If Wishes Were Horses: Jeunes Filles Bien Elevées

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I loved this chapter and had far, far to much to write about, some chunks of which may appear here if not used elsewhere. Meanwhile, enjoy the slideshow. The books came largely from Archive.org.

J. Collinson and Sons rocking horses.

A website maintained by Nannie Power O’Donoghue’s biographer, Olga E. Lockley.

The brilliantly titled Unprotected Females in Norway is here, while I have to apologise: Wanderings in Patagonia by Florence Dixie should be Across Patagonia.

I only wish I’d found this snippet when writing the book, but it just cropped up in December 2012, and has to be included:

“In his lecture series on hysteria, F. C. Skey warned his audience that the typical hysteric was not a person of weak mind but ‘a female member of a family exhibiting more than usual force or decision of character, of strong resolution, fearless of danger, bold riders, having plenty of what is termed nerve.'”

Elaine Showalter, “Victorian Women and Insanity” in Madhouses, Mad-doctors and Madmen ed Andrew Scull, 1981.

The Analysis of the Hunting Field, being a Series of Sketches of the principal characters that compose one the whole forming a slight souvenir of the season 1845-6 – R S Surtees:

“Riding for ladies is now become wholly a matter of luxury – there are not journey ridings – even the pillion shave disappeared with recent years, and farmers’ wives drive to market in gigs with ‘Giles Jolter,’ or whatever their husband’s name may be, pointed up behind. When her Majesty took her daily promenades à cheval, as the French call them, in the Park, equestrianism was all the rage, and we had nothing but habits and slate-coloured veils. Indeed, each season shows a good master of fair equestrians still, though, perhaps, not so many as there used to be. We never go into the Park without thinking how much better it must be for them than the enervating, listless motion of a carriage. Even park riding is slow work compared to the free gallop of the country, but to be sure park riding is generally pursued at a season of the year when it is too hot for hard exercise.”

Here’s Mrs Hayes (1893) on the perils of learning to ride later in life:

‘The same remark applies to older ladies, who, with the usual angelic resignation of my set, try their best to obey the command of their lords and masters by learning to ride. I fear that success in this art is seldom obtained by ladies over thirty years of age, for by that time they have generally lost the dashing pluck of their youth; their figures have become set and matronly; and, as a rule, they find great difficulty in mastering the subtleties of balance and grip. Also, a state of nervous anxiety is apt to add to the general stiffness of their appearance, and to suggest discomfort and irritability.’

Vieille Moustache on the superiority of the Engish equestrienne in the 1870s:

“The daughter of a peer, or other great grandee of the country, may be almost said to be a horsewoman to the manner born. Riding comes as naturally to her as it does to her brothers. Both clamber up on their ponies, or are lifted on, almost as soon as they can walk, and consequently ‘grow’ into their riding, and become at fifteen or sixteen years of age as much at home in the saddle as they are on the sofa. In the hunting field they see the best types of riding extant, both male and female, and learn to copy their style and mode of handling their horses, while oral instructions of the highest order is always at hand to supplement daily practice. To the great ladies of England, then, all hints on the subject would be superfluous, Most of them justly take great pride in their riding, spare no pains to excel in it, and are thoroughly successful.
In fact, it is the one accomplishment in which they as far surpass the women of all other countries in the world as they outvie them in personal beauty.
A German or French woman possibly may hold her own with an Englishwoman in a ball room or a box at the opera; but put her on horseback, and take her to the covert side, she is ‘not in it’ with her English rivals.”

And on scandal in the hunting field (one suspects he’s referring to Skittles and others of her ilk):

“I feel bound to observe that from time to time a vast amount of ‘twaddle’ is ventilated on the question of the propriety of ladies riding with hounds. All sorts of absurd objections  have been brought forward against the practice; as, for instance, that hunting as regards ladies is a mere excuse for display and flirtation, and that it is both unfeminine and dangerous. I believe that these objections, made by people who never knew the glorious exhilaration of hunting, may be briefly disposed of. I reside where the very cream of midland hunting is carried on, and I perceive that year after year the number of ladies of high rank and social position who grace the field with their presence is on the increase; while to the best of my belief no female equestrians who are not ladies have been seen with hounds in Leicestershire or its vicinity for some years. So much for the stamp of woman that hunts nowadays.”

Elizabeth Carr, writing in the 1880s, agrees:

“There is still another false idea prevalent among a certain class of people, which is that a love for horses, and for horseback riding necessarily makes one coarse, and detracts from the refinement of a woman’s nature. It must be acknowledged that the coarseness of a vulgar spirit can be nowhere more conspicuously displayed than in the saddle, and yet in no place is the delicacy and decorum of woman more observable. A person on horseback is placed in a position where every motion is subject to critical observation and comment. The quiet, simple costume, the easy movements, the absence of ostentatious display, will always proclaim the refined, well-bred rider. Rudeness in the saddle is as much out of place as in the parlor or the salon, and greatly more annoying to spectators, besides being disrespectful and dangerous to other riders. Abrupt movements, awkward and rapid paces, frequently cause neighboring horses to become rest-less, and even to run away. Because a lady loves her horse, and enjoys riding him, it is by no means necessary that she should become a Lady Gay Spanker, indulge in stable talk, make familiars of the grooms and stable boys, or follow the hounds in the hunting field.”

And the last word to Lady Greville, editor of Ladies in the Field (1894):

“Riding improves the temper, the spirits and the appetite; black shadows and morbid fancies disappear from the mental horizon, and wretched indeed must he be who can preserve a gloomy or discontented frame of mind during a fine run in a grass country, or even in a sharp brisk gallop over turfy downs.”

This post relates to a chapter of the book If Wishes Were Horses: A Memoir of an Equine Obsession. If you have any questions to ask about the content, please fire away in the comments. The main online index for the book is here.

Published by Susanna Forrest

Writer Amazons of Paris, The Age of the Horse and If Wishes Were Horses.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Leave a comment

Leave a Reply