This rather splendid portrait is part of the World War I exhibition at Bath’s Fashion Museum

 Captain Flora Sandes holding a riding whip

My attention was caught by the horse leg handled whip (and the boots, if I’m honest). However, the short biography of the sitter was even more fascinating. (the following owes a certain amount to Wikipedia)

She was Flora Sandes (22 January 1876 – 24 November 1956) was the only British woman officially to serve as a soldier in World War I.

She was the daughter of a Suffolk clergyman. As a child she was educated by governesses, she enjoyed riding and shooting and said that she wished she had been born a boy. As a young woman she learned to drive, and drove an old French racing car.

Sandes trained with the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry Corps, founded in 1907, as an all-women mounted paramilitary organisation, learning first aid, horsemanship, signalling and drill. She left the F.A.N.Y. in 1910 joining another renegade FANY, Mabel St Clair Stobart, in the formation of the Women’s Sick & Wounded Convoy. The Convoy saw service in Serbia and Bulgaria in 1912 during the 1st Balkans War. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914 she volunteered to become a nurse, but was rejected due to a lack of qualifications.

Sandes nonetheless joined a St. John Ambulance unit raised by American nurse Mabel Grouitch, and on 12 August 1914 left England for Serbia with a group of 36 women to try and aid the humanitarian crises there. They arrived at the town of Kragujevac which was the base for the Serbian forces fighting against the Austro-Hungarian offensive. Sandes joined the Serbian Red Cross and worked in an ambulance for the Second Infantry Regiment of the Serbian Army. During the retreat into Albania, Sandes was separated from her unit and, for her own safety, enrolled as a soldier with a Serbian regiment. Following the Balkan tradition of “sworn virgins”, it was not unknown for women to serve in the Serbian army, but Sandes was the only British woman to do so. She quickly advanced to the rank of Corporal. In 1916, during the Serbian advance on Bitola (Monastir), Sandes was seriously wounded by a grenade in hand to hand combat. She subsequently received the highest decoration of the Serbian Military, the Order of the Karađorđe’s Star. At the same time, she was promoted to the rank of Sergeant Major. Also in 1916, Sandes published her autobiography, An English Woman-Sergeant in the Serbian Army. She spent the rest of the war working in a hospital. At the end of the war she was promoted to the rank of Captain.

She married a Serbian White Army officer, after his death she returned to Suffolk.



Someone contacted me last week looking for old eggbutt bits to use as curtain tie-backs (or more accurately drape tie-backs, they were in the USA) This sounded like an interesting idea & got me looking around the web for equestrian-themed interior design – after all, it works for Hermes & Ralph Lauren…




This hessian / burlap drape or blind idea came from Pinterest, but I can’t find the original source to acknowledge

There’s quite a lot of it about – done well it can look fantastic & be rather witty, but I suspect it would be easy to have too much of a good thing

This idea for towel holders comes from the Arizona- based interior design company Lizard Flats

A simple mullen mouth snaffle used as a towel ring found on Etsy

British Military bit    Household Cavalry bit

An ex-Household Cavalry man once told me that the pieces of equipment most often kept by men leaving the cavalry were the “Peninsula” troopers’ bits & that they were used as loo roll holders. At the time I couldn’t quite see how this would work, but thanks to the internet all has become clear.

This one appeared on Etsy

Another example from Pinterest, wouldn’t you worry about splinters ?

There are whole blogs devoted to the subject :

There are instructions for making this stirrup towel holder at

And while we’re on the subject of stirrups…
Hermes clock and barometer in stirrups
A desktop clock and barometer in Cadre Noir stirrups by Hermes

Iberian box stirrups converted into lamps
Iberian box stirrups converted into lamps at Shades of Light

And you’ve probably heard about an “armchair ride” – how’s this ?
Leather saddle armchair

More details at Restoration Hardware , and here’s another view :

Leather saddle armchair

There’s an awful lot of horse related decoration out there, without even starting on hunting-themed ceramics or the whole area of prints & paintings.

