Poor Old Horse

hoodenhorselow

We’ve got a poor old horse,
And he’s standing at your door,
And if you’ll only let him in
He’ll please you all, I’m sure.
Poor old horse, poor old horse. 

He once was a young horse,
And, in his youthful prime,
My master used to ride on him,
And thought him very fine.
Poor old horse, poor old horse. 

But now that he’s grown old,
And nature doth decay,
My master frowns upon him,
And these words I’ve heard him say —
Poor old horse, poor old horse.

These are the first three verses of an Old Horse song that was sung at Yule in Sheffield during the winter of 1888. This and the phenomenon of Kentish Hooden Horses were the inspirations for my above illustration. Furthermore, this element makes up part of a scene featured in my guest blog about the Folklore of Yule posted on the Words and Pictures website (see link below).

The Old Horse was a traditional English folk play performed around Yule or the New Year. In East Kent it was known as the Hooden Horse, while it was referred to as the Owd Oss in northern Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. It entails singing a ballad to an Old Horse by a small troupe. The horse was represented by someone bent over and covered in a blanket while holding a horse’s head (or the representation of one) that was placed upon the end of a stick. At the end of the performance a hat would be passed round for donations of money. The troupe would visit farms, public houses and the houses of the well off.

There is also a humorous historical account of a Hooden Horse recorded in 1859 which cites the dramatic effect of such plays. A German woman, who resided at Lower Hardres, Kent, had been chair-bound for seven years. She witnessed a local Hooden Horse performance and was so frightened by the wooden prop steed that she leapt up from her chair and dashed for safety. This ‘miraculous’ cure impressed her husband so much that he bought the horse costume and took it back to Germany.

My Words and Pictures blog on Yule Folklore is found at
http://www.wordsandpics.org/2013/12/mummers-old-horses-and-treasure-trove.html

The complete text for the Sheffield Old Horse song is found at
http://www.folkplay.info/Texts/88sk38sa.htm

And Hooden Horses galore are found here
http://www.hoodening.org.uk

Iron Age Horse

This my illustration of an Iron Age horse intended for a children’s education pack that did not come to pass. Many horse bones have been recovered at Iron Age sites across Britain. Archaeozoologists tell us these horses were small by contemporary standards as they were the size of what we call would call ‘ponies’. Iron Age horses have also been compared to the Exmoor ponies and, thus, I used reference photographs of them as the basis of my illustration.

 ironagehorselow

Wear on teeth and back bones indicate Iron Age horses were ridden, while wear on other bones indicate they were used for heavy labour such as ploughing. Horses also pulled wagons or chariots and the most famous British example derives from the Wetwang burial. Here an Iron Age woman of high prestige was buried with an elegant chariot. More can be found on this remarkable woman and a reconstruction of her vehicle on the British Museum website:

http://www.britishmuseum.org/explore/online_tours/britain/the_wetwang_chariot_burial/the_wetwang_chariot_burial.aspx