FASHIONS IN HORSE FLESH.
(FROM THE LONDON REVIEW.)
The latest fashion of the day is the pony mania. No lady of ton is now complete without her park phaeton and her couple of high stepping ponies. The country has been ransacked for perfect animals of this class for the London market. High action is chiefly sought after and perfection of match. For a pair of park ponies, 300gs. is a price readily obtained. When “Anonyma” first started this fashion the dealers little estimated their value; indeed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer having withdrawn their exemption from the horse tax, their diminutive size, instead of enhancing their value, rather detracted from it, and the breed would possibly have died out. This new whim, however, was a perfect godsend to them. The reader will not be a little astonished to hear that our leading fashionables have started a Ladies’ Pony Club, and just as the four- in-hands jingle along the procession to the Star and Garter, so the lady whips, with their high -stepping ponies, their parasols mounted on their whips, fancy gauntlets and white ribbons, trot down to the same locality in a bright hue to eat “maids of honour.”
The grey ponies in the royal stud are also another testimony to the growing taste for the small compact animals. As we shall show in a future article, these ponies are one of the leading features of the royal stables. The Highland rambles of the young princes and princesses first necessitated this addition to the Queen’s stables, and now it would appear to be continued from choice, as the Prince of Wales invariably when driving himself employs these sturdy grey cobs, whose superb action must be well known to those accustomed to see him drive down the Kew road, on his way to Frogmore.
Weight-carrying cobs have long been favourite animals in this country, but of late the demand for them has been so much on the increase that they can scarcely be got for love or money. Country gentleman rising fourteen stone, and wanting something quiet, will give any money for them. We see now and then one of these fast-walking cobs, making his way over the tan in Rotten Row at a spanking pace, with an old gentleman on his back whose size is enough to make the looker-on perspire. Yet the little cob, with his splendid deep shoulder and strong legs, is as firm under him as a castle. There is a very strong dash of the Suffolk punch in all of these well-bred cobs. Two hundred and fifty guineas is often obtained by the London dealers for a sound specimen of this much sought for class of animal.
The little Shetland pony as shaggy as a bear, and not much bigger than a Newfoundland dog, is fast disappearing from the ride. We used to see him often with his double panniers filled with rosy children swaying about, but of late years not so frequently. The fact is this diminutive race is dying out fast, and even in the Shetland Islands he is now a comparatively rare animal.
The Exmoor pony is more than taking its place. This, the last remnant of the indigenous British horse, is now becoming a famous breed. Some forty years ago this hardy little animal was crossed with Arab breed, and by rigidly adhering to the selection of fine animals for breeding stock, some rare ponies are now finding their way to the market. These animals from the time of being foaled run absolutely wild over the hills and dales of Exmoor, or at least that portion of it which, has been surrounded by forty miles of wall by the late Mr Knight, of Simons Bath; consequently, they are splendid in wind and limb, and when caught and sold by auction are absolutely free from those weaknesses which are inseparable from horses reared and confined in hot stables. The size of these animals has been much increased by the Arab blood, and they average twelve hands with small well-made heads and limbs— spirited little fellows, just suited for boy’s riding or in the pony phaeton in which they are now so often found.
Taranaki [NZ] Herald 22 October 1864: p. 3
Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mrs Daffodil has heard much from the stable-men about ponies and their tempers and pets. One went so far as to express the opinion that “Ponies are evil.”
Still, they have their uses:
Ostrich feathers are a positive craze this season and they appear in strange and wonderful guises. One of the feather manufacturers in New York has advertised his wares in odd and attractive fashion by having two tiny ponies decked with bells and plumes (three Prince of Wales feathers fastened to the head of each wee horse) harnessed to a miniature carriage in the form of a huge milliner’s box. A black boy in livery sits behind the box and a girl attired in a long, light driving coat and wearing a different feather-trimmed hat every day sits in front and rives the spirited pair. The livery of the boy and the feathers in the hat of the driver and on the heads of the little horses always match perfectly, for the object of the advertisers is as much to prove their skill at dyeing as to display the different kinds of feathers that they sell. Arkansas Gazette [Little Rock AR] 28 May 1911: p. 41
“Anonyma” referenced above, was Catherine Walters, courtesan de luxe and “pretty horse-breaker,” also known as “Skittles.” She and her fellow equestriannes set the fashions in sporting costumes and carriages. This snippet from The Times, 3 July 1862, pg. 12 describes something of the sensation she caused:
Early in the season of 1861, a young lady…made her appearance in Hyde Park. She was a charming creature, beautifully dressed, and she drove with ease and spirit two of the handsomest brown ponies eye ever beheld. Nobody in society had seen her before; nobody in society knew her name, or to whom she belonged; but there she was, prettier, better dressed, and sitting more gracefully in her carriage than any of the fine ladies who envied her looks, her skill, or her equipage….
The fashionable world eagerly migrated in search of her from the Ladies’ Mile to the Kensington Road. The highest ladies in the land enlisted themselves as her disciples. Driving became the rage. Three, four, five, six hundred guineas were freely given for pairs of ponies, on the simple condition that they should be as handsome as Anonyma’s, that they should show as much breeding as Anonyma’s, that they should step as high as Anonyma’s. If she wore a pork-pie hat, they wore pork-pie hats; if her paletot was made by Poole, their paletots were made by Poole; if she reverted to more feminine attire, they reverted to it also. Where she drove they followed; and I must confess that, as yet, Anonyma has fairly distanced her fair competitors. They can none of them sit, dress, drive, or look as well as she does; nor can any of them procure for money such ponies as Anonyma contrives to get—for love…
The Caledonian Mercury [Edinburgh Scotland] 5 July 1862: p. 5
Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes
You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.