Conjuring up New Tricks

Maybe you can’t teach an old dog new tricks but you can teach them to a mature horse.
Queenie who is 12 yrs old has never been ridden. Now that Lady her latest addition to the Heavy Horse Dept. is enjoying her teenage years mummy is exploring new adventures.
For the last couple of weeks Emma has been getting Queenie used to the idea of being ridden. To start with Queenie was introduced to the weight and feel of a saddle and harness in the stalls – basically she just wore them for a while.

Queenie showing off her saddle

Queenie showing off her saddle

Next came lunging with a single and a double line while carrying a saddle (with stirrups hanging but secured so as not to rattle about).


Queenie enjoying lunging

Queenie enjoying lunging

The next step in the process was to add weight to her back, basically Emma lying across the saddle and then Emma sitting in the saddle and riding her.
It’s all gone extremely well Queenie is now being ridden up to a trot and seems to be taking to it like a duck to water.

Who said being ridden was difficult!

Who said being ridden was difficult!

Which just goes to show that there’s a lot more to a Shire horse than just good looks and a lovely temperament

Sledging : its not cricket

Murphy our biggest Shire continues to get fitter after his long lay off due to a hoof problem.Nobody told Murphy  that part of his ongoing recovery is regaining his fitness and muscle tone.This week saw Murphy having his first go at being longreined for about a year.He came through it like a star.

Emma longreining Murphy

Emma longreining Murphy

Also enjoying new training was Jasper.This year the plan is to introduce some agricultural demos using the troops.To start with they will be asked to pull a roller and a harrow.The harrow is by nature a noisy bit of kit so we need to get the horses used to it.For training Jasper was connected to the sledge and walked around the field followed by Holly making noises with the chains.To start with it is a gentle noise to give him time to adjust to it ie not frighten him, then the noise level is gradually raised.The target being a happy Jasper who ignores the sound of the chain/harrow.

Jasper successfully ignoring the chains

Jasper successfully ignoring the chains

Jasper without the sledge

Jasper without the sledge

If a lamb has a cough is it a little hoarse?

Been away for a bit but have maintained my fitness levels by helping out during lambing again.

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Two catching a ride from Mum

So what news is there?  Well the farm staff / volunteer welfare facility a.k.a the new tea room is due to become a reality amongst those present on the 11th May.  It will have wondrous white goods, tables, chairs and a carpet.  As we will need to remove our boots to enter this palace of cake and sundry comestibles, there is a plot afoot to make us all resplendent in Turkish slippers at the bottom of the stairs.

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Will my slippers fit?

Over the next couple or so weeks I will be able to run a commentary on the progress of the Heavy Horse Project.

Watch this space . . .


Queenie (standing) keeps an eye on Lady two years old this June (catching some rays)

We Plough the Fields and Chatter

The good news is the Heavy Horse Project has been given the go ahead. Much joy in the horse department and carrots all round.

As part of the planned enhancing of the HHD’s contribution to the estate and the visitors enjoyment (and knowledge of the magnificent Shire Horse) we are planning to show off the troops agricultural skills this year.

I guess pretty much everybody will know that you can’t just stick a plough on the back of horse and tell it to pop off and do a few straight lines. Training is needed for the horses and for the “driver(s)”.

The boss (Emma) has spent some time at Gressenhall learning how to Harrow, Roll and Plough with their resident Suffolks. Recently 12 of the HHD volunteers went with Emma to spend the day at Gressenhall and have a go.


Here we all are waiting on Richard Dalton, Gressenhall Farm Manager, to tell us how to steer a straight line behind the horses. There are two Suffolks harnessed up nearest is Reg the most experienced and the biggest at a metric ton .On the other side of Reg is Jimbo who is a tad smaller.Reg is standing in a furrow and Jimbo is on the ledge. For those of a certain age it helps to remember how they filmed Alan Ladd and his leading ladies. The two different sized wheels are adjusted to change the height of the furrow.
Below is what it’s meant to look like.

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Apparently in the good old days the horses and the ploughman – or woman my mum did this in the war while in the Land Army- would plough 11miles in a day. One furrow and I was cream crackered, well almost.

