It is a frustrating fact that very few old sidesaddle safety stirrups will fit a modern boot.
So I was very pleased to find TWO large Cope safety stirrups in the bottom of a case of tack

Cope Safety stirrups

Just a minute – two – as in a pair….
Sure enough, on the underside of the tread one is marked “Nearside” and the other “Offside”

Stamp on stirrup tread

Offside stirrup

Stamp on stirrup

Nearside stirrup

Alice Hayes described the opening mechanism of these stirrups better than I can (see a previous blog here), and pointed out that they can only work in one direction – hence the curved part of the tread is stamped “TOE”

Stamp on safety stirrup

'Toe' and 'Heel' stamped on stirrup

If the rider falls and their foot remains caught in the stirrup the inner arch of the stirrup rotates backwards and releases the outer edge of the tread.

Safety stirrups

Stirrup mechanisms open

They are also stamped “B.Cope’s Patent No. 8940″, “Best Reliagine” (probably a tradename for a nickel alloy) and “45297″. Benjamin Cope of Bloxwich patented this stirrup design in 1895 , one can read the full patent description courtesy of Google here

On reflection it seems that these stirrups were intended for someone riding astride, and given their large size (their interior width is 4 inches or 10.2cm) probably a man.

However wouldn’t they be perfect for an ambidextrous sidesaddle rider ?


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


Antique padded stirrups

I tend to associate padded stirrups with modern endurance or trail riding saddles. So these were quite a surprising find – a pair of Victorian padded stirrups. The burnished steel construction (well, they would have been burnished at one point, I’m not too enthusiastic with the old burnishing pad, so they’re a little dull) and very fine stitching (around 14 stitches to the inch) suggest that they date from the 19th century.

Unusually, their provenance is known – they came from the Althorp attic & Spencer carriages sale earlier this year. There were quite a few interesting pieces for sale. I was spectacularly outbid on some hunting whips and military tack. I suspect the Althorp & Spencer connections attracted more attention than equestrian antiques would usually get.

Anyway – what were these stirrups doing in the tackroom of a Northamptonshire stately home? Victorian long distance riding ? The estate had its own railway station (Althorp Park) from the mid-19th century until the 1960′s, one could have travelled by train or coach so did not need to travel long distances on horseback. They are finely made, so unlikely to have been for a servant’s use, also I suspect servants’ comfort on long rides was not a priority.

Antique Victoria Sidesaddle Stirrup

Other stirrups such as the “Victoria stirrup” shown on the right had padding attached to their upper arches. This could have been to protect shoe leather from wear.

Alternatively, it may have been a safety feature to prevent the foot becoming trapped and the rider dragged in the event of a fall. The latter would have been particularly important for the sidesaddle rider.

I had always assumed that the Victoria stirrup was a single stirrup for riding aside – certainly that is how it was sold from Benjamin Latchford’s catalogue of the 1880′s and in Mosemann’s Illustrated Guide for Purchasers of Horse Furnishing Goods from 1893. So, I was rather surprised to find a pair – perhaps for the emancipated woman who still wanted shiny shoes?

Pair of Victoria stirrups

There are more details of these stirrups at : and


Tie-up bobbins

These things sit in my office & intrigue all who see them. I have heard them described as “Tie Up Bobbins”, “Manger Balls”, “Tying up blocks” and “Manger blocks”.
They date back to a time when there were many working horses, particularly in towns and cities. Many of these horses would have been housed in stalls, there simply wasn’t enough space for individual loose boxes or stables, let alone anywhere to turn the horse out.

So, a horse is to rest, tied up, in a stall. The animal should be able to lie down and stand up comfortably. I don’t know about other people’s experiences but I have met an awful lot of horses & ponies for whom the term “accident prone” simply doesn’t go far enough. Faced with a looping rope that would allow them to lie or stand easily these individuals would inevitably put a leg over the rope & get into an awful mess. With a shorter rope they will merely throttle themselves while trying to lie down.

The solution to this problem? The Tie Up Bobbin. These heavy wooden balls have a central hole. The rope passes from the halter or headcollar, through a tying up ring or bar on the stall wall and then through the tie-up bobbin. A quick release knot is tied on the other side of the bobbin. The block now acts as a counterweight, eliminating any looping in the rope. Cunning eh?

