AS THE YEAR OF THE HORSE COMES GALLOP-A-TROTTINGLY NEAR, allow me to present a showcase of steeds boasting superstar status from the areas of film, art, fiction and fashion. These horses are not nearly as popular as Ferrari's Cavallino Rampante or Hasbro's My Little Pony, but Sallie Gardner, Black Beauty, Leonardo's horse and Hermes' Dansk each have their story to tell, if not sheer beauty to show.
Starring in what is loosely considered an early silent film is Sallie Gardner, a Thoroughbred that belonged to industrialist and horseman Leland Stanford. Spurred by the curiosity to find whether horses lift all four feet off the ground during a gait, Stanford commissioned Eadward Muybridge to photograph his horse in motion. The experiment analyzed 24 photographs, which when viewed in succession resulted in the moving picture of a galloping horse. With the experiment noted as a precursor to the motion picture, Muybridge may as well be dubbed one of the earliest motion picture directors, Stanford one of the earliest producers, and Sallie, one of the earliest leading ladies.
A year before Sallie Gardner's gallop, another horse was already in motion, self-titling one of the best-loved books of all time. Anna Sewell's Black Beauty was first published in 1877, an immediate best-seller teaching sympathy and kindness to both horses and humans alike. Written in the point of view of a fictional black horse in Victorian England, Black Beauty served as significant inspiration for promoting better treatment of the animals. Sewell's depictions of cruel practices allowed a glimpse into the suffering of laboring horses, which in turn induced empathy, even activism, in many readers.
On to romancing the horse, art and fashion offer an endless list of equine symbols and motifs, rendered in every possible material and media. My pick for art is Leonardo da Vinci's study of horses, which, along with the artist's study of grotesque heads, I adore for their haphazard but masterful anatomical detail. In fashion, I am drawn to the simplicity of Hermès' Cavelier Noir, which pairs glossy images with granular sounds. Of course, Dansk the horse is a beauty.
2014's real superstar steed however, is the Wooden Horse ushering in the Chinese New Year. Characterized as energetic, bright, able, intelligent and warm-hearted, the horse symbolizes the Chinese people's unremitting spirit, the Qianli Ma or "horse that covers a thousand li a day". We may not all belong to this year's celebrated zodiac but I wish you all an auspicious year and send out a bright, energetic "Gong Xi Fa Cai!" all the same. Light the firecrackers!
The Horse in Motion by Eadward Muybridge, Black Beauty first edition 1877 by London: Jarrold and Sons and Study of Horses by Leonardo da Vinci, images from commons.wikimedia.org Cavalier Noir by Hermès, www.youtube.com/hermes