It’s enough to make a Galloway Nag laugh

I know, I know, you wait years for a Galloway Nag blog and then two come along at once. Can’t be helped though. This is the result of discovering material that arrived too late for inclusion in the PhD, yet which deserves wider recognition.

The once popular little Galloway Nags were credited with speed, strength and great feats of endurance that belied their small size. For a good overview of some of the amazing actions credited to the Galloway, check out the Fell Pony Museum website here:

However, I (or rather my husband, for he gets the credit for its discovery) recently came across one feat that seems to have been overlooked in material published on the Galloway. It is to be found in an odd little publication from 1688, Coffee-house Jests Refined and Enlarged, by the Author of the Oxford Jests, who clearly wanted to maintain his anonymity (pretty sure it was a he) for reasons which should become apparent.

It contains such side-splitters as number 35:

A Gallant did fancy that he sung exceeding well, although he had a very bad and hoarse Voice; and having observed that a poor Woman did always cry when she heard him sing ; ask’d her the reason of it ? Truly Sir, said she,When I was forcd, being poor, to sell all my Goods, and nothing left me but one poor silly Ass,which was all my Support; and at last I lost my Ass too; and that which makes me cry, is, that whensoever I hear you sing, it puts me in mind of my poor Ass.

And number 142:

One was saying also, that the Tapster and the Brewers Horse are both alike; for they both do draw Beer; but yet I must confess they differ in this, That the Tapster draws Beer and drinks it; but the Horse draws, but drinks none.

Now that you’ve recovered your senses after the incontinent laughter produced by those witticisms, let us move swiftly on to what is surely the best story in the book:

Another was saying, that once upon a time it was his fortune to be in Hide-Park, where he saw several races run; and at length, says he, I undertook to run a race with my little Galloway Nag, with another of that size, a Race of a Mile long, for Five pound: And just as we were riding with full speed, he that rode with me was on the right hand, and so pass’d by the coach; but my poor Galloway (and being a cunning Jade, and unwilling that his Master should lose, for if he did, he thought that he should fare the worse for it at night); presently cast me off his back, and leap’d quite thorow the Coach himself (notwithstanding it went at a great pace) but it was done so nimbly and dextrously that all admir’d, and so well ‘twas ordered, that just as he came thorow the Coach when he came out, he catch’d me directly upon his back again on the other side of the Coach, and though ‘twas done so hastily, yet the other got ground of us; but my Horse so handled his Legs that without Switch or Spur I won the Wager. Now, says he, show me such  a Galloway Nagg in England again, then they all told him ’twas very much, and more than they could have believed, if he had not told them.

Now, if that isn’t, ahem, proof that the Galloways were the smartest, savviest, swiftest and most agile nags on the block, I’m not sure what is. It must be true – I read it in a seventeenth century book of jests, clearly the equivalent of today’s fake news on the internet!

Miriam A Bibby, 2021

Going down to the underground

‘But I don’t want to go among mad people,’ Alice remarked

‘Oh, you can’t help that,’ said the Cat; ‘we’re all mad here. I’m mad. You’re mad.’

‘How do you know I’m mad?’ said Alice.

‘You must be,’ said the Cat, ‘or you wouldn’t have come here.’

Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

Most researchers will be familiar with the phrase “down the research rabbit hole”. For those who are not, let me explain from the start that it describes an experience, rather than an educational procedure or method. The idea draws, of course, on Alice in Wonderland. Alice followed the White Rabbit (oh my ears and whiskers!), who owned a large watch (the watch is important) down the rabbit hole. After falling in darkness for ages she ended up in a place where none of the usual rules applied and time appeared to stop. Everything Alice found was fascinating, but it was also BLOODY ANNOYING AND DISTRACTING. No sooner had one mouse in a teapot faded from the scene than a caterpillar with a hookah or a queen with a flamingo for a croquet mallet would turn up. And it appeared to go on for ever.

What follows is a description of one such experience. 

