Beware the Water Horse

Here’s another of my horse lore articles. It originally appeared in a long-ago issue of The Chronicle of the Horse.

Two water horses with fishes' tails in a fountain in Paris, France
Water horses at Paris’ Fontaine des Quatre Parties du Monde, sculpted by Emmanuel Fremiet.

Beware the water horse. He lurks in the deep, murky waters of desolate forest pools, and in icy northern fjords, and on bright, sun swept beaches–and he wants to eat you.

Beware the Scottish kelpie.  Kelpies are shapeshifters that take the form of bold grey horses, as grotesque humans with hideous sabre teeth, or as handsome young men with horses’ ears and seaweed draped in their hair. They haunt saltwater estuaries, inland rivers, and great, deep lakes like Loch Ness. Kelpies devour human flesh . Once aboard a kelpie’s sticky back, a rider is doomed. Off thunders the kelpie into the deep, where the human quickly drowns. Only his liver is spared.

And kelpies have cousins. Nickers den in Iceland’s frigid fjords, shoneys on Cornwall’s shores, and Scottish each uisges haunt desolate seaside tide pools. All of them are shapeshifters and blood drinkers, fearsome and cunning and mean. Continue reading “Beware the Water Horse”

In the Blood

This is an article I wrote for The Chronicle of the Horse at least 20 years ago, though I’m not sure what issue it was in. At the time, I was working at a site administered by the Minnesota Historical Society, where the bloodletting of its human occupants was the norm. I wondered if it was used to treat animals as well, so I researched the subject. This is the results.

An 18th century book illustration showing a man preparing to bloodlet a grey horse.
Bloodletting a horse from an 18th century Hindi text
Credit: Wellcome Library, London.

Picture poking a hole in your horse’s neck to treat his ills. Imagine his blood coursing down his shoulder, down his foreleg, onto the ground. Lots of it, a gallon or two or more, perhaps until his knees buckle and he faints. And imagine repeating this gory process again and again, sometimes for days, until he gets better–or dies.

Insanity? Few twentieth century folks would disagree, yet as a medical procedure for man and beast, bloodletting, also called bleeding and venesection, persisted for a long, long time.

Hippocrates, writing and practicing medicine in the fourth century B.C.E., authored a comprehensive treatise on bloodletting. Building upon Hippocrates’ notes, the Greek physician Galan was first to stipulate exactly how much blood should be drained (for a human, from seven or eight ounces to as much as a pound and a half; in certain cases until the patient fainted).

And throughout the ‘civilized’ western world, for century upon century, the grisly practice persisted. Why? Because folks believed it worked. Continue reading “In the Blood”

Black Horse, White Horse

This is one of several short articles about horsey folklore that I sold to The Chronicle of the Horse in the early 1990s. I’m going to re-publish them in a free ebook later this year; watch for it at my Freebies page.

Black Horse, White Horse

One white foot, keep him not a day,
Two white feet, send him far away.
Three white feet, sell him to a friend,
Four white feet, keep him to the end.
One white foot, buy him,
Two white feet, try him,
Three white feet, deny him.
Four white feet and white on his nose,
Whack him in the head and feed him to the crows.

Gabet Gai-Lonna, aged Arabian mare out grazing.
Gabet Gai-Lonna, 31 year old Arabian daughter of Gamaar.

Horsey folks have voiced opinions about how the colors effect horses’ dispositions since humankind domesticated the horse.

Superstition? Mostly. Yet D. Phillip Sponenberg, whose works, Equine Color Genetics and Horse Color, are the best in their field, says, “A small amount of European research is beginning to point out that horses of certain colors do tend to react somewhat predictably to certain situations, and that reactions vary from color to color”.

Continue reading “Black Horse, White Horse”

Jacob Biggle’s Vintage Livestock and Farming Books

If you love old livestock and farming books as much as I do, visit the Biodiversity Heritage Library and download Jacob Biggle’s Biggle Farm Library books for free.

Biodiversity Heritage Library

The cover and frontpiece of The Biggle Swine BookWikipedia says, “The Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL) is a consortium of natural history and botanical libraries that cooperate to digitize and make accessible the legacy literature of biodiversity held in their collections and to make that literature available for open access and responsible use as a part of a global ‘biodiversity commons.'”

What this means is that through them you can access over 200,000 vintage agricultural and natural history books and journals and download them as PDF files at no cost whatsoever. And their selection is outstanding! It includes all ten Biggle books including my favorite old-time sheep guide, the: Biggle Sheep Book: Something practical about sheep; all wool and a yard wide, mutton chops cooked to the taste of the most fastidious. Continue reading “Jacob Biggle’s Vintage Livestock and Farming Books”

Frozen in Time







The early 1900s ushered in the golden age of real picture postcards. According to U.S. Post Office figures, 677,777,798 postcards were mailed in 1909 alone. Not surprisingly, camera makers honed in on a need and began producing cameras like the 3A Folding Pocket Kodak Camera that shot real picture postcards instead of film. In 1903 such a camera fitted with a quality lens cost as much as $78 (that’s roughly $2000 today).

Affordable postcard-format cameras like the Chicago Ferrotype Company’s Mandel-ette postcard camera soon emerged. These were simple box cameras with fixed-focus lenses. In the back of the camera was a black changing bag through which the photographer moved an exposed paper negative to the built-in developer tank attached to the bottom of the camera. The best part was that in 1919 the Mandel-ette, complete with tripod and enough material for 116 postcards cost the grand sum of $7.75 ($173.81 in today’s funds). Itinerant photographers snapped them up and took to the road. Continue reading “Frozen in Time”

Out of the Mouths of Babes, or What is that thing in my horse’s afterbirth?!

Saunder’s Comprehensive Veterinary Dictionary; Second Edition defines hippomanes (hih-poh-MAH-neez; from Greek, meaning “horse, crazy”) as a “small (up to 1.5” thick and 8” diameter), circular, flat smooth body found in allantoic fluids, esp. in mares and cows. Called foal’s bread or foal’s tongue. On cut section they are semi-solid, homoneous, amber-colored”.

Not all are amber-colored, though. Hippomanes (the plural of hippomanes is also hippomanes) range in color from chalky gray to yellowish to darkest brown. They are shaped like thick, oval pancakes–soft, spongy, and rubbery to touch. Hippomanes can be 4-6” long, 3-4” wide, and 1-1 1/2” thick. No two are alike; even twins’ hippomanes can be different sizes and different colors. Continue reading “Out of the Mouths of Babes, or What is that thing in my horse’s afterbirth?!”