Richard Hammond on: horses
Despite my love of horsepower, I'm not an especially horsey person, but my wife Mindy is. Her latest toy is a New Forest pony called Tom. He's a nice enough horse; stands about all day in the field eating the carpet, that sort of thing. But I watched him arriving at our house, and as he stepped from the lorry into his new home, something remarkable happened that might, I think, point the way to a revival of the horse as a primary means of transport.
We are blessed at our house with a pet peacock called Humperdinck, who struts about and eats seeds and that's it, really. Sadly, Humperdinck's best friend Engelbert, fell out with a fox and lost the ensuing fight. So, Humperdinck is a bit lonely these days and skulks around, pecking at the lawn and occasionally summoning up the energy to hoick his tail feathers in the air and shake his arse about so his plumage rattles and intimidates the ducks. Fun, I guess, if that's what's available to you. He was doing this just the other side of the fence as Tom arrived.
A horse, as you probably know, when not eating or crapping, is generally busy being scared of stuff. If it's not grass then it might be a threat, so run away. That's the motto. A peacock definitely isn't grass and with its tail feathers erect and shaking violently, looks as big as a sabre-toothed tiger. Safely on the other side of the fence, I braced in anticipation of Tom taking off and dragging my wife with him on the end of the lead rope, like an engineer with his tie caught in the door of a Harrier. But Tom didn't take off. He looked up at the noise, saw the peacock, tipped his head and carried on chewing.
Humperdinck worked himself into a frenzy of arse-shaking at a duck; the duck wandered off in search of some peace; Humperdinck forgot to put his tail away, distracted by an especially juicy seed in the lawn, and just the other side of the fence, Tom watched and chewed. As Humperdinck put his little head down, smacking his lips at the prospect of the morsel ahead of him, Tom took a step towards him. The peacock swallowed the seed - they don't chew, not at all - and moved towards another that had caught his beady little black eyes. Tom walked closer, his head still on one side, eyes captivated by the bird. Mindy followed, holding the loose lead rein in one hand and her own gaping jaw with the other. This, we agreed after, was a pivotal moment.
The horse was curious, he wanted to know what the rattly-arsed thing was
Allow me to digress even further, if you will: despite the crazy convictions of a billion equestrian enthusiasts, horses are not the wise, mythical forest creatures that trotted and flew through their childhood dreams. They are large, simple things that eat grass. Nothing wrong with that; it's the role nature chose for them and they do it very well. But I, for one, would get bored immediately, were I a horse.
Standing on your own salad all day while hordes of flies reduce your undercarriage to ribbons is neither fun nor mentally stimulating enough to keep even the simplest of humans - me - entertained. But, to the horse, that's life, and it just gets on with it. As long as someone locks it in a dark room at night, so it's not eaten by wolves, and is there again in the morning to let it out and clean up the poo from its mattress, all is well in the horse's world.
You eat grass, crap and stay out of the way of predators. You don't have to worry about whether this is the best kind of grass or your mate's got some better stuff. Life and everything going on around it can be boiled down into two categories: "nice", because you can eat it or "nasty", because it might eat you. Why bother with anything else? Curiosity, you see, killed the cat, not the horse.
Clearly, what was happening here though, was the horse was curious; he wanted to know what the thing with the rattly arse was. A peacock can be of no possible use to a horse; it can't eat a peacock and, given the apparent size of Humperdinck at the time, it could very well be a predator. But as it showed no inclination towards predating, Tom felt he'd check it out and see what it might be. This can mean only one thing. Assuming Tom isn't a Fairy Prince transformed into a horse by a witch, then his newfound curiosity indicates that horses are changing; they are suddenly evolving. Fast. And this could be harnessed and developed to our own ends.
I propose keeping them in the dark all day, to see if they might quickly evolve some sort of luminescent glands on their heads, like a glow-worm's tail, to act as headlights. And, if I were every day to nudge a USB jack into his flank, might he not evolve a USB point for my phone? Horse fuel is plentiful and cheap, shoes are cheaper than tyres and the emissions are brilliant on roses. And if they're no longer going to be terrified of anything that isn't grass, we stand a chance of staying on them. Everybody wins. All hail, Tom, herald of an evolutionary horse revolution.
This column was originally published in the November 2013 issue of Top Gear magazine