Galloway Nags


Here is an image of Galloway horses, or Galloway nags, that has circulated, in a limited fashion, on the internet. The fact that use of this image is so limited is interesting in itself, since it may be indicative of how little the horses are known today. It is important as it is one of the few images of the Galloway type, which was deemed “extinct”, or at least “decayed”, or absorbed into other breeds such as the Clydesdale, by the time this image was produced. Thereby hangs a tale – when was it produced, and by whom? Which work is it in? Spoiler alert: I still don’t know, dammit.

A bit of internet detective work suggests that this image first became publicly available when published on a website called Falling Angels, Lost Highways, belonging to Brian Moffat. It was published in a blog post about the Galloway as the horse of choice of the border reivers (which is very likely true, though no specific primary documentary evidence supports this).

The image was published along with the text that accompanied it in the source, which Brian Moffat cited as Oliver Goldsmith’s Natural History, since he’d apparently found it in his own copy of that book. He did, however, point out that the text appeared to be later than Goldsmith’s original work, but not how much later, nor who might have written it. Readers will search in vain for either the image or the text in Goldsmith’s early editions: it is not there. However, sharp-witted equine history researchers with an interest in unusual horse breeds will immediately spot the source of the text on the Falling Angels, Lost Highways page  as William Youatt, the prolific nineteenth century author of animal husbandry texts:

A horse between thirteen and fourteen hands in height is called a GALLOWAY, from a beautiful breed of little horses once found in the south of Scotland, on the shore of the Solway Firth, but now sadly degenerated, and almost lost, through the attempts of the farmer to obtain a larger kind, and better adapted for the purposes of agriculture. There is a tradition in that country, that the breed is of Spanish extraction, some horses having escaped from one of the vessels of the Grand Armada, that was wrecked on the neighbouring coast. This district, however, so early as the time of Edward I, supplied that monarch with a great number of horses. The pure galloway was said to be nearly fourteen hands high, and sometimes more; of a bright bay, or brown, with black legs, small head and neck, and peculiarly deep and clean legs. Its qualities were speed, stoutness, and sure footedness over a very rugged and mountainous country.

This text can be found in numerous editions of Youatt’s work. (I took my version from William Youatt, The Horse, with a Treatise of Draft (London: Chapman and Hall, 1843), 102.) The bit about the Armada isn’t true either, but that’s a whole other rabbit warren. Like the work of his predecessor Gervase Markham some centuries earlier, Youatt’s work was popular, ran to multiple editions and was widely cited, indeed, plagiarised. Tracking down every edition of Youatt, and every other text that may have used his work, with or without authorisation, is a major research undertaking in itself. However, it is interesting that Google Books, which contains several editions of his work, does not appear to include any edition with that image in it. Searching for the image, as indicated above, only results in a handful of hits, some of which appear to have used the Falling Angels, Lost Highways website as source, as they too attribute it to Goldsmith.

Goldsmith’s work was also frequently reused by later authors. I have an undated edition of his Natural History “by Henry Innes” which is described on the title page as Goldsmith’s Natural History, with notes from all the popular treatises that have been issued since the time of Goldsmith collected with the utmost care: combining a mass of information and reference, forming a complete vade-mecum of modern discovery in the science which it illtstrates [sic]. Mr Innes was clearly proud of his collection of bits and pieces, a scrapbooking approach to producing popular science texts which is fairly typical of the time.

Convinced, however, that the attribution to Goldsmith on the Falling Angels, Lost Highways website was incorrect (never assume, folks!), and that the quote and image must be in some edition of Youatt, I set out to find it. I had no success despite accessing numerous editions of his work. The text yes, the image, no. The historiography of the Galloway is elusive and fractured at the best of times. It was deeply irritating to come so close to a drawing said to be of the Galloway, and yet still remain apparently so far away.

By this time there were two of us searching for the elusive image, myself, and my husband. With his analytical skills honed over a long career in IT, he found it more quickly than I would ever have done. It is in an edition of Oliver Goldsmith, another mash-up version that includes samples from other texts. It dates to 1858 and was published by Blackie and Son of Glasgow and Edinburgh.  

