QI. Image shows from L to R: Alan Davies, Sandi Toksvig. Copyright: TalkbackThames.


BBC Two and BBC One panel show about quite interesting facts. 269 episodes (pilot + 18 series), 2003 - 2021. Stars Sandi Toksvig, Stephen Fry and Alan Davies.

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Series H, Episode 12 - Horses And Hunting

Further details

QI. Image shows from L to R: Dara O Briain, Stephen Fry, Jimmy Carr, Clare Balding. Copyright: TalkbackThames.


- Stephen is wearing tradtional hunting attire, including a scarlet coat.


- The horses of New York City killed 20,000 people in 1900 because of their manure. While it was used as a fertiliser, they were so many horses in the city that there was too much manure (2.5 million tonnes a day) and so it helped to spread diseases like typhus, typhoid and cholera. Horses were used in transportation; pulling most vehicles (London had 50,000 of them just in the public transport system). In New York, 41 horses died a day. The people preferred to leave the bodies to putrefy because the bodies were easier to carve up. Apart from fertiliser, horse manure can be ground into a powder which can be used for moulds. Astronomer William Hershel used such a mould to make one of his telescope mirrors or "speculum". Other than manure, the horses themselves were dangerous because they can bolt, drag people off with them, trample people, and make a lot of noise. Interestingly, the thing which helped stop this environmental disaster was cars, because they made traffic safer, quieter and faster. Having horses in a city is seven times more dangerous than cars. While people say that traffic today is at the same speed as the horse, it should be pointed out that there is a lot more traffic.

- Tangent: When Clare first went to school she was told she smelt of horse manure.

- XL Tangent: The early comedy cinema joke of slipping on a banana peel was a reference to slipping in horse manure. During the early days when cinema was considered an art form and they were worried that showing manure would cheapen the art, so they used a banana peel instead. Dara goes onto claim that no-one has ever really slipped on a banana peel only for Alan to claim that he really did once slip on one in Chapel Market in Islington.

- The advantages of guide horses, or rather guide ponies, for the blind over dogs is that less people are allergic to them, they have good memories, they live longer, and have greater stamina. Disadvantages are that they are flight animals rather than pack animals, restaurants tend not to allow them in, and they blend into the background less easily.

- XL Tangent: Because a horse's memory mostly works by seeing distressing events, if a race horse were to fall at a fence they will be scared of it again if they do the race again. According to Clare, if a horse is scared by the first big fence at Aintree (the third), home fot he Grand National, then the horse will not win.

- XL Tangent: Horses do not sleep soundly, and usually sleep for three horses a day, normally standing up. If a horse gets to close to a wall while sleeping they can get stuck, which is known as "getting cast". Dara compares this to a rubbish video game where your character gets trapped in a wall. Horses are also one of the few mammals that cannot vomit. They can die from not vomiting, known as "Colic". No-one knows why they cannot vomit.

- XL Tangent: Dogs like to eat the shaven parts of hooves which are made when a farrier comes to shoe a horse.

- Tangent: When a blind person with a guide dog wants to cross the road it is the human who makes the decision, with the dog being able to overrule the human due to what is known as "selective disobedience". It is done by the feeling of the harness. For example, when the dog gets to the other end its paws hit the curb which alters the angle of the harness, so the blind person knows they are near the end of the road.

- Tangent: Jimmy's Uncle Harry takes in dogs that are failed guide dogs. To show people how good one dog was he would send the dog out to pee. It would come back and he would send the dog out again, and you can tell that the dog is going to have to "force it out".

- Tangent: The first people to use the guide dogs where the Romans in the 1st-2nd century AD in Herculaneum. The first school for "Seeing Eye Dogs" as they were known in the USA was set up after the First World War (due to the gas attacks blinding people). The first were used by the Germans. When guide dogs were introduced to Britain in the 1930s there were protests because people thought it was cruel to the dog. Anyone seen with a guide dog was attacked by the public.

- Tangent: Once during Blue Peter children collected milk bottle tops in order to raise money to train a guide dog. However, because it cost 22 million bottle tops to train just one dog, only a single dog got trained.

- The panel are given a strange device, which looks like a pair of pliers, and are asked how it can be used to calm a horse down. It is in fact a "twitch" and his used for grabbing hold of and twisting the upper lip of a horse, which causes it to release endorphins, but at first it was thought to be the distraction of the twisting that calmed them down. It is used when giving a horse medication. You can also calm some horses down by twisting their ear.

- XL Tangent: Bovines can also be calmed down by taking the top lip. Bulldogs were bred so that would bring down bulls by jumping at them, grabbing the lip and pulling it down.

- Tangent: If you want to make a horse more excited, the traditional way of doing it is to stick ginger up the bottom.

- XL: The panel are show a picture of three cowboys, one in a white hat and clean shaven, another in the background who is also in a white hat and clean shaven, and another in a black hat and with facial hair. The panel are asked which one just held up a stagecoach, used bad language in front of a lady, drinks whisky and chases people from right to left. The answer is the man in the black hat. In the 1950s eight out of the top ten primetime TV programmes in the USA were westerns (the other two were comedies). During this time people watched TV mostly on small black-and-white sets, so it made it easier for the viewers to tell the characters apart. In terms of stage directions, the goodie walked from left-to-right which meant that his gun was facing the camera.

- XL Tangent: Alan argues that there should by a TV channel devoted to westerns, Champion the Wonder Horse, Casey Jones and Alas Smith and Jones. It is proposed that channel should be called "Alan" and Stephen says the best thing would be that it would not show QI all the time.

- XL Tangent: Westerns are some times known as "Horse operas", but Hollywood insiders also called them "Oaters".

