Cometh the hour, cometh the horse….

To celebrate the Year of the Horse, the National Gallery, London, has posted “Whistlejacket” by George Stubbs, as its  Painting of the Month.

Whistlejacket, George Stubbs, about 1762

Whistlejacket, George Stubbs, about 1762

The National Gallery also has a  Chinese Zodiac Trail which explores the symbolism of animals in eastern and western traditions.

According to the Gallery’s zodiac trail, the horse is one of the most admired animals of the  Chinese zodiac. People born in the Year of the Horse are independent, value freedom, and are hard-working, adventurous, intelligent and successful. They embody the traits of a fellow creature who has accompanied us to the end of the world and, sometimes, back again…..

like Phar Lap

Phar Lap at Trentham Racecourse. Making New Zealand :Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Ref: MNZ-2372-1/2-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23120509

Phar Lap at Trentham Racecourse. Making New Zealand :Negatives and prints from the Making New Zealand Centennial collection. Ref: MNZ-2372-1/2-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23120509

This photo was taken in 1931 before Phar Lap’s  trip to the United States. Not long after this date, Phar Lap died  in San Francisco. He is probably New Zealand’s most famous racehorse, renowned for his great heart and his speed and, of course, the winnings and joy he brought to many people, during the gloomy days of the Great Depression. Timaru, his birthplace, has an outstanding memorial sculpture  of Phar Lap.

Another famous New Zealand horse, perhaps less well-known than Phar Lap, is Bess (Zelma)  . New Zealand sent  thousands of horses to the First World War. Only four returned home. Bess was one of  the four. She was born in 1910, and served in Egypt in 1915, Sinai in 1916, Palestine in 1917, France in 1918, Germany in 1919, and was in England in 1920, before coming home to New Zealand in July 1920. She died , on duty, in October 1934.

This is the simple, but eloquent, memorial to Bess. It bears an Arabic inscription, as well as one in English.

Jock Phillips and Chris Maclean (top image, c. 1986), Powles collection; Imelda Bargas and Tim Shoebridge, 2010

Bess Memorial; Credit Jock Phillips and Chris Maclean (top image, c. 1986), Powles collection; Imelda Bargas and Tim Shoebridge, 2010

As part of New Zealand’s commemoration of the start of World War One, in 1914,  a hundred years ago , there will be a special Anzac Day service at the Bess Memorial, on
April 25 2014, 9 a.m. Forest Road (Off Parewanui Road), Bulls.

The service will honour Bess, and all the horses that didn’t come home, to their New Zealand pastures.  In addition, “The Friends of Bess are hoping to publish an information book on Bess for WW100, and to improve the Memorial to Bess site for better public access and protection from the elements if funding can be obtained.”

I like that, in the Year of the Horse, we have this special tribute taking place in honour of  the horses who travelled, with their human companions, on what must have been one of the strangest, and most terrible, adventures of their lives. The Good Steed   by Marcus Wilson tells the tale of the New Zealand Military Horse, from the angle of the horse, in The Anglo-Boer War and World War One. It is a story worth telling; worth remembering.

Another story which honours the nature of the horse, and looks at the world from the horse’s point of view,  is  Black Beauty by Anna Sewell. Though written in 1877, it remains one of the best-selling books of all time. The 1915 edition of Black Beauty was illustrated by the artist  Lucy Kemp-Welch.  Lucy Kemp-Welch  painted horses in both peace-time and  in war-time. One of her horses-in-war paintings  Big Guns to the Front is displayed at the National Museum in Wales.

I can’t find an online image of that painting but, at our own Christchurch Art Gallery, there is a wonderful selection of artwork, featuring horses, collated for the Chinese New Year.     My favourite painting , in the collection, is one by Lucy Kemp-Welch, titled In the Orchard [Sunlight Through the Leaves] 1904-1905, which was acquired by the Art Gallery in 1932.

http://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/collection/objects/69-564/

http://christchurchartgallery.org.nz/collection/objects/69-564/ In the Orchard, Lucy Kemp-Welch 1904-1905

To me, this scene of mother and foal represents the apogee of the loving, loyal, peaceful,  feminine side of the horse.

