The story of the English horse. This is also what the Merry Wives of Windsor is about.
THE SUPER HORSE THAT SHOOK THE WORLD.
Before 1580 most Engish horses were ponies or had poor bloodlines but then the Spanish created a huge horse that stood at about 20 hands with great genetics. The breed was introduced in England to create all those wonderful English breeds we now have. This was done mainly by two women, Queen Elizabeth and yours truely who had grown up teaching horseback ridiing at the downs.
The post 1580's horses were larger and could run down the old horses to complete exhaustion and then immediately run down a second one and then run back to where he started. It was due to the genes of a super horse which was developed in isolated regions of Spain. These horses were also extremely docile and inteligent. They could carry huge amounts of weight.
Jousting was popular from the middle ages until the early 1600s.Wikipedia
The new 'modern' horses are why jousting tournaments suddenly went out of style. The increase in speed caused almost ten times the injuries and four times the deaths that had occurred only 20 years before. The increase in speed made the joust nearly suicidal. Two knights who traditionally rode horses that ran at 17.5 mph impacted each other with lances at (17.5x2)= 35 mph suddenly found themselves crashing at nearly (25x2)= 50 mph. The injuries are almost the same as in car crashes without seat belts at those speeds so you can tell how much more devastating jousting became. Any person who participated in jousting went from being thought brave to a fool in just a few years.
The actual change is a little hard to see clearly. What it mainly consists of is that the forelimbs of both the front and back legs used to be longer than they are now. This gave the old horses a great degree of leg control when being pursued by predators across rough terrain but those forelimbs are just too massive to allow for a lot of speed and power in the forward direction. The lengthening of their flanks over their forelimbs gave the super horse a much greater speed and power (but with less maneuverability).
This change in English horses occurred in less than 12 years. The modern horse we now have and use came from these special giant horses from Spain via Germany and here is how it came about.
The plot of the play 'Merry Wives of Windsor' is about this special breed of horses. It involved a series of frauds by some fast moving Germans who left their horses behind. You can follow along in this summary of the play.
Information that I found on Wikipedia. Several references are made to Frederick 1 Duke Wurttenberg in Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor, in which a series of anti-German jokes start with a horse theft, several references are made to German travelers in England and to a German duke who is not expected to come to Windsor. Wikipedia
Although that article says they came to England in 1592 they were there before then and that was when they pulled the fast one.
Since Hapsburg family members had absolutely no sense of humor and the Merry Wives of Windsor is one big laugh then you know the play was written to humiliate all the Hapsburgs so they would never come to England. It didn't work. 1592 was when they came back. The main problem was that people on the continent, especially Catholics, felt as though we English were fair game to commit crimes against.
The visiting Hapsburg royalty, Duke von Wurttenberg, came from near the 'Spanish Riding School' in Austria where the only horses of a special breed of very large Spanish Andalusian stallion existed outside of Spain. A super horse of phenomenal size, strength and endurance. However, once the genes got out they were suddenly obsolete so the academy then breed this Super Horse down to a smaller horse which is the Lipizzaner. Don't believe what you read about the Lipizzaners early history except that 'the founding of the breed dates to 1580,' Before 1580 there was only the state secret Super Horse so even the Lipizzaners did not exist. When the secret (and the genes) got out and across Europe courtesy of England's Queen Elizabeth around 1580 most English horse breeds started their history. In fact probably nearly all the English breeds started then.
In the end the Hapsburgs stirred up half the continent by stating that England had stolen the horses and illegally ran the Duke out of the country. Queen Elizabeth said that she would take care of everything. And she did this by giving Duke von Wurttenberg the most English honor possible. She made him a member of the Order of the Garter in return for his services by supplying England with stud service from the super horses. She made it appear that the Duke had betrayed everybody. He actually had betrayed everyone but not on purpose. Queen Elizabeth not only got Europe up in arms against the Duke and the Hapsburg Dynasty but she turned even the Hapsburg Dynasty against Duke von Wurttenberg for his alleged greedy pursuit of membership in an English order. Wikipedia
At the time I laughed so hard that I almost miscarried.
It's the legs that make these breeds special. It's like they are on stilts but the muscles are also much larger and limited more to going in the forward direction.