As well as ploughing we had a go at harrowing – no I am not going to say it. That was a bit easier. I went first on this and I particularly enjoyed after the first turn being told to overlap on the previous run while maintaining a straight line. It was at this point that I told the instructor that I couldn’t see the previous run. Luckily Reg could see the last run so we went off in the right place and I managed not to take him too much off the straight and narrow. That’s not me below by the way.


All in all we had a great day and are all looking forward to putting some of the more charming agricultural methods on display at the farm.

The boss is going to start with rolling and harrowing which will be the easier ones for training to start with, I am assuming she means for training the horses but she was looking at me when she said it.

Where there’s muck there’s grass

With the coming of half term comes the start of the main visitor season at the farm. We are now open to visitors from 1030 to 1700hrs every day.

Its good that the visitors are back to see the horses, but for a few more weeks it puts some pressure on us. Currently the troops are in stables overnight and will stay that way until the weather perks up – probably end of March(ish). So we have to take the horses out and have the stables mucked out and ship shape before opening time. Main reason for the time pressure is using the small tractor and trailer to shift the muck out and the straw in makes life a lot easier but we can’t use them when we are open.

Once we are mucked out we will bring a couple of the horses in for the public to see and meet-one of them will do Meet the Shire at Noon. After Meet the Shire typically we will swap a couple over. If they spend too much time in the stalls they get a bit bored.

Of course the other thing that starts in earnest now is pre-season training. We need to get the gang back to peak fitness and raring (in a sedate manner) to go. They get harnessed up to remind them of the weight. They get ridden to help with their fitness levels and reinforce their awareness of the commands. Some people think it’s just Emma enjoying herself having a hack round the park – well she is enjoying herself but also training the horses, getting them fit and showing them off to the visitors.

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Emma and Jasper

They get longreined to remind them of working while being controlled by two reins.


Emma coaching a student on the Driving Course for Beginners course

They also pull the sledge to remind them of working while pulling some weight – helps the fitness levels as well.I get fit as well because when I am grooming I get to walk where the horse walks. I’m just happy they haven’t found a harness that fits me.

Of course there are some who try and dodge the work . . .


Harry decided to hide with the sheep in the hope we wouldn’t find him for worktime. Luckily he forgot to put on his woolly jumper – so we found him.

Winter Equine (not ox)

In the summer we wander around in shorts; talk to the visitors; groom the horses and generally besport ourselves in a professional manner made easier by the sun on our backs.

In the winter

muck 1

One of our better looking volunteers reaches his true capability level

Over winter the boys and girls are in overnight except the roughy toughy Shetlands who are allowed out (clue in their breed name) which means loads of shoveling the next morning.

The day starts at 0800hrs when the Shires and the Donkeys are turned out and the Shetlands brought in.Then the mucking out begins. To make life easier we use the small tractor with a large trailer to transport the spoils of our shoveling to the enormous dung heap at the back of the cow shed. The heap is a bit like the magic borridge pot no matter how much you remove from the top it always seems to be the same height. I reckon someone tops it up when the farm is closed.


Queenie enjoying a chilled feast

Mucking out is physically hard work, but great exercise and keeps you warm on a cold day.
At this time of year the grass is not particularly wonderful so there is considerable effort in moving the horses either into different fields or into different parts of fields to ensure a reasonable food supply. When they come in at night they are all given a plentiful but measured amount of hay and some like Captain who is nearly 22yrs old receive a supplement. Its a balance between enough good nourishment and making sure they don’t get fat! They don’t get as much exercise over the winter months.

When we get them back in the first stage is hoof and feather cleaning.
Sometimes they have a little play when its coming in time. Harry & Jasper were in long ropes Monday and as expected as far away from the gate as it was possible to be. So me and the boss (Emma) proceeded to take the long walk towards them. When we were about 10 foot away they both ran past us ( they were careful to give us a lot of space) to the gate where we started from. So we walked back up the field to the gate to collect them where they were patiently waiting for us. Of course they’re not clever enough to have done that on purpose!

