Notes on...

The lost horses of London

The city of the horse and carriage is gone. But some traces remain...

4 October 2014

9:00 AM

4 October 2014

9:00 AM

The days when horses and humans lived cheek by jowl in the capital are unarguably over. Brewers’ drays have disappeared, and most people would argue that the black cab does a far better job than the hansom cab ever did. But the ghosts of horses past still inhabit the city. Statues of kings atop their chargers take pride of place in squares and parks, water troughs are scattered about the place, and the more recent Animals in War memorial on Park Lane is a reminder that our dependence on them lasted until less than a century ago.

Not all of the reminders are visual, either. Many street names pay homage to our equine companions; Dray Walk, Stable Way and Cheval Place are a few examples, while the mews houses of central London — which today sell for several million pounds a pop — were built as stabling and grooms’ accommodation. After all, even in the 1800s, you wouldn’t want your horses living too close to the grand residences on the smarter streets of the city. Not all London mews have been gentrified, however. Bathurst Mews is one of the last to still house horses; it is home to Hyde Park Stables. The prices for lessons are fairly steep (it is central London, after all), but just think: as everyone else traipses despondently along Oxford Street, you could be trotting purposefully around the park and along the Serpentine. The pace might be a bit leisurely for the seasoned rider, but in terms of location, you simply can’t beat it.

If, on the other hand, you’re keen to ride through rolling hills (but without actually leaving the city), then Richmond Park is just the place. Stag Lodge Stables, for example, are based just off the A3, and as well as offering a selection of mounts and lessons, in summer they also offer pub rides. A pony and a pint? Sounds like heaven!

Equine visitors to the city are also increasingly common, and the 2012 Olympics — the equestrian aspect of which took place in Greenwich Park — raised the bar somewhat. This summer, the Longines Global Champions tour — a top show-jumping competition — took over Horse Guards Parade for several days, forcing bemused tourists to make way for a stream of showjumpers crossing Birdcage Walk.

The Polo in the Park event has made itself at home in Hurlingham Park, and although the pitch isn’t quite Palermo, the world-famous polo ground in downtown Buenos Aires, we could still reach those giddy heights one day. Got the polo bug? London offers a quick fix for that as well; Ham Polo Club is just a short journey from the centre of town, while Windsor (a 40-minute drive) offers some of the best polo in the UK, with numerous clubs offering a helping hand (and pony) to newcomers. So you see, London might not be the most obvious place for horse-lovers to hang out, but if you look in the right places, the horses certainly do exist.

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Show comments
  • davidshort10

    What a lightweight and rather silly article.

  • Colin

    Try dragging yourself out of bed in the morning and you may just get to witness the spectacle of Watering Order. It’s a refreshing and truly remarkable sight, to see the Household Cavalry exercise their horses, every morning, through the streets of London. Add to that the changing of the Queen’s Lifeguard at Horse Guards.

    And, if you fancy taking a Cavalry Black for a spin, ask them. If you can prove you’re good enough in the saddle, they may well let you.

  • Pootles

    Not forgetting the lost cows of London. Until the Second World War, cows were kept in quite a few parts of East London.

    • Camilla Swift

      And then they were mooooved further afield? Sorry…

      • Pootles

        Arf! Yes, and with no statues to remind us of them. But street names…? I wonder.

        • Hugo

          Cowcross Street near Smithfield Market.

          • Pootles

            Good. Any more? I’m resisting looking at the A-Z index.

  • Freedom

    I’d take a leisurely pace round the Serpentine any day of the week. How lovely.

    Interesting that the word ‘mews’, plural of ‘mew’, refers ultimately to a ‘cage or building for trained hawks, especially while they are molting’.

    A pony and a pint? There’ll be some official along in a minute to stop that bit of fun. For your own safety, of course.

  • Melissa Newton

    One of Obama’s apparatchik nominees claims that US taxpayers are somehow magically obligated to pay for baby murder.