Horsing around

in City of beasts
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Equestrian recreation in Georgian England is usually associated with the countryside and historians give the impression that Londoners only derived pleasure from sociability indoors; but the capital was the mainspring of the country’s equestrian culture and its residents were obsessed with horses. The elite enjoyed exclusive access to certain activities but the commercialisation of leisure widened participation significantly in the eighteenth century. London gave birth to the modern circus and Hyde Park became the most famous public riding arena in Europe, attracting a constant stream of riders eager to show off their horses, carriages and equestrian skill. The city catered for the latter by developing the greatest concentration of public riding schools in the country. Riding facilitated sociability but horses were enthralling companions in their own right and often diverted polite Londoners away from the company of other people. Mercantile men were particularly fond of riding out into the suburbs to unwind; these ‘cockney sportsmen’, as equestrian snobs described them, developed a distinctive equestrian culture which included commuting, riding to horse races and hunting.

City of beasts

How animals shaped Georgian London

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