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.

Sunday, 22 August 2010, 9:00PM – 10:00PM on ITV1

From remotest Mongolia to the deserts of Arabia. From the Mustangs of Nevada to the Windsor Greys of Buckingham Palace. From chariots to cowboys, armoured knights to mounted police and horse whisperers, actor and horse lover Martin Clunes travels the world to unlock the secrets of a partnership which shaped the world.

Not so very long ago, every society on earth seemed to be dependent on this equine power: warfare, ceremony, farming, transport, sport and pleasure.

Today, the horse is still so much a part of our world, in so many ways. On this journey, Martin unravels the true story of how man and horse first got together, what the horse has done for us through the ages, and what the horse still means to us today.

Programme one: The Animal

The first programme in the two part series explores why the horse evolved to be the way it is, and why it was possible to connect with it and turn it to our advantage.

On this journey, Martin wants to find out how this animal became so important to us. How did we manage to tame such a huge, fearful prey animal and make it both our servant and our friend?

At home at his farm in Dorset Martin rides his own horse Chester and introduces his equine family; his wife’s horse Bea, his daughter’s pony Saracen and their miniature Shetland ponies Hamish, Hector, Jacob and Jemima.

He explains how he was drawn into the world of horses by his wife and daughter, and confesses he is a terrible rider. But he says the more he is around horses, the deeper his fascination for them is.

Martin welcomes the famous horse whisperer Monty Roberts to his home to teach him how to improve his relationship with Chester. Monty talks about the two ways that humans can connect with horses: either making them submit through fear, or bonding with them by earning their trust.

On a windswept beach in the south of France, Martin meets the extraordinary horse trainer, Jean Francois Pignon, and his team of trained horses. This man has a powerful gift of communication with horses, and a revealing insight into how we are able to connect with them. Without any saddle, bridle or tack of any sort he shows Martin the impressive range of stunts they will perform for him, and talks about how and why he is able to get horses to do this.

In the desert sands of the Gulf, Martin meets the Bedouin, who developed one of the world’s most ancient horse breeds: the Arabian.

Martin then flies out east to Dubai, to the grand opening of the £1.7 billion Maydan racecourse, which is designed to attract the world’s biggest names in horse racing, where he meets champion jockey Frankie Dettori.

Martin then went out to ride with a Bedoin horseman in the Arabian desert.
The Arabian horses were originally bred for war. The Bedouin wanted a steed that was light and fast to be effective in battle skirmishes. The animal they created became so prized, Arabian blood can be found in most of the fastest racing breeds that exist today.

Martin travelled to the heart of Mongolia, to track down the only remaining horses that have never been tamed by man: the Przewalski horse. Known in Mongolia as the Takhi. The Takhi is now an endangered species with only 250 left in the world.

From a helicopter Martin saw the Takhi in their natural habitat: the open grassland steppes. The horse’s ancestors were once tiny 3-toed forest dwellers, but as the planet’s grasslands flourished, the horse evolved to thrive off this landscape, and grew large so it could roam huge distances to get enough grass.

Martin met Usko, chief biologist at Khustai National Park where the Takhi are being reintroduced and conserved.

Martin headed out West to experience life amongst Asia’s nomadic 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.

Glasgow’s Weipers Centre for Equine Welfare is the biggest, most hi-tech horse hospital in Europe. Martin attended a delicate operation on a seven month old horse which had fractured its leg. After the operation Martin witnessed the poignant moment when the horse, encouraged by the sound of its mother, gets up for the first time, on shaky little legs.

Martin also discovered that horses can help humans because of their unique communication skills. They are said to be so sensitive they are like a mirror to the human soul. He flew to Arizona to visit a rehab clinic where they are using equine assisted therapy on patients being treated for a range of problems from alcoholism to anorexia.

Martin agreed to try the therapy with a horse called Divo, which began the session by displaying complete indifference to Martin. Martin choked back tears as he admitted the session was really therapeutic and that Divo had taught him a lesson about seeking approval.

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