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A miniature horse prepares to board a bus outside City Varieties Music Hall.

Horses: A History

As we look forward to shows still to come, I find myself thinking… what connects our past? Is it music, magic or dance? Well, reader, it may surprise you, but I have uncovered a deeply enlightening element that connects our history. It’s time to talk about horses.

Written and painstakingly researched by Aaron Cawood


Uncovering the truth

It’s reductive to look at the way horses shaped our history since The Grand began. It was 1878 – how else would you expect people to be getting around? Upon the invention of cars, you might expect horses to fall off the map. But as I sat, up to my neck in archive material, throughout time, there were horses wherever I looked. Let’s check out the highlights.

1987 – Tiny horse takes centre stage

A miniature horse prepares to board a bus outside City Varieties Music Hall.

Image for illustrative purposes. Background 1991, West Yorkshire Archive Service.

Horses are often the stars. From our all-horse production of Hamlet in 1948 to the world premiere of The Phantom of the Gallopera, we have always centered powerful and talented horses on our stage. This is nowhere better exemplified than in 1987 when a miniature horse featured in The Varieties’ pantomime Cinderella. Not only was the horse the highlight of countless reviews – Lucky the Horse was the proud passenger of its own £200,000 coach, fitted with the finest amenities for its trips to the venue. Lucky even went on tour around the UK afterward!

1999 – Can’t keep a good horse down

A horse behind the bar at City Varieties Music Hall with a nametag that says 'Elaine'.

Photo not for illustrative purposes. Please be kind to Elaine, we love her.

Following a rather unpleasant scuffle in one of the bars at The Grand, 1999 saw the implementation of a rather unfortunate rule; no horses allowed unaccompanied by an adult. Elaine was a dear regular, a real hit with the staff. Fearing she might never be allowed back into the venues that made her feel so stable, she took the initiative and worked her way up. That’s how, in 1999, Elaine became our first equine bartender. Many fantastic pints were poured beneath her ever-talented hooves until she happily retired in 2002 to pursue professional knitting.

2008 – A mysterious mustang

CCTV image from the balcony at The Grand showing a horse dancing on stage.

Please do not be afraid. The ghost horse cannot hurt you.

The Grand is no stranger to a ghost story or two. Perhaps our most peculiar occurred in 2008, as a stage doorkeeper was doing a routine check of the previous night’s CCTV footage. Movement had been detected in the auditorium just after midnight – a phenomenon we often put down to just the motions of an old building, or ghosts getting restless and chucking tiles around. But what that stage doorkeeper found was something far more spooky. A spectral ghost could be seen dancing on stage and, I know what you’re thinking; Aaron, there are always ghosts dancing about on stage. And you’re right! But this time, the ghost was a horse. To this day, we do not know where they came from or where they went. All we know is that they did have a decent double pirouette.

2012 – Trotting to technical

Our tech team doing a show build, a horse in a hard hat behind them.

Health and safety notice: Harold is wearing steelies. That is what horse shoes are.

Our efforts to develop careers in the arts are unwavering. In light of the success of Elaine, we are constantly striving to employ more horses in roles that may often get overlooked. Harold was a barrel of laughs and a gallop of glee, and when we offered him a role on our tech team, he jumped at the opportunity. Harold was a hard worker in a harder hat and became incredibly notorious for his love for carrots and card games. Though he later bolted, Harold’s years at The Grand are fondly remembered, and we wish him the best in his future endeavors in the professional sporting world.

2023 – The Giant Horse Incident

A giant horse looming over The Grand.

Thankfully he did not mistake our spires for a carrot.

We shall not bore you. We all remember The Giant Horse Incident of 2023 very well. The city centres of the country were temporarily plagued by ponies of epic proportion, and we were no different. Our tormentor, who we lovingly called Jeffrey, briefly mistook the roof for a salt lick and soon made a game of jumping over the building, as if to show off. Were we impressed? We were terrified. We apologise for all cancellations caused. Jeffrey does not apologise – he did not seem very sorry at all.

In conclusion

This strange history with horses may seem too bizarre to believe. And that’s because… it is!

Happy April Fools’ Day!

Each story in this article is a total fabrication… all except for one. Can you figure out which of these equine escapades is true?

What can we say – it’s April Fools and Horses! Which reminds me…