It's autumn, a lovely time to be back in the Cotswolds and l'm pleased to be at Stow horse fair.
Happy to be at Stow again.
There are a handful of horse fairs left in Britain. There is nothing else quite like them. There is a wildness that you don't often encounter, unbroken horses charging up and down, horses snorting and stamping their feet, whinnying, the clatter of their hoofs as they go up and down the ramps of the lorries, the rumble of iron tyred wagons, trotters careering down the lane at thirty miles an hour, lads shouting warnings as they try to steer, the smell of horse piss and dung, bacon frying, the acrid smell of horse shoes being burnt onto hooves, horse sweat, wood smoke and fires. These places are not for the faint hearted.
Nice Open Lot arriving at Stow.
They are handy places to meet old friends, family and new people. There is also the chance to have a deal, buy horses, harness, tether chains and pins, horse drawn vehicles and the other items necessary and peculiar to travelling. Churns and water jacks, cast iron kettles and pans, chitties and kavvi sasters to hang the kettles and pans over the fire.
Chitties and Kavvi Sasters
In September and October there are many horse sales around the country, mostly auctions. Horse breeders need to sell most of the colts and fillys that they don't want, before the winter, so that they don't have to feed them. Other people buy them hoping to make something of them. The meat men buy some, [you might not like the idea of horses going for meat, but remember when you buy your cat a tin of food and it says , mouse or chicken flavour, most the flavour is pony]. The foals born in the spring are now 5 or 6 months old and are ready to be taken off the mares. Only the very best fillys should be kept for future breeding. As well as foals there will be yearlings and older horses for sale. Old stallions, mares, horses that are unsound or are intractable, unbroken, donkeys....
Making Friends. Photo by Annie Bowles
Some of the sales specialise in particular breeds and age groups. Sometimes you may find a bargain, but mostly, buying a horse is a risky adventure and even experienced dealers can get caught out. Auctions are a quick easy way to sell a useless horse, but you will normally sell for a loss, auctions are a quick way to buy, with the advantage that you don't have to deal with the owner, but older horses are usually in the sale for a good reason and youngsters are unbroken. Dealing with horse owners can be a painfully, boring waste of time, listening to wildly inaccurate claims about the merits of the horse being sold. At auctions horses are normally sold in guineas, [a guinea is £1 and a shilling] so it helps to know what 5% is. If you bid 800 guineas for a horse it will cost you £840. When you get home you need to change the passport details, perhaps £20, worm the horse £20, get it innoculated against tetanus, [two injections a month apart] another £25, get its teeth checked £40, if it's entire get it gelded £200........Then you still have to feed it through the winter.
Meeting friends. Photo Annie Bowles.
At horse fairs like Stow the horses offered for sale are mostly cobs, trotter crosses, a few ponies, sometimes a donkey or two. Most of the animals are youngsters under 4 years old. You have to find the owner, [not always easy] and bargain. Much of the dealing is done amongst travellers. You might hear the expression, 'man enough to have a deal.' What this means to me is that if you buy a horse off someone, even if it turns out to have only three legs, you are man enough not to complain about it. If you do make a mistake, learn from it, accept it with grace, put the horse in an auction, don't go whining about it or falling out with the person who sold you the horse. [You are, of course, entitled to try and sell that person one of your useless horses in the future and they should be man enough not to mention it either, in fact you're likely to gain their respect]. I heard of a vicar selling a bad horse to a poor old blind man, when someone confronted the vicar and asked him how he could have done such a mean thing, he replied, 'why, he was a stranger, l took him in.'
Mick and puppy. Photo Annie Bowles
Often horses are simply swapped, either for another horse or harness or something. I knew a lady who swapped a truck full of useless horses for an old Rolls Royce. She kept hay in the boot of it.
The fair is always held on a Thursday, a few people start to arrive a couple of days before, a chance to rest and have company. Tarateeno enjoyed meeting the other horses and being around them. Although he has me for company when we're travelling, l'm a poor sustitute for a herd of horses.
I look at the horses but nothing catches my fancy. Mostly the horses for sale here are foals, yearlings and cobs that are too small for me, l'm looking for heavy vanners capable of pulling a 1,000 kg up most hills. It's always worth a look though and l'm happy to bide my time.
I treat myself and buy a nice tan coloured pair of dealer boots.
There are stalls selling gold jewellery, Crown Derby and other bone china. I buy myself half a dozen mugs with pictures of horses and wagons on them. By tea time the fair is over as suddenly as it began, just a few of us are left and it's nice sitting round the fire into the night catching up on news and having a laugh in good company. Friday morning and the last of us pull out, going our different ways, some of us will meet at Appleby in June.
Happy to be on my way again. Photo Annie Bowles
See you at Appleby!