When we’ve got them in, at this point we were having to shade our eyes from the sun glinting of their halos; it was hoof and feather cleaning.
hosing       feet
We remove mud and stones etc from the hoofs using a hoof pick. Couple of reasons for this one is to keep the hoof clean and reduce the risk of any kind of infection and the other is to make sure there are no stones that might cause impact damage to their soles. It is also a good opportunity to check that shoes are attached ok and in good nick.If the feathers are really muddy we also hose them off.

Then its bed time. Our old stager Captain has a rug put on at this time of year to keep him warm overnight and the others are rugged as needed. Each horse has its own stable and there are always at least 2 next to each other for company.  There’s lots of other stuff we do but that’s for another time. End of the day in winter is 1600hrs.

We are all looking forward to Spring.

jacob cantering

Jacob cantering 9 years old 18 Hands and circa 900kg


Ride the Estate

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Two of our magnificent Shires being ridden on the estate yesterday. Emma the boss is resplendent in the high viz jacket and riding Jacob who is just over 8 years old. Next to Emma is Melissa our seasonal groom on her last day with us before returning to university. Melissa is riding Harry who is 6 years old. We all hope she will come back next year (including Harry).
The shires are ridden as part of their exercise regime to keep them in tip top condition.
I was there as gate operative and spoke to several visitors who told me: “what a wonderful sight it is to see such splendid animals around the estate”. Lots of our customers mentioned how much they enjoy seeing our Shire horses either being ridden or pulling what someone described to me as “Wimpoles attractive carriage”.
Visitors tell me that seeing these beautiful animals around the estate adds so much to their enjoyment of their trip to Wimpole.Many of them express their gratitude that Wimpole is playing its part in protecting the Shire horse breed and making the effort to produce offspring like our yearling Wimpole Junes Lady

Is it just horse sense?



Sonny and Charlie discuss anthropomorphism and whether they are being overly optimistic about human capabilities

I have been thinking about the attachment that develops between humans and animals and how it can seem different depending on the animal and the situation.
While volunteering on the farm with the Shire Horses I have developed an emotional bond with all of them. This bond varies a bit with each horse and his or her personality (as perceived by me) but is strong with all of them. When I helped with the lambing in April there was no doubt that I bonded with the lambs I bottle fed – you can’t help it- but I still eat roast lamb. I haven’t developed an emotional bond with any of the stock animals (lambs apart).Why?
To bond or not to bond? Is it just that I see the horses as essentially a pet animal like a dog or cat and the sheep and cows as a stock animal and frankly a food source. I am confident that most visitors to the farm look at the horses as a pet animal – you can tell that from what they say and how they react. “can I stroke them?; whats his name?; how old is he?;I wish I had one” and so on. Do they react to the pigs and the cows in the same way? I don’t know, but we don’t eat horses do we.
I might just be a big softy.


Captain,his Valet and the Boss

Captain, his Valet and the Boss

There I am sitting at home nursing my arthritic hips and I start to wondering why do people visit the farm.

I kind of get people with my background coming: grew up in London never seen a farm moved to the country and thought hey lets go look at a farm. Why do people who live in the country want to visit the farm at Wimpole – whats different to the other farms round about them -Is it just because they can get access is or is it different?

I guess its a farm with visitors rather than a visitor farm ie its not a farm theme park but a working farm that people can visit. So is there a compromise here? On the farm you get to groom the donkeys watch the pigs being fed, watch the cows being milked, stroke the Shire horses even go on a carriage ride with the Shire horses. Do all these things mean its not a real farm? I suppose we could try and time warp the farm and say it is only going to function the way it did in 1800 and dot – but when is the right period to time warp it? Bronze Age, last week some guess of what it will be like in the 22Century?

My personal view is its about showing people how a farm works, protecting rare breeds and giving the visitors a good day out.OK to do this there may have to be some compromises around authenticity ie on a Victorian farm the Shires would be pulling a plow not a carriage full of people, but people like to ride on the carriage and they like to see the Shires do it.

The more people that come and enjoy themselves the more people support the estate and what its trying to do. Its a Win Win.