I've been saving this picture for today. It's from a portfolio of images, mainly farriers, taken at the Smithfield Horse Market in Dublin, Ireland, one of the last urban horse sales in western Europe. The travelers bring horses and ponies and donkeys into the city the first Sunday of each month to sell or trade them. They've been doing it exactly this way, in the shadow of the Jameson's whiskey distillery, since 1665, as much as the city has tried to stop this chaotic manure-producing festivity. Dublin is one of the last cities where horses are kept within the city by private owners, many by young boys who tether them on any available greenspace.
One Dublin photographer, Teresa O'Brien, is especially taken with the farriers who skip church and show up to shoe the horses at the market before they are sold. But she only photographs their hands. I've never seen the rest of these men. Later, she moves through the crowd and her lens finds a hand on rusty hames or in this case the hand of a traveler (gypsy) matriarch's multi-ringed fingers.
Imagine this woman draped in her long dark hooded coat and leaning on her cane. She is walking among the horses on a chilly October morning. She speaks to no one. Is she buying or selling or is there something spooky going on here? Is she the ghost of horse markets past?
Click here to read a little more about and see a little more about Smithfield Horse Market.
Smithfield Horse Market and the gypsy horse fairs of Ireland and England are some of the last horse fairs. I grew up staring at a print of the painting The Horse Fair by Rosa Bonheur (above; the original painting is 16 feet long and hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City). It is still one of my favorite paintings because there is so much going on and the horses are so well-formed.
But if you think about it, what will go on this Sunday morning at Smithfield hasn't changed much from Bonheur's basic scene, which shows the horse market in Paris in the 1800s. Someone should document the few horse fairs that still exist. I know there are still big ones in India and Mongolia--where else are they still held?