IPHONE photo memories - the app that keeps on giving and inspiring stories. Just recently, up popped a photo of the horse statue at the Avenches National Equestrian Institute with a Santa hat perched jauntily on its head.
That festive sight was part of a tour organised by the Swiss hosts of the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses annual meeting six years ago, held also to coincide with CHI Geneva, consistently voted the top international show in the world.
And minus its Santa hat accessory, that same statue was seen by thousands more when Avenches then hosted the European eventing championships in September 2021.
Closer to home is Horse and Handler,James McCarthy’s bronze sculpture of a man leading a horse to Ballinasloe Horse Fair. Located in the town’s St. Michael’s Square since May 2003, the ‘Mare in the Square’ landmark has featured in thousands of souvenir selfies since, often taken by visitors during the annual Fair.
The Fair’s origins date back to the High Kings of Connacht trading horses at the river crossing on their route to Tara. Similar to Ballinasloe, another gateway town - Inishannon in West Cork - grew up around a ford.
As best-selling author of To School Through the Fields, Inishannon resident Alice Taylor once explained that the ford at Inishannon was the only means for travellers, often on horseback, to head west until bridges were later built in Bandon (1594) and Inishannon (1665).
This cloaked man on horseback sculpture was unveiled in 2011.
Another eye-catching roadside monument is The Gaelic Chieftain near Boyle and the site of Hugh Roe O’Donnell’s victory at the Battle of Curlew Pass in 1599. Depicting “Red Hugh” O’Donnell on horseback, this impressionistic sculpture took its vantage point, overlooking the N4, in 1999, 400 years after the battle took place.
Recycling Ferrari’s gift
Fast forward at Formula 1 speed to this millennium and the midlands village of Horseleap, where some creative latter-day horse trading saw its own equestrian statue erected there in 2000.
Tradition tells us that Horseleap derived its name from a daring feat by Sir Hugh de Lacy. While fleeing on horseback from the rival Mac Geoghegan clan towards the safety of Ardnorcher Castle, Sir Hugh saw that the drawbridge was raised and jumped his horse over the castle moat instead.
Hoping to put Horseleap on the proverbial map, a group of locals negotiated with the Ferrari corporation. Why? The famous Italian car manufacturers had commissioned a 12-foot high bronze statue of its trademark rearing horse logo that was shipped to Co Tyrone in 1999, intended as a surprise present for one of its F1 drivers Eddie Irvine.
Unfortunately for Ferrari (and fortunately for Horseleap), Irvine changed ranks to the Jaguar team, leaving the now-obsolete gift stored in a Tyrone barn, until it was bought by the enterprising Horseleap locals as a roadside landmark instead.
No doubt a horse with the scope of de Lacy’s steed would have interested Eddie Macken. Back in July 2015, a Pony Tales story told of a campaign by Aughnagarron National School pupils and their teacher Irene Brady to have a statue of the famous Longford horseman installed in his native Granard, as first told in the local Longford Leader.
Eddie’s grandniece Aoibhinn was amongst the pupils who compiled a school project about the icon’s career and while there’s no statue to date in the town, passersby will notice a chess piece style horse’s head statue in the town, presumably a nod to Eddie’s most famous horse Boomerang.
Patricia Nicholson, Eddie’s former mother-in-law, travelled to the Rolex Kentucky Horse Trials in 2007 for the unveiling of the iconic bronze statue of Pirate Lion and Bruce Davidson captured jumping into the Head of the Lake water jump.
By the Knockrath House Stud sire Gipfel out of the Ideal Water mare Stream Lion, Pirate Lion and Bruce were the first American winners at Badminton in 1995 and the Irish-bred placed twice in the Rolex Kentucky top-10.
Davidson’s win with Irish Cap at the 1974 World Championships, hosted at Burghley, brought the championships to the United States and the state of Kentucky made a successful bid to host them in 1978 at its newly opened Kentucky Horse Park.
Horse at the White House
The Park grounds feature a wide variety of horse statues. Pirate Lion and Davidson occupy a prime location close to the main grandstand while other sculptures include a tribute to Sergeant Reckless, the tough little Mongolian mare used by the US Marines during the Korean War. She made 51 trips alone in one day, transporting ammunition to troops on the front lines and wounded soldiers on the return journeys.
Wounded twice, she was awarded two Purple Hearts and numerous other military awards for her service. When she died in 1968, Sergeant Reckless was buried with full military honours at Camp Pendleton in North San Diego County.
Misty of Chincoteague is another Horse Park-based sculpture based on Marguerite Henry’s famous children’s books about the Chincoteague wild ponies in the Virgina-Maryland region.
Similar to the story about horses from the shipwrecked Spanish Armada swimming ashore to the west coast of Ireland, the Chincoteague ponies are said to have originated after ships, carrying horses and ponies to the Colonies and South America, ran aground on the sandbars or sank off Assateague Island. The stock that swam ashore evolved into the feral herds that have roamed the region since.
Naturally being the bloodstock capital of America means that the Lexington park is home to several statues dedicated to racing giants such as Secretariat, Man O’War, Cigar, Alysheba and John Henry.
More horse breeds are celebrated too at the Horse Park, including Bask (Polish Arabian), Bret Hanover and Roxie Highland (Standardbreds), The Spirit of the American Morgan statue and even Happy Go Lucky (donkey).
