Archive for October 2nd, 2009

Chinese Chariots, Horses, & Harness

amywink October 2nd, 2009

Today, I went to Houston to see the Terracotta Warriors Exhibit at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and as I was hoping, the exhibit contained one of the lovely terracotta horses and both chariots , which can also be seen here. I have no photos since cameras were not allowed but there are many photos available online. They are definitely worth finding if you can’t make it to Houston or Washington DC to see the exhibit up close.

The final room of the exhibit held the objects I was most interested in, being the carriage nerd I am, and I spent most of my time pouring over the bronze horses, 4 abreast, pulling the chariot and the 4 pulling the “enclosed” chariot. These horses were about half the size of the “life size” cavalry mount but equally beautiful and carefully crafted, with slight differences in each horse’s face–different wrinkles in their eyebrows and nostrils–and whimsically curved forelocks that curled in front of their ears.

The curved pole of the chariot was attached to a V-shaped yoke that rested on both middle horses necks, right above the withers, about where the neck strap holds the breast collar on a modern harness. I don’t know how well this would have worked with real horses, certainly a great lot of padding must have been required for them to bear the weight of the center pole. Each horse had a neck strap and girth, as well as a decorated neck strap with bronze “dots”. The two outside horses were harness to their inner partners with straps, and an odd little cone of bronze on the harness of the inner horses kept the outer ones from bumping into them–I imagine a real horse goosed with that and it’s not a pretty picture!

The bridles were alternating bronze tubular beads and the flat reins, made of bronze links to simulate the leather, stretched back to the charioteer’s hands, which were precisely sculpted in the correct position to hold the reins. The inner horses’ lines ran through loops on the yoke as well as the the outer horses’ inside lines, though their outside reins draped loose. The horses’ tails were bundled into a knot, around which another strap was loosely wrapped and attached to the girth. This seemed designed to keep the horses tails from getting over the reins! The right outside horse wore a plume but they all wore a similar plume dangling from the throat latch.

Both the chariots were two-wheeled carts, riding as high as a Meadowbrook, on spoke wheels. The chariot actually looked quite a lot like a regular village cart–with a square body and slanted edges that served as fenders– and sported a large umbrella covering the standing driver. The closed chariot was covered with a curved top as well. I do wonder about the “chariot” designation since both look far more like “carts” than the chariot I have in my mind–something riding much lower. Still, the driver stands in one, and sits in the other. And I suppose “chariot” sounds much more Imperial than “cart”.

It was a very interesting exhibit, at least from a carriage driver’s point of view!!