Lipizzaners and other modern horses still have hindquarters that are several times as powerful as the horses that existed before 1580 so they can carry a lot more weight.
The super horse genes got mixed into the bloodlines of most horse breeds so Lipizzaner jumping does not appear to be quite as spectacular as it once did. Anyway that is why Lipizzaner's look so awesome when they are jumping. Why do think they have them jump in the first place? Having them jump was part of their selling technique which they later made into part of the show for the public. The original Super horse had hind quarters that were much more powerful.
[All I know about English history is that period when I was alive in England which was between about 1555 and 1620 and what I find on the Internet. I know almost nothing at all of what happened in England between then and now.]
On the right is armor that is much more typical of the armor for an earlier Shire horse. You can see how thin the flanks of the earlier horses were. This armor was considered a piece of art so it was never reshaped for the new horses as most older horse armor was at the time the new horses were introduced.
Compare it to Spain's King Phillips 1551 armor on the left. As you can see has larger flanks. His horse was an intermediate in the process of making the super horse and you can tell it had not reached the apex of the maximum size that it became in just a few years.
However it was some of the largest horses that Cortez took to the New World which awed the Aztec's completely to death. The impressive size of the Conquistador horses can be seen in a few of their paintings.
Super horses were about ~40% heavier and had 2-3 times the endurance of the typical European riding horse at that time. The horse had a high metabolism. They needed 10 pounds of oats a day to stay muscular and vital. They would shrivel up and become more passive otherwise.
This is why the Hapsburg's thought they could take over the world.
The Hapsburgs had talked the Spanish into letting them take some Super stallions to Austria and under the cover provided by their isolated 'Spanish Riding School' they started the breeding of about 50,000 Super horses. They planned to take over the world starting with Russia. Since the horses could almost carry as much on it's back as a horse drawn cart could they planned to use the blitzkrieg tactic of over running territory faster than the enemy troops can run away. That is what the plans were and it was only about 9 years from happening when some Hapsburgs went to England to do scams and took along three stallions to impress everyone.
It was a death sentence to export any of these super horses from Austria or Germany so what did a Hapsburg Duke and his two friends do? They rode three super horses right out of Austria and since they were Hapsburgs nobody questioned why each of the three 'gelded' horses had 'equipment that is found on stallions'.
The royals ran a bunch
land scams in
England and then suddenly ran out on everyone they owed money to. They
left those three huge Stallions standing at the docks when they found
out that the first boat for France was a small (and most important)
fast sailboat which was filled up with passengers so they could not handle the added weight of the horses.
They did not seem to care at the time that they had left behind three stallions that had sperm that could conquer the world. The entire Hapsburgs family had long before devolved their conscience to the point where they didn't consider what harm their actions did to anyone including other Hapsburgs...who were planning to take over the entire world...when they left three super stallions alive on a wharf in England.
Queen Elizabeth could not believe England's luck even after she had ridden one of them and scandalously she rode it bareback I might add. I don't know if I should add this but it was astride and 'commando' style.
I mean the Crown held the horses in the Royal Stables of Windsor as collateral until the Hapsburgs paid up for the frauds that 'the future Duke von Württenberg and his entourage' had pulled off. You can see parts of how the play connects to them toward the bottom of this page and you can follow the play itself on this page. It was a scandal that those Hapsburgs took the horses from Austria in the first place so it had to be kept especially secret from the Spanish or else Spain might have gone to war, but with whom? Would they take the Hapsburgs hostage and charge them ransom for giving away the super sperm or would they combine their forces to invade an already weakening Holy Roman Empire? Or would they invade England just to take back the horses and contain any genes that had gotten out by killing all the horses of England except for the small ponies?
The best assurance that England had that Austria, Spain or Germany did not invade and take the stallions by force was to get as many mares pregnant as possible. Then to get those mares sent to different farms around England and Scotland. Then get some of the pregnant mares out, first to the Netherlands. That way the Spanish could never kill all the mares even if they invaded England. That took away part of the incentive for an invasion . It was also important to get as many mares pregnant by these three stallions as possible in case England was ever invaded by a force with a large number of knights. (It was rumored that Queen Elizabeth had stockpiled several large storerooms filled with either steel heavy crossbows or guns which were brand new in the world of warfare. Either crossbows or guns could pierce full armor at two hundred yards and go entirely through a heavy armored knight at a hundred yards. This is a recalled rumor so I don't know if it was true or not but England wanted large horses as a backup in any case for draft animals.[I found out later that they were the bane of all kights, crossbows. A peasant army which has been trained on a bow and arrow can in less than four hours be trained to adequately use a crossbow.])
