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Masculinity in Crisis, or: The Curious Geordie Tradition of Punching Horses

The concept of man is in crisis. In the North East, their outlet is performing assault on a horse.

Herby recovers after his attack. Photo via The Herb Garden

Life is tough, isn't it? The clocks have gone back so it's dark all the time. There's a Tory government. Your favorite shoes have started letting the rain in. It's just difficult.

Men, particularly, are struggling. This is a world without stable employment, where the concept of the male breadwinner is eroding. And now, some men are experiencing emotions—worries about jobs, concerns about their health, realizing they care about their families—and emotions are strange, alien concepts to the British male. The stiff upper lip is beginning to sag.


That, perhaps, is why Geordies, men from North Eastern England, have started punching horses.

The first recorded incident of a Geordie punching a horse unnecessarily was two years ago, following the Tyne-Wear derby. April 14, 2013. Inexplicable midday kick off. Newcastle lose 3–0. Standing alone in the road, cross-hatchings under foot, smoke flare in the distance, Newcastle fan Barry Rogerson raises his fist to shoulder height and punches a horse in the face. The horse is named Bud. He works for the police. He is largely unhurt but people send presents and gifts to his stable. And Barry—bloody nosed, his Toon Army scarf pulled over his face—inadvertently starts a movement, a single iconic moment of Geordie defiance elevated to messianic stature. Also he was jailed for 12 months.

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Scratch forward 30 short months. October 25, 2015. Inexplicable midday kick off. Newcastle lose 3–0. Three men, drunk on derby day emotion, take an innocent horse by the bridle and pepper him with punches, leaving him battered and bruised and broken on the ground. The horse is called Herby. He is made out of fiberglass. He is largely unhurt but people send get well cards to the Italian restaurant he stands outside. Geordie horse punching has just turned from a crime into a tradition.

"On the day we were pretty annoyed," says Ryan Darrington of the Herb Garden restaurant. "It's not the first time Herby has been attacked, climbed on, kidnapped, or even used to pole dance around—that one didn't end well. Nobody likes to see a drunk girl collapsed on the floor pinned down by a full size horse."


Are you seeing the connection here, yet? Every time Newcastle lose 3–0 to Sunderland, a Geordie hurts a horse. And it's central to the modern identity of men in the North East.

Suddenly, the trio who attacked Herby last month look less like alcohol-lubricated vandals and more like dedicated followers of a derby day tradition. A pattern is emerging, and sense can be made of their actions. It seems that once every two years, on the banks of the Tyne, masculinity finds its equilibrium through the gladiatorial spectacle of human-equine combat.

This new tradition is fast becoming a vital cog in the Geordie male machine, forming an island in the storm of modern manhood, one without which they would lose all hope and cease to function. Without horse punching, the North East would lose a piece of itself.

The world is frightening place to be a man, and it is easy to become untethered without the warm comfort of 1950s gender roles. It used to be so clear. You knew where you stood when you were the breadwinner and your dinner was always on the table. Where once men could aspire to be noted comb-over wearer Bobby Charlton or noted hellraiser Peter O'Toole, today the aspiration stretches only as far as noted-follicle inadequate Wayne Rooney and noted-televised drinker Dom from Gogglebox. Culture changes, masculinity gets lost in the wash, and men become untied from the idea of being a man.

And positive models from the North East are even fewer in number. Where there were shining lights, now there are empty seats. Mark Knopfler got up and got out. Sting got up and got out. Gazza got up and got out. PJ and Duncan got up and got out.


With no guide to life, no anchors in the storm, you kick and you scream and you fight. You punch horses. That's what men do.

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The foundations of Geordie masculinity have broken down to such a degree that all that is left is a person punching a plastic horse. The pace of the decline is so rapid that, looking back, the original assault on a police horse seems like a rational act by comparison. At least it was a real horse. But unusual practices appear where there is fear and neglect, and there are no false idols here. This is a common purpose, a common cause, a reaction to the directionless nature of contemporary manhood.

The fear, of course, is that the outrage spreads south, taking in derby days wherever it can find them—yours Liverpools, your Birminghams, North London, the south coast—continuing down until it reaches Epsom, the inevitable conclusion. Lads will spill en masse into the paddocks trying to punch the winner of the 5.15, and for a moment they will seem to overwhelm the officials, before being beaten back into retreat after damaging a promotional Investec zebra. This is the future.

But for now, Tyneside is the battleground, and the Geordie male the foot soldier. The altercations here have prevented a full scale conflict—equine icons have become the punching bags for misplaced anger. But the real concern should be how to sustain this new Geordie tradition, or else substitute it for another which can provide an equally compelling masculine narrative without the fiberglass debris littering the street. How much longer can this war between man and horse continue? And at what cost?

"One of the chaps involved rang up and paid for some of the damage," adds Darrington, a director at the Herb Garden. His brother made him phone up and offer £200 [$305] towards Herby's repair. "That paid for getting the front doors fixed, however Herby is still awaiting some reconstructive surgery."

Next time, the damage to Herby may be irreparable, or £200 in fiberglass damages may not be forthcoming. Newcastle may lose a vital release value on its testosterone-filled pressure cooker. A dystopian derby day nightmare may spread across the country. Horses get punched in their droves.

We have to do something. Masculinity is in crisis and Herby's fiberglass shoulders can't bear the weight of a generation of lost Geordie men alone. He's already held together with bandages and his rainbow bridle, he cannot sustain indefinitely. On International Men's Day, spare a thought for the Geordie male. Spare a thought for him, and the horses in his way.

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