The Museum of the Horse website is based on a private collection of equine related artefacts. This collection hopes to stimulate interest in equine culture and to one day find a home in the United Kingdom. If you have an unusual equine artefact and would like to ‘loan’ it to the museum, please do contact us.
The horse has been with us for thousands of years. It has helped us fight our wars, carry our food, feed us, clothe us and die for us. The horse has been revered and idolized. The horse is embedded deep into the culture of many peoples. These cultures are rich in myth, magic, storytelling, music and song.
The Museum of the Horse intends to record, research, and display (at the moment virtually) artefacts that we believe help to tell this story of the horse in all its diversity.
Long before the invention of the saddle man decorated the horse. Woven, knotted, felted and embroidered blankets. Headdresses, poll and neck covers were made with the intention of embellishing this animal so useful to mankind. For the use of the horse had given the hunter gatherer/farmer the ability to move and move fast and so expand his empire.
In the Pazyryk graves (3rd to 6th century BC) in the Altai Mountains, were found the remains of a nomadic tribal leaders burial. It had been plundered, but much was still untouched due to an extraordinary condition in which the perma frost had infiltrated the tombs and cast all the contents into state of perpetual ice forming a natural deep freeze. This find has given us a wealth of material evidence of a highly skilled and artistic people.
Funeral clothing for horses included masks with reindeer antlers provided evidence that the horse was not the first animal to have been used for transport. Perhaps before that time and certainly since the horse has been decorated and paraded and used to fight our wars from the times of Chivalry to modern warfare. Over 4 million horses died in the First World War, uncountable numbers in previous wars, we will never know how many sacrificed themselves in our struggle for power. We owe them a place in our past. This website intends to do just that.
From the earliest times when man first encountered the horse he recorded his impressions using the tools available to him.
Many fragments of images of the horse have survived from the early stone age. Since then images of the horse have played a major part in our artistic lives. The image of the horse recorded on canvas, in stone, wood, metal, in carpet, china, glass and latterly plastic, is a thread of culture that winds itself through many thousands of years of civilization. Our response to the beauty of the horse and its role in our lives is recorded in every art form imaginable.
Bits have been used to control the horse via its mouth since the 2nd millennium BC. Many materials have been used, bronze and iron, being the most common. Rope too, was attached to a bridle and used to guide the horse. Bronze bits dating from this period have been found in southwestern Iran. Scythians, Hittites, Mitanni, Egyptians all utilized this mode of control.
The designs of bits have little changed, the most common being the snaffle. Equally the straight bar and the cathedral curb were common. Today bits are made from iron, stainless steel, copper, rubber, plastic and composite materials. But if we look through the old catalogues of horse requisites very little has changed with regard to style and type.
Clothes specifically designed for riding date from a time when the gentry could afford the luxury of having a wardrobe. Men, until the Victorian period, wore styles of clothing that were adaptable to both riding and outdoor wear. Historically, as the horse was a normal means of transport, clothing had to have a dual purpose. In the mid 18th century women’s riding clothing took its inspiration from military costume.
De Dreux dressed his equestrian’s up in flamboyant circus costumes and then sat them side saddle on elegant cremelos and dashing black beauties. Side-saddle costume today retains the look of a century earlier, being both fit for purpose and elegant.
In Turkmenistan, the red woven silk riding jacket is specifically made for the men to ride in. Both the Teke tribe and the Yomud share a love of red’s, maroon’s and decorated cuffs and hems.
The practice of shoeing horses appears to date back to the La Tene culture in northern France, Austria and Germany. They were probably invented by the Celts and by the first millennium BC they were more common. The Romans shod their horses with hipposandles, ungainly objects that would have been usable only at a walk. Shoes recorded in paintings clearly show the nails. They may have been a status symbol.
Unshod horses’ feet suffer on rough and hard ground, but hooves will harden from concussion. American mustangs have the hardest feet imaginable and are seldom in need of shoeing. Constant shoeing does break up feet and soften them. Rather in the same way we find it painful to walk barefoot until acclimatized. Mules have very tough feet as do donkeys.
Louise Firouz a famous breeder of Turkoman and Caspian horses traveled across north eastern Iran on horseback for over a quarter of a century and her horses were only shod in front.
As with all things in ones home and in museums, there are items that simple do not fit into any category. We hope they will be small in number even if they are odd in shape and size. This category seeks to give a home to the oddest items that we know are equine related but whose precise description does not fall into the above order or specie.
