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Piskie Ridden

Piskie Ridden

There is a tradition on Dartmoor that one of the numerous tricks that the piskies like to play on the moorfolk was/is to creep into their stables or paddocks at night and steal the horses or ponies. The prank was then to ride them hard all night which naturally scared the poor beasts nigh to death, then come morning they would return the petrified animals in terrible state with tangled manes and sweating bodies. On the moor any such animal found in a distressed state early in the morning was said to have been taken by the ‘Piskie Riders’. Mind you, it was not only the little people who were known to do this, witches were also prone to a spot of horse stealing but in this case the poor animal was known to have been ‘Hag Ridden’. Here is a tale of one unfortunate farmer who fell victim to the Piskie Riders.

Piskie Ridden


The farmer leant upon a rail,
Viewing his horse from head to tail
With a look of concern; for never before
Had that horse appear’d so lean and poor :
His eyes were dull, and his once sleek coat
Was as rough as the back of a mountain goat :
And he hobbled along like an old cab-hack,
Whose constitution is gone to wrack,
From under-feeding and over-driving,
Which effectually keep a beast from thriving.
That horse, which of late, so lively and sound,
Would have fetch’d no less than twenty pound.
Was now become so dreadfully thin.
That every bone could be seen in his skin ;
Indeed, he was as thin almost
As that apparition call’d a ghost.


The farmer whistled, and shut one eye,
And look’d uncommon knowingly;

Then, with a judicial shake of his head,
‘He ‘s been bewitch’d,’ he musingly said :
‘Conjurer Baker is the man
To take off the spell, if any one can.’


At once he sent a lad some distance
To ask the conjurer’s assistance,
And beg that he would not delay,
As the business was pressing, to come his way.


The conjurer was found at home,
And said he would directly come ;—
A knowing man attired in black,
In the style of those doctors whose prefix is ‘Quack.’
More knowing still he look’d anon,
When he put his silver-rimm’d spectacles on,
And took a scientific sight
Of the horse that was in such a woeful plight.
He look’d at him well, and he look’d at him nearly;
And then he said, ‘It is most clearly
A case of witchcraft; but I’ll be bound
Within a week to make him sound
As any horse the whole country round.’


Forthwith, the conjurer there and then
Agreed with the farmer for two pound ten,
In present payment, to restore
The horse to the state he was in before.
The spell was against his well-being directed
By some cross old hag, as the farmer suspected.


But all in vain was each counter-charm
That the conjurer used, to remove the harm
Which the beast had met with, nor could he dispel
What seem’d a most malignant spell :
So, after a month, to the farmer he said,
‘I ne’er had to do with a spell so deep-laid :
‘Tis certain the old woman knows well her trade :
However, I’ve employ’d the best
Of all the skill by me possess’d:
And as for the trifling compensation
You gave me, it is but fair remuneration…

For the trouble I’ve taken, and risk I have run,
In what ‘gainst the powers of darkness I’ve done.’
So the farmer, looking rather funny ,
Agreed that he had earn’d the money.


The honest farmer, rather perplex’d,
After debating what he should do next.
Resolved on a scheme less visionary,
And sent for a surgeon veterinary;
A red-whisker’d man who wore gaiters drab.
And among his gifts number’d ‘the gift of the gab.’
He came, and survey’d the unfortunate horse,
Which seem’d very near being changed to a corse ;
And first having made the poor farmer endure
The recital of many a wonderful cure,
Set to work with drench and bolus strong;
But was forced to give it up ere long,

Saying, ‘ I count your horse gets thinner :
He don’t look like the Derby winner;
And I really think that he’ll die of the phthisic.
Will you settle the bill for attendance and physic?’


The farmer was now obliged, perforce,
To let the matter take its course;
And leave it to Nature to determine
How soon the horse should be food for vermin.
But, lo ! all at once the hidden mystery
Involved within this little history,
Was quite clear’d up by a labourer’s means,
Who went a-field, before the beams
Of Phoebus had illumined the skies :
I know not what made him so early to rise;
What time the dull grey morn first broke,
And the valley was full of a mist white as smoke;
And the meadow’s green of sullen hue
Was wrapt in shade, and heavy with dew.
As through the field he chanced to pass.
Where he thought that the invalid horse was at grass.
He look’d around, but no horse could he see;
So he stood and wonder’d where he could be.
And, at last, after stopping awhile, he spied
Coming in, by a gate at the field’s farther side,
The missing horse, from a nightly excursion.
Which it seems had aff’orded the piskies diversion :
For the beast by a number of piskies was driven :
With such treatment no wonder that he had not thriven.


Some of the piskies were goading his flanks
With a vehemence scarcely deserving his thanks;
Some by his tail held on and swung ;
Some on his back to and fro themselves flung;
One on each ear was perch’d ; some of the train
Sat on his neck, tying knots in his mane.
That their tricks had distress’d him ’twas easy to gather
From the foam on his mouth, and his sides in a lather.
But as soon as they saw that their pranks were espied,
With a sudden shriek, away they all hied.

I know not whether the legend says
That they rode the poor horse to the end of his days;
Or whether—as piskies are rather shy
Of their sports being witness’d by mortal eye—
They abstain’d for the future from teasing the beast.
Whence his health was restored, and his bulk was increased :
I know not;—and ’tis no great matter;
Though I fain would believe that the case was the latter.

Whatever the ailment you have to endure.
You ‘scarcely can hope to experience its cure
By a doctor who’s not free from quackery’s taint,
And treats, when he can’t diagnose, your complaint.


About Tim Sandles

Tim Sandles is the founder of Legendary Dartmoor

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