Sunday, 19 September 2010

Horse Sense

Apologies for a pictureless post - I'm having a few technical difficulties with the camera

I had the great pleasure of meeting Clive yesterday. Clive is the brother-in-law of our estate deer stalker. Clive runs a "small" 56-acre farm in Cornwall worked with the aid of five draught horses. He has kindly offered to help me get Kitty and Alan started in their new life as working horses under harness.

I asked Clive how he got started using horses. "Well, when I moved to this farm, I took an old Nuffield tractor with me. This tractor never did have a battery so I would park in on a slope, and when I wanted to start it I would push it down the hill then jump on.

"One day I pushed the tractor and I wasn't quick enough to catch it. That tractor made it all the way down the hill and ended up in the bottom hedge. I decided then that I must be getting too old and slow to be doing that. Maybe it was time to work with something that I could stop before it ended up in a hedge. It's all about those pivotal moments in life. Getting old was a pivotal moment for me." Clive said. So he switched to horses.

Really, he was switching back to horses. Clive had already learned to drive horses from his father who had been the village baker. Father used horses to deliver bread, and preferred them to the van that eventually replaced them. Clive and his father could drive the horses to one end of the street, drop the reins, get out and deliver their bread to a few houses. When they finished, father would whistle up the horses and the horses would drive themselves to the end of the road to meet Clive and father. The replacement van couldn't do that. They had to walk back and get the van, and consequently their deliveries took much longer after they'd modernised.

Clive won't make that mistake again. He chooses not to modernise his life. He doesn't own a computer or a mobile phone. He doesn't own a four-wheel drive vehicle, even though they get flooded in regularly when spring comes. When his wife goes away to visit family, he turns the electricity off in the house, to "see if he could get used to it again." Clive is a woodworker by trade, and says when he was an apprentice, the joinery where he worked didn't have electricty and all the wood was planked by hand. Or horse-power.

Now he specialises in making replacement moulding, all hand carved sections, to replace mouldings damaged in building renovation. And of course he's pretty much self-sufficient with his farm. He even grows all his own animal feed and cuts it with horse-drawn implements.

I don't think I've met a person more contented than Clive in a very long time.

Besides being a fascinating person, he was a wealth of information and happy to share it. We tried some collars on the horses, which both horses accepted with a reassuring indifference. He talked me through my first steps: long-lining. For you non-horsey readers (and believe me you're the sensible ones without a death wish, or a need to turn your entire life savings into manure), long-lining simply means walking behind a horse with very long reins attached to the horse's bit. In theory, you should be able to turn your horse left, or right, and stop your horse, from the far end of the reins. This will get the horse used to someone working behind him and to voice commands. As with all training, it's small bits of learning at a time, little and often.

Clive was so positive and encouraging that I woke up invigorated at daybreak this morning. Mike brought me a cup of tea in bed (of course he'd already started work) and I devoured the last chapters of The Heavy Horse Manual by Nick Raynor which I've been reading in snippets, in spare moments. By 7a.m., I had fed the dogs and was ready to drive the few miles to Milkweed to check on the horses and sheep. I had a scoop of sheep feed (in case of another breakout like last night) and I dug up a few of my remaining carrots to give to Kitty and Alan. After all, if they're going to be my work mates, I'd better treat them right.

I have a nylon bridle/halter combo and some spare rope that Mike uses to make dog leashes. That will do for long lines, as long as I wear gloves. Clive taught me the tying-on knot. I'll fix the lines to 2 clips, spares I'd saved from worn or broken tack, for easy on-and-off the bridle. I can't wait to get started.

But I have to wait a bit longer. We're shooting again tomorrow so there are workers' lunches to make, and dogs to prepare, suits that need blood spots sponging out of them, radios to recharge, shirts to iron. We also finished building our small log store yesterday (from recycled materials - total cost under £4) so there are logs that need stacking.

And I haven't made a cake in days. I have a week's worth of eggs - 4 1/2 dozen - in the porch. I usually supply eggs to a neighbor whose work colleagues devour her supply and mine, but she's on maternity leave. Our supply lines are shut. I put the freshest of my surplus on the side of the road with an honesty box. The oldest dozen has been made into dog rations. Today's eggs, along with a glut of windfall apples, can go into a couple of cakes for tomorrow.


Terry Scoville said...

Jennifer, Cliive sounds like a most interesting fellow. What a treat to have him as a teacher with the draft horses. What stories he must have. I also like the thought of an "honesty box" what a great term. I do hope it rings true. Good luck with all your prep for tomorrows shoot.

Karen Thomason/Gordon Setter Crossing said...

Jennifer, I think you are the most efficient worker I know! I am always amazed at how you do things and make the most of what you have. I am so glad you blog about your interesting life and share this with us all!

Jennifer Montero said...

Terry - Clive is one of those true gems you're sometimes lucky enough to meet in life. I promise to pass on any more of his good stories or helpful hints.

Honesty box must be an English term. It did well today, and I sold all of my surplus to hikers and garden visitors passing through the village. I kept just enough eggs to make some coconut pecan bars, and an apple cake.

Karen - I worry that there's too much of the mundane in the blog, so I'm really happy you find it interesting. Maybe it's 'the grass is greener' syndrome, like when I read your blog, see the pictures of gordon setter puppies and WANT them!

Poppy Cottage said...

You never fail to amaze me. If only I could bottle a bit of your energy.

Have been 'head hunted' for a job in the local fabric shop, wait for it.... that plans to sell workshops. Had an interview, offered job.....accepted job!! Shouldn't effect the other job either!! It'll be like working in a sweet shop!!!

Tamar@StarvingofftheLand said...

I am so jealous that you have a direct line to 1860. You're in touch with the last people in the developed world to still be using pre-modern techniques, and not in some phony-baloney kind of way. Clive seems to simply prefer horses to engines. I suspect there's no one of our generation who will be able to say the same.

Paula said...

So- the definition of a horse, then, is a hole in the pasture into which you throw money?

This is a cool new wrinkle in your mundane life that I will find interesting as you figure out what you're doing.

RE: the eggs and what you did with them- shucks! I thought for sure we were getting an angel food cake in there somewhere!

As it is, I will have to try the stodgy English apple cake- I have most of a can of dehydrated apples that I've been wondering what to do with.

KD said...

My uncle trained and worked horses in the woods, and we share a horse-bond that is fascinating and satisfying. My pleasure horse went under saddle and in a cart--he was a retired harness racer anyway. I loved it all. And, delicate as they may be, horses don't need batteries. But they may still end up in the hedge. Let us know how it goes. I love this blog.

Jennifer Montero said...

Colette - I'm so thrilled for you! I think it's fate - you organised your stash and you were ready for a new project. Brilliant!

Tamar - The clutch on my truck needs replacing. Maybe if I can train the horses quick enough I can save myself a few bucks?

Paula - The other definition of a horse is: one end bites, the other end kicks, and the bit in the middle is just damned expensive. Our two are relatively low-maintenance but still a bit of a luxury. Making them work would give me the illusion that they're practical.

Let me know how that cake recipe works with deydrated apples.

Jennifer Montero said...

KD - I bet your uncle is another Clive, full of knowledge and great stories. How interesting that you rode and drove your horse. Any advice from your experiences is greatly received. I bet your ex-harness racer was a sportscar compared to our two fat cart horses. So glad you're enjoying the blog, and thanks.