The saddle has long and interesting history. As far as we can judge the first domesticated animal that was ridden was the reindeer. Pads may have been made out of basic materials, none, to the best of my knowledge have survived.
The Pazyryk artifacts from the Altai mountains tombs of the 5th Century BC yielded up an interesting collection of accoutrements, including a pad saddle. Similar padded saddles were being used in England in the 17th century by women to ride aside on.
The development of the tree which is covered with rawhide soaked and stretched across the frame is a technique from antiquity. Saddles today fall into various categories; the pad made of felt and leather, the half-tree used in racehorse training and racing. Examples of the full tree are Western saddles, Military, Mexican, Side-saddles, Arabian and Berber, Turkmen, Tibetian, South American, Austrailian and Native American.
Although Mali is essentially an Islamic country it has a diverse culture that embraces many other beliefs and forms of worship. Shamans form an important part of the culture. They can be healers or sorcerers, they will have learned the art of harnessing the spirits and to journey in trance states to sacred places and return with messages essential to the well-being and survival of hunter gathers.
The Shaman command respect and as visionaries who can utilize the altered states of consciousness their place in the tribal hierarchy is unquestionable their wisdom is honored. If you hunt animals in order to survive then their spirits must be honored and drawn into the rituals that form an essential part of the religious life.
The Shamans drum is often identified with a horse. The skin stretched across the frame may come from any animal, but the drum itself will often be named after a horse as the horse carries the man so it is associated with the rhythm of the drum which carries the shaman into the altered state and allows him to make contact with the spirits. Music and dance are therefore central to this shamanic practice and only performed by men.
The Dogon carve wonderful animals heads out of wood and perform ritual dances. The dancing sticks curiously turn up in Native American cultures. Although it is believed by Native Americans that their ancestors travelled eastwards from Central Asia across the Bering straights. Shamanism continues to be practiced in both central Asia and amongst native Americans and Mexicans.
The use of spurs predates the stirrup. The Celts of the La Tène culture of the Late Iron Age used spurs. Xenophon mentions spurs and they were used by the Greeks and by the Tuarags around 1350, but interestingly stirrups were not employed. Spurs were found in the Merovingian tombs 7th – 8th century.
Fred Archer the great Victorian jockey who committed suicide, rode in spurs that looked innoxious enough until pressure was put on them and they released a sprung spike, which went into the horse’s side. It would have been common to see a horse finish its race with blood mingled with sweat.
From the very earliest times animals and horses were kept by farmers in barns built on to the side of the farmhouses. Often a wooden slatted wall was the only division between humans and animals. The animals provided warmth.
In Great Britain there is much evidence from 14th and 15th century farmhouses that close proximity of animals to the home was normal. In Switzerland the living quarters were above the biers that housed the sheep and cattle. The importance of horses afforded them quite comfortable and sophisticated stalls within the walls of castles and country houses. As horses were used all the time the stall was adequate. Most were slightly sloping to drain the urine and were cobbled.
In the early 19th Century J.R. Scott Esq., of Cheltenham built a circular stable block with loose boxes and specially designed domes that let in the light. He said that horses could happily spend the entire winter in there without going outside for exercise, such was the space and comfort provided. Stables in Victorian Britain were generally well drained and cobbled with small slate coloured tiles. There were so many working horses in London that some were built in two or more stories. The last of these were in the Camden area of London. The old Victorian Veterinary hospital in ‘The Colonade’ is preserved. It is just the other side of the road from Queen’s Square in London.
The first record of a foot-rest is no earlier than 100 AD. It is possible that the Scythians, nomadic horsemen of the Steppes mentioned by Herodotus (484 BC) were the first horsemen to experiment with a form of foot support.
The origin of the word may be Stige-rap, stigan means to mount and rap is rope. A mounting rope. By the eighth century the stirrup was in use in Central Europe. (Juliet Clutton-Brock, (‘HORSE POWER’) So from evidence available today it would seem that the stirrup and iron were invented about the 5th or 6th century AD in China or Chinese Turkestan and did not appear in India until the 10th century AD. It would appear that the stirrup and the horseshoe are the last bits of the equestrian jigsaw finally bringing the way we manage horses into the modern era.
Whips fall into three categories, the short hand held, such as the huntsman’s whip with the bone head and long tom for calling hounds, racing and riding sticks. Next, the dressage whips as they are longer than the hunting whips. Then the carriage whips, circus whips and lunging whips. Whips can be quite beautifully made with leather woven and topped with silver head pieces. There was a great art of whip making and we hope to find some.