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Lines! of 22 March, 2000

In Florida, they don't make hobby horses, they catch 'em. But as BANBURY BILL reports, they're also for sale on the web. Plus The Outside Cantering Crew, pink morris and the Adder with a sting.

First, catch your horse...

WHY BOTHER making a hobby horse when you can just go out and catch one? You simply find one that's roaming free and rope it in. It's the American way.

You have to spend a few months breaking it in, but it's got to be better than messing around with chicken wire and soggy paper, or whatever.

No, really: Greenwood Morris in Florida have already done it. And they really did find it wandering around in a field.

It happened at one of those Renaissance Fairs that are so popular in the States, and if truth be told, it was already being ridden by its maker, Diane Delage. Greenwood's squire, Cyndi Moncrief, tells the story:

"The lady at the RenFair, Diane, generally turns up at most local fairs - be they of a Victorian, Civil War, Garden Show, or Renaissance theme. And she likes to costume appropriately and participate.

"The fair organizers generally hire her to show up because she signs for the deaf.

"Well, about 3 years ago, she showed up in this red and blue hobby horse. Apparently she was reading up on medieval stuff to get a new idea for a costume, saw a photo of a hobby horse in some book, and decided to make one.

"Of course, when she arrived at the fair we all encircled her and told her more than she wanted to know about hobby horses! Well, not really - she wanted to know, so we xeroxed info for her and talked her into participating.

"She was very glad to do it, of course: it gives her horse more purpose and a longer and more useful life before being put out to pasture! Also, strangely enough, she did not know it was called a hobby horse, because she had only seen a photo.

"So - my job now is to give her a few dances she can do with us as she learns how to work with the team and the audience; also she and the fool (my husband, Merald Clark) need to work in some more by-play between them, but that will come in time."

Perhaps it's only in places such as Florida that one can take this approach: maybe, with only one morris side in the state, there are still wild hobby horses out there, that haven't learned to take flight at the sound of morris bells. Or something.

(I'm not sure how long I can sustain this whimsy...)

I've seen a photograph of the beast, and can testify that it's a fine animal, in the best medieval style. Tourney, of course, with a bold yellow and red coat and curves in all the right places, if you find that pleasing in a horse.

I wonder if they're planning to breed from it?

Lajkoniku laj, laj, po przez caly kraj!

And no, I have no idea what that means, though it could be, "Roll up, roll up, get yer custom-made hobby horses here."

If you can't catch yourself a hobby horse, you can always buy one. Sheilagh Hunt and Christopher Majka of Halifax, Nova Scotia, will make you a Polish Lajkonik horse to order - for a price. Is there nothing you can't buy on the web?

Apparently this tourney-style creature has its origins in the great Mongol empire. In 1241 Ghenghis Khan's successor, Batu Khan, launched an attack on Poland; with their swift horses, the Mongols were victorious, and much of the populace were carried into slavery. Further ruthless forays into Poland followed.

A symbol of these fierce aggressors was the Lajkonik, a Tartar on horseback who came to play an important role in the Krakowiak dance of Kraksw.

The Lajkonik horse is white, adorned with a plume of feathers and an elaborate red or gold cape, covered in brocade. Its rider has a coat of similar material and a conical hat peaked with a crescent. He twirls a mace and always sports a thick beard.

It's not quite in the English style, then, but if you're interested in buying, worry not: a horse's head is a horse's head, after all, and the costumes are built to specification. The important point is that they're designed for dancers.

As for the cost... there now follows an explosion of coughing. It's in the range of 750 Canadian dollars, plus shipping.

Still, they are very impressive creations. There's a link at the foot of this page.

The Outside Cantering Crew...

In case you're wondering, The Outside Capering Crew - esteemed publisher of this web site - spent rather less than 750 dollars on its four magnificent hobby horses, seen performing last year at Sidmouth, Chippenham and Stroud festivals (and booked this summer for Warwick and Towersey).

With the benefits of mass production, the cost came down to around 80 pounds for the entire stable (unfortunately there was no money left over for the door). This figure, of course, puts no price on the mental anguish experienced by their supremely talented maker, Sue Graham.

Any hopes of recouping this cost by appearing on The Generation Game were dashed the other day, when a ballet company got in first, performing with beasts that appeared to be made in wickerwork.

The Crew would like to make it clear that it did not get the concept for its Upton On Horseback dance from a bunch of ballerinas. But there's no such thing as a new idea, as John Forrest makes clear in his book, The History Of Morris Dancing 1458 - 1750.

John - who'll be in the UK in June - tells how there's been a great deal of cross-fertilisation between traditions and cultures down the centuries; a prime example being the possible link between morris dancing and the warlike Matachins.

It was actually the Basque hobby horse dances that inspired The Crew to create The Four Horsemen Of The Opaque Lips (somehow, this name never caught on).

John's book quotes one Mountgomery's description of a hobby horse dance in 1585:

"ITEM, 12 propper boyes, on hobbye horses fynely covered with some prettye coloured thinge... which saide boyes to have everie one a little sworde, (I meane foyles of iron to be verie lighte and bright) that after praunsing, mountinge, and fetching upp their horses alofte on all fower, they maie at divers tymes in the watche make combatt all together, to wete, all 12 to fighte at one instant, to saie 6 against 6, in true form and order of a matachina; which if they be truly taughte, one shall not hurte another, but allwaies strike uppon the sworde."

The Crew has tentatively mentioned this to Sue Graham. She said, "No." But there's always the Polish web horses. Let's see, twelve beasts at... hmm, that's 9,000 dollars.

"Hello? Is that The Generation Game?"

Pink procession

MISS Demeanour's Morris claims to be Britain's newest Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans-sexual morris side. And yes, their kit is pink (and black).

Since their web site is a fairly up-front affair, I'll say that I'm not sure what to make of the line, "New talent welcome!" The exclamation mark is theirs.

They practice mainly in London but also in Oxford and Canterbury. If you want to make contact, we publish the link below.

DERTy dancers go for glittering prizes

ANY sportsman knows that to attract sponsorship, you've got to attract attention first - preferably by winning a few competitions.

The women of Black Adder rapper and clog team, triumphant after winning two prizes at the DERT2000 competition this month, are clearly taking the sporty approach.

Their new web site boldly seeks sponsorship into four figures, to cover such expenses as new swords. Will we soon be seeing endorsements flashed across their steel - promoting shaving products, perhaps?

As if to encourage would-be financers, the web site declares that the team's been known to dance in suspenders, and once replaced its borrowed swords with bras.

But it's not the costumes that bring in the big prizes.

Lajkonic hobby horses
The Outside Capering Crew
Miss Demeanour's Morris
Black Adder Rapper and Clog

2000 Simon Pipe, Mark Rogers, The Outside Capering Crew

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