Wild Horses

Back in February 2014 I wrote about the Przewalski’s horses in Woburn Safari Park (Bedfordshire, UK). Last weekend, I went back to visit them again.

(picture by Tom Campey after the ancient Lasceaux cave paintings) 

Przewalski’s (see note below) horses are the last surviving subspecies of wild horse. They’re the real thing. These horses used to roam the steppe or treeless grasslands along the Mongolian border with China. Because of hunting and the disappearance of their habitat as humans spread out across the steppes, these wild horses very nearly became extinct.

Some Przewalski’s horses were kept safe and bred in captivity – but not domesticated. Today there are still only about 1,500, mostly in zoos though a few have been re-introduced back into Mongolia. Woburn has a small herd of five.

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Other horses sometimes described as wild are actually descended from escaped or released domesticated horses, eg mustangs in America, brumbies in Australia. They’ve generally got a hint of their Arab or Spanish ancestors’ graceful looks.

The appearance of a Przewalski horse, by contrast, is fine-tuned for survival. This one has his summer coat.

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So you’ll see that, compared with the domesticated horse, a Przewalski horse has a shorter, more muscular body. His plain colouring is designed to camouflage him and his mane sticks up. His shape is more like that of a Zebra (they’ve also got Zebras at Woburn) and like Zebras Przewalskis determinedly resist taming and have to be sedated for any hoof trimming etc.

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Apart from the ears, they also resemble the Somali Wild Ass a little:

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There’s a chapter on wild horses in film, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film find out more here

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Ten Horsey Christmas Presents

Here are my suggestions * for what to give the Horsey person in your life – and all of these can be ordered from the comfort of your own armchair:

  1. At number one, it has to be the lovely hardback, “Coffee Table” style, beautifully illustrated Hollywood Hoofbeats: Trails Blazed Across the Silver Screen by Petrine Day Mitchum (yes, she’s the daughter of screen legend Robert Mitchum – and an expert on horses and films in her own right) and Audrey Pavia. £22

hollywood hoofbeats

  1. If £22 is a bit pricey, Lights Camera Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film (by Lesley Lodge) is £11.95 in paperback and is also illustrated. (Or only £1.99 in the Kindle version)

coversmall

  1. War Horse by Michael Morpurgo. This is the book that inspired the film and the play. £3.49 in paperback (and there’s a deal where for only £10 you can get two other paperbacks with it) or – because this book is a keeper – £7.99 in hardback
  1. A Good Horse is Never a Bad Colour by Mark Rashid. Paperback. This book is packed with advice and hints for getting the best from your horse but each piece of advice is conveyed through a fascinating story. £12.99 in paperback, £16.99 in hardback.

A good horse is

  1. A Standard Journey by Jackie Parry. An amazing story about how Jackie and Noel rescued five horses, sold everything they had and trekked along part of Australia’s majestic Bicentennial National Trail. £12.99 in paperback.

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  1. A game perhaps? Horse-Opoly is a bit like Monopoly but with horses! The board features different breeds of horses and each property deed teaches players a little about that breed of horse. Players can choose to be a bail of hay, saddle, horseshoe, horse trailer, bag of oats, or a boot. For 2 to 6 players. £19.76
  1. How about a bag? There’s the Ladies Horse Canvas Satchel Messenger Saddle Shoulder School Cross Body Bag. £7.99 and available in different colours.

bag

  1. Practical Horse Whispering (Threshold picture guides). A paperback guide to bonding with your horse. £5.95

 9. A stocking filler perhaps? The Coloring Book of Horses Stress Reducing Art Therapy offers two sorts of colouring-in. For Adults or younger. By Lesley Lodge with drawings by two artists: Antonio Reche Martinez and Tom Campey. £5.50

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  1. The ultimate stocking filler idea for girls: Easy to use, High Quality Nail Art For Every Occasion! Horse. These are tiny horse stickers to add on to fingernails. A snip at £1.99 (Amazon helpfully tells us this works out at £79.60 per kilo!)

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* Disclosure – ok, two of the above books are written by me….

Hoofprints in the Sand – a review

I’ve just read a great book for horse lovers and here’s my review:

Hoofprints in the Sand is a great read for horse lovers – and those who don’t think of themselves as horse lovers will still find plenty to intrigue and fascinate. It’s clearly based on a lot of hard research but the result is very readable.

Hoofprints in the Sand was the first ever book to compare and contrast the USA East Coast herds of feral horses and ponies – but it is so much more.hoofprints

For example, did you perhaps read the book Misty of Chincoteague or see the film “Misty” about the wild ponies of Assateague, an island off the coast of Virginia, USA? If so you’ll remember the famous annual round-up and swimming of the horses across to the mainland. Hoofprints in the Sand has plenty of facts about these ponies and those on other “barrier” islands, together with explanations of their likely heritage and why horses and ponies were bred on islands. You’ll also find out too how wild horses behave – and why.