(Sorry, due to huge amounts of spam I’ve closed comments here, but please feel free to contact me by email or comment on Facebook)


Copes safety stirrup in action

This image attracted me to the Project Gutenberg Ebook of Alice M. Hayes’ “The Horsewoman, A Practical Guide to Sidesaddle Riding” (The whole text can be read here )

The front page of the book tells us that it is the 2nd edition, published in 1903, it was edited by Capt M. HORACE HAYES, F.R.C.V.S. (Late Captain “The Buffs”, Author of “Points of the Horse,” “Veterinary Notes for Horse-Owners,” “Riding and Hunting,” etc.) and that Mrs Hayes was also the author of the intriguingly titled “My Leper Friends”.

The chapter starts:

both for men and ladies, have been in existence for hundreds of years.

slipper stirrups
Fig 18 & Fig 19 Capped and Slipper stirrups

Apparently the first variety of this contrivance was the capped stirrup-iron, either simple (Fig. 18) or in the form of a slipper (Fig. 19), which was provided with an arrangement on its sole that prevented the toe of the slipper from yielding to downward pressure, but allowed it to revolve upwards, and thus to facilitate the release of the foot, in the event of a fall. The simple capped stirrup was used by ancient Spanish Cavaliers, and is still employed by many of their descendants in America.”

(The author does not show us these stirrups but I assume she means the Iberian “box” stirrup :

Portuguese Box stirrup
Estribo de caixa – more details here

or Latin American stirrups, sometimes called “Conquistador stirrups”

Brass conquistador pattern stirrups
“Conquistador” pattern stirrups – more details here

or tapaderos :

Monkey nosed tapaderos
Monkey nosed tapaderos – more details here

Back to Mrs Hayes:

“In apparent oblivion of these facts, the Christie stirrup (Fig. 20), made on the same principle, was patented about four years ago.
Christie stirrup
Fig 20 Christie stirrup

Besides its undue weight (1¼ lb. as compared to the ½ lb. of the slipper stirrup), it has the further disadvantage of allowing the possibility of the toe being caught between its bars (Fig. 21).

foot caught in stirrup
Fig 21. A foot caught in a Christies’ stirrup

Latchford safety stirrup
Fig 22. Latchford safety stirrup

Want of neatness appears to have been the only cause of the abandonment of the capped stirrup, which is certainly safer than any of its successors, the first English one of which appears to have been the Latchford safety stirrup (Fig. 22). It consists of two irons; the small one, which is placed within the large one, being made to come out the moment the foot gets dragged in it, in which case it parts company with its fellow, and is then liable to get lost.

Latchford safety stirrup
Parts of Latchford Safety Stirrup – see more about this stirrup here

Scott Safety stirrup
Fig 23. Scott safety stirrup – see an example here

The Scott safety stirrup (Figs. 23 and 24) has not this fault, for its inner iron always retains its connection with the outer one, and can be replaced without delay, if the lady after her tumble desires to remount.

Scott safety stirrup showing release mechanism
Fig 24. Scott safety stirrup open

The Latchford, Scott ordinary, and Cope safety stirrup (Figs. 25 and 26) open only one way, so that the foot, when correctly placed in any of them, may not be liable, as in the event of a fall, to be forced through the outer iron, in which case the lady would almost to a certainty get hung up if her saddle was not provided with a safety bar. In these stirrups, the side of the “tread,” which ought to be to the rear, is generally indicated by the fact of its being straight, while the other side is curved (Fig. 24). This is done in the Scott stirrup, by the word “heel” being stamped on the rear part.

Copes safety stirrup
Fig 25. Cope Safety Stirrup – see another example

Copes safety stirrup in action
Cope Safety Stirrup releasing the rider’s foot

The chief faults of so-called safety stirrups are as follows:—

  1. They may catch on the foot, on account of getting crushed by coming in violent contact with a tree, wall or other hard object, or by the horse falling on his near side. When I was living in India, I had a Scott safety stirrup jammed on my foot in this manner, by a horse which I was riding, making a sudden shy and dashing against a wall. The iron was so firmly fixed to my foot by this accident, that it could not be taken off until, after much pain and trouble, my foot was freed from both boot and stirrup. Had I been unseated, I would probably have been killed, because my saddle had not a safety bar.


