Blog .:. December 2011 9 Entries

Merry Pastamas! I got you… mud?

25 December 2011 Comments

December has turned into the greenest month of the year, with several much-needed rains. Best of all, they were slow, soaking rains spread out over several weeks, with totals measured in inches.

I’ve never been so happy to throw on wellies and push the wheelbarrow through mud, mud, mud to get to the muddy, muddy manure pile. Or through mud, mud, mud to get to the shavings pile.

The mud and I, we are like this.

The mud and Ro, they are… well…

Ro doesn’t do mud, you know?

Her paddock is currently standing water, so I’ve been giving myself enough time in the evenings to let her out on the property for an hour or two. It gets her out and lets her stretch a bit. More than anything, it gives her a mental break—something new to check out.

For the first few days, she was all about that, since she got to nibble on grass.

But when I kicked her out last night, she was back in the barn in five minutes, giving me a disgusted look. It was wet out there. Like standing water wet. Her feet were getting wet and the grass was wet and did I not understand? WET.

I kicked her back out of the barn.

I kicked her back out of the barn again.

I kicked her back out of the barn. She moped by the big paddock, trotting up hopefully to me every time she saw me: “Hey, you have a full wheelbarrow? So my stall is clean? I can go back in?” “The wheelbarrow has shavings in it? You’ll have my stall done in five minutes? I can go back in?” “You’re putting everything back? Everything’s done? I can… Oh, f-you, anyway. I’m calling Animal Control.”

She was entirely unamused.

I’ve had to hang buckets in her stall because her water trough is out in her run. I know she was going out there sometimes, since her feet are muddy every time I show up, but she was not going out and drinking enough, since she was showing signs of slight dehydration. So… now she has her own personal hay washing machines again, which she uses gleefully. (Actually, she only dunks hay in one bucket. She drinks out of the other one. She is that much of a princess.)

Still, like I said: I’ve never been so happy to pull on some wellies and deal with the mud and all the inconvenience. We need this rain so badly, and I think our local area may even have dropped from the Exceptional to Severe drought categories. The Flying Spaghetti Monster could not have sent a better holiday gift.

I hope your holidays are as happy and squelchy as ours!

Tagged: Holidays, Horses, Horses - Ro, Weather

How We Beat the Favourite

20 December 2011 Comments

by Adam Lindsay Gordon (1869)

“Aye, squire,” said Stevens, “they back him at evens;
    The race is all over, bar shouting, they say;
The Clown ought to beat her; Dick Neville is sweeter
    Than ever—he swears he can win all the way.

“A gentleman rider—well, I’m an outsider,
    But if he’s a gent who the mischief’s a jock?
You swells mostly blunder, Dick rides for the plunder,
    He rides, too, like thunder—he sits like a rock.

“He calls ‘hunted fairly’ a horse that has barely
    Been stripp’d for a trot within sight of the hounds,
A horse that at Warwick beat Birdlime and Yorick,
    And gave Abdelkader at Aintree nine pounds.

“They say we have no test to warrant a protest;
    Dick rides for a lord and stands in with a steward;
The light of their faces they show him—his case is
    Prejudged and his verdict already secured.

“But none can outlast her, and few travel faster,
    She strides in her work clean away from The Drag;
You hold her and sit her, she couldn’t be fitter,
    Whenever you hit her she’ll spring like a stag.

“And p’rhaps the green jacket, at odds though they back it,
    May fall, or there’s no knowing what may turn up;
The mare is quite ready, sit still and ride steady,
    Keep cool; and I think you may just win the Cup.”

Dark-brown with tan muzzle, just stripped for the tussle,
    Stood Iseult, arching her neck to the curb,
A lean head and fiery, strong quarters and wiry,
    A loin rather light, but a shoulder superb.

Some parting injunction, bestowed with great unction,
    I tried to recall, but forgot like a dunce,
When Reginald Murray, full tilt on White Surrey,
    Came down in a hurry to start us at once.

“Keep back in the yellow! Come up on Othello!
    Hold hard on the chestnut! Turn round on The Drag!
Keep back there on Spartan! Back you, sir, in tartan!
    So, steady there, easy!” and down went the flag.

We started, and Kerr made strong running on Mermaid,
    Through furrows that led to the first stake-and-bound,
The crack, half extended, look’d bloodlike and splendid,
    Held wide on the right where the headland was sound.

I pulled hard to baffle her rush with the snaffle,
    Before her two-thirds of the field got away;
All through the wet pasture where floods of the last year
    Still loitered, they clotted my crimson with clay.

The fourth fence, a wattle, floor’d Monk and Bluebottle;
    The Drag came to grief at the blackthorn and ditch,
The rails toppled over Redoubt and Red Rover,
    The lane stopped Lycurgus and Leicestershire Witch.

