Friday, 4 June 2010

Appleby Horse Fair

This is what Appleby is famous for - a gathering of gypsies and horse traders. Every year this quiet, rather conservative town has its population boosted from around three and a half thousand to thirty thousand by an influx of Romany travellers from all over the UK and Europe, as well as all the tourists who come to see them. For the residents, it's rather like being under seige.
The fair is very ancient, though it’s bizarrely called the New Fair, because a new charter was handed out by James II in 1685 to legalise a previously unregulated gathering. The long association with horses here has some strange manifestations. Sometimes, digging up the floors of old houses, horses heads have been found buried underneath.
Most of the horses are the small, compact, brown and white horses traditionally bred by the Romanies. They’re much used for ‘trotting’ - sometimes called cart or gig racing - and the fastest fetch huge sums of money here. There’s a big Irish presence and I’m constantly reminded that some of my ancestors were Irish horse-traders. It was in my father’s blood and I seem to have inherited his love of horses along with the dodgy Irish genes!
We live on the river bank, so we are right in the centre of activity and have to fence off the garden to stop it being trampled down. Once, when we failed to get the wire up in time, we came home to find three horses on the front lawn, one tied to the apple tree and a very large four wheel drive parked beside it.

Every morning the horses intended for sale are brought down to the river to be washed and groomed. Today was mares and foals day - some of the foals only a few days old.

Tomorrow it will be stallions. Further downstream, where the bridge crosses into town, the river is very deep and a lot of the horses are brought down to swim - most ridden by children. But sometimes adults are tempted to take them in and you can see the horses struggling to stay afloat. In previous years there have been a number of accidents, including the deaths of horses, and the RSPCA have a big presence here. Anyone with a strong stomach can follow this link to YouTube.

4 comments:

  1. What a mixed reaction I have to this post.

    On one hand a centuries old tradition is something to be cherished (even if you do feel a bit under siege).

    But you will have to excuse the language, mongrel bastards like some of those in the clip should never be allowed to own an animal.

    Dodgy Irish genes? I wonder if dodgy has a subtle difference in your idiom. Down in Oz "dodgy" usually used to mean untrustworthy, but usually it means deliberately deceptive.

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  2. I agree with you Al - many of these people aren't fit to own an animal - we have witnessed appalling cruelty over the years.
    On the genes - yes, definitely dodgy in teh first -Oz - sense. first of all there's the blarny. Nothing is ever just 'ordinary' to us Irish - there's always a kind of tecnicolour glow about things. Then there's our love of partying - who wants to work or do sensible things if something more fun comes along? There's also a reckless streak, which my father definitely had and has passed on to me. I love adventures! Fortunately I have some Scottish genes as well ......

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  3. I deliberately waited a day before commenting, Kathleen, so I could mull over this subject. I was brought up with the belief that, on my paternal side, our ancestry was Jewish and Romany. So, when I was much younger, I made a point about learning as much as I could about these ancestral strands and their respective cultures and traditions.

    But that's the sticking point: tradition. Just because something is traditional does not, I now believe, somehow excuse it from examination or, in some cases, condemnation - when a tradition is demonstrably cruel or oppressive. Traditional is not a synonym for good or worthwhile. For example, in many parts of the Horn of Africa female genital mutilation is traditional and still routinely practiced. We know the appalling suffering and damage that it causes young girls and women, throughout their lives. Elsewhere in the world, including other parts of Africa, it is now rightly condemned and much has been done to try to educate the communities that still cling to the practice.

    Cruelty, however and wherever it manifests itself, is all about power, control, and the will-to-power. You can see it in the faces of those men, women and children in the Animal Aid footage. (Where was the RSPCA? How was this ill-treatment allowed to happen? Was anyone prosecuted? And will the relatively new Animal Welfare Act help in situations like this?) Like you, I'm a horse lover; they are beautiful, noble creatures, who deserve far better treatment than this.

    I suppose that, sadly, we are stuck with the desire on the part of far too many to exert power and control over all they survey. It would be good to think that education and an end to ignorance might sort it out but I suspect that this is only part of the equation.

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  4. I think your point about ignorance is right - that's the problem. If you witness and experience brutality all your life, then you don't know anything else.
    Interesting debate about tradition. Personally I think traditions are really important because they are part of our cultural identity (though I hate that phrase), but I also think that unless traditions are flexible and are modified in line with the societies they are rooted in, they become a strait-jacket. With globalisation and the frequency of inter-cultural relationships between individuals, it's very necessary for traditions to be modified.
    Jewish Romany sounds fantastic!

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