I live beneath White Horse Hill, one of many in the middle of southern England. Most mornings I look out of the window and think how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place, and most days I cycle up the hill with my dogs, imagining that it keeps me fit or at least a little less unfit than I would otherwise be. For the last two winters we have had spells of plentiful snow. White-Horse Hill becomes White Horse-Hill and the beast itself disappears from view, its lines identifiable only as slight dips in the snow cover, like crevasses on a glacier in winter.
I normally obey instructions not to set foot on the precious horse itself, but it only took a few runs for me to discover that soft snow accumulates in the 3000 year old trench cut to mark its back, and the best powder turns are to be had there. There is something deeply satisfying about following this beautiful line on my skis. Has anyone ever done it before?
One thing many others have done before is wonder why the horse is there – what it means, in fact. I assume a ski run was not what its creator had in mind. And what if anything is its connection with the obviously man-made flat-topped spur, traditionally called Dragon’s Mount, whose flanks will soon attract their first toboggans of the winter? Some say the horse commemorates the Battle of Ashdown, but it is probably too old for that. Others that it was a kind of flag, associated with the fort that crowns the hill. Or that it is not a horse at all but a dog (idiot suggestion), or, more plausibly, a dragon, or The Dragon, slain by St George. The wind swirls around the hill with such violence that I wonder if the mound was not perhaps flattened to serve as a windmill emplacement. My preferred theory is that the horse is no more and no less than a work of art, similar to horses painted on the walls of caves many years ago.
My senior dog has come up with a new theory, that the flat topped mound is in fact a teeing ground; and the fort, or the horse, or both, are golfing targets. Over the last month she has unearthed at least half a dozen practice golf balls, all from the same batch, from the long grass. The balls have been found widely scattered, but in locations not incompatible with having been hit from Dragon’s Mount or as I prefer Dragon’s Tee. Today’s ball was found no more than 20 yards from the horse’s head: a pretty good shot from Dragon’s Tee. Why hadn’t I thought of this? Who is this brave and enterprising golfer and when does he or she go out to play? The prospect of taking the balls back up there with a club and smashing them towards the horse fills me with excitement. Especially when I consider how much it will annoy the National Trust.