Developing a Sculpture of Shanks’ Pony

 Design Development

A shoe reference.

The work is a sculpture of the verbal term ‘Shanks Pony’. It takes the form of a horse but it needs also to somehow reference shoes.

The shoes produced in Kilmarnock were many and various, often of high quality but because of Saxone’s long history, and the fact there were many small shoes and leather businesses in the town before Saxone was established, theres not really an emblematic Kilmarnock shoe.

However, because the were characteristically well made,  Kilmarnock-made shoes are still regularly traded second-hand and most common amongst those sold are there a large variety of Clansman Brogues. These various designs of brogues made by Saxone have different patterns and detailing for each of the Scottish clans. The brogue is a stout outdoor shoe, the word Brogue being derived from the Gaelic for ‘shoe’ and referred originally to roughly made shoes in un-tanned leather. The term ‘brogue’ used to describe and accent refers to the people from the places that wore these shoes.

The characteristic decorative punched patterns on modern brogues is known as ‘Broguing’. These decorative patterns have a practical application – brogues are an outdoor, all-weather shoe and the punched holes and serrated edges of the leather help the shoes aerate and dry after use. Because of this functional aspect broguing is a decorative design pretty much unique to leather work and shoemaking. So shoemaking will be referred to in the sculpture by applying a brogued design.



Describing our horse.

There are several variants of the phrase Shank’s Pony such as Shanks Mare and Shanks Nag, (never Shanks Charger, Shanks Stallion, Shanks Mustang), and the phrase brings to mind a low statues, work-a-day horse rather than a dynamic, heroic thoroughbred. One more historical variant of the phrase is ‘Shanks’ Galloway’. A Galloway is an now extinct breed of horse from the south west of Scotland and an ancestor to the current Highland Pony and Fell Pony breeds.

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A Fell Pony – one of several breeds descended from the now extinct Galloway

The province of Galloway formerly possessed a breed of horses peculiar to itself, which were in high estimation for the saddle, being, though of a small size, exceedingly hardy and active. They were larger than the ponies of Wales, and the north of Scotland, and rose from twelve to fourteen hands in height. The soils of Galloway, in their unimproved state, are evidently adapted for rearing such a breed of horses; and in the moors and mountainous part of the country, a few of the native breed are still to be found. … This ancient race is almost lost, since farmers found it necessary to breed horses of greater weight, and better adapted to the draught. But such as have a considerable portion of the old blood, are easily distinguished, by their smallness of head and neck, and cleanness of bone. They are generally of a light bay or brown colour, and their legs black. The name of Galloway is sometimes given to horses of an intermediate size between the poney and the full-sized horse, whatever may be the breed.

Sinclair, J., 1814: General Report of the Agricultural State, and Political Circumstances, of Scotland. 

Much like the broguing suggests a tough reliable shoe, the Galloway suggests a tough and reliable animal. Perhaps one thats unlikely (compared to the horses more typically depicted in statuary) to be seen on a plinth and maybe even a bit embarrassed at being placed there. In terms of body language the sculpture would have a humble posture – head forward and low rather than the head high and back seen in equestrian statues.

Leonardo’s Horse
Humble Horse
Shank’s Pony – A Humble Horse


The phrase ‘take Shanks’ Pony’ is most often used where a plan has changed and the decision has been made to walk instead – so our horse would be captured at the moment its weight shifts forward to take the first step on a journey.

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The moment a horse starts to step forwards

Sculpturally ‘broguing’ would be used not just as pattern but in the same way that a brogue pattern is produced – the pattern of circles and zigzags is cut through the leather, so I’m experimenting with ways that a brogued pattern can cut through my sculpture – so that the pattern is revealed against the sky when seen at a distance and creates interesting sculptural forms when seen at close quarters. In these initial sketches the zigzag edge of the brogue pattern is used to help describe the shaggy thick hair of Galloway type ponies


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Dunlop Young Players describe Shanks’ Pony

The Dandy Horse became a starting point for and exploration of what kind of horse Shanks’ Pony would be. The phrase is often used as if riding on Shanks Pony is your last choice, but not necessarily your worst choice. We played with the idea that even though more favoured modes of transport existed, Shanks’ Pony was always there for you when everything else had let you down.

