Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad?

My style of horsekeeping is best described as rustic.  Or as close to natural as is practical.   I have two oldies living a deluxe retirement and a younger horse who, spasmodically, is called upon to work.  If you can call a teeny bit of hacking and schooling a hard day at the office.

So they live out (with woods and a shelter to shield them from the sun and rain) all year round, except for the coldest depths of winter when they have big boxes inside our old stone barn.  And although I generally do the rounds with fork and wheelbarrow every day in the fields, the morning muck out of the boxes definitely takes longer – and gives me plenty of time to reflect.

Unless I have other worries, the musings tend to revolve around horses and today, for some unknown reason, I was thinking about “Gulliver’s Travels”, Jonathan Swift’s famous novel.  From numerous film and cartoon versions, people tend to associate Gulliver only with the Lilliputians, the tiny folk who find a shipwrecked giant and tie him down out of fear, and maybe also the ginormous Brobdignagians for whom Gulliver is a curious miniature mannikin.  But I was trying to remember the rest of the story, in particular the part about the land of the noble horses.

It never takes long to satisfy your curiosity courtesy of Messrs. Google and co., though in this case I really should have used Yahoo, as the “Yahoos” in the story are similar to neanderthals who portray every human vice.  They are subservient to the governing race, the “Houyhnhnms”, an equine society whose language Gulliver eventually acquires.  He learns that they have no word for lie, “the thing that is not”, that they cannot understand the concepts of avarice, warfare and envy and over the years he spends with the horses, and in particular in discussion with his “Master” the gentle grey horse who adopts him, he learns to despise all the baser instincts of mankind that the “Yahoos” represent.

Eventually the Houyhnhnms realise that he is closer in nature to the Yahoos than to them and decide he must be exiled for the good of their society.  Gulliver builds a canoe and sails away;  he is bereft.  Although, ultimately he is rescued and returns to his family, he can never forget the lessons taught by the Houyhnhnms, a word which in their language meant “the perfection of nature”.

One TV adaptation of the story includes this passage.  On YouTube I found a recent-ish version starring Ted Danson and the Houyhnhnms appear about 1 hour into part two.  If I knew how to do a link I would – so will adapt this once I learn!  [see next post] The text is available on www.online-literature.com/swift/gulliver Chapter 28 onwards.

On the many blogs I follow and sites I visit, all agree with the maxim that if the horse presents problems to its handler, then the fault is with the human.  So it’s interesting to note that, when looking for an animal to epitomise truth, nobility, honour and honesty when penning a satire of English contemporary society in the 18th century, Swift chose the horse.  As did George Orwell, whose quote supplied my post title, in “Animal Farm”.  Remember Boxer, the shire who was ultimately betrayed by the pigs who became ever more human and corrupt in their takeover of the farm?

I love learning about horses in literature and history and have just discovered a blog www.horse-canada.com/horses-and-history which I recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet.  If anyone has any other interesting literary or historically related horse comments, I look forward to hearing from you!

(Apologies for some errors in this and last post appearing – normal service will be resumed as soon as I work out what buttons not to press!)

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About cavaliereattitude

Englishwoman, transplanted to SW France in '86, blogging - with a large dose of humour and self-deprecation - about life with my husband and our horses, the never-ending renovation of an ancient and crumbly stone farmhouse and the attempt to carve a beautiful garden and productive pasture out of a woodland wilderness.........
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2 Responses to Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad?

  1. Chris says:

    I always loved Swift’s in-depth notions of human nature and society and such by playing with Yahoos and Houyhnhnms. It’s quite a shame that people forget that last third of Gulliver’s Travels as it tends to be the big, final bit that Swift closes with!

    Like

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