Thursday, July 04, 2013

More horses

The 1982 Hyde Park bombing by the IRA has recently been in the news again with John Anthony Downey being arrested for the atrocity. I distinctly remember seeing the shocking photos in the papers at the time, which kept with me mainly because of the dead horses. We're so used to seeing images of human death to be almost immune to it, but there was something about the horses inert forms that was especially distressing. Horses are such innocent, beautiful and noble beasts; to die serving man seemed so wasteful and pointless.

This idea was reinforced by my seeing the play War Horse recently. Dead soldiers littered the ground but our sympathy was all for the horses. As Michael Billington wrote in the Guardian, the play showed the 'unshaken belief that mankind is ennobled by its love of the horse'.

The public's reaction to the recent controversy about horse meat emphasised our fondness for the beast and hostility to eating it (though for most of our existence we have, and obviously still do in many cultures). Eating certain animals but not eating others is a curious thing, often dictated by culture and how attached we feel to the animal in question. Chickens, cows and sheep get a raw deal in the UK, seemingly lacking in intelligence and companionship (and tasting rather good). We relate to animals that have human characteristics (I was recently offered a cat on antidepressants), perhaps, that we can assign names to (it's hard eating an animal called Max or Tigger), find cute, and can be a companion.

The little known final chapter of Gulliver's Travels involves the eponymous hero finding himself in a land where talking horses, called Houyhnhnms, meaning 'the perfection of nature', are the dominant race; intelligent, stable (sorry) and rational. The lowly humans (called Yahoos), by contrast, are filthy, materialistic and crude savages.

Previously on Barnflakes:
Top 10 Horse Songs


Anonymous said...

Hey Barnaby

I love your blog - particularly that this post is going to help an essay I have been struggling with!


Barnaby said...

Many thanks Rachael, glad to be of service!