I had pulled Warriors for the Horse Goddess from the website several months ago to expand and submit to Air n-Aithesc where it was published in Vol. 2 Issue 2, Lughnasadh/Samhain 2015. The contract with AnA before rights return is for 3 months, however, I usually would wait for at least 6 months as I do feel it makes more sense to wait until the next issue is out. However, for this article I am making an exception and I have returned it, updated and in PDF form to the website.
I have written elsewhere that my thing is not about living in the past, whether it’s the homesteading thing, the Gaelic Heathen thing or the warrior thing. There are elements of the past which I do wish to bring into what I would hope would be a more sustainable future, however.
|Centurion‘s idea of a Pictish horse warrior –my review|
When it comes to the horse thing, especially when connected to the warrior thing, I do have to admit to loving certain romantic notions. But I’m also clear that I”m not likely to be charging off fighting others with sword and spear from the back of my might mare. I’m certainly not going to be fighting with a bow anymore than it was likely the Picts or Celts did, for all it’s a popular Hollywood image; forested land makes the bow/horse combination problematic for all that both might exist there. It’s far more useful to combine the two on open Steppes or plains, which tends to be where it is evident.
So I was recently inspired by a call for submissions to write an article on what the reality of the term is today. Now, I’m not one who usually considers activism to be a major part of the warrior path, if you’ve read this you know I do believe it’s about being ready for physical fights first. However, “horse warrior” is a term that has been used in the anti-horse-slaughter world for at least two decades and I’m going to stick to it. It fits that animals whose ancestors who fought with us and for us for so long,and still some do in various ways, gets to have people fighting for their lives.
As someone dedicated to a War Goddess who is also associated with horses, it’s become an important part of what I do, both activism and taking care of them for Her. It’s a major part of my spiritual practice, in fact, and at least in spirit is tied to the warrior part. Sure, I have fantasies of what it might be like to ride a true war horse. Someday I might even do some sort of reenactment games with my mare just for the fun of it….although I might be more inclined to Mounted Cowboy Shooting than to the SCA sort of thing (although the SCA stuff is closer to home, I haven’t found a sign of mounted shooting around here). But that’s just play.
As I note in the article, if Saorsa, my mare, ever becomes a bit more sociable in dealing with strangers, we might see about getting into a more realistic role of Search and Rescue. Right now she’s likely to want to eat anyone she fines, although she does love looking for us and I think that her curiosity would probably make her a potential for a scent horse rather than just a horse I ride while I search.
The publication didn’t happen (this is a different anthology than the one I’ve mentioned before which I have submitted a much larger article to) and I was left with this article that combines my story with Macha calling me back to take care of horses so I decided to throw it up on the website so please go to the link below:
While all around me went *squee* upon first hearing about this Pixar/Disney film set in Scotland with a feisty redheaded lead, I just sat back and waited. I try not to get my hopes up when it comes to movies with either strong female characters or set in Gaelic culture, let alone both. But all the hype had a certain charm.
There seem to be many feminists who take it to task for two things, often both. One the “why does the heroine have to be a princess?” Of course, marketing is the answer, and culture programs the populace for certain marketing codes to work. And in our society “princess” is a strong marketing tool when aiming at young girls. Of course, Disney is largely responsible for the programming to begin with.
I have no problem with it though, largely because if you’re going to subvert a concept you need to use the concept, and this does twist the concept quite impressively. In fact, even more than I had hoped. Certainly the concept of rebelling against social norms and gender expectations could be done in a story of a young peasant girl, these issues certainly bridged all classes, unfortunately. However, “princess” does sell and it allowed for certain story devices which would have been much different otherwise. We’ll get to the peasant girls’ stories at some point. (and I’m not talking the peasant girl who becomes a princess standard). In fact, we have that this year as well in The Hunger Games.
