08-02-2009, 12:45 PM
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Joe and Black Bess
JOE AND BLACK BESS
Imagine a picture of an XVI11th century horseman. It is my ideal to teach Joe how to behave like Dick Turpin’s faithful mare Black Bess - not that we are thinking of holding up the bus to town. However the plan is for Joe to become a gentleman’s riding horse and that involves teaching him some basic classical dressage. Joe, who weighs something around 635 kilos must carry my 100 kilos on his back. The way in which I distribute my weight is all important in telling him what I want him to do. Controlling him is not just a matter of pulling back through the reins on his mouth. As a vehicle comes towards him, or comes up behind him, in the local narrow single track country lanes, Joe must feel confident that he will not be hurt. His judgement of the situation is very much influenced by my posture. He must come to have faith that if I am relaxed, then all is OK. Often when we’ve reached a passing place, the approaching vehicle comes so close to Joe that my riding boot actually brushes the car mirrors but, whatever, Joe should stand, four square and must not move. The driver, perhaps worried about the paintwork of his car, should not deviate from his set path, otherwise Joe in response might unwittingly step out and in the way Now be aware that a horse can sense the weight of a fly on its back. To keep Joe calm, I must sit relaxed but bolt upright in the saddle with a light delicate contact down through the reins to the bit which Joe is holding between his teeth. My feet should be pushed equally but lightly down into the stirrups. If he tries to lunge for a mouthful of tasty greenery in the hedge then I must make sure that his rear doesn’t edge out. Luckily the local cars mostly pass by slowly and courteously, for which I personally am very grateful.
So imagine now what is involved in crossing the highway. Joe probably has little concept of speed because his eyes are set either side of his head. He’ll only come to sense how fast a car is going as it passes by from the noise of the engine and the tyres plus the associated rush of displaced air. But to cross over any road, first he must stand still, at right angles, close by the road. An oncoming vehicle making an unexpected rattling noise represents a particular hazard. Joe must halt by the kerbside, four square, patiently awaiting the aid from me to move forwards and to which he must respond without hesitation. The appropriate aids are principally a very slight squeeze by my calves on his flanks and a minute relaxation of the pressure on the bit. Luckily he has absolutely no idea of what would happen if together we got it wrong. He has no idea of the mathematics involved in speed, mass and energy. If we step out immediately in front of a fast moving vehicle, the chances are we shall both suffer serious injury.
So think back and try to imagine how Dick Turpin must have felt when, sat up on Bess, with the reins between his teeth, standing in the middle of the lane by the scout hut on the (turn)pike, holding two flintlock pistols, waiting for a coach and four to come round the corner, so that he could shout out “stand and deliver”. My Joe is pretty good for a Boyo down from the Black Mountains and he handles himself well but he wouldn’t argue with a team of four Cleveland Bays charging at him, that’s for sure. As for Joe accepting stoically the discharge of a flintlock pistol just by his ear, well that is an example of high hopes. If, back in those days, robbing stagecoaches was the only way to earn a glass of wine down at The Rock public house, then I’d have to gone teetotal.
10-08-2009, 12:18 PM
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Stand and Deliver Part 2
About the time of the American war of Independence, England was plagued by a scourge of highwaymen. These ruffians waylaid coaches and horses in remote places and held the travellers for robbery. Centuries later such incidents became the subjects for films made in Hollywood. Dick Turpin (aka Brad Pitt) became especially famous not that his deeds were especially heroic - he was more a violent common thief. But history painted him with glory and he has lived through history as a gallant “ner-do-well“. In literature, Dick’s laudable aim was to redistribute to the poor the ill gotten gains taken from the travellers on the coach, who must be rich to have afforded the fare. The horse and rider knew of a convenient lay by wherein they could hide from the coach until at the last minute when they would spring out onto the road . The black masked Dick, (an English version of Zorro) brandished in each hand a flintlock pistol, and would call out to the horses “stand” and to the team driver “deliver”. As reinforcement of his determination Dick would fire one of the pistols to ensure compliance. Of course, the myth is that the team of four very big horses would instantly come to a halt and that the driver would call out to the passengers that they must meekly deposit their trinkets into the hat of the highwayman. Gallantly Dick would hand back a sparkling engagement ring which has been proffered by a young beautiful woman exhibiting ample cleavage (aka Dolly Parton) but he would keep the fat purse of the local landowner’s disagreeable agent, (aka Robert de Niro), who wore a beard. Eventually, after this gallant display of social responsibility, the gallant Dick would ride off to spend his ill gotten gains. This story, of course, made a lovely fairytale, readily attributable to a politician’s spin master of a byegone era.
But how might Barry and Joe have fared in yesterday’s world? I do indeed know the location of a convenient lay by, halfway up the hill located on what was once a Roman Road - ie a road lade down by Roman soldiers in the 1st century AD. My boy Joe, might indeed have stood still for almost five minutes, about the time it takes to nibble all of the weeds in the hedgerow. As, eventually, I came to hear the approach of the sixteen hooves of the four in hand, I would take out from the deep pockets of my Australian riding coat, two primed pistols. Now these were no Colt 45s, indeed they did not even fire shells - they fired a lead ball. ‘Fired’ was literally a good description because the explosion was caused by the flint induced ignition of gun powder. I would have had two shots - no more. And since the gun would have gone off right by the ear of my trusty steed I doubt if I could have managed firing one pistol, let alone two. Then, urged on by my muscular thighs, my loins and the newly acquired classical posture, Joe would have obediently stepped out onto the track, at exactly the right moment, directly in front of four 16 hand coach horses coming up the hill at the trot. At least, I would like to think that Joe would do his duty but he was very much a pragmatic chap and he would see the concept of stepping about in front of four heavy horses to be a distinctly dodgy move. He simply would not have done it and who could blame him.
So, ignoring this slight problem, I would call out to the coach driver “stand”, but I do have serious doubts as to whether this stalward individual would hear my cry, let alone stop. Regardless of any training such as which my horse had been a recipient of, Joe would be off up the lane like a startled rabbit. As to what the team of coach horses would do at such the sound of a gun I shudder to think. The driver of the coach would probably be some oik from up the Welsh valleys and the chances that he would meekly surrender are a bit thin. Whether or not there would be travelling in the coach some coin laden land agent and a fair young damsel is what, I would describe as very wishful thinking. No, I don’t believe Joe and I would make much headway as a Black Bess and Randy Dick Turpin.
How do all these thoughts comes into mind? Well, if you had ever sat on Joe’s back in the lay by on a busy road in Britain, waiting for a long line of speeding cars to pass by so that you could cross the what is now a remade Roman Road you’d know just how implausible all those stories about highwaymen really are. And as for buxom ladies with ample cleavages - well, one has to remember that there was no running water in those days and neither was there centrally heated water. True there was no oil shortage and neither was there a risk of Global Warming but it is a fact that there was not much hot water either So back then , the ladies of the night did not wash that regularly I do honestly believe that I would preferred to sleep with my Joe than to dally with a damsel in distress, even a young Dolly Parton, from a bygone era. No, now that today I reconsider the realities of life as once it might have been, I think it highly improbable that me and Joe would have made good highwaymen.
Perhaps Brad Pitt & Robert de Niro should both decline the parts. As for me and Joe, well that is another reason for not continuing with the Classical riding instruction - isn’t it!.
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