A Small and Eclectic Herd of Recent Equine Delights

The past week has been from hell, and I cannot brain. Therefore I am going to let some cool links brain for me. I am always looking for new things in the horse world. Not all of them are horse-centric, but they do have horses in them.

So, for your delectation, may I share:

The Pharaohs’ Golden Parade

This extraordinary extravaganza has been years in the making—you might even say millennia. The Egyptian Museum in Cairo has been bursting at the seams for a very long time. In this new millennium, the Department of Antiquities has taken steps to solve the problem. It’s a huge, ongoing, countrywide undertaking, and one of its first major steps has been the construction of a massive museum compound in Cairo.

As part of the process, twenty-two royal mummies were to be moved from the Egyptian Museum to the new National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. This could have been done in mundane and practical fashion by simply transferring the mummies in climate-controlled trucks, mounting the new exhibits, and staging a standard museum opening.

But these are kings. Great kings. And queens. And tourism is huge in Egypt, and the pandemic has been brutal to it. Why not make it an Event?

And so they did. I encourage you to watch the whole thing. There’s a fair bit of speechifying and political maneuvering, but the spectacle is so very worth it. The music, the singing of ancient texts, the glorious mashup of ancient and modern—it’s a fantasy writer’s catnip.

This fantasy writer and horse person loved the juxtaposition of mounted police, all on white horses, and a battalion of motorcycle cops in gleaming chrome and black leather. The marching band in uniforms John Philip Sousa would have approved, and the army of attendants in ancient Egyptian costume. And of course the escort of chariots rolling down the avenues and then parting to admit the kings and queens in their golden sarcophagi—each on their own gleaming golden tank adorned with the wings of Isis and marked with their name in English and Arabic.

The police horses were a little restless, standing for all those hours amid the tumult and the long, long lines of marchers and vehicles, but the chariot horses stood as still as images on a tomb. Whoever trained them, I salute those persons. Maybe they had a little Be Calm slipped into their feed that morning, but even so, that was a long time to wait without moving.

***

The Rainy Pass Pony Gang

The world’s most famous dogsled race has had a little airtime here before, but for the dogs and their bond with their humans, rather than for horses. This year’s Iditarod was a strange one. Its route was changed and shortened for Covid safety; instead of winding through the interior of Alaska from Anchorage to Nome, it ran somewhat short of halfway, to the ghost town of Iditarod, and then turned back toward Anchorage.

There were challenges enough in this altered route, and some  interesting terrain, but one unexpected side effect became a combined Oh My and Oh Shit at the checkpoint called Rainy Pass. This early stop along the trail normally sees all the mushers run through, then closes down as volunteers and vets and race staff move farther along the trail. In the pandemic year, teams ran through, and a few days later, ran back on their way to the finish.

The problem was that, at the lodge at Rainy Pass has a herd of half-wild ponies (well, they’re mostly Fjords and crosses, so technically horses, but they’re on the small side) that lives in the pass during the winter. The straw that normally serves as beds for the dogs is, at this checkpoint, replaced with hay, so that after the teams go through, the ponies can safely move in and clean up the leftovers. (Straw is not good for equines to eat in quantities. It clogs their systems.)

So. The teams ran through. The ponies moved in. And they were hungry.

But the checkpoint was still in service. Teams would be coming back through, and needing beds for the dogs.

Sure enough, when the leaders came back, the ponies came to claim their checkpoint as they have for years. Staff tried to rig an electric fence, but a determined pony in thick winter coat doesn’t even blink at a little thing like that. There were dogs on lines, ponies flattening fences, humans running around waving and screaming. It was mayhem.

In the end, the ponies won. The race moved its checkpoint down the trail by a mile or so, out of the ponies’ way. And that, as pony people know, was just about the kind of outcome you would expect. Ponies always win.

***

The Rahvan Horse

Among the several horse breeds in the world, the Rahvan of Turkey was a new one for me. One of my twitter follows happened to mention it while talking about another rare breed, the Turkoman, and its probable descendant the Akhal-Teke, the horse with the famous shimmering coat, which is also called the Turkmen. The Rahvan’s distinction is that, unlike the others, it’s gaited.

And it is fast. Not as fast as a galloping Thoroughbred, but amazingly close. Its gait is so smooth that even a very poorly balanced rider can stay on board, and it can move. It has a lean, greyhoundlike build like the Akhal-Teke, but its movement and head carriage remind me of the rather shorter, much stockier and furrier Icelandic horse.

It’s a total gas to watch. So fast. So smooth. So gaited. It makes me glad I indulged in work and life-hell avoidance on twitter just then, and caught the discussion as it scrolled by. It made the day better, and I learned a new thing. What’s not to like about that?

Judith Tarr’s first novel, The Isle of Glass, appeared in 1985. Since then she’s written novels and shorter works of historical fiction and historical fantasy and epic fantasy and space opera and contemporary fantasy, many of which have been reborn as ebooks. She has even written a primer for writers: Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right. She has won the Crawford Award, and been a finalist for the World Fantasy Award and the Locus Award. She lives in Arizona with an assortment of cats, a blue-eyed dog, and a herd of Lipizzan horses.

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