Horsepower With Martin Clunes

Sunday, 29 August 2010, 9:00PM – 10:00PM on ITV1

The Servant and the Symbol

In this second programme of the two part series Martin Clunes explores how horses changed our world, and the jobs they did for us and still do.

Not so very long ago, everyone knew how to ride a horse. There were stables and a blacksmith in every village. Where has all that gone? Is the age of horsepower a thing of the past?

Today, the biggest link most of us still have with horses is the races. Every year in Britain we gamble £7 billion on horse racing. Martin’s company’s horse, Buffalo Stampede, is running at Fontwell racecourse in Sussex, for the first time in a year since a leg injury. Confident of his horse’s ability Martin places a £20 bet at 20-1. But after a year away from racing and unfavourable muddy conditions, the horse tires and comes in last. Martin’s just glad to see it cross the finishing line without injury.

The everyday traffic of horses may have vanished from London’s streets. But the British monarchy still use horses ��” and plenty of them ��” to keep tradition alive. Martin has special access to a rehearsal of the State Opening of Parliament. The rehearsal takes place in the middle of the night, with the full compliment of 241 horses parading through the darkened streets of London, and Martin rides in one of the carriages from the Royal Mews, via the Palace, into the heart of Parliament.

To find out how the horse came to be associated with wealth and power, Martin heads for Asti in northern Italy. The Palio horse race dates right back to the 1200s when the local aristocracy raced their horses against each other as a way to measure up their status and superiority. After a lavish medieval procession, the races begin. Martin soaks up the thrills and dangers of the event, where the crowd treat the jockeys like football stars ��” or the modern equivalent of valiant knights.

To understand why medieval knights commanded such honour and respect, Martin travels to Warwick Castle to see what it was like to ride horses into battle, dressed in a suit of armour. On a fully armoured horse called Magic Martin manages to reach a canter, but confesses he felt ‘trussed up like a tinned sardine’.

Martin meets the modern equivalent of the armoured knight, the Greater Manchester Police mounted unit. First at their HQ then at a busy Manchester United match, Martin learns how horses are trained to quell potential violence in rowdy crowds.

Martin heads for the USA to learn that the old Wild West is still alive and kicking, and the horse is still very much a part of American life. In Las Vegas, rodeo horses are treated like kings; the more they buck the better the crowds love them. Then it’s on to Arizona to learn the traditional ways of the cowboy, still in use today. Martin discovers that herding cows is not as easy as it looks ��” and lassoing is even worse.

Surprisingly, the horse was extinct in America until it was reintroduced by Christopher Columbus. Yet it wasn’t long after that before native American Indians became master horsemen. Martin joins the Sioux tribe in South Dakota, for their annual “horse nation” commemorative ride across the frozen prairie.

Martin’s final journey is to one of the remotest parts of Central Asia to meet some of the world’s greatest horse people. He experiences life amongst the nomadic Kazakh tribespeople, virtually unchanged since they first harnessed the power of the horse 6,000 years ago. Nowhere on earth is there a culture still so utterly reliant on the horse.
He says riding one of their stocky little horses is like perching on a bar stool compared to his own huge horse Chester, a 17 hands 2 Hanoverian. As their honoured guest Martin is presented with a gift horse.

Back home in Dorset the Clunes family mare Bea gives birth to a foal after an 11 month pregnancy. The poignant moment of birth is captured on CCTV, and Martin welcomes the
little foal Alice into the family as she learns to walk.

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