The British told the official delegates of Austria that they would not mate the horses and officially they didn't but us peasants bribed the guards with maybe two pence (which the queen reimbursed us for) to allow us to smuggle out the horses for a few hours of breeding with our horses every night.
I need to tell you the whole story I guess. If you are a horse person then you are still reading this and won't settle for less.
This was before I wrote the plays and when I was just married a few years and a teenger. I was invited to participate in and actually ended up organizing the breeding operation to maximum efficiency. First my uncle was asked if he would become involved since he was in charge of the breeding at the royal stables but his demeanor did not support such intrigue. It was also a major problem with the official involvement angle so we had to avoid at all cost it getting back to the royal family (Queen Elizabeth) or it could immediately start a war. I was the main person who put it all together. I was the organizer of my husbands shipping company and as such I held almost a thousand items in my head. I could tell you where and when each ship was due to arrive at which port and nearly every item on the ship. I also was a social gadfly. I loved intrigue and mysteries so my uncle thought I would be perfect even though as a proper lady I never had anything to do with breeding the horses even before I was married. So I became the organizer of the whole event.
My first visit to see the stallions was to see how the processing of the English mares could be improved. It was also to find out what kind of horses could be produced. It was going along successfully at one or two a night when they were breeding the largest of the stallions. They were squandering the opportunity of lifetimes by smuggling in mares two a night when they should have been smuggling out the stallions so they could breed them with mares at the rate of 10-20 a night.
I was taken aback by his size when I saw the first one and this painting 'VA Horse Center' by Sandy Huffaaker is how I saw them at times as it amplifies the difference between them and other horses. I thought to turn around and leave. I had always taken care of small ponies so I had to ask myself if I could organize it all by myself. All of England rested on my shoulders and I was ready to run away, like the little horse I felt I was inside would, to France which is where we had a second home. I then decided that I could run away later if, or more likely when, it all fell apart.
When girls were growing up in that era they looked forward to different things. Usually it was getting married or going to mainland Europe to study. I had a different goal. Growing up at the downs and the Royal Stables with my family what I looked forward to was growing tall enough so that I would never have to look at a horses asshole again. I had looked horses in the asshole from as early in my life as I could remember. From the age of three with the colts and little ponies like the Shetlands all the way until after I was 9 years old all I remember seeing was horse assholes. Finally when I grew up I could look horses in the eyes and the tallest horses in England had an asshole that was only up to my shoulders. That was my rite of passage and that was when I knew I had grown to adulthood.
Now once again I looked right at the asshole of the biggest stallion I had ever seen in my life. I mean he was huge. He was fully 6' 6 " (about 19.3 hands). Suddenly and for the first time in my entire life I wavered in my devotion to queen and country. I did not know if I wanted to be involved in a project, that if I succeeded, would leave me looking at the assholes of horses again and this time it would be for the rest of my life.
Luckily the offspring of this stallion were not quite as tall.
I decided we needed to smuggle the stallions out of the stables and that way we could do a much better job. We made five locations at farms around the stables where the mares could be brought. The location of these farms was far from towns and they had to be kept secret. A person only had to leave their mares at one of about 100 surrounding farms with a piece of cloth of a color corresponding to the horse they wanted their mare mated with. The mares would be transferred from farm to farm until they had passed through up to four farms. This was to keep it secret. At any one time there were literally 300 mares being secretly shuttled all around England. The mares were shuffled and moved closer to the main five farms. Then when the mare became receptive the cloth was tied to the horses mane and the mare moved to one of the five farms. That way the right stallion would be mated with the right mare at the right time. Red was for the huge stallion, green for the slender stallion (you can follow along in the play) who was inexperienced and needed lots of encouragement and white for the stallion that refused to mate with half the mares. He was so passive and picky that he became Casius in the play, because Casius in Latin means 'vain'.
