A horse of that colour

My purpose is, indeed, a horse of that colour.

Maria, Twelfth Night, Act II Scene III. Shakespeare

A couple of posts ago, I used the word “piebald” in conversation, and that led to a number of comments and observations. Which in turn made me think about where the word came from and why I knew it.

Let’s take the why first. I used to read a lot of Westerns as a child and boy; our house was a Max Brand house rather than a Louis L’Amour house; Zane Grey barely got a look-in. [That fascination with Westerns now has me reading Elmore Leonard with glee and abandon.]

Westerns were not just about cowboys and guns and cattle, they were about horses. And Max Brand opened up a whole new vocabulary for me, one that I cherish even now. Bays and roans, sorrels, palominos, piebalds (pintos in the US) and skewbalds, paints, duns, chestnuts and brindles, greys with or without dapples.

Language is something that entrances me, particularly when it is precise and rich and full of colour (no pun intended). There is something deeply satisfying about using the right word in the right place, what I tend to call the Dandle phenomenon. [I’ve never been able to use the word “dandle” except in the context of “baby” and “knee”.]

A fascinating world, one that you can step into quite easily via Wikipedia. Just read this article on Equine Coat Color and you can make a start.

Apropos piebald. The more I thought about it, the more I realised there was a second influence, one beyond Max Brand. And it shows my age. Peter, Paul and Mary. In the Wind, their third album, is one of my all-time absolute favourites, a real Desert Island disc for me. And on it there is a song called Stewball, one I really like. But then I like the whole album. Long Chain On and Rocky Road are probably my favourites, and I just love the treatment of Quit Your Lowdown Ways and Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.

I used to wonder why someone would call a horse Stewball. Which led me to skewbald. And on to piebald. And on to equine coat colours in general. This was probably 1969, when I was 12, so the memory has lasted.

Somehow we need to preserve the richness of language that comes from passionate people following their whims and fancies, in this case people who love horses. [My thanks to Shaw-Web.net for the photograph, it’s just the kind of site that the web stands for.

6 thoughts on “A horse of that colour”

  1. @ JP:

    Your two previous posts were of course my top reads for the week. But this thread reminded me of America’s A Horse With No Name.

    I agree with you on the need to preserve richness of language coming from passions and whims. The horse can be much conversation fodder as has been apparent in your last two posts :-)

  2. JP,

    Another influence, surely. Dick Francis.

    And @Shefali and @JP. The only time I have been to a race course is when a friend told me of a ‘fixed’ race and asked me to bet my shirt on a horse called Afflatus. When I reached the course and saw that the Afflatus was a 7 to 1 outsider, I chickened out and went home without laying a bet.

    The gain, to me, was I learnt what Afflutus meant. The dictionary.com definition, most appropriate to the post and to Shefaly’s comment: inspiration; an impelling mental force acting from within.

    BTW, Afflatus romped home by five lengths, I learnt the next morning, and gave up all thoughts of gambling as a profession.

  3. Hi JP, if memory serves, the Pied Piper of Hamelin was (we’re told by the poet) attired in “vesture piebald,” maybe that’s where you might have first come across the word?

  4. hey one of those posts i would like to Hoard. Thank you for sharing this, i think i’ve learnt many many new things today.

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