There are many things in this world with the word horse attached to them.
Most we understand such as a sawhorse or horseradish, which I’ve written about. But then we come across a few that are less familiar, at least to me, and these are the ones I’m going to look into today.
First on the docket is…
A strange name for a latitude no question and the origin, too, is strange and unpleasant.
Horse Latitudes sit roughly 30 degrees north and south of the equator. They are a belt of high-pressure, which means nothing to me, and the areas are noted for sunshine, little rain and light changeable winds.
It’s these light changeable winds that have inadvertently led to the name Horse Latitudes due to their ineffectiveness in powering ship sails.
Today, this probably isn’t much of an issue but back when tall ships and other sailing vessels were the only seafaring option, sailors often found themselves stuck indefinitely in the general area. Rationing water then became vital, as you might well imagine. Many of the ships were transporting horses to the Americas and as you know horses consume a rather large amount of water. And what did the sailors of yore do in these situations to conserve water? They throw horses overboard. Hence the name Horse Latitudes.
The first time I read this I was horrified to think that horses were just tossed into the ocean as a means of water preservation. It doesn’t even bear thinking about. But if we can glaze over that hideous image for just a minute and turn our attention to the word throw, things become even more unthinkable.
Whether the word is throw, toss, pitch or hurl the suggestion seems ridiculous. Sometimes we struggle to pick up our horse’s feet so how the dickens did one go about tossing a horse overboard or even encouraging them to take that leap? I shudder to think.
I want to believe that this entire story is a farce, but alas it seems every website I look at tells the same horrible tale with the same preposterous use of the word throw. So, I guess it must be true, but I don’t like it, not one bit. Therefore, moving forward, I’m going to pretend that someone has made up the entire story and that the mystery behind the name Horse Latitudes has yet to be solved.
There are two thoughts behind why this type of weapon is called a horse pistol. The first is that they were used by mounted soldiers and were often referred to as horsemen’s or cavalry pistols. The second reason is that the word horse is often used in front of another word to denote a large size, as with horseradish.
I don’t know that it really matters which reason is correct because, to be fair, they both work perfectly fine, though a gun fancier might have something different to say about it.
These pistols were carried by horsemen or pistoleers (great word) and were normally issued in pairs. And, as they were too heavy and long to carry at the hip they were sold with connected holsters designed to drape over the pommel or horn of a saddle.
Now, I’d like to preface this next bit by saying I have no idea what I’m talking about as the gun world is unfamiliar territory for me. Horse pistols are of the flintlock or wheellock, single shot, large calibre variety and were 14–16 inches long and weighed several pounds each. I will say this is a vague description as I believe there are different varieties of said pistol.
They were used for short-range targets but were infamously inaccurate, especially from the back of a moving horse. In the mid-1500s, pistoleers and their horse pistols fought effectively, to some degree, against heavy cavalry. However, by the time the Thirty Years War rolled around, horse pistols took a back seat to lances and swords. They were still carried they just weren’t the first choice.
Obviously, as the centuries passed and the horse pistols were improved upon, they became a popular weapon of choice.
I could go on and on about the life and times of the horse pistol, but I think we have enough of an idea of them for now. Or ever really.
There you have it
Two very different things that horses gave their namesake to. Where would we ever be without horses, I do wonder.