Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Story of a Horses Hoof

the following photographs show the dismembering of a horse.

one day, not so long ago, i sat at my desk thinking about how i could
conceptualise the tomboy in transition from childhood through adolescence.
i began to think about the things she might have once held dear. trophies or souvenirs for example, treasures now found shoved under her bed, sticky with dust and that mingin' melted boiled sweet, 'ah, so that's where is went!'
what would these trophies be of and how did she get them?

My research led me through myths, legends and symbols related to animals and people. I discovered that some tribal women, hunters that they where, would oft lob various bits from the animal they felled and keep as trophies - a ritual to honour the courage and bravery of the animal. With this information I began to see fragments of a picture in my minds eye. Development.

The horse is symbolic of many things and usually connotes courage, strength and freedom. french naturalist BUFFON (1707-88) described the horse as 'man's most noble conquest.' interesting (!). horses by nature are wild animal's and the tomboy can often be described as such, for example the German word for tomboy Wildfang: literal translation, wild, untamed animal, tomboy: . the horse holds resemblance to the tomboy and the tomboy loves her animals, horses and the lot.
in looking at transition, my attention was on the hoof or hooves of the horse. the image of the ancient hunters, whom incidentally where exceptional horsewomen, careering through the glen yielding swords, lobbing of heads and cutting down game in their tracks by hacking below the fetlock, bloody images I know, but their fearlessness and determination resonate strong links to the tomboy. with this, i set about obtaining a horse’s hoof.

at this stage i wish to acknowledge for some this may elicit controversy regarding animal welfare and animal rights. on this i remain neutral. my story is not one with political sway and from what i witnessed at the knackers yard, as my story will reveal, no cruelty was used in the killing of the horse. sick horses they where. off course, not everyone will reserve judgment and that is entirely every ones choice.

to continue. i found my horse through google and a knackers yard in laverton. from here i was about to embark upon a very unusual experience. when the man answered the phone i told him i was a visual artist and wanted to obtain a horses hoof to use in my work. straight away he said 'no worries love, come tomorrow morning before 7.30am.'
'OK', i said. 'my name is Lesley, see you tomorrow then.'

the drive was magnificent. the flat paddocks of the west always evoke melancholy in me. the flat, the barren, the bleak landscape. the distant flames burning off fuel through massive steel chimneys and solid pylons surrounded by lights. i started out at 6am, it was winter and still not light. the enormous sky pink, full of haze. i didn't grow up here but it always feels familiar. heading down kerriot creek road i had no idea what to expect. i had my dog in the back. after driving up and down a few times, distracted by the beauty of those distant lights and gas pylons, i eventually found the place. it was now 7.20am. the sun was naked.
steel gates led to a paddock strewn with old beaten trucks. a friendly ginger dingo dog on a long rusty chain sniffed around. i decided it best to leave Riff in the car. a man came to open the gates wearing wellies. he was small, hobbled with bandy legs, red face, one glass eye, the other bloodshot and watering. he was dead pan, down to earth. after spending some time unbolting the padlock and untangling the chain, the man ushered me in to his makeshift caravan where a TV in the corner flickered in and out of a black and white picture.
here was another man staring into a big mug held in front of his mouth. he wore a yellow sweatshirt, stained with deep red, blood? his face was open, deep set eyes, a grey curly beard and big square shoulders. 'mornin' i said as i stepped into the carvan. i was aware of my heavy boots hitting the hollow floor, i felt the caravan wobbled a bit. 'i'm lesley,' i said. 'i've come for the hoof.' a small silence fell before the man in yellow asked me if i wanted anything else aside from the hoof. i looked at him unsure, 'maybe a tooth?' i said. the man turned to look at me, then turned away, slightly, and from the side of his mouth he said, 'could be done, only problem is with the tooth, it's usually attached to the head...' 'and if you want the head,' he said, 'you had better be responsibile for it.' i asked him what he meant, that off course i would. he told me some boys (he mistook for men) came last year for a head. later a horses head mysteriously turned up on the desk of a high school head master. 'i have no funny business in mind,' i said.

i looked around the yard and soon realised to my relief, that i couldn't smell anything. after not knowing what to except, i suppose at the very least i had expected a smell. of raw meat. of blood. of bone. my dad is a butcher and when i was a girl, i remember it was mostly in winter, i worked in his shop. i helped make sausages and with my freezing hands cupping the slithering thing coming through the muckled steel sausage machine, had no spare hands at my disposal to hold my nose from the smell. i remember i used to gag. ironically, i obtained a reprieve from the sausage making when my auntie Lesley got horses. so now i would spend my weekends mucking out the stables and i loved the smell of dung, hay and hot oats all rolled up. the fruits of our labour (my cousin Susie and i) were to take the horses out on a hack. i was living my tomboy/cowboy dream. excellent.

so yeah, no smell.

anyways, i decided to stick with the hoof.

for what happened next, i could never be prepared.

both men finished their tea and walked silently across the yard to the paddock where the horses where. There they where. i began to shoot the landscape and so fell into a sort of meditation or was it denial? at the back of my mind i waited for the men to get a hoof from a freezer or something. meanwhile, they hustled the horses from the paddock to a catchment area. i was aware of a red chamber to the right, clumps of hair and blood stuck to it. the horses they where beautiful, though bony with seeping eyes. i felt my stomach churn and my throat clench.

the man in the yellow sweatshirt approached me and asked if the photographs would end up on the internet. i looked at him inquisitively. he told me a woman came last year to take pictures and had not been honest about her intentions. she later published them with a story about animal cruelty. the man softened, 'i love horses, i have horses of my own' he said. 'the horses here are sick, they're killed by one single blow to the head from a shotgun' he said. stunned, i began to assure him i was not here for political reasons, when quite suddenly, a shot went off. loud. i turned and saw a horse drop to the ground. dead. everything froze a bit. i turned away and captured a shot of the dog, the caravan, the truck. when i looked back my eyes followed the trail of blood to the shed.
i was struck here by how the men had bare hands, no plastic gloves. weren't wearing boiler suites or masks as i had imagined. there was something quite natural about all of this. this is their job and they do it in a raw, honest and real fashion. i have no judgment and they have agreed to my publishing the shots here on my blog.

A third man entered the shed. he was big, heavily masculine, handsome, a massive smile and wore a beanie. he had a sharpening sheaf attached to a chain attached to his heavy leather belt and held two boning knives. he was the butcher. the sun had risen dramatically pouring through the shed like melted yellow butter. i just stood there, still, drenched in light, transfixed. the butcher looked over at me. he bellowed, 'you camera shy?' this was an invitation, i raised my camera, my shield and began to shoot.

[click on images to view larger]

thanks to the men at the knackery for inviting me in.
RIP to the beautiful horses.


  1. Looking at these images, I can literally smell blood. I remember the day you took these - you came to my house afterward and we looked at the photographs on your laptop. You have the most amazing ideas and an freakish special ability for persuading people to let you take photographs in sensitive situations.

  2. and we did to, i forgot about that. i rememebr i was pretty excited, the reality not quite caught up wiht me yet. and i remember you where i little apprehensive looking at the pictures but you looked at them anyway as i blethered on about what it was like...thanks. x

  3. jesus lesley, will you call those men at the knackery back and tell them that your friends think the story and the images should be published in the catalogue and could you please get permission to do that too?

    fucking great post. i wasn't quite prepared for that blood and guts, although i dunno why - you were at a knackery for gods' sake.