We all face so many different situations in life, many are memorable and others pass fleetingly away. Then there are those moments where that little word “Ah!” registers and sticks, inspiring a fundamental change in our consciousness. Well, I recently read an “Ah!” book, which touched the core centre of my nervous system, opened my eyes and widened my vision. Iain Lawrence’s endearing story “The Winter Pony” recounts the true story of two explorers race to be first to reach the South Pole. The English-man Robert Falcon Scott and the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. As the flyleaf states, “One will win and one will die. The story is told by an unlikely hero – a white pony named James Pigg”. The story captivated me. Everywhere I turned, I noticed horses and ponies and I soon found myself reflecting upon their status and role in our lives.
Michael Morpurgo’s “War Horse” novel 1982; Steven Spielberg’s film of the same name; The National Theatre’s Production of War Horse with their dramatic use of horse puppets – aroused in me an innate empathy and sympathy toward the deeply sensitive and heart rendering union which formed between Joey and Albert. The children’s novel, “Black Beauty” Anna Sewell’s classic 1877, traces the heart-warming relationships that build between horse and man. These majestic, highly sensitive animals, form strong personal attachments to other horses and humans have again and again found themselves caught between the unremitting strain of warfare, human conflict and human ambition.
Eight million horses died in the First World War. They were used to transport ammunition and supplies to the front and many died, not only from the horrors of shellfire but also in terrible weather and appalling conditions. The horse shared the soldier’s misery; mud, cold and wet attacked both man and animal. Shell, shot and poison gas did not distinguish between human and animal flesh.
So fractured, so fragile, the cost of being caught between two opposing sides. Innocent, soulful, they did not cast the first stone. The horses endured a terrible, brutal treatment. “Horses were easier targets than men, and you could do more damage to the enemy’s supply lines if you hit the horses” says Mr. Butler, a publisher who lives on Dartmoor, just a couple of miles from where Spielberg filmed War Horse.
I discovered that 65,000 South Irish Horses, which was a Special Reserve cavalry regiment, were sent to WW1. After fighting in the Great War the unit was disbanded in 1922 following the implementation of the Anglo Irish Treaty. There is a Memorial to the fallen of these Men at St. Patrick Cathedral in Dublin.
The horrors of war and power of its conflict is undeniable. Yet despite all circumstances these Horses served humans.
I watched, engrossed and engaged by the Commemorations and Remembrances across Ireland of the 1916 rising. Reading reprinted Newpapers and examining photographs and memorabilia. It was near impossible not to be emotional and deeply moved. Ideals dressed in emotional uniforms, charged with emotional resonance. Articles relating to 1916 rising quoted references. Under the command of Michael Mallin and Countess Markievicz, Margaret Skinnider operating as a scout for rebel troops was moved by the sight of dead horses cut down by gunfire: “Something in the sight of the dumb beasts….hurt me every time I had to pass them…” Is the grammar of acceptance, togetherness and peace – a language, which must be punctuated with bruises, bullets and bombs?
Where is terror stored?
This series of sculptured bronze Horses reflects upon their physical an emotional response exposed to such explosive violence and ghastly conditions resulting in devastating hurt and terror. They echo the many innocent people who find themselves caught in the middle of opposing views. Theirs dis-orientation and fear; responding aimlessly and lost. It aims to give due recognition to forgotten friends, comrades who never gave up and never complained for the simple reason that they could not. They found themselves on both sides of the divide, bearing a silent witness to goals and ambitions of one human or the combined aspirations of few or many.