She passed like an arrow Kildare and Cock Sparrow,
    And Mantrap and Mermaid refused the stone wall;
And Giles on The Greyling came down at the paling,
    And I was left sailing in front of them all.

I took them a burster, nor eased her nor nursed her
    Until the Black Bullfinch led into the plough,
And through the strong bramble we bored with a scramble—
    My cap was knock’d off by the hazel-tree bough.

Where furrows looked lighter I drew the rein tighter—
    Her dark chest all dappled with flakes of white foam,
Her flanks mud-bespattered, a weak rail she shattered—
    We landed on turf with our heads turn’d for home.

Then crash’d a low binder, and then close behind her
    The sward to the strokes of the favourite shook;
His rush roused her mettle, yet ever so little
    She shortened her stride as we raced at the brook.

She rose when I hit her. I saw the stream glitter,
    A wide scarlet nostril flashed close to my knee,
Between sky and water The Clown came and caught her,
    The space that he cleared was a caution to see.

And forcing the running, discarding all cunning,
    A length to the front went the rider in green;
A long strip of stubble, and then the big double,
    Two stiff flights of rails with a quickset between.

She raced at the rasper, I felt my knees grasp her,
    I found my hands give to her strain on the bit;
She rose when The Clown did—our silks as we bounded
    Brush’d lightly, our stirrups clash’d loud as we lit.

A rise steeply sloping, a fence with stone coping—
    The last—we diverged round the base of the hill;
His path was the nearer, his leap was the clearer,
    I flogg’d up the straight, and he led sitting still.

She came to his quarter, and on still I brought her,
    And up to his girth, to his breastplate she drew;
A short prayer from Neville just reach’d me, “The Devil!”
    He muttered—lock’d level the hurdles we flew.

A hum of hoarse cheering, a dense crowd careering,
    All sights seen obscurely, all shouts vaguely heard;
“The green wins!”  “The crimson!”  The multitude swims on,
    And figures are blended and features are blurr’d.

“The horse is her master!” “The green forges past her!”
    “The Clown will outlast her!” “The Clown wins!” “The Clown!”
The white railing races with all the white faces,
    The chestnut outpaces, outstretches the brown.

On still past the gateway she strains in the straightway,
    Still struggles, “The Clown by a short neck at most,”
He swerves, the green scourges, the stand rocks and surges,
    And flashes, and verges, and flits the white post.

Aye! so ends the tussle,—I knew the tan muzzle
    Was first, though the ring-men were yelling “Dead heat!”
A nose I could swear by, but Clarke said, “The mare by
    A short head.”  And that’s how the favourite was beat.


I realize this is a very well-known poem, but I thought a break from mediocrity would be nice.

Gordon was born and raised in England and acquainted with some of the best steeplechase riders of his day. He was taught to ride by Tom Oliver and knew George Stevens, who would go on to win the Grand National five times. Gordon raced himself, most notably on a black mare named Lallah Rookh. He was something of a wild child, and, notoriously, once stole Lallah Rookh out of her stable in order to race her against her owner’s wishes. But gambling got the best of him, and his father decided to ship him off to Australia to straighten him out—or at least remove him from the growing trouble he was in in England.

Before leaving England, he approached a young woman he had admired from a distance and said he wold remain in England if she only asked him to. Unsurprisingly, given that they had no real connection and he was not the most reputable fellow around, she demurred.

Gordon went off to Australia where he worked first as a horsebreaker and later in any number of jobs around the country. He also began writing poetry and quickly became one of Australia’s greatest poets. “How We Beat the Favourite” is one of his best-known poems.

Like many of its poems, it appears to have some basis in fact and some poetic license. The actual race he describes is likely the 1847 Cheltenham Steeplechase. This was the first—and only—year the Steeplechase was held at the Prestbury racecourse. Officials determined the course was simply too difficult, but that one running appears to have made an impression on Gordon, who watched it—but did not ride in it. The course described in this poem closely matches the course taken in the Cheltenham Steeplechase, down to the type of jumps, their order, and the geography.

Some of the events in the race are captured as well. The lines about Gordon losing his cap to a tree branch is almost certainly a reference to the death of The Tramp in the 1847 race. The horse got hung up in the orchard and tragically ran headlong into a tree, killing himself in the process.

But it was not only the recollection of watching a very memorable race that helped Gordon write such a vivid poem. The bay mare Iseult in the poem is almost certainly Lallah Rookh, whom Gordon, as mentioned, jockeyed in other steeplechases. He knew firsthand the thrill, dangers, and strategies of such a race and could easily write himself into the poem.

One of the strangest twists of fate about this poem is that George Stevens would later name a horse The Clown after the one in this poem. He was riding this horse one day when it spooked and he fell; he never recovered from that fall and died soon after. The first six stanzas of Gordon’s poem were inscribed on Stevens’ monument.

