Truth or Blarney: Instantly frozen horses in Maryland

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Included in my novel, you know, that novel, there’s a story about frozen horses.

“They struggled very briefly, and before a crew could be assembled for any kind of rescue, the horses froze solid. They became statues of beastly, twisted terror.”

I don’t recommend searching for information about instantly frozen horses, because you will find a great many disagreeable things, like bitter discussions of super-cooling in various types of water, offers of frozen horse semen, and pictures of animals accidentally frozen in things. There’s even a Radiolab episode on the subject.

Seriously, don’t bother. I google so that you don’t have to.

There is an often-cited story about  hundreds of horses freezing instantly in a lake at the border between Russia and Finland, which is taken from a work of fiction. It’s such a horrific and intriguing image that it was adapted by re-enactment in a “docu-fantasia” by Guy Maddin, called “My Winnipeg.” In the Russian story, the huge stampede was fleeing a forest fire. In the Maddin film, it was a herd of racehorses fleeing a stable fire. Whatever.

In my grandfather’s story, it was a carriage that tipped into the river, sometime prior to 1880. His is the version in my novel, and I don’t pretend that it’s actual fact, because there is no way to be certain from casual research without any specifics. He exaggerated so much in the best blarney tradition, I’m confident that the gory details are mostly fantasy.

If one begins to research carriage accidents of the 19th century, one will find them–lots of them. Just like ladies today drill on how to escape an attacker, Victorian ladies who were interested in true preparedness would practice jumping from carriages and dousing clothing fires. They had so many things to worry about, but even so, carriage accidents were way up on the list of deadly hazards, somewhere below childbirth but ahead of being crushed by other machinery.

The people who argue about whether or not horses could flash-freeze in a river or a lake are completely missing the point, I think. A team of horses could freeze–at any speed–simply because extricating them when they couldn’t free themselves would be a horrible problem. I found a video (not linking because it’s awful) of a rescue effort for one horse that was stuck in not-too-deep freezing water and mud in Michigan. Their rescue tactic was simply pulling so hard on the bridle that the horse freaked out enough to try harder to pedal its legs and get out of there. The successful conclusion is not documented.

Did any of those guys get in behind that horse and push her? Of course not, because they would likely have another rescue for a frozen stomped guy in addition to the terrified horse.

If you were faced with a carriage team in the ice, tangled up with each other and all the rigging and a vehicle, what would you do? Even with a very valuable set of horses at stake, all the kings horses and all the kings men were likely to light a pipe and wait until it was all over.

If you know things about horses, blarney, freezing things and other points included here, let’s discuss!! For now, I am declaring this frozen horse story definitely semi-blarney.


Further, further reading:


My novel is available in print, but the electronic version is instant gratification!! There’s a forty-page free preview if you click on the look inside doodad, which looks like this:  look inside

Happy reading!! I look forward to hearing from you!!

If you search for Harlots, Odd Book, you will find it. Undertakers seems to be more relevant to some deadly form of wrestling. For now.

Coupons are available to bring the cost of the kindle version down to the reasonable level of… free!!

If you need one, just reply here.




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