Horse sense

Manuscript recipes are not always for food or medicine – they may be for household necessities such as ink, paint or polish, for cosmetics such as face wash, moisturiser or tooth powder, or for instructions in other areas of life, such as gardening and even knitting.

One anonymous compiler of an extensive and closely written book of recipes[1] includes a section on ‘Curiosities’. Among these are the following recommendations for managing your horses. First, if you want to make out you’re a horse whisperer, try this:

To make a horse follow his master find him out & challenge him amongst never so many people

Take a pound of oat meal to which put a quarter of a pound of honey and half a pound of liquorice, make a little cake thereof & put it in to your bosom next to your naked skin, then run & labour yourself till you sweat & so rub all your sweat upon your cake, then keep the horse fasting a day & a night & give it him to eat, which done turn him loose & he shall not only follow you, but also hunt & seek you out when he has lost you.

That may be bad enough, but the coda is even worse:

And when he comes to you spit in his mouth & anoint his tongue with your spittle & thus doing he will never forsake you.

The other two apply if you don’t like the horse’s colour (or maybe you’re trying to trick a prospective buyer?):

How to dapple a horse

Take in the spring the large buds of young oak trees,[2] mix them among the horse’s provender & give it him 3 or 4 times to eat & he will be dappled, and continue so for a whole year. The buds of young elm trees will have the same effect.


To spot a white horse with black spots

Take litharge[3] 3 oz. Quick lime 6 oz. Beat them fine & mix them together. Put the mixture into a pan & pour a sharp lee[4] over it, then boil it & you will have a fat substance swim at top with which anoint the horse in such places as you design to have black & it will turn of that colour immediately.

Should you be unhappy with your own appearance, the author has some advice about this latter recipe:

It has the same effect in changing hair that is red into black colour with only this difference viz you are to take an equal quantity of lime & litharge & instead of boiling it with lee, boil it only with fresh water. What swims at top is fit for use & will answer your expectation. What hairs you anoint with it in the evening will be black next morning.

The inclusion of the caustic quicklime means you might not want to try that at home!


[1] MS 7893, Wellcome Library.

[2] Oak galls were used in ink and oak bark in dyes, so the tree evidently has some colouring properties.

[3] Lead monoxide, used as a red pigment.

[4] Sediment after fermentation of wine or beer.

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