Monday, 10 April 2017

Working Horses

My Dad was born in 1912 which is real terms is ages ago but in relativity is but a blink in this planets lifetime. When my dad was born farms were powered by horses. I know that seems strange to us in the twenty first century but it is true. Hardly anything on a farm was mechanised, yes they had threshing machines but they were rum by huge steam engines and were hardly mobile and the same for steam ploughing which required not one but two of the steam leviathans. Farming was labour intensive and poorly paid. Milking was done by hand horse and cart was the mode of transport used by the vast majority of farms and there were thousands of cart horses on thousands of small farms. The farms were smaller because things were so labour intensive. Everything was done by hand. I was born in 1955 and as a boy I remember seeing farm labourers hoeing fields by hand. My own birth was marked by my own father buying his very first tractor a secondhand Field Marshall delivery of which coincided with me making my entrance into the world. My brother often jokes he was more  interested in the new  tractor than his new brother.
My father died when I was ten and the farm sold so I never got to become a farmer but farming was changing with more and more innovations and farms were getting larger and  less labour intensive. I look back with rose coloured spectacles, as a ten year old I had been protected from the harsh life of a farmer I just remember the good times I had as a kid. During my teens I can recall women who worked on the fields being picked up by lorries babes in prams lifted onto the back and off they went picking fruit or potatoes or hop training. I recall the last of the hop pickers when I was about eight after that even hopping became mechanised. I am digressing from the topic of this post which is working horses.
Yesterday I was watching countryfile on TV and a young lady was using horses to do foresty work. Hauling timber out of the wood with some beautiful beasts. It looked to me to be a magical sight man or woman and beast hauling trunks with ease and with very little impact on the environment.  The horse can weave between standing timber and not damage anything. A tractor has to have a wide path cut for it where as a horse can pick itself past trees that may not be ready for felling for another year or two and hopefully worth more money as a result of being allowed the extra growth. Machines go into a wood and everything is cut, it is just a question of economics over ethics. I know we will never return to seeing working horses as commonplace but an old man can dream can't he?
The young lady is called Frankie Woodgate and you can read about her here on her website
I am not going to rewrite her story here pop over to her site and read up on her story.
Finally I am going to leave you with, a video of one of my favourite things ploughing by horses. Ploughing matches are a regular event in farming life and here in Kent wa have a Ploughing Match Association

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