The Negotiating Horse

The other day on Channel 4 News, the Liberal Democrat peer Lord Oakeshott was reported as saying that David Cameron had “thrown himself off the negotiating horse”. I had not previously come across this type of horse, but I am always keen to keep abreast of the doings of our dear leaders, so I did what all lazy researchers do in the twenty-first century and looked it up on Google. The Brin-Page Engine fobbed me off by providing me with endless links to “negotiating house prices”, and when I insisted that I did indeed mean “horse” and not “house” it seemed to think I wanted to negotiate to buy a horse, which was never my intention.

Now your average clot or fathead would conclude from this that there is no such beast as a negotiating horse, and that Lord Oakeshott was either making it up or had suffered from some kind of brain spasm leading to delusions. Such is the mindset that credits Google, and the interweb, with knowing all there is to know. But I still have faith in books, of reference and otherwise, and in order to track down the negotiating horse, and to acquit myself of the charge of engaging in perpilocution, I set myself the task of reading through a swathe of horse literature.

I shall not detain you by listing the many many many books, journals, encyclopaedia entries, dictionary definitions and other materials I read. Suffice to say that I would be well qualified to give the correct answers to hundreds of horsey quiz questions, were I to be so quizzed. Yet in my untold hours of study I did not come upon a single reference to the so-called negotiating horse. If such a thing did exist, it would seem that it only did so within the head of Lord Oakeshott.

How easy it would have been, then, to dismiss the negotiating horse as a phantasm! Particularly, I would aver, given its provenance. After all, when one thinks of the members of the British House of Lords, one does not think automatically of powerful, erudite minds – quite the contrary. Whereas once the red benches would have been crammed with hereditary inbred aristocrats, now one finds a collection of time-serving lickspittle has-beens. That, at least, is a popular perception. But I harbour a deep respect, unfashionable perhaps, for some of our great institutions, and I was prepared to give Lord Oakeshott the benefit of the doubt. That is why, having read and read and read, in the field of horses, to no avail, I decided to go back to his original, reported, pronouncement, in case I might glean from it something I had previously overlooked.

The Prime Minister, it was suggested, had “thrown himself off the negotiating horse”. What did this tell us about the horse? If Cameron had thrown himself off the horse, he had clearly mounted it in the first place. This fact precluded it being, say, a clothes horse or a seahorse, two types of horses I had taken care to include in my research. Although it is possible to clamber on to, and to steady oneself upon, a clothes horse, it is unlikely one would do so in order to negotiate anything with anybody, isn’t it? One would look somewhat foolish, which is never a good starting point for even the lowest level negotiations. And of the seahorse, nothing further need be said. No, if Cameron had mounted the negotiating horse, which needs must he would have done in order to throw himself off it, there were only two types of horse it could be – a real, living, snorting horse of bone and muscle and sinew, such as those photographed in motion by Eadweard Muybridge in the latter part of the nineteenth century, or a gymnasium or pommel horse, of wood and metal and leather, as disported upon by gymnasts and, in some cases, circus performers.

In either case, it would need to be a horse big enough for a minimum of two persons to be mounted upon, for one does not negotiate solo. Thus, if it were a real horse, it is unlikely to have been one of the smaller breeds, such as the Dartmoor pony or the falabella. As for pommel horses, they can be manufactured to any size required. It is not outwith the bounds of possibility that a special pommel horse, specifically designed for negotiating upon, and able to sit comfortably six, or twelve, or even more, might have been made, for the purpose.

There is of course also the possibility that the “negotiating horse” is just what it says – a horse that actually carries on the negotiation, in which case Cameron may well have sat upon it by himself, in a stable or barn alongside other world leaders mounted upon their own negotiating horses, which, depending upon the physical size of the world leader, may even have been Dartmoor ponies or falabellas. Quite how a horse would negotiate, with its limited repertoire of snorts and whinnies, is another matter, and one which will require further study.

4 thoughts on “The Negotiating Horse

  1. A powerful piece! But is it not possible that the Negotiating Horse is a typical mammalian horse upon which a human being might perch in order to negotiate with other humans, similarly emperched? Granted, the horses themselves might also conduct negotiations, at their own level, while their riders were attempting to accommodate/assimilate each other’s points of view.

    The reasoning implied in ‘… a horse big enough for a minimum of two persons to be mounted upon, for one does not negotiate solo …’ would surely lead us to an erroneous conclusion if applied, for instance, to the game of Polo, which might then be assumed to require ‘a horse big enough for eight persons to be mounted upon, for one does not play Polo solo’?

  2. I would have sworn blind that Lord Oakeshott said ‘negotiating hearse’. It all makes sense, now.

    A propos of nothing in particular – but this seemed to be an appropriate place to say it – my dad once accused former Tory leader William Hague (but not to his face) of being “a great bandwaggon-jumper-onner”.

  3. William Hague?
    William Hague and Seb Coe, judo, mano y mano, like in “Women In Love”?


    Filled with scorpions is my mind!

    OSM B:nn

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