How lucky we have been to have these beautiful creatures at our side, throughout history. Long may our shared story continue but, hopefully, with more love and understanding  on our part.  An understanding that, if we  develop greater empathy with our equine family , we will be better humans.

May you have a Happy, Successful, Year of the Horse.

If you would like to seek, or refresh, your inner horse, take a look at Cindy Knoke’s blog and her gorgeous post on the Free Range Horses of Patagonia  The spirit of the Year of the Horse is bound to soar within you when you see Cindy’s photos.

© silkannthreades

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97 thoughts on “Cometh the hour, cometh the horse….

  1. Leya

    Your stories are always so well researched and wonderfully told – but this one. Oh. I cried a bit. I was a horse girl in my teens, but not since. And…War Horse I thought I would not be able to see. Now, after reading your post…maybe I should. The way we treat our beloved, four legged friends is not always the way we should treat them. They offer us all they have of help, support, love – their lives. As you say many people treasure this and act accordingly, but far too many don’t.

    I am a rooster according to their calendar, and I have him standing beside me every day. A jade rooster from China.

    Reply
  2. Tiny

    What an interesting post, right down your alley of great research! I had no idea that horses from NZ were brought to fight the wars in these faraway places. I love horses, like all animals in general, but got a few scary experiences with one of my grandpa’s horses when I was a child. This horse was so wild that he always escaped from where he was supposed to be by jumping over the fence. Then he galloped freely examining his surroundings, including our backyard 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Tiny, your grandfather’s escape artist horse was a perfect example of the horse that values freedom and adventure! A poster horse for the Year of the Horse! Yes, our NZ horses traveled far in WWI! I am finding it difficult to establish how many horses were sent to war; one figure says as many as 10,000. But all sources, I have checked, agree that only 4 horses returned to New Zealand.

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Deeply sad. And deeply sad that, outside of the war arena, some people still mistreat their horses. However, I am sure more people love and respect their horses than otherwise. To acknowledge that, I will post this clip from a beautiful New Zealand documentary about an extraordinary New Zealand family and their 50 horses. Enjoy. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6kEqieMm_nU Note the interesting comment at 3.29 where the child says ” Horses kinda understand humans, but humans don’t understand horses. Pretty amazing how horses can understand humans.”

      Reply
  3. womanseyeview

    What a lot of great information in this post. I am a year of the horse person and have never been able to bring myself to watch War Horse…my grandfather was a Welsh cavalier in the First World War when they took the farmboys who could ride and and put them on the backs of these beautiful trusting creatures and then they charged into guns on the battlefield. He told me how they fell and became a mass of dead and dying horse and boys together…our ability to cause suffering to each other and the creatures around us seems to know no bounds.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      No bounds! I didn’t think I would be able to watch War Horse either but I did, with a big helping of tears….and that’s okay because we should weep. Your grandfather’s experience must have been heart breaking for him. I believe that the New Zealanders didn’t use their horses like that. http://www.nzmr.org/brigade.htm “Mounted riflemen (and the Australian equivalent, the light horse) were not cavalry. They were not trained in the traditional cavalry role of attacking enemy cavalry on horseback with swords or lances. Instead, mounted riflemen used their horses to move quickly around the battlefield. When they gained contact with the enemy, they dismounted and fought him on foot with rifles, bayonets and machine guns.” But, of course, there was still suffering and the fact that these horses could not be brought home.

      Reply
  4. greenmackenzie

    Gosh I didn’t know so many horses travelled all the way from NZ to fight in the war…..the journey alone must have been wild and terrifying never mind what they encountered once they landed. I was going to say take a look at War Horse, but reading through the comments I see you already have. I watched it again recently and it brought me to tears. Why do we as a species do we seem to trail violence in our wakes, and the debris of innocent animals.
    A really lovely post which I was led to by ‘ordinary goodness’ 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      The journey must have been awful for the horses. It was bad enough for the men. Horses were sent from Australia too. I don’t know the story well enough to say for sure, but someone must have known that it would be impossible to bring those horses home…arrgh, it is hard to think about it. Considering how long mankind has used animals, and especially horses, in warfare, it’s a wonder they are still willing to come near us. So glad to have met you via ‘ordinarygoodness”.

      Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Wonderful to know that you enjoyed my post. And, yes, I have just had a wee peek at your blog and noticed that you are a horse lover. I was about to comment on one of your posts but found the comments closed. Probably a wise move since there were already some 70 comments 🙂

      Reply
  5. Marylin Warner

    What a terrific post! You’ve given beautiful images to enhance the Year of the Horse (so far the emphasis seems to be on ornamental or almost cartoon-type figures) and the story of Bess is wonderful. While I enjoyed all the pictures, In the Orchard was my favorite, reminding me of spring and summer on my grandparents’ farm.
    Good job!

    Reply
  6. leapingtracks

    I’m another goat, I’m afraid. But love this post. The Stubbs painting is magnificent. It takes up a massive wall at the end of a corridor so you can see it as you walk towards the room in which it is hung. Breathtaking.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Gosh, how superb! Would love to see it in RL. According to Muhammad’s comment, the goat and the monkey make a good team (with the addition of the rooster). I think we (you, the goat, and me, the monkey) have just proved that with your lovely complementary description of the painting, Whistlejacket,as it appears in the Gallery.

      Reply
  7. Juliet

    ‘In the Orchard’ is a charming painting. I’m enjoying looking at it, so thank you for posting this, and the fruits of all your research. I’m a horse myself, which added to the interest.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Lovely to hear. And, I suspect that you are the kind of horse that loves a gallop along the beach, wind in the mane, breathing in the salt air from the seahorse waves.

      Reply
  8. Miss Lou

    Full of awesome information I was absolutely clueless about when it comes to the important role horses have played in our collective history!

    As a young woman I used to go riding on horses during our long holidays down at the Springvale Homestead Just out of Katherine in the Norther Territory. I was bumped off a few times, though always got back on. My brother and I made good friends with the trail guide and he always allowed us to help clean and brush and feed them #GreatMemories

    Interestingly and in great contrast to the National Gallery, Woolworth s – one of the 2 major shopping stores here in Australia celebrated the year of the Horse by putting up a weird display of HEAD sized oranges and Hairy strawberries – (my hairy Strawberry blog) lol #FeelingaBitRippedOffHere.. lol

    Great post, thanks for sharing!

    ML
    x

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Great memories indeed! But, oh weird Woolworths. Did you get a photo of the weirdness? And, so glad you came by. Remember you were asking about movies that made us cry. I said, only Born Free. I completely forgot how I sobbed my eyes out over War Horse!

      Reply
  9. ordinarygood

    I would love to find Bess’s memorial when we next pass through Bulls and its environs. What a magnificent story and memorial. The internet and its web connections may well see funding found to improve the memorial and to let people know where it is.
    I was born in the Year of the Horse, but a good while ago. I have always been rather scared of horses but I did ride a placid old fellow once and admired the strength of the animal….and its forebearance with such an inept, nervous rider. My husband was born the same year and horses calm very quickly in his presence or simply look very relaxed and contented.
    I was very moved by these Scottish horses in a recent blog you and your readers might enjoy:
    http://breathofgreenair.com/2014/01/31/the-year-of-the-horse/ Are they not that most gentle, soft looking creatures?

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      The Scottish horses are gorgeous. The Wiki link says they have a kindly eye. I do agree. Thanks so much for the link. I am not a rider myself, though I wish I were. It would be lovely if you do find Bess’s memorial. I get the imression that access is not that easy at the moment. Give it a pat from me if you get there. How lovely that your husband is a Year of the Horse horse-whisperer 🙂

      Reply
  10. KerryCan

    This is an awesome post! So sensitive and interesting. I didn’t know Bess’s story and I imagine there are many more stories of heroic animals from so many wars.

    Reply
  11. utesmile

    Horses are beautiful creatures. I am a chicken in the Chinese calendar, well in real life sometimes too 🙂 I missed that post from Cindy , great pictures too! Wehn I came to England as a 15 year old for a English learning holiday I tried horseriding and fell off…. now I just liek to look at the graceful animals. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Oh, nasty to have a fall off a horse. I haven’t done that but last time I was on a horse (maybe 40 years ago) I was very wobbly.
      You are a chicken/rooster? Hooray! Wonderful ! If you check through the comments you will see we have been looking for a chicken to complete the story of the Chinese Zodiac where a chicken, goat and monkey cooperate and are rewarded for their team effort.