This actually brings us to a second complaint I have seen made by other feminists: Why in order to be seen as strong must female characters have to just be rebelling against societal expectations of women? To me this the answer is pretty self-evident ….because we do have to! Still, today. So why should we have a story set in Medieval Scotland where it’s not a problem. I’ve already discussed my belief that pretending that we had equality in the past that we, in fact, did not have such equality doesn’t really do anything to move us forward. I do believe that as girls growing up today are still getting horrible messages about their role in life, it helps for them to have heroines who actively fight such convention. This is not to say it doesn’t also help to have role models who live in worlds where such conventions do not exist, but I do not believe we can set those in a past which, in fact, very much did. Again, this year we got another young archer (don’t you wish you owned an archery shop right now?) who lived in such a world in The Hunger Games.
One of the things we need, in general, are more stories with strong young female warriors, that way all these issues can get covered. And stories with more strong female characters in them. But we can’t complain when sometimes these things don’t happen in all movies because we’ll always find it falling short somewhere.
I think the important part is while we have a princess, she’s not pining for her prince to come, in fact, that is exactly what she doesn’t want to happen. When the princes to come-a-courting, none are anything to pine for (although one thinks he is and we’ll come back to an issue with him and his father). But while the depiction adds humor, perhaps having one truly dashing who she still didn’t want would have worked just a bit better for me. She wants her own freedom, she challenges for her own hand.
But the real story isn’t about romance or denying romance, but rather on subversion of another Disney Princess story trope…the Mommy Issues. There is no Wicked Stepmother who must be thwarted here, there is a loving mother who is suffering in her own ways over the battle with her willful daughter. This isn’t about a family torn asunder by the death of the loving parents, but rather by the issues at hand. And this is a story about healing those tears. With literal use of symbolism of it. I see this as a rather touching subversion.
And this too is another reason I see the rebelling against convention aspect important. Because this isn’t just about giving a role model to girls but also I believe it speaks to parents. Because today many are still pushing unhealthy gender conventions. Conventions which are neither good for the future women girls are becoming but also often get in the way of them being the daughters they should be with the kind of parents they need.
I have a couple of quibbles. Okay, there could probably be more, as any movie set in a culture I care about but really the ones that stuck out were the woad and the horse. I think I already say enough about The Problem of the Woad already, but I have to say here, whether you believe it was ever used or not, it’s just an annoying anachronistic Scottish trope now (thank you Mel Gibson).
Okay, so the horse, Angus, was cute. And I realize that Clydesdales are the most recognizable Scottish horse now. But it’s a very modern breed, as Clydesdale originates only to the early 1800s. Yes, that source claims that they derived from knights’ chargers, as this is a common myth that the film and so many others take to heart. The problem it, it’s not remotely true.
“As for the large draft breeds. Most people who read this will know that the Belgians, Shires, Percherons and other really large draft breeds were bred as beasts of burden and not to be knight’s great horses, but I’ll repeat that fact anyway. The Great Horse of the middle ages was not a draft animal. Heavy draft horses are not intended to run fast, or carry big men in armor. They are bred to be steady and pull heavy objects such as a plow through thick clay to turn a field, or heavy dray wagons. They have a plodding gait and simply are not fast enough.” Medieval Horse Guild
The draft horse is derived from the Medieval rouncey type horse, the farm horse owned by farmers not nobles. A fine animal, smaller at that time (likely much like current draft ponies than the big guys) but not a charger. The charger was usually a clean legged horse, such as Andalusians, as can be seen in the art of the period. The exception is the feather-legged Friesian which is not a draft type at all despite the hairy feet. And there were a lot of different horses in Medieval Europe, including Scotland, most likely the type of horse ridden by Angus would have been different than he would have provided for Merida. Yes, Angus is cute. But so are Highland Ponies (which are, actually, probably also mostly from the rouncey) and the Icelandic which was possibly a very popular type throughout much of Europe before the gaited horse lost favor (and despite the link above, is actually the classic palfrey type). Or a fine charger if we wanted the horse to show her rebelling by riding one not deemed proper for a lady as a palfrey would have been (although “palfrey” does not mean “slow” or “unspirited”).
