It has been nine months since I wrote a blog.
You see, my father died nine months ago. It’s been hard to focus. I’ve been lurching from project to conference paper, from workshop to talks while trying to make sense of this humbling event.
I knew Dad was unwell. He knew he was unwell. But in the end it all happened rather quickly and I felt overtaken by people and subsequent happenings that left me high and dry.
Gradually I have tumbled back to a place where I can focus again (or rather I’ve scrabbled up to a place where I can start to breathe again) and revisit earlier imaginings and ideas.
About a year ago I met a well known publisher at a literary event in Hay on Wye. I told him about my interest in the portrayal of the horse in British folklore and legend and how I would like to write a book celebrating this. It would not be a weighty tome reanalysing the role of the horse but a recognition of their importance beyond that as a mode of transport for saints and warriors.
He was kind and said he would be interested. He asked me to send him more information.
Dad died a few weeks later and I hadn’t the heart to send the publisher my notes.
Dad’s stories of the working horses of his childhood almost eighty years earlier still sang inside me, too painful to visit: how as a young lad in the 1940s his first job was to get cart horses ready to pull the milk floats into Coventry before sitting down to a full English in the farmhouse kitchen and how in summer the men would stick elder leaves in the bridles of working horses to keep away the flies.
I came across some photos the other day taken in New York four years ago. It been a difficult day. I’d broken my leg a few months earlier, it was hot and we’d had been dragged round Manhattan but some enthusiastic friends (they were tourists of the ‘tick box’ variety wanting to see as much as possible before hitting the bars!). My leg was painful and swollen so we politely ditched our friends and headed for some New York style R & R in a retro bookshop with a cafe. Dusk came and although we tried to get back to our hotel avoiding Times Square like Rome or some fateful fairy tale all roads seemed to lead there. We were tired, cranky and hungry.
Suddenly, walking along the boundary of Central Park, we came to the entrance and were confronted by three enormous horses made from metal. Huge. Beautiful. Intense. Incredibly tactile. Their grey faces full of expression, they lifted our spirits enormously. We hailed a cab and rode back to Little Italy for wine and pasta.
These were the photos I found.
The memory of an encounter that, at the time, had proved cathartic in so many ways pulled me away from pathy and sparked my desire to return to this project once more. Let me introduce you to The Horses…
The Horses by Jean-Marie Appriou
The Horses by Jean-Maria Appriou were massive aluminium sculptures at the entrance to Central Park in New York City, commissioned by the Public Art Fund for just one year in 2019. Apparently inspired by the park carriage horses they remind us of the many other aspects of the horse.
Like The Kelpies in Falkirk, Scotland, their true nature appeared at odds with their wildness and ability to serve. Horses are often represented in art and stories as magnificent mounts for the glorification of warriors and statesmen. Or they’re portrayed as servile, domesticated creatures, pulling carts and ploughing fields so we may eat our daily bread. Alternatively they can be shown as wild, otherworldly, thrashing out with teeth and hoof, fierce and terrifying.
These horses were all of these things yet they were none of them… There were three different sculptures, Les Amants des Bois (The Lovers in the Woods), Le Joueur (The Player) and Le Guerner (The Warrior). None was ‘complete’, each missing body parts such as ears, even a torso.
I found them incredibly ‘grounding’. They invited touch and contemplation and despite resting on rough concrete, surrounded by the roar and lights of the city their presence felt incredibly chthonic.
Each horse was evocative and tactile evoking you to touch them and wonder at their true nature. Seen at night under the luminous, flickering lights of New York their liminal and mystic natures were in no doubt. They gave me food for thought and an opportunity to take breath both actually and metaphorically for which I was grateful.
The memory of this brief and unexpected, otherworldly encounter in the jungle of New York City has once again grounded me, helping me to step back into the pages, and memories, of the past. As ever I am reminded of the multi faceted role of the horse in our history and the importance of our ancient connection with them.
Photos my own.