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Oh definitely. Only the finest will do for the rooster. But I have changed the menu to freshly baked bread, which should suit much better.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      They certainly are magnificent. At one time, when I thought, mistakenly, that I had a lot of time on my hands, I was going to learn how to ride. Didn’t happen. Yet another reason to love the horse: There are riding programmes in the US which help traumatised and brain injured veterans to recover http://www.va.gov/health/NewsFeatures/20110106a.asp . And, on a very, very basic note, horse manure is the absolute best for gardens. Another reason to love the horse 🙂

      Reply
  12. YellowCable

    The story of Bess is wonderful. The story reminds me of “War Horse” movie (I believe came out 2011). It was about a horse sent to WWI as well. I just love the movie. It is one of the movies that still stick to me.

    Happy Horse Year!

    Reply
  13. Heather in Arles

    What an incredibly moving and fascinating post. Thank you so much for this. And of course, I am sending my Very Best Wishes for a wonderful Year of the Horse to you as well!

    Reply
  14. Clanmother

    A wonderful post to begin the new year! I am looking forward to heading into a fresh year that promises many opportunities to share experiences and generate excellent dialogues. My cupboard has been well stocked with tea to give sustenance for the journey! 🙂

    Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          It’s blazing. You can see it for miles. Ooops…maybe it shouldn’t be blazing. I think there are fire restrictions at the moment 😀

      1. pleisbilongtumi

        Oh..ha ha ha…

        Not long after that, a little distance away, the Goat, Monkey, and Rooster came to the shore. These three creatures helped each other to get to where they are. The Rooster spotted a raft, and took the other two animals with it. Together, the Goat and the Monkey cleared the weeds, tugged and pulled and finally got the raft to the shore. Because of their combined efforts, the Emperor was very pleased and promptly named the Goat as the 8th creature, the Monkey as the 9th, and the Rooster the 10th.(Wikipedia- Chinese Zodiac).

        Reply
  15. dadirri7

    We should all know about the war horses, yet it seems they are rarely thought of … I do hope money can be found for a more fitting tribute to Bess, thank you so much for telling us about her courageous life in service to her country … and for the glowing painting of the mother and her foal in the orchard … a vision from a different life that may yet return to us 🙂

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      There is a beautiful memorial to the war horses in Albany, Western Australia http://www.ww1cemeteries.com/other_cemeteries_ext/albany1_wm_aus.htm It is my understanding that the model for this horse is Bess. There is another copy of the Statue in Canberra http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mounted_Memorial,_Canberra Isn’t the mother and foal painting lovely? I haven’t seen the painting in real life because our art gallery is still closed for earthquake repairs.

      Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Yes, still! The Gallery staff are doing a wonderful job of bringing art to the people but……the situation must be as frustrating for them as it is for us.

    1. Gallivanta Post author

      Indeed! The WWOne horses certainly got a raw deal. Yet, I believe they were well-cared for by the NZ soldiers; it must have been heart breaking for them to leave the horses behind.

      Reply
    2. Clanmother

      I agree wholeheartedly – simply tragic! I have said it before and I will say it again, I question whether we are the most advanced creature to walk the earth!

      Reply
      1. Owen and Sue Marsh

        Yes Clanmother – I feel this way and often my answer would be that we aren’t…Animals know how to listen to their hearts – often humans do not.

        Reply
        1. Gallivanta Post author

          Isn’t it interesting that when a person does something stupid, we will remark ” That person needs their head read.”? Perhaps we should be saying ‘that person needs their heart read/reconfigured.”

  16. Owen and Sue Marsh

    Thank you for this. I loved the story of Bess, not having heard of her before. In the Year of the Horse it is beautiful that you should write about our own beloved horses – they have often been so much more than mere companions and I’m sure there were many horses in the wars that actually saved their master’s lives. All animals give so very much to us – something to always remind ourselves of.

    Reply
    1. Gallivanta Post author

      I think the story of Bess is remarkable. There is much more to it than what I have managed to include in my blog. Our animals, especially those who went into war with us, deserve our greatest respect. So glad you enjoyed my post.

      Reply

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