Anne's father has told Slender she will be the only person in white at the midnight gathering; her mother has told Casius she'll be wearing green;
My name in that life was
Anne and so
that was me in the play. My uncle secretly helped with the
so he was Anne's father in the play.
This summary of the play can be found here.
The three horses got hooked on the Royal Carriage which was taken out of the Royal Stables without question. The worst thing that occurred was that the best horse had an accident with a mare. A horse has bones in their penis and he broke one of the bones, however he would not stop until he couldn't walk. He was ten miles from the stables so the farm workers freaked completely out and wanted to just throw him in the river and hide.
The women convince Falstaff to hide in a trunk, then have Mrs. Ford's servants take it to the Thames and dump it and Falstaff into the river.
They were prevented from it but someone sent word to the castle and guards came to rescue the horse.
On their way out, Mr. Ford does indeed show up with other men. They search the house (but not the trunk) and cannot find Falstaff.
Right before the soldiers arrived everyone calmed down and they all realized that they absolutely had to return the horse. So they had to take this huge 1,700 pound animal stuffed inside the carriage (in a trunk in the play). However, the carriage actually converted into an open carriage by removing the top. That is how he was smuggled back to the stable. But since all the Royal Carriage horses (and this was the actual Royal Carriage of the Queen of England that nobody was allowed to stop) were all mares or geldings and this horse had a two foot long something that was so swollen that it was sticking straight out and that didn't belong on a mare, and that wasn't OK.
They decide to dress Falstaff as a woman.
So they had to hide the broken part of the stallion under a large piece of cloth to get him back to the stables and that looked like a dress.
Anne's father has told Slender she will be the only person in white at the midnight gathering; her mother has told Casius she'll be wearing green; in fact, she'll be wearing neither and will spy away with Fenton.
The next problem was that my family had spent a lot of money on a mare that we wanted to mate with the big horse and when he broke his penis we had to figure out which of the other two we would use instead. We did not know which of the two was better, so we left off the cloth (wearing neither in the play) and went looking for advice from a horse breeder (a priest in the play. Since a horse breeder sanctifies a union he became the priest). Without the cloth the people at the farm thought our mare was not ready to be breed so they put her in with a bunch of other horses and there a worthless English stallion mated with her (they eloped in the play).
Unhappily, Mr. and Mrs. Page learn that neither Slender nor Casius married Anne. Instead, all learn of Anne and Fenton's elopement.
Since our mare was now pregnant it was too late to mate her again so we were very upset. We lost lots of money because that mare was a prize mare that we went over to France to buy just to mate with the big horse. We paid lots of money for her and yes I am still upset over it.
Slender, upon seeing Anne, falls in love. Parson Hugh Evans and Shallow suggest he tell her his affections and propose to her. He tries, but is overcome with shyness.
Looking back over it there was one other part that was kind of funny. The 'slender' horse was so inexperienced that somebody actually had to teach him how to have sex. He wanted to but the mares all knew he was inexperienced and did not appreciate his endeavors in the least. Guess who had to teach him with lots of encouragement? A horse breeder had the same duty as a parson but for horses.
[This is confusing for me since I simultaneously recall both the original event and when I recalled it many years later when I wrote the play. It is really strange. There are two images of memory superimposed on each other. I am seeing both the original event and a vision of the memory that I recalled years later when I wrote the play so it is kind of like a visual echo. Didn't I already say that?]
Idiots Guide to Horses.
(I named it this since I'm an idiot (in this life) as far as horses are concerned and don't mind admitting it.)
The army of every nation was completely freaked out over the giant Andalusian strain of super horse that was developed in Spain by monks in highly isolated monasteries. There had always been a way for a knight to get to a safe place before these super horses were bred. If you got tired and wearing 70 pounds of armor got you tired pretty fast then you could just go to the rear of your unit and rest until you got your strength back. If a knight chased you, you would continue riding behind your own lines until your horse and his got too tired to run. Then you would just find some foot soldiers and they could outrun an exhausted enemy horse. One would keep the knight busy and another foot soldier would walk behind the horse and cut the tendons on the horse legs and down both would fall. The knight would not usually be able to sit up without help so they would take him prisoner and sell him back or kill him. The horse would be food for a few days. This was standard operating procedure if an enemy knight was foolish enough to go behind your lines.
