To Make a Star on a Horse

If your horse didn’t come fully equipped with facial markings, this was not a problem for the 17th century horse (or at least, for the horse’s owners.  Most of these methods were a problem for the horse).  A whole sheaf of recipes existed, the object of which was to provide a permanent star, not just a temporary bleach job.  Gervase Markham, in his Markham’s Masterpiece, Containing all Knowledge Known to the Smith, (1615) gives several recipes you could visit upon your unfortunate horse if you wanted to create white hair,  whether on the forehead or anywhere else.

The advisability of finding a moldy-warp

Generally, first find a mole (or moldy-warp). The mole was an essential part in recipes from the lengthy to the concise. The grease of a sodden moldy-warp was used in one recipe, or you could boil a moldy-warp in salt water or lee (hopefully the moldy warp was already dead by this point) for three days and use that decoction, which would apparently “bring white hairs suddenly.”

Why?  I haven’t yet been able to find out. Whether a mole’s corpse was more caustic than any other small mammal I do not know. If you were short of a moldy-warp, you could always use something that was far more common, the guts of a hen “clapping them hot as they come out of the Belly to the Horse’s face, having in readiness some hollow round thing made for the purpose.”  This sounded less violent than Markham’s preferred recipe:

“Take a tile stone, and after you have burned it, beat it into a fine Powder:  Then take Lilly roots; Daisy roots; White Brier roots of each a like quantity, and having dried them, beat them also into a fine powder, and mix them with the first:  Then with the razor shave that part of your Horse where you would have your Star, and then with this powder rub it so vehemently that you scarce leave any skin on; then take a good quantity of Honeysuckle flowers, and a like quantity of honey, and the water wherein a Mole has been sodden, and then distill them into a Water, and with that Water wash the Sore place for the space of three days together, and keep the Wind from it, and you shall presently see the White Hairs to grow; for this Receipt hath been often very well approved.”

All that vehement rubbing presumably meant the end result might be a bit imprecise:  a star you might get, but it might not be to the dimensions you wanted.

There were methods you could use if precision was your aim, which involved inserting a bodkin between the skin and the bone and forming a hollow. After you’d done this, a specially shaped piece of lead was inserted into the wound, the loose skin gathered together with thread and after 48 hours, when the skin was “mortified”, the lead was removed and the skin pressed back to the forehead.

The hair would shortly afterwards turn white. Markham preferred this method to another he describes which also used lead inserts, as it led to “foul sores”, though he assured the reader it was nevertheless effective.

Two methods of inserting lead

The object of the many recipes (there are at least 12, depending on how you count the variations) seems either to burn or wound the skin so that the regrown hair comes in white.  Honey is a fairly common factor in dressings afterwards: as is now proven, honey is good on wounds, so I would hope that the poor afflicted animals would at least recover from their farrier’s attentions.

Diana Pullein-Thompson must have read Markham, or something similar. In the Black Beauty’s family series she wrote with her sisters, a mare has a star made by a wire being inserted into her forehead. Black Beauty itself was written as a clarion call to stop ill treatment of animals: none too soon.


It shouldn’t really need saying, but don’t try any of these at home. Or anywhere else.


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