Gordon himself never knew about this unfortunate turn in the story of the poem. He had died a year before.

He left behind a considerable legacy in his poetry, however, and many of his greatest poems are either about steeplechasing and foxhunting (in England or Australia) or about life in the Australian bush. He is the only Australian poet who is commemorated in Poet’s Corner in England’s Westminster Abbey.

Tagged: Adam Lindsay Gordon, Australia, Books & Reading, Deer, George Stevens, Horse Racing, Horses - Abdelkader, Horses - Birdlime, Horses - Bluebottle, Horses - Bullfinch, Horses - Clown, Horses - Cock Sparrow, Horses - Drag, Horses - Greyling, Horses - Iseult, Horses - Kildare, Horses - Lallah Rookh, Horses - Leicestershire Witch, Horses - Lycurgus, Horses - Mantrap, Horses - Mermaid, Horses - Monk, Horses - Othello, Horses - Red Rover, Horses - Redoubt, Horses - Spartan, Horses - Tramp, Horses - White Surrey, Horses - Yorick, How We Beat the Favourite by Gordon, Poetry, Riding, Tom Oliver, United Kingdom, United Kingdom - England, United Kingdom - England - Cheltenham, United Kingdom - England - Prestbury

Report from the Chute

15 December 2011 Comments

Ro here.

Someone, please, knock some sense into the humans.

First they brought the Smelly Things into my vicinity. That was pretty uncool, but I managed to rise above the indignity.

Then they let the Things hang out by my arena. Although, come to think of it… who wouldn’t want to hang out by the arena and watch me?

But then… I don’t know. The humans can’t figure out how to keep the Smelly Things in the pen, which just makes no sense to me. They keep me away from the grass. How hard can it be to lock up the Things?

But they keep escaping from their pen and the humans chase them across the arena. Sometimes they even catch one, and then they are so surprised they let the rope go loose and the Things escape again.

I just couldn’t stand the stupidity any more, so I tailed along behind one of the smarter horses and he showed me how to herd the Things around. It’s not very hard, really. They are almost as dumb as the humans.

I let the other horses know I had it, and I waited. And, sure enough, the Things got loose again.

Well, I showed them what’s what. After the humans let the ropes loose…again… I got those Things back in the chute, and I marched them back down to the pen, double time. Once they were back where they belonged, the humans rightly showered me with praise. As they should. There I was, fixing their mistake, putting the world right again.

And oh. my. god. They let the Things get loose. Again.

I lose count of how many times I put them back. At least the Things were trainable. I told them where to go, and they went.

Teaching the humans to close the effing gate… that’s a whole ‘other problem.

Tagged: Cows, Horses, Horses - Ro, Riding, Riding - Roping

Waiting for the Bell

12 December 2011 Comments

By Emmons Sylvester Pierce (1890)

“Backward, turn backward, oh time, in your flight.”
These words seem to haunt me while thinking to-night
Of the drivers and horses who’ve passed from the track.
Through the gate that ne’er opens to let them come back.
Recollections come crowding so thick and so fast.
That I only can wonder and stand aghast.

Backward; ah, yes, as we ponder, and look
At the names that are crossed on memory’s book.
We hear the bell ring, and the call from the stand;
We see the old faces that once took a hand;
We hear the word “go!” as they sweep past the score,
We admire the old veteran’s cool courage once more.

We remember it all, so vivid and plain.
That it seems we are having it over again.
But where are the forms, and where are the faces
We saw years ago at the grand circuit races?
And where are the kings and the queens of the turf
That we deemed had no peers on the top of the earth?

They’ve vanished, as well as the time that they made,
And their greatest achievements are knocked in the shade.
Not backward, but forward, old time’s mighty wheel
Unperceived revolves, and new wonders reveals.
And soon it will take you and me from our place;
Just distance us both, and we’re out of the race.


Pierce published Poems of the Turf and Other Ballads in 1890, a collection of poems about horses and especially about harness racing. While they are not literary masterpieces, they are competently written. Their chief virtue is in the stories they tell—generally pretty interesting snapshots. This is one of the better single-author collections of horse-related poetry that I have found. It’s free from if you are interested.

This particular poem is a little more abstract than most of them, but I pulled it out because it’s one of those cases where one poem leads to another, which leads to some interesting something or other.

In this case, the first line of the poem is from “Rock Me to Sleep” by Elizabeth Akers Allen (1860), which runs:

Backward, turn backward, O Time, in your flight,
Make me a child again just for tonight!
Mother, come back from the echoless shore,
Take me again to your heart as of yore;
Kiss from my forehead the furrows of care,
Smooth the few silver threads out of my hair;
Over my slumbers your loving watch keep;— 
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

Backward, flow backward, O tide of the years!
I am so weary of toil and of tears,—
Toil without recompense, tears all in vain,—
Take them, and give me my childhood again!
I have grown weary of dust and decay,—
Weary of flinging my soul-wealth away;
Weary of sowing for others to reap;—
Rock me to sleep, mother – rock me to sleep!