Among the many iconic landmarks in Washington D.C is the Andrew Jackson equestrian statue, set in a prime location in front of the White House, where Jackson served as the seventh president of the United States (1829-1837). The original sculpture, featuring Jackson on a rearing horse was completed in 1853. Replicas were also made for New Orleans and Nashville.
A famous Boston landmark is the George Washington statue set in the city’s Public Garden. Unveiled on the eve of July 4th in 1869, the 38-foot high bronze sculpture shows Washington on a noble charger.
By chance, just one of 22 equestrian statues of Roman Emperors still stands in Rome today. The Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius was mistakenly identified as Constantine the Great, the first Christian Roman Emperor while the other pre-Christian emperor statues were melted down for their bronze by the Catholic Church to make church bells and coins.
Germany is another country renowned for equestrian statues although many were damaged during the world wars. The Bertoldsbrunnen landmark, in the medieval city of Freiburg in the Black Forest, replaced the Fischbrunnen (Fish Fountain) destroyed during Allied bombing raids in WWII.
The current 14-foot high limestone pedestal with its abstract bronze equestrian statue is named after Freiburg’s founder Duke Bertold and is set in an area, where the city’s five tram lines converge, known affectionately as “Berti.”
One of the most striking monuments is the Landgraf statue, placed outside the Holsteiner Verband stud at Elmshorn. The Holsteiner foundation sire was by the English import Ladykiller and with his power and substance had more than a passing resemblance to another thoroughbred-sired stallion in Clover Hill.
(Commemorating that stallion and the role played by the late Philip Heenan in Irish Sport Horse breeding through a statue to be placed somewhere near Ardcroney is still an ongoing mission for one of his most loyal customers, Peter McHugh from Co Mayo).
The Landgraf statue sighting, plus dozens more photos from Elmshorn including resident star Casall, was part of the Teagasc tour there in 2017.
Also on the itinerary was a visit to renowned breeder Harm Thormählen who produced seven Olympic horses and bred another powerhouse in Capitol I, sire of Cardento. And there in Thormählen’s garden is a statue of that famous grey Capitol I.
Another German foundation sire commemorated in bronze is that of the famous Trakehner stallion Templehüter, a statue that is situated further north, outside the Deutschen Pferdemuseum (German Horse Museum) in Verden.
The world’s largest equestrian statue is the Genghis Khan monument near Ulan Bator in Mongolia. The 120-foot high statue features a museum at its base and a lift that brings visitors to a viewing deck on the horse statue’s neck with panoramic views of the Mongolian landscape.
Regal to racing legends
Of some 130,000 remount horses sent to Europe, the Middle East and North Africa from Australia during World War I, just one - Sandy - was allowed to return home at the end of the war.
Due to the quarantine restrictions and costs involved in shipping cavalry and transport remounts back to Australia, the fittest and youngest horses were sold off at auction while older and unsound horses were humanely destroyed.
In total, some 500,000 horses were exported from Australia from 1861-1931 for service in the Indian Army, the Boer War and Egypt. The Waler Light Horse memorial statue in Tamworth, New South Wales commemorates this hardy breed named after the Australian state. Unveiled in 2005, the monument depicts an Australian World War I trooper saying farewell to his Waler horse in the deserts of the Middle East.
Forty years ago, the simply named Mare and Foal Sculpture was unveiled further south from Tamworth in Scone, to mark the town and surrounding Hunter Valley’s reputation as the horse-breeding capital of Australia.
On a more whimsical note, a charming sight in Vancouver was the Flower And Thor sculpture in the city’s West End.
Burmese was a four-legged gift from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police to Queen Elizabeth II in 1969 and was ridden side-saddle by the late monarch at the Trooping The colour ceremony for 18 consecutive years.
The regal pair is now commemorated in a life-size bronze statue, commissioned to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee and unveiled at the Royal Military Academy in Sandhurst by HRH the Duke of Wessex last May.
Statues of the late Queen Mother, a keen national hunt fan, Arkle, Best Mate, Dawn Run and Golden Miller are a feature at Cheltenham Racecourse while closer to home, the legendary three-time Gold Cup winner Arkle and his regular jockey Pat Taaffe feature in Emma McDermott’s life-size monument of the pair in Ashbourne, near to his trainer Tom Dreaper’s yard at Kilsallaghan.
Mountbellew is the home of the BobbyJo statue, placed there in 2002 in tribute to the Bobby Burke-owned Irish (1998) and Aintree Grand National (1999) winner. The work of Galway sculptor John Coll, the monument can rival the Avenches model in the hat collection stakes. For example, ‘BobbyJo’ is usually covered from head to hoof in maroon and white accessories when the Tribesmen play in Croke Park.
Equestrian-themed monuments in the capital number the off-limits Barge Horse statue beside the Grand Canal; Misneach: A Celebration of Youth, John Byrne’s work of art showing a modern Dubliner girl on a high-stepping horse in Ballymun; Chariot of Life by Oisin Kelly at the Irish Life Centre and even the ornate street lamps on Grattan Bridge, held up by mythical horse sea creatures, known as hippocampi.
Horse-themed statues, monuments, sculptures, landmarks - there’s more to them than meets the eye.