The editor of this version had decided to include chunky “footnotes” of text by other authors, which were often much longer than the main text itself. The publisher also had an unusual way of referencing these additional authors. The footnote number 1 appeared at the start of each section by an author, thus:

With the source, or name of the author and the volume title appearing at the end of the section of text, thus:

So far, so good. That clarified things a bit, and I found the Youatt, or apparent Youatt section, with its reference to the Galloway and the image, very easily. It begins with a bit of interesting nationalism which precedes the actual breed descriptions themselves:

This is not in my version of Youatt. I have gone so far as to discover that it is in The British Cyclopaedia of the Arts and Sciences, Including Treatises on the Various Branches of Natural and Experimental Philosophy, the Useful and Fine Arts, Mathematics, Commerce, &c · Volume 2, by Charles Frederick Partington, published in 1835, which appears to include Youatt’s work on horse breeds.

I have not checked in every accessible edition of Youatt, though, having too many caterpillars with hookahs following me around already, and no, I don’t need another flamingo, thanks.

However, whoever the author of this section might be, they go on to say: “We proceed to notice a little more particularly some of the more prominent kinds of British horses. In doing so, we shall chiefly follow the ‘Treatise on the Horse,’ published in the Library of Useful Knowledge”. This is the Youatt volume, but since it doesn’t specify which one, I’m still no further on. However, I do some double-checking just to be sure, by cross-checking entries between the Goldsmith volume and my own edition of Youatt.

In the Goldsmith compendium, as I call it, the description of the coach horse which follows is near enough that of Youatt:

In Youatt from 1843 we have the very similar: “This animal in external appearance is as different from what he was fifty years ago as it is possible to conceive. The clumsy -barrelled, cloddy-shouldered, round-legged, black family horse – neither a coach nor a dray-horse, but something between both – as fat as an ox — but, with all his pride and prancing when he first starts not equal to more than six miles an hour, and knocking-up with one hard day’s work, is no more seen ; and we have, instead of him , an animal as tall, deep -chested, rising in the withers, slanting in the shoulders, flat in the legs, with far more strength, and with treble the speed”.

And so I continue reading the giant footnote, which is clearly mostly Youatt, reminding myself that it is a footnote and not the main text, going through the various breed descriptions, until that section appears to come to an end, with a snarky and uncalled for comment on the horses of Ulster:

And a new section follows, preceded by the 1 we have previously come to note:

So this should be the start of a new author, and a new text. But wait – there is no attribution at the end of the previous section of footnote!!! Certainly no reference to Youatt. So this is why Brian Moffat and anyone else who read it didn’t realise it was in fact Youatt. Curiouser and bloody curiouser, said Alice, kicking the White Rabbit in the arse, setting light to the caterpillar and twisting the flamingo’s neck into a knot. (No imaginary animals were harmed during the making of this blog and I especially love caterpillars, particularly hawk moth caterpillars, as long as they aren’t irritatingly pompous and don’t have hookahs.) Alice takes a long coffee break, and the caffeine makes her even more irritable and sweary. It’s a good job Alice no longer smokes, as she would be a 60 a day gal with nicotine-stained fingers and a voice like motorbike tyres skidding on gravel.

The end of the section that follows the uncredited “Youatt” section attributes it to one J. Stewart:

A search for J. Stewart follows, “just in case”. His work also ran to several editions, some of which were illustrated, and others not. Not one viewed so far has yet yielded references to Galloways, or indeed to horse breeds in general. That was not the purpose of his volume. Nope, the image is almost certainly from an edition of Youatt; but which one?

And so, the researcher pops her head above ground to take a quick breath and a look at the beautiful scenery where lots of people are simply relaxing and there’s not a single book in sight. Then plunges down the rabbit hole again, grabbing at volumes along the way as they fly past in the space-time continuum, appearing, disappearing and morphing into sparkly three-horned unicorns and giant, sniggering toads. The researcher finally lands with a thud in a pile of torn-up, wet, blackened paper with mystic scribblings and enigmatic phrases that disappear as soon as you look at them. Waiting patiently (with lots to tell) are a large white rabbit, a caterpillar and a flamingo. Hello friends, I’ve really, really missed you!

