> Martin Carthy > Songs > Old Horse

Old Horse

[ Roud 513 ; Ballad Index ShH85 ; VWML CJS2/10/2884 ; Bodleian Roud 513 ; Wiltshire 195 , 661 , 933 ; trad.]

Martin Carthy sang and played Old Horse on his 1982 album Out of the Cut. John Kirkpatrick played concertina, Howard Evans flugelhorn and Richard Thompson guitar. It was re-released in 1993 on both Rigs of the Time: The Best of Martin Carthy and The Collection. Martin Carthy also contributed an alternative take of this song to the Feed the Folk compilation of 1985. This track was included in 2001 on The Carthy Chronicles. Martin Carthy noted on the original album:

The Dead Horse Ceremony was one of the death and resurrection type, this time performed at sea and often accompanied by the Old Horse Shanty. However, I often wondered if there existed a song for the ceremony which was not a converted shanty, and looking through Gale Huntington’s book Songs the Whalemen Sang, which is a collection from the log-books of various old sailors, I came across the two-verse fragment of Old Horse. It smelled to me of ceremonial song in spite of its length. Verses 1 and 5 sung here are from Old Horse. I added three verses from the song Poor Old Horse plus one standard “Rise Again” verse and there we are.

Old Horse is also on Brass Monkey’s 1998 Topic album Sound and Rumour, in a different performance but with almost exactly the same words.

Gale Huntington’s comment on his verses show a somewhat different interpretation:

This fragment deals with the seaman’s perpetual gripe against the food on shipboard. The salt meat was usually called salt horse, and how often it actually was salt horse is a good question.

Kate Burke and Ruth Hazleton sang Old Horse on their 1998 album The Bee-Loud Glade.

James Findlay sang Hi Lo on his 2019 CD The Where and the When. This could also have been catalogued as Gal With the Blue Dress On (Roud 7498). Findlay noted:

A capstan shanty collected by Cecil Sharp from Captain John Short of Watchet, Somerset, on 20 April 1914 [VWML CJS2/10/2884] . ‘Hilo’ is more than likely referring to ‘Ilo’ which lies on the west coast of Peru rather than Hilo on the island of Hawaii.


Martin Carthy sings Old Horse

Old horse, old horse what brought you here
Carted stones this many’s the year
Killed by stones and sore abuse
They salt you down for sailors’ use

A warrior am I and at war I’ve been
Fighting for my country and king
Now I’m old and I’m in decay
It’s poor old horse get on your way

My keeping once was the stable wall
Free from all cold winds and harm
Now in the fields I am forced to go
Turned out in the cold and rain and snow

My feeding once was the oats and hay
That grew in the fields and the meadows gay
Now I’ll get no such at all
But pull at the short grass by the wall

The sailors they do me despise
Kick my body and damn my eyes
Cut my meat and pick my bones
Throw the rest to Davey Jones

Here is a hoof that was so well shod
Likewise a hide that sweat so hard
Whipped him lashed him drove him down
Rise up old horse and shine again


Transcribed by Garry Gillard.