For the last five years, equestrian history sessions have had their presence during the International Medieval Congress in Leeds. Over the course of these years, fascinating projects were discussed and initiated. The recently published volume The Horse in Premodern European Culture is largely based on the papers presented at IMC 2016 and 2017. Likewise, in 2019 a book series was launched, dedicated exclusively to the history of horses and horsemanship, Rewriting Equestrian History, published by Trivent Medieval. My own book, Practical Horsemanship in Medieval Arthurian Romance (2019), which started the series, is to a considerable extent based on the material I presented at the IMC. One of the less direct outcomes is the establishment of the Equine History Collective, whose founder, Kathryn Boniface, was among our speakers in 2016.
The situation with Covid-19 has unfortunately affected our possibility to meet in person and discuss our work and plans over a cup of coffee or a pint of the IMC ale. Some of the authors had to withdraw their papers, and our ability to socialize in person was restricted, too. Skype call is a poour substitute to an informal chat, but we did our best, and it was certainly well attended, with about 50 people joining the call from all over the world.
Below is the summary of our informal discussion.
Theme for horse history meeting at IMC 2021:
The main strain of IMC 2021, so it was decided we can join this theme. We can include the widest understanding of climates, including literary and political climates, etc.
The theme for the Round Table was voted to be breeding
It was also suggested that the next and future IMCs could incorporate horse-related fringe events, both involving real horses and more theoretical ones.
- In particular, it was suggested that a demonstration/spectator event could take place either at the Royal Armouries, which have a tilt yard, or the Harrogate Riding Centre, which rents out its arena for events. Jurg and Jack Gassmans volunteered to bring two horses, and they also have insurance for performances with horses. Anastasija Ropa has contacted the IMC with initial enquiry, and, if they agree to consider such event in principle, Emma Herbert-Davies promised to contact the Royal Armouries and the Harrogate Riding Centre with further enquiries.
- Hylke Hettema suggested a visit to the horse and donkey sanctuary near Leeds, which can be a nice informal excursion before/ during/ after the IMC. I am not sure we need to contact the IMC to make it an organized event, a group of us can just do an informal visit, if there are enough people interested.
- For events/workshops not involving real horses, it was suggested to hold a meeting where practitioners could share videos where they work with their horses, and these can be discussed during the meeting.
- Another possibility is a workshop about making armour for horses, saddles, how to measure your horse, how to construct saddles, possibly also about bits and bit work and measurements.
- Another idea for a workshop is the complexities of depiction vs. ‘reality’ of medieval horsemanship in manuscript illustrations and other depictions
An online conference Historical Practices in Horsemanship and Equestrian Sports will take place on 24-27 August, organized by Anastasija Ropa and Timothy Dawson and hosted by the Latvian Academy of Sport Education. The registration will open in late July / early August.
It was agreed that it would be useful to hold a regular annual/biannual horse history conference in Europe (for those researchers who would find it difficult to attend the Equine History Conference in the USA, for more information see their website https://equinehistory.wpcomstaging.com). Again, Emma Herbert-Davies, who is a student at the University of Leeds, offered to contact the university if the next conference is to be organized in Leeds. This would be distinct from the IMC, and it can potentially encompass other historical period (antiquity, early modern, maybe even modern). Participation in such an event can be cheaper, and it can incorporate practical equestrian activities, with excursion(s) to stables, or with some participants bringing their own horses, depending on the hosting institution and facilities available. Anastasija Ropa suggests she can explore the possibility of organizing such a conference in future, either at the Latvian Academy of Sport Education (in which case the focus will be on historical equestrian sports) or elsewhere in Latvia. It is possible to organize such a conference elsewhere in Europe, too, e.g., in France.
If possible, the preferred format would be a non-virtual conference, but hybrid or virtual formats can be considered, depending on the world situation.
There was also a suggestion that horse history papers presented at IMC 2020 can be shared in some format to those who could not attend the IMC sessions. The papers can be shared via Google Drive, social media, or they can be gathered as podcasts/videos, with a link shared on the page of the Re-writing Equestrian History series. It depends on what the speakers will agree to do.
During the call, the following publications were mentioned:
The Horse in Premodern European Culture, edited by Anastasija Ropa and Timothy Dawson, 2020, https://www.degruyter.com/view/title/558197
Current and planned publications in Rewriting Equestrian History Series: for the publications and outstanding calls for papers, see https://trivent-publishing.eu/39-rewriting-equestrian-history.
Anastasija Ropa and Timothy Dawson are currently editing a volume that includes contributions presented at IMC 2018, which was commissioned by Brill.
For further information about the above, pm Anastasija Ropa
There was a lively discussion of early horse training practices and horse equipment, saddles and bits.
Jurg Gassmann shared an interesting example of grooms watering horses which they ride bareback and in snaffles/halters: Before the Tournament, http://www.bl.uk/manuscripts/Viewer.aspx?ref=add_ms_12228_fs001r, Folio f.150r
Karen Campbell shared information about a Facebook group, Horses: Proper Bits and Bitting Techniques, which does bitting demonstrations using a horse skeleton and tongue to demonstrate different bit and bridle pressures.
John Clark describes the use of a hinged curb bit replica during an episode of the TV show Time Team in his chapter in The Horse in Premodern European Culture – for further information, you would need to go to the chapter itself.
Arne Koets and Diana Krischke have reconstructed and experimented with a good few historical bits and saddles, and there is also a FB group “Medieval Horse Equipment 1100-1530”.
We also discussed historical techniques of horse breaking, with Rufus starting horses in a bridle with no saddle, while 16-17 c. authors recommend a saddle and cavesson. Today, horses are started in bridle and saddle, though in some disciplines horses are started in a halter and breaking pad (reference by Karen Campbell).