The book includes some fascinating snippets of information including (in random order):
• Grass contains silica (basically sand) – and so wears horses’ teeth.
• Horses were the most abundant large animals a million years or so ago, after bison and mammoths
• Horses shipped by the Spanish after their discovery of the “new world” had only a 50% chance of surviving the trip

The book authoritatively corrects a number of misapprehensions about mustangs, their origins and behavior.

There are some accounts of key horse-breeders over the centuries and about specific horses and herds.

Finally, there’s a chapter on where you can actually visit to see the East Coast horses discussed in the book, there are some useful tips for campers on how to avoid inadvertently endangering these beautiful horses and ponies – oh yes, and there’s a bibliography in case you’d like to read more.

There’s a whole chapter of wild horses – of many continents in Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film:

to find more films, more horses in films, check out:

to find more films, more horses in films, check out:

London Film Festival: a few thoughts of 7 films to catch – or not…

Some quick thoughts from the train back from London:

The first three I saw were:

The Salvation: a Danish Western with – amazingly – Eric Cantona (and yes, lots of horses). Great homage to both the conventional Western and the Spaghetti Western

Rosewater: directed by the Daily Show’s John Stewart. A film about a journalist incarcerated and interrogated in Iran with the very, very watchable Gael Garcia Bernal and the Danish guy from The Bridge. I really, really recommend this film. Excellent. Grim subject but very uplifting turnaround.

The Keeping Room: an American civil war film (The Keeping Room) with three amazingly brave, strong women (has a few horses in it) . The good guys (weren’t we taught that the war was about ending slavery) were definitely not good guys in this as they burn the South and attack the women. Still, it is a film.

My next three, the next day were:

Stereo – A German thriller. This was too violent for me and I wasn’t too keen on the hallucination and psych babble elements. Still it carries you on.

Betibu: An Argentine detective film. Now this one was quite stylish, reasonably good but a complex plot and more talking than action. (Confession: I did doze off momentarily…)

I can quite whenever I want:  a very funny Italian spoof on Breaking Bad it had a pretty good go at all 5 series in under 2 hours. All in the context of what the financial crisis has done for graduate unemployment in Italy. The nightclub scenes are especially funny.

Now to the last film I caught:

Jauja: set in Argentina in the 19th century but starring Viggo Mortensen and actually more in Danish than in Spanish. Spoiler alert: for the first 40 or so minutes, Viggo gets on and off his horse a lot. He drinks water from various pools. His horse drinks water. Now as you may know, I write about horses in films. So I’m a big fan of horses in film (his horse was a nice bay with a hogged mane) but even so, I did wish for a bit more action…. After the film, Viggo himself gave a Q and A session and just happened to mention that the script for this 108 minute film was only 19 pages…..

to find more films, more horses in films, check out:

to find more films, more horses in films, check out the book above

Lone Ranger: ten top (and real) horse stunts

Spoiler Alert: this may contain a few spoilers so… you might want to watch the film first.

The Lone Ranger film has now reached TV (at least here in the UK) so I’m re-issuing this (original, similar post in December 2013).  Also the DVD is out). This film has some tremendous horse stunts – some of which were filmed for real (a refreshing break from the  CGI). Yet the American Humane Association has given it the all-clear, issuing its famous “No animals were harmed” in the making of this film. So how did they do it?

The American Humane Association often posts film reviews which give some of the answers to this question. (They’ve got a great website). So this is what I found out:

For a start, as a matter of course, the horses used included specially trained “falling horses” and “lay down horses” that fell on cue and when they did that, their landing area was specially prepared to be soft.

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Here’s how ten of the best horse stunts were filmed:

  1. In the scene where the Lone Ranger’s horse, Silver, picks up a bottle with his mouth and appears to drink beer out of it, horse trainers placed a rubber beer bottle into the horse’s mouth and then pulled gently on his rein to make it look as if he’s drinking it.
  2. The dead horse lying on top of a Texas Ranger was fake.
  3. In the scene where the Indians ride round the barn, shooting their guns in the air, the area was cordoned off by production with fencing. Only quarter load blanks were used (these are very light). After the action, wranglers came in to calm the horses down.
  4. Where Silver jumps from high up out of a burning barn and runs off in the distance, production achieved this image by capturing the horse jumping from a small height with different camera angles. The film crew used wands, each of which was on fire, at seven points to make it looks as if the fire was surrounding the barn. They placed a smoke pot in front of a strong wind machine. The horse actually jumped from a small platform onto mats and soft footing.
  5. OK, this one did use a tiny bit of CGI: In the scene where Silver licks off the scorpions from Tonto and Lone Ranger’s faces, two fake heads were placed in the sand, and covered with treats. The horse bent down to eat the treats from the fake heads – the scorpions were added into the film later by CGI.
  6. In the same scene, the Lone Ranger and Tonto are buried up to their necks and Silver pulls Tonto out of the ground by having him bite onto the reins while Silver backs up, pulling him out. This scene was accomplished by having the two actors buried in a special box with their heads sticking out. Trainers had the horse bend his head down, whereupon the actor bites onto the rein. The horse then backed up, so it looks like he’s pulling the actor out of the ground.
  7. In a scene where a stable explodes and the horses escape from the explosion, trainers built fence posts outside the corral to keep them in place as they run from the stable. The crew placed mortars under the ground which set off small explosions of dust – but the mortars were never near the horses. The explosions in fact took place after the horses were cleared from the set.
  8. In the scene where the Lone Ranger rides Silver across the rooftops, the crew had constructed a set made to look like the flat roofs of town buildings. There was a ramp for the horse at each end. A stuntman rode the horse from point A to point B, jumping over small barriers along the way.
  9. In one of the most exciting scenes, where the Lone Ranger rides his horse on the train jumping from car to car, the production crew had built a set that looked like the top of a train. The trainer rode the horse up a ramp to the set, and rode on the set, jumping on a blue screen placed between the two carriages. The horse was never actually galloping on a moving train.
  10. In the scene where the man pushes the woman off the train and she lands on the horse facing the Lone Ranger, riding face to face, the production team filmed the actors facing each other on the horse riding at a relatively slow pace, then the film was speeded up.

Like horses in film? Try “Lights! Camera! Gallop! The story of the horse in Film”. Lots of photos too.

Ebook on the Horse in Film - under £7 from http://tinyurl.com/lightscameragallop http://www.amazon.co.uk/Lights-Camera-Gallop-story-horse-ebook/dp/B0092SU57Y/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1400246580&sr=8-2&keywords=lights+camera+gallop

Truly wild horses! Przewalski’s horses

Ever wondered what a wild horse would look like? Or how it would behave? One descended from a complete line of wild, undomesticated horses? I’ve been fortunate enough see those in Woburn Safari Park (about 50 miles north of London, UK) and even more fortunate to be able to interview an animal keeper at Woburn Safari Park who knows them well.

The other horses or ponies you think of today as wild are actually descended from escaped or released domesticated horses. This includes the mustangs of America, the brumbies of Australia, the “wild” horses of Namibia and so on.  Free-roaming ponies such as those in the UK’s New Forest or on Dartmoor are all owned and protected in various ways. New Forest ponies for example are regularly rounded up, given a health check and even have their tails cut to indicate what where their owners are from.

Przewalski’s horses, though, are the last surviving subspecies of wild horse. They’re the real thing. The first person to write about them scientifically was a 19th century Russian explorer named – yes, you guessed it – Przewalski. These horses used to roam the steppe (treeless grasslands) along the Mongolian border with China. Gradually though because of hunting and the disappearance of their habitat with the spread of humans across the steppes their numbers dwindled. They became very nearly extinct. Still, some Przewalski’s horses were kept safe and bred in captivity – but not domesticated. Today there are about 1,500 of them, mostly in zoos though some have been re-introduced back into Mongolia and China.

Compared with the usual, domesticated, horse Przewalski’s horses have a shorter, more muscular body and they’re smaller (about 12 to 14 hands high). They have a pale belly and beige to reddish-brown coat. They have a striking dark mane that sticks up. Here’s a picture of the ones in Woburn.

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Animal keeper Tom Robson’s job includes looking after Woburn’s Przewalski’s horses – when he’s not tending to the giraffes, rhinos and zebras. He told me they’ve got six Przewalski’s horses: two mares and four geldings. They are part of the international breeding programme to keep the breed alive. They stick together as a small herd, with one more dominant male.

The care of these horses is similar to that of rugged native UK breeds – in Woburn they’re kept on grass with a hard-standing area (which helps keep their hooves sound) with supplemental hay, chaff and pasture nuts provided when necessary and they have access to shelters. Like American mustangs, they’re very sensitive about their hooves. Like most herbivores, their main preoccupation is eating but Tom has seen them playing the occasional chasing game. A snippet from Woburn that tickled me is that the keepers give the horses’ hoof trimmings to the wolves – who just love to roll on them.

So, overall, Przewalski’s horses are similar in many ways to domestic and free-roaming horses but they certainly look a bit different. While I was in Woburn Safari Park, I heard a Dad confidently telling his small son that they were “donkeys with small ears”.  What do you think?

To read about wild horses in film, check out Lights! Camera! Gallop! The Story of the Horse in Film

http://tinyurl.com/lightscameragallop

http://www.lesleylodge.co.uk

Writer’s block: Real? Imaginary? Solutions?