Through several improvisations we looked at the demeanour of our every-ready but humble horse, we played with different gaits and movements of horses and played out situations in which Shank’s Pony might be called into service.

We set up a plinth and played with the idea of being the statue of Shanks Pony and how this humble horse would hold himself. He was ready, he was humble (too humble to stand on the plinth), he was sad and tired, he was even dead. We also played with the idea of meeting Shanks Pony on a journey at a point where all you other options were exhausted and you only choice was to walk. He’d cheer you up and gallop away with you, he’d drag you home, he’d be a companion and walk with youScreen Shot 2015-09-06 at 16.36.56

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Show and Tell (Shoe and Tell)

Through an exhibition, research and presentation at the Dick Institute the role of Shoe Making in Kilmarnock was explored

The closure of the Saxone factory in the 1980s make the end of Kilmarnock’s long history with shoemaking and leather work extends back to the 1700s, with Saxone’s own history beginning in the Early 1800s. As well as being a well known UK high street brand, throughout its history Saxone also made extraordinary high fashion shoes for foreign markets.

As part of the research for the Shanks’ Pony sculpture we invited anyone with an interest, experience or expertise in the Ayrshire shoe industry to join an informal presentation and discussion about shoemaking. We’re still keen for anyone who worked in the shoe industry and anyone who had, or still owns Saxone shoes to make contact through this site (use the comment section below or on any of the pages). We’re also interested to hear from anyone who has a special interest in shoes, or perhaps just a pair of shoes that are special to you or which took you on an important journey – whether thats up the north face of the Eiger, or just up the aisle.






Included in the exhibition were the Dandy Horse made with Killie Can Cycle, horse collages made using shoes and shoe paraphernalia, early adverts for Saxone Shoes and a display of the Museum’s own collection of Saxone footwear.


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A recurring subject in the early Saxone adverts was the shoe’s water-tightness which links to another pieces of Kilmarnock’s history – prior to the invention of vulcanised rubbers, leather soled shoes were cold and damp and leaky. The Dick Institute was built with funding from the Dick Brothers who amongst other things, were responsible for the development and marketing of Gutta Percha – a natural rubber when when they ‘vulcanised’ it formed a tough and resilient material which they marketed as a waterproof alternative to leather for soles for shoes.

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In gathering material for the exhibition it became apparent that a great many pairs of Kilmarnock-made Saxone shoes are still being used, worn and traded, despite the factory having closed in the 1980s. This is a testament both to the quality and high design values of the shoes.

Typical amongst the shoes still being bought and sold are high-fashion, rarely worn special occasion shoes for women and tough, well worn and much repaired Brogues for men. Saxone made many variants of the Brogue in their ‘Clansman’ range, with a different design for each Scottish clan.





Who is Mr Shank? And who is his horse?

The phrase ‘Shanks Pony’ – or Shanks Mare, or Shanks Nag or Shanks Galloway etc, spread around the world quite rapidly after first being coined in Scotland. It has been commonly used in the US and Australia since the 1800s.

Strictly speaking its “shanks’ pony” meaning “legs’ horse” as in using your legs as a horse. But at times it has also been capitalised and punctuated differently – “Shank’s pony” or the pony belonging to Mr Shank.

For a time “Shank’s pony” was used in relation to the Lawmowers made by Shanks and Co (later Armitage Shanks). They made mowers that were drawn by horses but the operator had to walk behind the mower. The term seemed to evolve to describe for mowers you had to walk behind and push rather than ride on.

Part of the development of the sculpture is determining a character for the pony. Where ‘Shanks’ pony’ is used in speech it ofter used as a means of transport you’ve settled for rather than preferred “I missed the last bus so I had to take Shanks’ pony”.

