Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Trip to England, Part 7: Horse Heaven

Whenever we go on a trip, two of the three people in our little family start off by scheming ways of shoehorning horses into the itinerary. (Hint: Both of these people lack a Y chromosome.)

This habit goes back a long way. My benevolent parents always tried to match up our interests with activities on trips, so there was often a chance for me to sit on some sighing pony and trudge in a circle or go on a trail ride.

As an adult, my first trip with my future husband took us down the eastern seaboard to Chincoteague, where we visited the wild ponies of Assateague Island, whom legend says are the descendants of ponies that struggled to land long ago when a Spanish galleon wrecked offshore.

When we got to Ocracoke Island, a barrier island off the coast of North Carolina, and learned that this location also boasted wild ponies whom legend says are the descendants of ponies that struggled to land long ago when a Spanish galleon wrecked offshore, it was difficult to convince him that I wasn't actually selecting destinations solely on their supply of wild ponies whom legend says (see above).

But this time the horses were out of the gate before we even cracked open the first guidebook. As luck would have it, my brother-in-law's right-hand-man, a wonderful fellow who is a jack of all trades and master of them all, was partnered with a woman who runs a beautiful stable that's home to, oh, merely about 90 horses or so--most of them boarders but some of them belonging to the stable's riding school.

Not only that, but they love teenagers--and so my daughter had an open invitation to ride there and groom, muck out, and generally indulge in all things horsy whenever she wanted. To top it off, the place was right next door to where we were staying.


A busy schedule prevented me from grabbing any real-horse experiences for myself, but England offered plenty of equine opportunities even without saddling up.

For starters, we weren't there 24 hours before we met this strapping fellow, who I think is a Gypsy Vanner, gazing down on us from a field above my sister-in-law's daycare facility. Not sure if he gives sensitive children nightmares.

Two days later we took up residence in a lovely dwelling right next door to these two characters: a pair of Falabella ponies, a bay stallion named Jimmy and a leopard-spotted gelding named Zog. Here they're relaxing after a hard morning's work grazing.

Real horses were scarcer in London (I had hoped to catch the Horse Guards parade but it was not to be), but there were stone and bronze horses ancient and new to spare.  Such as Pyrois, Eos, Aethon, and Phlegon, the four horses of the Greek sun god Helios, taking a break from their job of hauling the sun across the sky to stampede through Piccadilly Circus (this one is...oh, take your pick):

Equally plunging, snorty, and fiery are the horses hauling the chariot of British tribal queen Boadicea, someone who didn't take any guff from the ancient Romans. This statue guards an area near Westminster Pier in London.

In a city heavily populated by statues of noble steeds bearing commanding figures on their backs, it was fun to spot this fellow, officially known as "Powerless Structures, Fig 101," perched on a stand in Trafalgar Square that was once meant to support one of those horse-and-rider memorials. The statue was never put up, however, and so other artworks rotate into place on the stand instead.

The British Museum is likewise packed with horses, with and without riders or chariots. The head below is one of a team that pulled moon goddess Selene's chariot. It's a favorite of ours because we photographed our daughter next to it when she was 6, and she beamed at it as if it were her own pony. At age 14, however, she posed reluctantly, several feet away, with half-lidded eyes and a smirk. The horse's expression, of course, has not changed since the days of ancient Greece.

Prancing across a vast hall in the same museum is this marble horse and rider from ancient Rome. Apparently marble heroes on horseback weren't a common sight in Roman times, so this duo is a rarity.

The British Museum also had a special exhibit about horses in place, called "The Horse from Arabia to Royal Ascot," stuffed with paintings and other artifacts from equine history. A wonderful bonus to this stroll through horse history was that I enjoyed it in the company of an author/bookseller who writes one of my favorite blogs, Books, Mud, and Compost. And Horses.

Oddly, although one could snap photos of horsy bits and bobs all over the museum, it was forbidden to take pictures in this special exhibit, much to my dismay. Likewise, you couldn't take pictures in the exhibit "Animal Inside Out" at London's Natural History Museum, which featured a stunning horse's head that appears woven from the slender threads of its capillaries--a blood-red mirror image of the head of Selene's horse. So I had to swipe this image from the exhibit's web page.

The most amazing horse's head, however, was one we glimpsed from the top deck of a bus as we whooshed past the Marble Arch. I would've loved to have been on foot and taken a picture of this 30-foot sculpture, which was created by sculptor Nic Fiddian and is called Marwari Horse at Water.(Image source here.)

But the best horsies of all were the ones we had a picnic with in their paddock. Well, we didn't set out to have a picnic in their paddock; we were just having a picnic, and the ponies,  Jimmy and Zog, invited themselves. As did a small flock of sheep and two dogs. The dogs begged for tidbits only with their eyes, and the sheep kept their distance, but the ponies were plenty assertive in their efforts to eat anything on the table, including hamburgers and sausages.

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