(Copyright Miriam A. Bibby 2021, wondering if it will end up in a compendium that foxes researchers in 2121)

Horsey Superstitions for Halloween!

I recently participated in the first of a series of Horse History themed virtual seminars, organised by Anastasija Ropa of the Latvian Academy of Sports Education, on the topic of “Equestrian Superstitions and Folklore”. It was great fun. You can now watch it on YouTube here:

The Best Breed of the North

Anastasija Ropa makes some very welcome comments on my chapter on the Galloway nag in “Horses in Premodern European Culture”.


Speculating on the origins of the Galloway horse is a process that is fraught with the issues besetting any contemporary breed enthusiast, since the whole concept of a “breed” is a very modern one and it probably did not cause medieval horse breeders any sleepless nights. A good horse was a good horse, valued for purpose rather than ancestry, and described by gait, or height, or even color or size, but principally by function.

Miriam Bibby, ‘The (Galloway) Horse and His Boy: Le Roman Des Aventures De Fregus and “The Best Breed in the North”?’

in The Horse in Premodern European Culture, ed. A. Ropa and T. Dawson

What do Fregus, Robert the Bruce, and Shakespeare’s Pistol have in common? These disparate individuals, who are either completely fictional (as Talbot’s characters) or partially fictionalized (Fregus is based on a an actual Scottish ruler, but was turned into the title…

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Galloways: a 16th century elite riding horse

It’s been a busy year for me, with a visit to the Leeds International Medieval Congress to present a paper (and meet with other equine history researchers). I’ve a couple of chapters and papers in press too. Here’s the early fruits of my Galloway research for the PhD, published on Academia. Lots of very interesting material emerging about our famed northern Gallowa’, and lots more to come!

#ShelfieSunday: Kingdom of the Workhorse

Here’s a review of one of my favourite books about working horses, written for the Equine History Collective.


Kingdom of the Workhorse by A.J.Dampier
Countryside Publications, 1987
ISBN 0 86157 226 2

Review by Miriam Bibby

   This splendid account of the lives of working horses in and around the city of Manchester at its 19th century zenith, when it was the “workshop of the world”, home to the greatest manufactories in Britain, is one of my favorite books.

   A.J. (Tony) Dampier was from north west England and knew his subject both from his own research and from contact with the horsemen of the region from the middle of the 20th century until his sad death in 2011. It’s therefore largely, though not exclusively, based on local history and oral traditions. Arguably it’s the type of history of which we need more, because all too often the stories of working people and animals are not recorded and then they simply disappear. Frequently the only histories we…

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In search of Tishy Gallowa

I’m on a quest.

Back in the 1920s, a racehorse called Tishy hit the news for coming last in the Cesarewitch in two consecutive years, 1921 and 1922.

She was a success for sporting artist Tom Webster in the Daily Mail, though, because he began to do a series of cartoons based on Tishy and her alleged unusual action, which made him the highest paid cartoonist on Fleet Street for a while.

He also created an animated cartoon, said to be the first fully animated cartoon to be produced in Britain.

Here’s a clip of the 1921 race, with a possibly trotting Tishy at the back

You can read more about Tom Webster here:

There are also lots of Tishy cartoons on the same site:

And this reel contains some Tishy animation, about 10 minutes 30 seconds in:

My quest is this: when I was growing up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, my mother told me that there had been a cartoon called “Tishy Gallowa” in the newspapers in the north east. This isn’t surprising, since the term “Gallowa'” was (and still is) a general term for a horse in north east England, and it derives from the old Galloway breed/type of horse that were the running horses who formed a major part of the foundation stock of the Thoroughbred.

I assumed, therefore, that “Tishy Gallowa” had been a syndicated north eastern version of the famous cartoon.

However, although I’ve contacted many of the cartoon archives, I’ve drawn a complete blank. No syndication, apparently, and no-one else recalls Tishy Gallowa.

Anyone else recall their parents or grandparents in the north east talking about Tishy Gallowa?