In designing the sculpture I’ll be considering the character and stature of a horse thats humble, reliable, ever-ready and utilitarian in contrast to the more heroic depictions of horses normally seen in sculpture.

So part of the research for the project is wondering who Mr Shank is, and why we can borrow his pony, and who his horse is – does it even have a name?

Dandy Horse Workshop at Killie Can Cycle

The first of our workshops looking into the ideas behind the Shanks Pony sculpture was held at Killie Can Cycle.


There are many verbal metaphors that reference horses in describing travel by foot -‘on the hoof’, ‘trot off to’ etc. The purpose of the workshop was to look at visual metaphors

We started an investigation into the metaphorical ‘Shanks Pony’ by building another metaphorical horse – the Dandy Horse, or Velocipede, the forerunner to the bicycle. ‘Shank’s Pony’ was cited in an early, withering critique of a demonstration of the velocipede was made  in The Dubuque Daily Herald in May 1869:

“A public exhibition of the velocipede was given on the streets last evening by Mr. Clark, who managed the vehicle with considerable skill… They are a toy, and will never come into general use in competition with Shank’s mare.”

Taking an unusual old bike from Killie Can Cycle’s stock as a starting point we made a working model of a dandy horse referencing some of the equestrian influences in the original designs – often decorated as horses the original dandy-horses were hindered by taking their engineering cues from carriage design. The front wheel would be articulated as if it would be dragged from in front like a cart pulled by a horse, rather than steered from behind like a contemporary bicycle. With back-to-front steering geometry and handlebars that acted like reins velocipedes were clumsy and chaotic to ride. Never the less the horse symbolism associated with the velocipede persisted into the development of the bicycle with early bikes such as that built by Kirkpatrick MacMillan featuring carved wooden figureheads of horses.

As well as devising a working replica dandy horse we explored how readily visual metaphors between walking and horses could be created. A portrait of a horse was made using a boot to create the horses head, different styles of segs to detail eyes, nostrils and teeth and shoe trees as ears. This horse portrait became the figurehead for our velocipede.

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Shanks Pony – Kilmarnock

This is the website for the ‘Shanks Pony’ Sculpture project- an artwork by Gordon Rogers commissioned by Sustrans Scotland for the National Cycle Network route in Kilmarnock



Why Shanks’ Pony?

Although broadly thought of as a cycling charity Sustrans is really a Sustainable Transport organisation and as much about walking as cycling, aiming to enable and encourage more people to travel by foot, bike or public transport and to make those journeys easier and safer. “Shanks’ Pony” is an old scots term for walking – where ‘shanks’ refers to your legs. Although in use since the 1700s the phrase is perhaps best remembered from its use in wartime posters encouraging people to walk rather than use public transport, making room for people doing essential war work.

Why in Kilmarnock?

The principle tool for walking is the shoe. Kilmarnock has a long history of shoe manufacture, reaching its pinnacle with the Saxone Shoe Factory. Shoes and walking feature a great deal in the towns heritage – from John Walker’s whisky being represented by the image of the Striding Man to the Dick Institute being built with the fortune the Dick Brothers made from Gutta Percha, the rubber they marketed as the first alternative to leather for shoe soles.

The Sculpture

The sculpture will be an image of the mythical Shanks’ Pony as if made by shoe makers with details drawn from the ornately decorated Clansman Brogues manufactured by Saxone.

As part of the design and development of the sculpture a number of events and workshops are being held in which historical background and creative ideas behind the work will be researched and discussed. These included an event looking at Dandy Horses held at Killie Can Cycle, and a drama workshop with Dunlop Young Players in which we imagined the personality of Shanks’ Pony

At these events we explored various elements of the works development but you can also contribute here. Use the comments forms on any of the pages to tells us more about the themes of the work – perhaps information about shoe manufacture in Kilmarnock and Ayrshire – perhaps more about the phrase “Shanks’ Pony” or similar phrases. Click on the various posts on this site to find out more about about the different creative and historical elements of the project.