  2. Those which open only when the foot is put into them in one way, are apt to cause a fatal accident if put in the wrong way, which may easily happen from carelessness or ignorance. The methods (straight edge of “tread,” or word “heel”) used with these stirrups, to indicate the proper side on which to put the foot into the iron, may convey no meaning to persons who are not well acquainted with the details of side-saddle gear, and in moments of hurry and excitement may be easily overlooked.


  3. Any ordinary safety stirrup which is used without a safety bar may cause a lady to get “hung up,” if she is thrown to the off side and her heel gets jammed against the saddle in the manner shown in Fig. 28.


  4. A fall to the offside
    Fig 28. A fall to the offside

  5. If the outer iron is small in comparison to the size of the foot, the rider may easily get dragged.


  6. If the outer iron of a Scott’s reversible safety stirrup is large in comparison to the size of the foot (as in the case of a young girl), the rider may get dragged in the event of a fall, by the foot going through the stirrup. Accidents caused by a foot going through a stirrup have often occurred to men from falls when hunting and steeplechasing.


Some ladies think it “smart” to ride with a man’s ordinary stirrup iron, or (madder still) with a small racing stirrup, attached to a leather which does not come out. I once saw a lady who adopted this senseless plan fall and get dragged. By an extraordinary piece of good luck she was saved from a horrible death by her boot coming off.


All that can be said in favour of safety stirrups, is that they are less liable to cause accidents than ordinary stirrups. The fact remains, that the danger of being dragged by the stirrup can be entirely obviated only by the use of an efficient safety bar.”


And so ends the chapter.

Alice M. Hayes sounds like a remarkable woman, and I really want to believe that she posed for those photographs of falls herself…


Book about antique hitching posts

However specialised your field of collecting, someone somewhere in the world probably shares your passion . I was delighted to find this book : “Horsing Around – 19th Century Cast Iron Hitching Posts”, it’s a catalogue of an exhibition of (surprise, surprise) hitching posts from the collection of Phil & Bunny Savino at the Albany Institute of History & Art in 2008. It focuses on American hitching posts, which were commonly freestanding cast iron posts; in Europe tethering rings or finials were more often attached to pre-existing walls, posts or pillars. The hitching posts were decorative as well as functional, common designs were horse heads, patriotic emblems such as the flag or an eagle, dogs, snakes, people and geometric or architectural shapes. Their makers are rarely identified and they fall into the category of “Folk Art”

Victorian horse head tethering posts
French Horse butchers sign
A French Horse Butcher’s Sign

I had bought the book in the hope of identifying the pair of horse heads shown above, I found one example in it that was similar but not identical . These are probably English and would have been placed on top of pillars or posts in a yard. The vendor described them as “19th Century cast iron horse heads possibly from a horse butcher’s shop”. I’m sure that’s wrong, I sold a French Boucherie Chevaline zinc horse head model a few years ago – it was much lighter in weight so that it could be hung on a wall & didn’t have bit rings (I suspect that thinking about one’s favourite riding horse before tucking into a steak doesn’t help the appetite )

Victorian horse head tethering posts

Christies sold a very similar white painted pair in 1999. They described them as “A pair of English white-painted cast-iron horse head tethering-post finials Circa 1870. Each with two rings in its mouth, on a circular base 10 in. (26 cm.) high”. They can be seen here

Victorian horse head tethering posts

The horse heads are made of cast iron, each was originally cast in two halves – a seam is just visible along the back of each mane. There are defects around their bases, presumably from when they were removed from their posts or pillars. The quality of the casting is very good and the details of the manes, eyes and even facial blood vessels are clear. The bit rings are in good order & still move freely. They have been painted gloss black, there are a few very small chips in the paint. They stand 10½ inches (26cm) high, and they are very heavy

Victorian horse head tethering posts


I found myself in Kineton yesterday. And where did my thoughts wander? Did I appreciate the 13th Century church , and the village green and pond? Or the late summer sun shining through the trees?