- XL: America's most wasteful hunters were the Native Americans who killed herds of bison by making them run of cliffs and only eating and using little of the animal, thereby wasting a lot of food over a period of 5,000. It could be argued that European settlers made them more efficient by importing horses and then they started hunting on horseback. Buffalo Bill did kill lots of bison, with the European settlers reducing it to the most populous herd species of its kind to almost extinction (70 million to almost zero in 15 years), but they used more of the bison. Also they killed bison as a method of controlling the native population by getting rid of the main source of food. Other things the European settlers did were to give smallpox infected blankets to the Lakota Sioux people.

- The panel are played a piece of film which shows a black bear roaring and are asked what the sound accompanying the film is. It is however not the sound of a black bear, because they do not roar. Instead, in films and sometimes even in nature documentaries they play the sound of another animal like a wolf or lion roaring because people expect a bear to roar. Black bears are hunted in the USA, but they usually do not attack people. Black bears can climb trees. People jokingly say that the difference between a black bear and a brown (grizzly) bear is that if you climb a tree the black bear will follow you up it and kill you, while the brown bear will knock the tree over and kill you. The strength of the bear is mainly used to turn over stones to find food. (Forfeit: A bear)

- XL Tangent: Dara talks about stand-up routines about the best way to avoid being attacked by a bear, and talks about the idea that running down a hill and stopping is a good method because the bear will just roll down the hill. He then mentions the comic Craig Campbell who says that what you have just done is, "embarrass the bear".

- XL: Hunting cannot work on the internet because it does not exist, although it is illegal in 34 US states. Texan John Lockwood in 2004 proposed the idea which involved using a computer with an internet connection to move a gun with a webcam on it so that an online user can fire the gun from their computer. However, as soon as he proposed the idea he was banned from doing so as soon as he set up the website, by both the anti-hunting and the pro-hunting lobbies. Similarly, in California internet fishing is illegal which also does not exist.

- Out of the million horses that were sent by the British to the front during the First World War, almost none of them made it back. The vast majority were killed, either for food or to be turned into other products. According to Michael Morpurgo, author of the children's novel War Horse, 8-10 million horses died during WWI. One belief at the time was they thought they would bring disease with them if they came back to Britain.

- Tangent: Clare says that she wants the theme from Black Beauty to be played at her funeral. A common piece of music played at funerals today is theme from Countdown.

- Tangent: The first time Jimmy saw someone who was really upset about something was at primary school, when he saw a six-year-old girl crying. He asked what was wrong and the girl said: "I just love horses so much."

- Tangent: Clare claims her first love was a pony called Frank who was not handsome. Clare's mother said that if she could love Frank everything in the world would always be beautiful.

- The panel are shown some illustrations of horses and are asked what they are thinking. You can tell by the ears.

- Ears straight up: It is startled by something.

- Ears slightly forward: Eagerness.

- Ears slopped on their sides: Tiredness or surrendering.

- Ears pulled back: Scared or angry.

- Ears flicking: Panic.

- Ears drooping sideways: On depressant drugs.

- Ears stiff: On stimulants.

General Ignorance

- The Lone Ranger's horse is white in colour. While most people generally call all white and grey horses "grey", some are completely white. However, they actually start off black and get lighter. (Forfeit: Grey)

- Tangent: The notion of white horses starting as black appears in the film Crimson Tide.

- Tangent: All grey thoroughbred horses descend from one horse called Alcock Arabian. All thoroughbred horses used in racing are descended from three horses; Darley Arabian, Godolphin Arabian and Byerley Turk.

- XL Tangent: You can name your race horse anything provided that a name has not already been taken by a previous horse, hence why there are so many unusual names. Robbie Fowler has race horses called Some Horse and Another Horse. If you want to name it after a person you have get the person's permission.

- XL: You get just less than one horsepower from one horse. When James Watt developed and demonstrated the steam engine, he was generous to the horses and so he decided that one horsepower had to produce more effort than a horse. As a result one horse produces 794 watts of power.

- If a shoal of piranhas meet a dolphin usually the dolphin eats them. The idea that piranhas are deadly flesh eaters is wrong and goes back to US President Theodore Roosevelt who was shown a display of them an exaggerated about them. Piranhas are actually frightened of humans and are scavengers.

- The weapon used by 19th century whalers to kill whales was a lance. Harpoons were actually used to tire the whale out. You threw a harpoon with a rope attached to the boat into the whale and then a "Nantucket sleigh-ride" took place where the boat was dragged by the whale and would become tired. A lance would then be used to kill the whale. While most countries today ban whale hunting, some countries like Norway and Japan still hunt whales. (Forfeit: Harpoon)


- Clare Balding: 5 points
- Dara O'Briain: 4 points
- Alan Davies: -6 points
- Jimmy Carr: -13 points

Broadcast details

Friday 10th December 2010
30 minutes

Cast & crew

Regular cast
Stephen Fry Host / Presenter
Alan Davies Regular Panellist
Guest cast
Jimmy Carr Guest
Dara O Briain Guest
Clare Balding Guest
Writing team
John Mitchinson Question Writer
Justin Pollard Question Writer
James Harkin Question Writer
Molly Oldfield Question Writer
Arron Ferster Question Writer
Production team
Ian Lorimer Director
Piers Fletcher Producer
David Morley (as Dave Morley) Executive Producer
Ruby Kuraishe Executive Producer


What's a Horse's Twitch?

Stephen Fry and guests discuss how you would use a 'twitch' to calm a horse. By twisting the horse's top lip endorphins are released to the brain causing the horse to relax.

Featuring: Alan Davies, Stephen Fry, Jimmy Carr, Dara O Briain, Clare Balding.


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