Tired of the hollow, the base, the untrue,
Mother, O mother, my heart calls for you!
Many a summer the grass has grown green,
Blossomed and faded, our faces between:
Yet, with strong yearning and passionate pain,
Long I tonight for your presence again.
Come from the silence so long and so deep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

Over my heart, in the days that are flown,
No love like mother-love ever has shone;
No other worship abides and endures,— 
Faithful, unselfish, and patient like yours:
None like a mother can charm away pain
From the sick soul and the world-weary brain.
Slumber’s soft calms o’er my heavy lids creep;— 
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

Come, let your brown hair, just lighted with gold,
Fall on your shoulders again as of old;
Let it drop over my forehead tonight,
Shading my faint eyes away from the light;
For with its sunny-edged shadows once more
Haply will throng the sweet visions of yore;
Lovingly, softly, its bright billows sweep;—
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

Mother, dear mother, the years have been long
Since I last listened your lullaby song:
Sing, then, and unto my soul it shall seem
Womanhood’s years have been only a dream.
Clasped to your heart in a loving embrace,
With your light lashes just sweeping my face,
Never hereafter to wake or to weep;— 
Rock me to sleep, mother, – rock me to sleep!

Akers Allen originally published the poem under a pseudonym, and it’s one of those sweetly sentimental poems that is likely to be picked up and used by all and sundry. And so it was—it was soon set to music, turned into an illustrated book, used in Civil War flyers, incorporated into novels, and otherwise sold to the tune of more than $5,000 in profit according to one publisher.

Akers Allen did not receive any sort of commission for any of these uses. The only money she made off the poem was the $5 from the original publication.

Worse, more often than not she didn’t even receive credit as the author.

Even worse, other individuals attempted to claim the authorship. The most brazen of these, Alexander Ball, actually published a book staking his claim on the authorship. One of Akers Allens publishers recounts the fallout:

But it grew to a serious matter, and he [Ball] caused a book called his “Vindication,” now known only as a rare literary curiosity, to be produced at a large expense. So much influence was aroused in his favor, and so retiring had been the life and nature of the true author, that the pretender had the advantage for a time. Even so upright and careful a man as William Cullen Bryant, when preparing his “Library of Poetry and Song,” wrote to Mrs. Akers desiring her to show cause why credit should not be given to Mr. Ball in that compilation. Mrs. Akers replied with proper spirit that the only reason was that Mr. Ball did not write the poem, and she did. The lifelong champion of literary honor, J. T. Trowbridge, however, spoke boldly in her favor, and finally the brilliant William Douglas O’Connor effectively demolished the claims of Ball, finding among the “specimens” given in the “Vindication,” plagiarisms from other writers. With the ready chivalry of the reputable press, a number of editors wrote honorable apologies to Mrs. Akers, but the eminent citizens who had allowed the support of their names to the cause of the saddler made suddenly rich by army contracts never had the manliness to address the one whom they had so deeply wronged.

From The Sunset Song and Other Verses by Elizabeth Akers Allen. Norwood: J. S. Cushing & Co. (1902).

While no royalties were forthcoming, at least Akers Allen received some apologies—and came out of the fight the acknowledged author of the poem.

And I am not sure whether to find an unfortunate appropriateness in the literary battle considering the poems subject—after all, by the end of it, Akers Allen was probably longing for the quieter, simpler literary fame she had before the controversy erupted—or to find it deliciously twisted that such a softly nostalgic poem should have sparked such a feisty literary spat.

Tagged: Alexander Ball, Books & Reading, Elizabeth Akers Allen, Emmons Sylvester Pierce, Horses, J T Trowbridge, Library of Poetry and Song by Bryant, Poems of the Turf by Pierce, Poetry, Rock Me to Sleep by Allen, Sunset Song and Other Verses by Allen, Vindication by Ball, Waiting for the Bell by Pierce, William Cullen Bryant, William Douglas O’Connor

One Step Closer to Chasing Cows

11 December 2011 Comments

We found a saddle that fits and verified that she’s not bothered by it.

I even hopped on for about ten minutes, since the steers were hanging out in the chute, and walked her around the arena. She’s quite happy to be back in work, and was very willing to walk right up to the fence by the steers. She doesn’t like turning her back on them, but not even to the point where I felt I needed to pick up the reins.

So, I think we’re good.

Next time I catch a practice, I’ll saddle her up and get her out there. Given what I’ve seen of their practices so far, I can make this part of the legging up process. And in the meantime, we’ll start working on getting both of us back in shape. I’m just as bad as she is.

Tagged: Cows, Horses, Horses - Ro

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