Kineton Village Green
Not so much – I was thinking about nosebands – more specifically Kineton nosebands, and how a piece of tack designed to help stop the unstoppable might be associated with the place.
Fulmer snaffle

It doesn’t end there, many bits are named after places. In some cases the reason is recorded, the bit now known as the Fulmer Snaffle was once called the Australian Loose Ring Cheek Snaffle. It was adopted and promoted by Robert Hall of Fulmer School of Equitation in the Buckinghamshire village of Fulmer.

Kimblewick horse bit

The Kimblewick was developed from a Spanish bit by Lieut-Col. F.E.Gibson for Phil Oliver, who lived in the village of Kimblewick in the Chilterns. According to Elwyn Hartley Edwards in his book “Saddlery” others copied the design and called the bit a “Kimberwick” – so now both names are used. The Uxeter bit (which is basically a Kimblewick with slots in the bit rings) sounds like it should be named after a place, but if it is I can’t find it – maybe it’s a contraction of Uttoxeter ?

It is possible that this military bit design, the Universal Pattern (so called because with its reversible mouthpiece and choice of curb rein position it can be adapted to suit many horses) Portsmouth bit was originally called a “Port Mouth” bit , there may not be any geographical link at all. It is also known as an elbow bit & sometimes an Ashleigh bit.


Other designs are older and their links to place names have probably been lost. Here are a few, I have probably missed loads, please let me know by email or Facebook

Liverpool bit
A Liverpool Bit


Weymouth bit
A Weymouth Bit


Decorated Buxton
A Decorated Buxton Coaching Bit


Banbury Weymouth
A Banbury Weymouth Horse Bit


A Rugby Pelham
Rugby pelham


Scorrier or Cornish Snaffle
Cornish or Scorrier Snaffle


Scamperdale Pelham
Scamperdale Pelham


Tattersall Bit
Tattersall bit


Cheltenham Gag
Cheltenham Gag

These are bolas, or, more accurately boleadoras :

vintage leather gaucho bolas

They came from South America. Similar arrangements of throwing stones and ropes were originally used by the indigenous people, but after the arrival of the Spanish they were adopted by the gauchos. They were used for hunting and herding – the balls would be swung around to gain speed and then released, wrapping themselves around the quarry animal’s legs. Charles Darwin describes the process better than I can in his diary entry from the Beagle on 8th September 1832 :

“… The Gauchos were very civil & took us to the only spot where there was any chance of water. — It was interesting seeing these hardy people fully equipped for an expedition. — They sleep on the bare ground at all times & as they travel get their food; already they had killed a Puma or Lion; the tongue of which was the only part they kept; also an Ostrich, these they catch by two heavy balls, fastened to the ends of a long thong. — They showed us the manner of throwing it; holding one ball in their hands, by degrees they whirl the other round & round, & then with great force send them both revolving in the air towards any object. — Of course the instant it strikes an animals legs it fairly ties them together.”

He also quite charmingly describes his own efforts at throwing them :

“One day, as I was amusing myself by galloping and whirling the balls round my head, by accident the free one struck a bush, and its revolving motion being thus destroyed, it immediately fell to the ground, and, like magic, caught one hind leg of my horse; the other ball was then jerked out of my hand, and the horse fairly secured. Luckily he was an old practised animal, and knew what it meant; otherwise he would probably have kicked till he had thrown himself down. The Gauchos roared with laughter; they cried out that they had seen every sort of animal caught, but had never before seen a man caught by himself.”

Maybe I’ll just keep mine for display.

vintage leather gaucho bolas

Very early examples often took the form of a simple stone with a groove cut around its middle which would hold a rope or cord. Many were made of stones wrapped in wet leather or rawhide which would shrink around these weights as it dried. The weights above are covered in lizard skin and their ropes are made of twisted rawhide. There are some very ornate examples made from ivory and silver which were intended for parades & display, not for use.

