capable of performing what are now known as the “airs above ground.” He describes the croupade as “jumping off the ground and kicking in mid-air”[10] which is actually a capriole. The capriole he describes as “rising up on the back legs”[11] which could refer to levade (a rear with a low angle) or pesade (more upright). The croupade itself is much like the capriole, however requires that the horse tuck his hind legs in, for greater clearance and protection of his belly, rather than kick out to strike enemies as with the capriole. While there have been some regional and temporal variations – such as whether the front legs should strike in levade (seen in Majorcan dressage), or if this is a different maneuver (as in continental)– the lack of clarity forces us to question the details of Davis’ work. However, it remains a thorough work, and contains an invaluable collection of sources, with great attention to how things can become lost in translation. Davis also provided us with an unprecedented glimpse at the domestic life of the medieval warhorse. While it should not be used without consideration, it is worth engaging with. 

Additional reviews:

 

[1] R.H.C. Davis, The Medieval Warhorse: Origin, Development, and Redevelopment (London: Thames and Hudson Ltd., 1989) Page 108

[2] Breed as we define it today is a concept that will not develop until at least a century after Henry VIII; even by that late time, the word referred to the breeder, rather than the type or pedigree.

[3] One copy of the co-dominant cream dilution on chestnut, causing a yellow body with white mane and tail. In the past (and currently in some countries) one of the possible “Isabella” phenotypes.

[4] The paintings and few photos available of the RHC horse prior to its dispersal in the 1920’s show clearly dark legs and tails, a trait that does not occur in champagnes, and lack the champagne’s mottled skin. Champagne also appears to be a ‘New World’ mutation.

[5] http://www.horsetesting.com/Equine/Coat_Color/Pearl.asp

[6] Davis, 67

[7] Clarity that most scholars miss: a pacer may be an ambler, but not all amblers need be pacers! Ambler is accepted to mean any non-trotting horse. Davis himself seems to lump them all as pacers (two beat lateral way of moving) despite his attention to different words for their gait.

[8] A trot is a two beat diagonal gait (opposite fore and hind leg move together). A pace is a two beat lateral.

[9] Davis, 69

[10] Davis, 112

[11] Davis, 112

CFP: Equine Culture at WOCMES

The Intersection of Equine Culture and History
in Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa

Organizers: Gwyneth Talley (UCLA Anthropology) and Kathryn Renton (UCLA History)

The proposed panel invites papers addressing the intersecting points of horses and horse culture the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) with their European counterparts, through history and anthropology. Horses were invaluable in warfare, hunting, and diplomacy. Their breeding, training, and trappings generated legends about horse culture in the Mediterranean still influential to this day. While horses are no longer used in the same ways today as they were from the Middle Ages through the Early Modern period, people all over the MENA and Iberian regions continue to use and

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                                                         Festival Fantasia    

celebrate their horse cultures. Spain maintains a mounted police horse division, celebrates the horse through festivals in Jerez de la Frontera and Seville, and continues to use horses in mounted bullfighting. In Morocco, the Salon du Cheval is beginning to garner world renown as an exhibit of traditional Moroccan horsemanship (tbourida or fantasia). Horse racing, while slightly diminished due to political turmoil, continues in every country from Morocco to Lebanon. Princess Haya of Jordan, the former president of the International Equestrian Federation (FEI), strongly encouraged the expansion of the FEI, and brought in $150mil of commercial revenue to the federation, which oversees international horse events. Aside from the Arab contribution to equestrian sports, the five-year EU ban on exportation of horses from Egypt has greatly diminished the opportunities for horse breeders in the country, stifling the horse economy. In Jerusalem, horse shows have become a non-political way of sharing a love of horses in the conflict-riddled region.

The horse in this region pervades almost every aspect of culture and history, but this panel asks: how did the contact between Arab and European cultures affect each other in terms of horse breeds, riding styles, equipment, and general knowledge. This panel will examine this interchange of equestrian 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 (no more than 300 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 5 November 2017. You will be informed of the result by 10 November 2017.

If the proposal is accepted, you will be required to register with WOCMES by 15 November, 2017, although acceptance of the panel by WOCMES is not assured. Please consult the WOCMES website http://wocmes2018seville.org/web/index.php/en/ for further information about conference and registration procedures.

We look forward to receiving your proposal, which you should send to BOTH guj.talley@gmail.com and kathrynrenton@ucla.edu . Please include WOCMES in the email title.

The organizers 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 30 September 2018.