 

I’ve been a bit distracted from my “proper” writing recently – but have I really got writer’s block?

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Look up writer’s block and you’ll find it confidently defined along the lines of “writer’s block is a condition, mostly associated with writing as a profession, in which the author somehow loses the ability to write, to produce new work”.

I was listening to Lee Child, however, at the recent (and very great fun) Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. He equally confidently denied the existence of writer’s block. Lorry drivers, he pointed out, might not feel like working some days, but they do nevertheless. Similarly, Philip Pullman has asked “Do plumbers get plumber’s block? What would you think of a plumber who used that as an excuse not to do any work that day?”

Robert McKee (that’s the Robert McKee of the world-famous Story seminar – check out http://mckeestory.com/ ) has suggested that Writer’s block “is not a paralysis of creativity but a malnutrition of material.”  The implication then is that if you think you’ve got writer’s block, either you simply haven’t done enough research – or you should just pull yourself together and get on with it.

OK I thought. I’ll just get on with it. But… but…

On the other hand, some very famous authors claimed they genuinely struggled with writer’s block. F. Scott Fitzgerald (Great Gatsby etc) is one example. Bestseller Dan Brown has been reported recently as going to the extreme of using gravity boots to hang upside down in order to fend off writer’s block. (ebay’s got some for £17.99 ($27.20) by the way).

So is the real answer is somewhere between these extremes? Yes, a lot of it is about research and even more is probably about getting going – just pour it out, write and write. You can improve it, edit out the bad stuff and so on later. That does suppose your starting point is at the least an idea or two and some characters. If you haven’t got those, then maybe try research – even if it’s only walking round the location of your story or dredging your own memory for that spark of an idea, a “what if” line.

I think there’s a less obvious, more insidious cause of writer’s block too – the internet and all its associated social media, whether coming at you by phone or by laptop. Yes we can always do some research on the internet – but let’s be honest with ourselves. If we’re not focusing in on some essential detail, say, what type of gun our antagonist might have used and whether that model had a safety catch, chances are what we’re really doing is wasting valuable writing time.

If you’re lucky enough and there’s some money in what you’re writing, there’s always this suggestion of Lee Child’s:

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“Make a tall stack of tax demands, tuition bills, and mortgage statements. Stare at it until the block disappears. Usually takes three or four seconds.“ (You can substitute your own bills of course – vet bills for injured dog and petrol would be on my list).

Finally, some others to read on writer’s block:

There’s io9 – a daily publication that covers science, science fiction, and the future lists ten types of writer’s block – with ideas on overcoming them (with some fabulous Pulp magazine images)

http://io9.com/5844988/the-10-types-of-writers-block-and-how-to-overcome-them

or try: http://flavorwire.com/343207/13-famous-writers-on-overcoming-writers-block

Horses spotted in Costa Rica

My brief pause in blogging here has been due to two-week holiday in Costa Rica. (Note to self: I really should crack the art of setting up blogs and tweets for release while I’m away). I had a fabulous time in the rainforest – huge sloths (with long green hair) hanging from the trees, howler monkeys leaping on the roof every night (cute – but believe me the novelty wears off when you’re tired), brightly coloured frogs (poisonous, can be deadly, but hallucinogenic, I’m told – if you get the dose right though you’d need to be pretty foolhardy to try). Above all there were exotic birds. We even glimpsed the famed and rare Quetzal bird.

Whenever I go to another country, I’m always interested in the horses and how they are treated. I’ll never forget the shock of seeing underfed and badly treated horses and donkeys in Greece when I went there many years ago on a school trip. Happily the treatment of horses in most European countries has improved enormously (if only because their owners realised bad treatment upset the tourists and might jeopardise the income from them).

Developing countries are another matter though. Poverty and sheer ignorance sometimes lead to overwork and poor nutrition for horses, donkeys and mules, whether they pull farm equipment, carry loads or pull fancy pony traps for round-the-town tourist rides. I was very impressed with Costa Rica overall. They’ve been democratic for ages, abolished their army in 1948 and have an admirable programme of green and sustainable tourism and rainforest management. They do not seem to have many horses (probably just as well since they do have venomous snakes. I experienced one magical moment on an expedition in the depths of the rainforest though – suddenly, as I looked uphill, to my amazement I saw two beautiful white horses jumping over a fence. They’d stopped by the time we got the camera focused – but here they are.

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Interestingly, the museum in the capital San Jose showed that there were horses back in the days of mammoths. I hadn’t realised there had been horses on the American continent before the Spanish conquistadors arrived but apparently there were (until they were hunted to extinction). Here toImageo is a picture of some Costa Rican riding trail horses. You’ll see they don’t look neglected.