Not all bolas have three weights, apparently they can have eight or nine, but the more common arrangements are :

  • One weight : Bola Perdida – a lost ball, appropriately named because this is a single weight thrown at one’s quarry, so quite likely to be lost
  • Two weights : Avestrucera or ñanducera
  • Three weights : Boleadora or Tres Marias (Apparently the “Three Marys” are named after the three stars in the belt of the constellation Orion)

In the boleadora one weight is usually lighter than the other two and has a shorter rope – the smaller weight is held in the hand and used to sling the bolas. The disparity in weights and rope lengths helps the bolas to spread out & inflences their trajectory. In the example below there is a single larger, heavier weight on a longer rawhide rope. I suppose it was made to suit the individual gaucho who used it.

vintage leather gaucho bolas

vintage leather gaucho bolas

There’s a video (with a splendid beard) here (not wild about the bird welfare apect, but it seemed unharmed)


Several years ago I had an interesting whip, it was black and made of a length of wood or vine, the three branches of which twisted around each other. It can be seen at I had bought it as part of a small collection of sidesaddle whips, and never managed to identify it.

So I was surprised to find another two very similar whips at a local auction last year

Twisted wooden whips

I was still pretty clueless about them.

Until today. I was researching some spurs, using the marvelous French museum online database “Joconde” (the French name for the Mona Lisa). As so often happens when searching for things on the internet, I wandered away from my original search. I was happily scrolling through the results for “fouet” (most of which were kitchen balloon whisks ), when suddenly I saw my whip.

It was in the collection of the Pithiviers Museum of Art & History, which has an ethnographic collection. It was donated to the museum in 1910 from the collection of Louis Gosse (1876 – 1939). The piece originated in the High Ubangi region , the Ubangi river is a large tributary of the Congo.
I still haven’t identified the type of wood or creeper, or the function of the whips, but at least I have somewhere to start…

African whip

I found another example at Brooklyn Museum, not much extra information there – it is described as a plaited twig whip from the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was collected on the 1922 Museum Expedition, Robert B. Woodward Memorial Fund, along with many “chicottes” – whips made from twisted rhino hide. There are many disturbing accounts of the hide whips being used on people, but I have not found any descriptions of these lighter twig whips being used for this purpose, which is sort of comforting. Sort of.

Congolese whip

Ubangi whip


Illustration of Greyhound with whip

Thanks to the work of the Gutenberg Project I have been reading “The Young Lady’s Equestrian Manual” , an anonymous 19th Century publication, now available for all to read at The book starts :
“The following pages contain a Treatise on the Art of Riding on Horseback, for Ladies, which originally appeared in the Publishers’ well-known Manual of elegant feminine Recreations, Exercises, and Pursuits, The Young Lady’s Book; with, however, various additions to the Text, and a number of new Illustrations and Embellishments.”

It discusses the use of sidesaddles, and remarks on women who rode astride in other countries and other times. I had to remind myself that this book was written when the vast majority of fashionable women would ride sidesaddle “The present graceful, secure, and appropriate style of female equestrianism is, however, materially different from that of the olden time. In by-gone days, the dame or damosel rode precisely as the knight or page”
Interestingly the author points out that Chaucer’s Wife of Bath in the 15th century wore “a paire of spurrés sharpe” , implying that she rode astride.

It goes on to discuss the selection of a horse, stable management, correct riding attire, and much else.
Anyway, I thoroughly recommend reading the book (link above), although possibly not following the whip care suggestion in the illustration above – I suppose it might explain the sheer number of dog-chewed whips that I come across…


I bought one of these whips years ago at the sale of the contents of Dr Potter’s Museum of Curiosities at Jamaica Inn on Bodmin Moor, Cornwall. It was an extraordinary sale, full of natural history specimens and ethnographic objects from around the world as well as bizarre taxidermy tableaus – read more & see images here or here

Lacebark whip

Old label on whip

The whip had an intriguing half-label attached. It read “Lace T… Bark and remaining ….. whip”. I spent a while trying to research it, but could not find much infomation.

