Magazine article The Spectator

Horse Sense

Magazine article The Spectator

Horse Sense

Article excerpt

LESTER Piggott is not a sentimental man. But even he is guilty of it. Anthropomorphism, I mean. His brutally unsentimental statements about horses have had millions of people baffled as to the point of the horsy life. `Never catch a loose horse,' he once said. `You'll end up holding the fucking thing all day.'

`At least 60 per cent of horses don't really want to do their best,' Piggott said on another occasion. `Winning doesn't mean all that much to them.' Do their best? How can any sane human being come to terms with the idea that an animal knows the difference between his best and his not quite best?

Perhaps it is this business of anthropomorphism that drives a wedge between the horsy and the non-horsy. `He's a nutty professor with the body of Arnold Schwarzenegger,' said the eventer Ian Stark of Murphy Himself. `He's a bit of a swank. He would always play to the crowd,' said Tim Dreaper of the great Arkle. Anne, Duchess of Westminster refused to let the same horse run in the 1965 Grand National. 'I have no regrets. I was not prepared to risk my best friend.' `As a foal, her cheeky face used to catch your eye in the paddock,' said Clive Brittain of the gorgeous Pebbles.

Next week happens to be National Riding Week, organised by the British Horse Society. One of the many things they try to do is to make non-horsy people understand that horsy people really aren't so bad after all. It is a pretty tough task they have set themselves.

Why is it that horsy people insist on talking about these large herd-minded herbivores in human terms? It is such obvious nonsense. And it unfailingly alienates the non-horsy world. How can such concepts as goodness or badness, kindness or viciousness, good moods or bad moods, be applied to these alien and incontestably non-human animals? Aren't all non-humans mechanisms that slaver to the sound of a bell? …

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