From the archive: horses take over the whole Magazine, July 1969
It was the occasion of the Royal International Horse Show at Wembley and its 100,000 visitors that prompted the Observer Magazine to dedicate a whole issue to equine enthusiasms (‘To horse! To horse!’, 20 July 1969).
Ena Kendall wrote about horses and the working class, including the ‘old-world sight’ of shire horses at Young’s brewery in Wandsworth, London, still delivering beer to local pubs, and featuring such characters as the totter (rag and bone man) Ted Pike and his horse, Blossom – not quite as fearsome a name as Steptoe’s Hercules or Samson.
The horse on the cover was in fact a ‘gilded wooden head marking the local horse butcher’s shop’. Our man wasn’t having any of this Gallic nonsense. ‘Foreigners can rave all they like about the nutritious qualities of steak à la chevaline,’ wrote Colin Smith, ‘but on this side of the Channel strong men have been known to pale at the thought.’
However, he admitted: ‘We have not always been so particular. During the war the British learned to like horsemeat.’ Well, until other meat stopped being rationed, that is.
‘Horse slaughtering is a bit of a dirty word,’ said the manager of London’s largest horse abattoir, who wished to remain anonymous. ‘We are doing a necessary job as humanely as possible. We are all animal lovers and some people don’t like to think about killing horses, but it has to be done.’
The feature about the costs of owning a pony was eyewatering. Never mind the stage, one father’s forthright advice was: ‘Don’t put your daughter on a horse.’ If you were silly enough to do so, then all you could do was wait it out for a few years. ‘Defection – when it does occur – takes place at about 16. Then, girls move from four-legged heroes to two-legged ones.’ Presumably he was thinking about, say, David Bowie rather than kangaroos.