Appleby Horse Fair . . . From the Horse's Mouth!

As I write this blog, I am completely hemmed in by horses.  Horses to the left of me, horses to the right of me ...  I popped out to the shops for something and came back to find my carefully constructed barricade had been removed and replaced by a gigantic Ute, a horsebox and 3 horses cropping my front lawn.  The fence around my back garden is being used as a hitching post and the river has become an exercise yard and washing facility for horses, harnesses and buggies.  Earlier there were several naked men having a bath in the weir complete with shampoo - not a photo you can post to Facebook!!! But it certainly makes for an interesting life.
Woke up to this beautiful view
It's the historic Appleby Horse Fair, and gypsies (or Romanies) come from all over Europe to meet up, trade horses and generally have a party. A small town usually three and a half thousand strong swells to more than thirty thousand as tourists flock in to watch the fun.  The sun is shining and it's hot, which is good news for a town that is looking to make money after the devastating floods of last December.
Difficult to get out of my driveway at the moment!
It all looks very romantic, but - as with everything - there's a dark side.  There are 2 RSPCA officers outside my house on a permanent basis.  Because I live beside the river at a place that has extensive grassy banks, it's the prime spot where the horses are brought to be spruced up for the Fair and to get a bit of free grazing. To say it's lively down here is an understatement! But besides  seeing some really beautiful horses, you also witness ill-treatment.
These young foals are in very poor condition and one had a terrible cough.
Yesterday, while the RSPCA were off for lunch, I saw a very young foal being dragged uphill because the buggy it was tied behind was being driven too fast and it couldn't keep its feet. But how can you expect young lads to be kind to animals when they too have been treated roughly?  Various children's agencies have a presence up on the main camping ground for very good reasons.  Two days ago I saw (and heard) a little boy no more than 4 being thrashed by his father, for some misdemeanor,  who continued to whack him about the head because he was crying.  'If you don't stop,' he was told, 'we'll leave you behind.'  And I thought of the little Japanese boy whose parents had made the same threat and then carried it out.
Tied to my fence for more than 12 hours, rescued eventually
It's all very sad because it feeds the stereotype image people have of travelling people. The traditional gypsies here, the old Romanies, are very nice and are appalled by the way their alternative life-style has been adopted by people who want to live beyond the law, but don't want to observe their own strict codes of behaviour and honour. They are also talking about their children and grandchildren feeling 'alienated' by an intolerant society that herds them around and even prevents them living legally on land they actually own, unless they can get planning permission - which is rarely ever granted to gypsies.
A strong RSPCA presence
Some of these Romany families have been here for 500 years, but the head gypsy says they're still treated as unwanted immigrants. Alienation breeds violence and contempt for authority and increases the likelihood that people will consider themselves outside society and its rules and regulations.

I've been thinking about this a lot, with the up-coming referendum.  Both being out of and in Europe hasn't exactly created the wide, inclusive society that has always been my ideal and which I always thought was the post-second-world-war goal. One where there is room for everyone - heaven knows there's enough food on the table, or would be if supermarkets didn't throw it all in the bin.

Must stop ranting - I've just seen a horse (Irish I think) eating one of my newly-planted rose bushes, so I'd better get back on guard duty.  I will, of course, treat it very gently!


  1. That was a very interesting post, Kathleen. It reminded me of a book I reviewed 3 years ago- Bare Knuckle Fighter by Daniel Kenyon who is a traveler.


  3. Thanks for the info, Deb - I will take a look.

  4. Hi! What an interesting observation. We came down yesterday with a visitor to show him the delights of the horse fair. I asked him for his views of what he saw. He said it was nice to be so close to the horses and seeing everyone getting along but it was also apparent that some of the horses were being worked too hard. There was a tiny pony being forced to carry three overweight men up the hill, it was obscene. I felt desperately sorry for the animals, you could feel a sense of panic and discomfort wherever you looked. I therefore made the decision never to go into Appleby again at horse fair time. Those who care about the animals will never be heard so it's best to stay away. Very sad but true.

    1. It's so sad, Helga. I love seeing the horses, but it really upsets me to see how they're treated.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.


Post a Comment

Popular Posts