However the knights on the tall Andalusian Super horses could run down all the horses that existed. They were a lot faster with 200-300 pounds on their back and they could run a lot longer with that weight. They would run down the enemy at 5-15 mph faster than the enemies horse could run and just hold up a hammer. Bam, a fatal head blow right through the helmet and then circle around and go right past the slow soldiers to the safety of his own lines. Alternately he could just wait until the enemy horse literally fell over dead from exhaustion and then kill the knight. But there was not a way that he would be stopped at this point. His horse would not be exhausted so it could run down another knight and then run all the way back to his own lines right past the slow foot soldiers. There were many incidents of this nature. No knight was safe from the huge Andalusian Super Horses. An early version was the horse that Cortez took 24 of to Mexico and they scared the scat out of every body.
You often hear of the English and others fighting the Spanish at sea but not on land. The Knight/Andalusian combination was the 'Abrams tank' of the 1500's. Nobody wanted to fight Spain on the ground and for the same reason that no nation wants to go up against US ground forces with the A1-Abrams tank.
There was no way to deal with a giant Andalusian Super Horse in armor so that you had any kind of defense against them. The Spanish kept all the giant Andalusian stallions except for those in the Hapsburg breeding program. The first Andalusian's were legally exported only after 1962.
In 1580 after the Super Horse breeding program got shut down there appeared the Lipizzaner horse in Austria and it has similar power and endurance though is smaller. The super horse program was a deal that went down between Spain and Austria. The two countries were so far apart that they never fought so a few huge Andalusians ended up over in the east making baby super horses. They were kept under lock and key but before long it ended up like I read the Soviet store weapons grade uranium (the locks were found rusting off) and they were not watched that closely. (Or maybe they were watched closely but nobody stood up to royalty who wanted to take 3 stallions overseas. I'll bet that is what happened but I never knew it in that life and I didn't care. International politics were not what the bard wanted to deal with. Politics still looks totally absurd and I often think the biggest comedy on TV is the CNN channel.
Apparently Austria was planning to take over Russian territory, like most of it, and normally it would be out of the question because of the population and the distances they needed to travel, Russia being huge. You know what happened later on when Napoleon and Adoph tried. Anyway, the Hapsburgs envisioned 40,000 knights and up to 90,000 additional horses for transport and supplies. These super horses could increase the distances horses traveled five fold or they could travel three times as fast as mules can or more because mules that pulled wagons got bogged down. These horses didn't need wagons. So they planned Blitzkrieg long before Hitler did and they also knew what Napoleon and Hitler ignored and that was to be certain they had good supply lines for an invasion of Russia.
Nobody had thought out these tactics and then spent about 15 years in secret 'building' a horse that could do these things until the Hapsburgs got involved.
The monks in Spain had lots of time and they had isolated/secret monasteries. They had to isolate the horses from other horses because one stallion could defeat 60 years of breeding in 5 minutes. Many monasteries were conveniently located on top of hard to reach mountain tops in Spain. That was the system that worked and just about nothing else could at the time. Wooden fences? Think a fence can stop a stallion. Ever ride a stallion? You get within a quarter mile of a female in estrus with some stallions and you have a 'f..king war' on your hands. He will get to her. He will tear you off his back using whatever it takes and then he will go after her and tear apart fences to get to her.
The isolation of pure blood lines of horses was nearly impossible until the advent of solid fences and metal gates. The monasteries were often in very isolated locations such as on mountains and that afforded the same protection as even a steel fence. They had the manpower to assign a monk just to follow a single mare around and keep males away from her. They had patience, time and enough intelligence to develop a breed of horse. Those kind of conditions existed almost nowhere else in Europe so the maintaining of a pure breed line was next to impossible elsewhere. The places where the successful breeding of large mammals occurs are mainly on islands such as Jersey Island with the cow of the same name, nearby Guernsey Island also with the cow of the same name and the Shetland Island with their famous pony of the same name. Without the the isolation provided by these locations any male of the same species could scramble the genes of a pure breed easily and very fast. The genes may not be expressed for several generations. In other words all the colts may look like mom. When those colts grow and have colts the genes of the 'grandfather' may express themselves and the colts will look and act like the wrong stallion and up to 60 years of work would have to be scrapped.