The ones shown are made of a very heavy wood, sometimes called lignum vitae. They have a marvellous patina , they do have some of the scars you would expect from use. A chain joins the three together, with a loop for hanging.

Dimensions: the larger two measure 3½” (9cm) x 4″ (10cm) x 4″ (10cm), the smaller one measures 3¼” (8.5cm) x 3½” (9cm) x 3½” (9cm). They are understandably heavy (2.5kg) and will have to be shipped by courier.


Drenching bit

antique horse bit

antique veterinary bit

Medicating horses has got so much easier – or so I tell myself as I scrape worming paste out of my hair. And I do wonder how effective a wormer is once it has disappeared up a horse’s left nostril.

I was fascinated to learn about an “Easy wormer” bit on one of the horse forums – it’s a plastic bit that you put into the horse’s mouth and then squeeze the wormer into the bit. I think there are other makes.

Sound familiar? The bit on the left is an antique drenching bit. Again, the bit is placed in the horse’s mouth & secured in place with the leather strap. Medication would be poured into the funnel, and the metal bar used to raise the animal’s head so that the liquid would pass back & be swallowed. Obviously a large lump of metal attached to a resisting horse is a bit more hazardous than the modern plastic version, but the principle’s the same.

In Mosemann’s Illustrated Guide there’s even a picture of a small version of one being used in a dog. This strikes me as a bit excessive, surely you can get a dog to swallow just about anything with nothing more sophisticated than a sausage?

Another antique tool for medicating horses was the balling gag. Medication would be moulded into ball-shaped pills. The wooden gag below would be put in the horse’s mouth.

a drenching gag

A tube would be passed through the hole in the middle of the gag, pointing towards the back of the poor horse’s throat. A pill would be placed in the free end of the tube, then one would blow down the tube (quite hard, I assume), delivering the pill to the back of the tongue. I have heard someone wondering what would happen if the horse blew back….


Antique riding whip with serpents

This whip has a beautiful silver handle & collar, decorated with cast coiled serpents.
Unfortunately the covering of the shaft or stock has suffered some damage. Looking on the bright side – this does let us look at the construction of an antique whip.
The body or core of the whip is made of whalebone or balleen. This material is not actual bone but comes from the fibrous plates in the whale’s mouth, used for filter feeding. Whalebone was used for many purposes before the advent of plastics & fiberglass, because it was strong and flexible. Hopefully the images at the end of this blog show its layers or lamellae.

This core was wrapped first in thin paper (sometimes newspaper was used, which can be useful in determining the age of the whip ) . A layer of braided material would cover the paper – the imprint of this can still be seen on the paper. The braided material could be catgut, linen or more whalebone.

The grip of this whip is covered in braided whalebone – I believe this whalebone was cut into strips and steamed to make it flexible enough to be braided, similar strips of whalebone were also used on violin bow lapping.
Special looms were used to create the tubular covering, unfortunately not many of these survive, so I am looking into ways to get the whip re-covered.

Antique riding whip with serpents
Detail of whip showing exposed balleen and paper
Antique riding whip with serpents
Antique riding whip with serpents
Antique riding whip with serpents
Antique riding whip with serpents
Antique riding whip with serpents

collection of hunting flasks
While photographing some saddle flasks for my website my thoughts turned to the stuff we put in them.

Now, I can see the need for sustenance & possibly a bit of Dutch courage when out hunting – hence traditional combinations like port & brandy or a Whisky Mac. Innovation isn’t always a good thing – I have seen (and regrettably tasted) – framboise & port, this is never going to be a classic, and peach schnapps? well….
Double ended hunt flask

This double ended flask would have been a great help in the “what to carry” dilemma. Sadly, I sold it a while ago & have not seen another.

I used to favour sloe gin – but since discovering the recipe for a cocktail called a Millionaire, my stocks have been depleted.

Millionaire No.1


1/3 Jamaica Rum

1/3 Apricot Brandy

1/3 Sloe Gin

Juice of 1 lime

1 Dash Grenadine

Shake & Strain into Double Cocktail Glass.

This recipe comes from the 1960 UK Barkeepers’ Guild Guide to Drinks, which is full of valuable advice about clean fingernails & decorum.

Actually, that reminds me – I have a travelling cocktail set which I should photograph for the site…