All the dead horses.

There is a particularly stupid story that has caught my attention this week; all about a horse and a twat. I like horses, but I couldn’t care less about riding them. I once spent a thoroughly miserable afternoon pony trekking on a PGL, and hated every minute of it. My pony could sense my fear, and if you keep getting thrown to the ground by a belligerent pony believe me there is plenty to be fearful of. Someone will always tell you that horses love to give people rides but I just can’t see how that could be true (why would any animal actively invite another to sit on it other than for carnal interest?); we have just constructed our own fable out of convenience, because we can’t bear to admit that much of human civilisation pretty much owes its existence to horses. And how do we thank the horses, now that we don’t need their ancestors for all the shit jobs we didn’t want to do (or couldn’t do) ourselves? We ride them as fast as we can so we can make money, literally, off their backs. That doesn’t seem like much of a thank you to me, and that’s why horse racing is an awful lot of not much at all.

Until yesterday I had never heard of Gordon Elliot. Why would I? One of the perks of not following horse racing is that almost everything and everyone to do with it remains a mystery to me. From what I read he is quite the trainer – able to train a horse to run really fast with a leprechaun on its back and, crucially, run slightly faster than the horse just behind it. This made Gordon big news in the horse world and his glittering career looked like one of those ‘what could possibly go wrong’ sort of scenarios. But then Gordon got himself caught by the camera – he claims he had answered a phone call and just sat down on the nearest convenient object while he chatted – and now the entire world is up in arms because he got caught sitting on a horse. And not just any old horse. A dead one. Shock. Horror. Whinney. Neigh.

I’m not here to defend Gordon per se, but I do think the fluttering hearts of disapproval are a little bit rich. Of course it isn’t the most dignified thing that could happen to a dead horse: to be sat on by a fat Irishman, but after thousands of years of exploitation and abuse there could also be a lot worse. It seems so simple to me: a man who has spent his whole life around horses sees a dead one and sits on it for a bit; but is it any worse than him sitting on it alive and whipping it until some cash falls out if its arse? Probably not. Remember the outrage when we found out there was horse meat in our lasagne but forgot that plenty of people around the world eat meat from far more dubious sources? Heard about all those horses that lived for fifty weeks of the year down the coal mines, helping build our empire; horses that were only allowed up for a fortnight to stretch their legs in some field in Wales or Yorkshire, their eyes covered because the light would have blinded them? Ever thought about Napoleon’s horses as his once Grand Army retreated from Moscow, the horses that his men cut pieces off for meat while they still plodded along in the mud and the snow, taking the strain until they fell in the ditches of defeat one final time? Well you should have. Horses are magnificent, dignified creatures: we just aren’t bright enough to treat them as such for a lot of the time. Dead or alive, it doesn’t seem to make a difference to us and it never really has.

We should really be ashamed of what we’ve asked horses to do on this earth we claim as ours but there’s not a lot of point dwelling much on the past, and we shouldn’t feel any better about ourselves just because we’ve decided to be outraged by a man sitting on a dead horse. That horse had been sat on its entire life so why break the tradition. No doubt some horse charity will push for a new law saying you can’t sit on a dead horse anymore, or at least not sit on one and then have your photo taken and splashed across social media. The saying goes that there’s no point flogging a dead horse but that doesn’t stop people flogging away until there’s nothing left to flog, and so while there isn’t much point sitting on a dead horse either it’s hardly the same as, just for example, paedophilia. Gordon Elliot is an idiot who happened to have a dead horse, but that’s about it. His career is dropping rungs by the hour and I think that’s a bit rough (though I suppose he can always fall back on the luck of the Irish). Hopefully by now that horse has been given a decent burial, but in reality it could also be in a glue factory or a cottage pie by now. It’s sad, and it could have been avoided, but in the end it is just a dead horse and a twat, and history should teach us that we’ve seen a lot, lot worse than that (read that last bit a bit faster and it’s unintentionally poetic).

G B Hewitt. 03.03.2021

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