The Black Jokers' Horse

Our hobby-horse is known merely as "Horse", or, formally, with honorific, "The Horse". The original was made by Tim Cavanaugh in his premiere foray into the art of papier maché for the Black Jokers first appearance at the Marlboro Lamb Ale, in May of 1976. The skirt was sewn in the car on the drive up. It was rather heavy, with a plywood box frame, which suffered structural damage on October 16th of that year when at the end of Badby dance Beaux of London City those in the set mimed aiming rifles and "shot" the horse, and Jonathan Stutts, who was inside, made a very dramatic collapse. Since then, it has been a team rule that nobody in the set shoots the horse.

A photograph of the original horse has appeared in an article on the Marlboro Ale that ran in the May 1981 issue of Smithsonian magazine, and later, in the Smithsonian Calendar some time in the mid-80s.

In the Spring of 1982, as The Horse got on in years and began to show its age, Kris Arnold made a cast of the head to recreate it in a lightweight fiber reinforced composite which would be more durable than the original and light enough to carry along on our tour of England that summer. The head was painted almost exactly like the original, and mated to a smoothly contoured acrylic waist-rest and wooden anchors for a skelton of fibreglass tent poles. This brought our hobby beast into the Space Age, providing a welcome weight reduction for those who wear it. In addition to a moveable jaw, as in the original, the new one has a gullet for swallowing coins, although with inflation the horse tends to choke on greenbacks - not that we are complaining, you understand. In 1991 Vera Ehmann completed a new skirt, restoring the horse to a more dignified elegance.

Our horse has generally done well in the presence of the real thing, getting along with mounted police, park rangers, and other equestrians, except on one occasion. During our visit to England in 1982, outside a pub in Swindon, Gloucestershire, a horse and rider approached us on the country road until the mount caught sight of our hobby. It halted and shied, and would not go forward. We were assured that the dancers and their bells were not uncommon at that location.

The Horse is often filled by a new dancer, as a way of having them participate in the Morris experience before they have mastered all the steps, or as a way of catching their breath. While in England we acquired an " L " placard, used there to mark cars driven by "Learners", and affixed it under the horse's chin. We found it appropriate in light of the above, and while it was enjoyed in the UK, we think the significance of it was not fully realized by audiences on this side of the Atlantic Ocean.

On occasion a dancer's spouse or similar will perform as the horse; each person bringing their own unique interpretation of horsing to the event.

Originally written for publication in the American Morris Newsletter, Autumn, 1992.
The Black Jokers | Morris Dancing | Jokers Pictures

Original November 1994
Last Modified Sep 28 08:21 2001 / Ishmael, the Fiddler