A website visitor told me that the fibres were produced by “ponding” – the soaking and punding of the wood in water, which sounded reasonable.

I had almost forgotten about it until I saw another example at auction a little while ago. This one was in better condition with a lace-like ruff surviving at its top.

Lacebark whip
After some more reading I found that the full name of the wood is Lacebark. Wikipedia tells us that “The lace-bark tree is a tree native to Jamaica, known botanically as Lagetta lintearia, from its native name lagetto. The inner bark consists of numerous concentric layers of interlacing fibers resembling in appearance lace. collars and other articles of apparel have been made of the fiber, which is also used in the manufacture of whips”.

There is also an interesting paper about the plant from Kew Gardens here

The “ruff” is quite soft and does look convincingly lace-like .

Lacebark wood


Lacebark lace from wood

I have seen other examples of lacebark items including more whips, collars and slippers in a few online museum collections. There is also an old report from The Advertiser Late Evelyn Observer

“June 3rd 1938 in State Library of Victoria

YARRAMIBAT Gifts Mrs. 1W. Le Francke, of Yarrambat, presented a whip made from the lace tree of Jamaica-a valuable gift-for the school museum. Other gifts are: Mrs. Warren, cross-section of motor – tyre showing construction; Mr. H. Allen, beautiful pieces of coral and many shells; Mr. Carter, many pictures of overseas towns; Mr. D. Claude Robert son (Melbourne), six new tennis balls for children’s tennis.” I find myself imagining a somewhat bemused reaction to this selection of gifts…..


The Weald & Downland Museum near Chichester in Sussex is a fantastic place. Not only are there over forty rescued and reconstructed buildings, they also run courses teaching traditional skills and crafts – everything from making natural dyes, through polelathing or coppice management to ploughing . It was probably predictable that the heavy horse driving day would be the one that I booked for a friend as a gift. Obviously I couldn’t just let her go alone, I had to go too, to keep her company. Honest.

Learning to harrow with a Shire

This excellent day course was taught by Mark Buxton, ably assisted by some really hardworking volunteers. The horses were both Shire geldings, Mac & Major. I hadn’t previously had much experience with Shires (Well, except for that one time during a “seeing practice” stint as a veterinary student….. I was given the task of removing a front shoe from a lame Shire horse. In an ordinary yard the experience would have been merely back-breaking, but this was at some sort of theme park farm, so a fairly large audience gathered to witness my struggle. Things like that make you look at farriers with renewed respect).

We were shown how to put their harness on & took turns at learning to drive with a roller and a chain harrow. Ominous warnings were given about not letting the harrow get tangled up (hence my preoccupied expression in the photo above).
I was really impressed by the sensitivity of both horses to the voice, particularly the voices of strangers. And they were far more energetic than I had anticipated, any lapse in concentration could find the driver sprinting behind the harrow. They also did some fairly fancy lateral work when turning at the end of a line – I asked how they were taught to do this & apparently it just came naturally …. I could wish that some riding horses I have known were that smart.

After lunch, (perhaps predictably a Ploughman’s), we took it in turns to drive the pair of horses pulling a wagon. Compared to the power of an engine it might not sound that much, but a real two horsepower was pretty impressive.

So now all I have to do is figure out how I justify booking the ploughing course, or maybe the logging with heavy horses.

We were also lucky that the museum opened its archive on the day when we were there. They have been given a lot of rural bygones and antiques over the years & haven’t anywhere to exhibit them permanently. So, there is a store of old tools etc in their administrative building that opens on certain days. They have a fine collection of bits, horseshoes, horse brasses, and even more lawn boots than I have.

Old lawn boots
Old horseshoes

Old horseshoes : note the heart-bar shoes and the wavy-edged examples

dravelling snaffle

Old bits, including a dravelling snaffle

Old horse bits

And more bits

horse brasses

Horse brasses & harness

Piece about bells

A note about the latten or team bells

Latten or team bells

Latten or Team bells

Team bells

Team bells