Then once they had the huge horse breed they started the Spanish Riding Academy in Austria where the Hapsburgs planned to breed them until they had about 50-150,000 superhorses.
Then those Hapsburg dukes took three of them to England to impress the locals so they could get lines of credit and then they pulled off numerous scams involving land. They never realized the full value of those horses even after they had left in a hurry abandoning them or else they would have been certian to have killed or castrated them.
The horses of the UK
First take a look at the
native horses of England which were pretty well adapted to wading
through marshes and compact for windy mountain trails.
This Highland Pony is an excellent example of the Middle Ages equivalent of the ATV..
These are the Exmoor pony and the Fell pony.
This is the famous Shetland pony. They claim it's been isolated for 2,000 years on that island and that explains the large difference between them and other English horses and ponies.
A few were breed to larger sizes like this French Percheron heavy horse.
This is a Suffolk Punch but they were pretty much just out sized versions of the long fore legged English ponies. The real difference between all of the native horses and the new ones that appeared after the Hapsburg incident are easy to see. Compare the hind leg of the Suffolk with this Andalusian (below). Yes the Andalusian has longer legs overall but that can be bred in a hundred years or so. What I am referring to is that the Arabic genes from the horses that the Hapsburgs brought in created a horse whose upper legs are so much longer and more powerful than the lower legs, in both the front and back, than the heavy forelegs of true native English horses. That is a genetic change that only occurred with about ten thousand years of evolution or the introduction of Arabic stock thanks to the Hapsburgs.
The taller breed of horse
could never have survived in the wild until England developed roads and
drained many of the swamps.
Long legs get stuck in mud and Arabic stock sometimes can get stuck in only half the mud that the Highland Pony (at the top) could wade right through. Many horse's get stuck in mud or fall in it every year. If you run a google search for [mud horse stuck] you get lots of them and half of them seem to be in England (But I really think most of that is because the English love their horses so much.).
After the swamps got drained England was able to breed their horse with Arabian stock courtesy of the Duke. Their ancestors were originally from desert areas so they developed long legs and great endurance to be able to travel long distances in search of sparse foliage.
The Andalusians had the genes of these desert horses. They originally were very large and tall, high stepping horses with great endurance.
The heavy version of the super horse was developed fully by 1580 from Andalusian stock, hence the name 'The Spanish Riding Academy' (the name was a cover for the secret operation.) They were huge originally and very tall, high stepping horses with great endurance.
In 1730 England
'declassified' their secret Scottish Clydesdale horse which kept the huge size of the original Super Horse. Which I guess was in case guns ever went out of style and knights came back in popularity. It was a tall, high stepping horse with no real past other than rumor and conjecture.
The Clydesdale is better known among the cultured elite of America as 'Doze Beer Horses'.
Also, there is this horse, the Lincolnshire, Shire horse. It is a tall high stepping horse with no real past other than rumor and conjecture.
Also, this horse, the Yorkshire, Cleveland Bay horse came from nowhere and is a tall high stepping horse with no real past other than rumor and conjecture.
There is a rumor and conjecture that the Netherlands found out about what was going on and sent ten mares to England to breed before the English had to send back those horses to the Hapsburgs. So there now exists the Netherlands Friesian horse which is a tall high stepping horse with no real past other than rumor and conjecture.
This next one is my all time favorite.
These are the Queens own Royal Grey's. They are, you guessed it. A tall high stepping horse with no real past other than rumor and wild conjecture and one of the rumors that flew is that they are almost pure blood Lipizzaner's.
They sure do look like it don't they?
But they would have to have had Lipizzaner stallions or super horses right in the Royal Stables and that never occurred because the Hapsburgs kept them under lock and key and no stallions would have been allowed to leave Austria for fear it might cause a war with Spain.
That would have meant some pretty 'happy wives (mares) of Windsor'.
There were almost 1000 foals sired by this endeavor and I was made a chamberlady to Qeen Elizabeth I for my service to the Crown.
To go to the 3rd part of my life when I became a chamberlady to Queen Elizabeth.
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