So yeah, I went off on a tangent that most probably see as trivial because horses are kind of a big deal for me and I’m often annoyed. I managed to avoid going into it too much in the Centurion review because there was so many other things to complain about.
On the other hand, the hounds delighted me. I also loved seeing the Pictish stones this time around, as much as they annoyed me in Centurion. That is about anachronisms too, they wouldn’t have existed in the time period of that movie, while some would have dotted the landscape in Merida’s time (although others would already have been buried from sight). It just seemed touching to me.
The modern, but cute, draft horses and woaded MacIntoshes aside, I utterly loved this movie and if I had a daughter would be thrilled if she loved it. I think there’s some reminders here for those who are raising daughters about control and conventions that still exist, as well. And it’s fun, which is an important bit if it’s going to convey all the lessons it strives to.
And, yeah, I really kinda wish I owned an archery shop right now. I hear there’s a sales boom going on.
copyright © Saigh Kym Lambert
In a short time, possibly today, I will be posting a book review for Dr. Diana Dominguez’ Historical Residues in the Old Irish Legends of Queen Medb: An Expanded Interpretation of the Ulster Cycle which explores Medb’s story through the theories of gender performance and the reading of coding in literature. But I’m distracted, as I was when I first read this, by what had long been a pet peeve of mine that her concepts have allowed me to reconsider a bit. That is one line, just one line, in the Táin Bó Cuailnge, one that not only offended as a feminist, but I found just stupid as a horsewoman.
‘That is what usually happens,’ said Fergus, ‘to a herd of horses led by a mare. Their substance is taken and carried off and guarded as they follow a women who has misled them.’
copied here from Rec 1 pg. 237
Now, while it doesn’t seem (frankly the OI is beyond me here) that he is actually saying that a herd of horses is better led by a stallion, that’s an obvious implication. But here’s the thing that bugs me. The Irish are fairly well considered good horse people. Therefore they should have known one basic little fact. Stallions do not lead herds. Mares do.
This is such common knowledge in the horse world, except for a few hard-headed idiots who might consider themselves horsemen but will never get anyway, that I’m loathed to bother to reference it. Pretty much go to anything on various wild or feral herds, anything on pasture breeding, any of the Natural Horsemanship type trainers and you’ll find it. However, this crossed my FB page recently and so I don’t have to hunt anything down and this demonstrates that some horses are so fundamentally dependent on mares they can’t sleep without one to tell them it’s okay.
Mares lead the herd, they do determine where to find water and safe passage. The single stallion of a herd is there for two or three reasons. To breed. To keep other stallions from separating off some of the mares from the rest of the herd which would make the herd too small and vulnerable. And, on occasion, to throw himself at predators being the most expendable and easily replaced member of the herd (something one might note Medb’s story demonstrates as well). If the “substance” of a herd “is taken and carried off” it would actually be the stallion’s fault, because that’s his job, leadership isn’t. A mare would be leading, as is her job.
So considering coding, this reads as, well, perhaps something more. Remember Medb has gotten what she wanted, humiliation of Ulster by successfully carrying of the Brown and the continuation of her rule by equaling her husband’s bounty, once both the bulls are dead. It came with great destruction, of course. Fergus, btw, has never been a character I respected and Dominguez does demonstrate that the respect he seems to get from some, usually male, academics does not seem to match his obvious treacherous behavior.
Now, there is a chance that all the clerics who wrote this down didn’t know a damn thing about horses and like some misogynist men today really do think that stallion is the boss. But you have to figure someone took it as a joke through all this time. Perhaps it even was meant to be, at least by one person copying it even if he didn’t originate it. A joke by Fergus? A joke on Fergus? Perhaps more horse savvy listeners to the tales took it as a joke on the naive teller?
But whether it was ever read that way, to me, today, as a feminist and a horsewoman, I think it’s damn funny. I’ll always see it as that.
Copyright © 2011 Saigh Kym Lambert