Monday, 28 September 2015

Post 47. Down to Sussex.

I set off from Newark on the 23rd March, it takes me three weeks to travel the 200 miles down to Hailsham in Sussex. Cold and frosty most mornings but nice sunny days, often warm enough to walk along in shirt sleeves. It's a lovely time of year to be travelling.
On the way l worm the horse, good to do it in March.
At Moreton in the Marsh l get chatting to a very kind horse dentist called Dave Regan, he offers to do Tarateeno for me, l'm really glad. Normally l get his teeth done each year but missed doing it last year while l was in France. He has good teeth. I like to get the teeth checked of every horse l work with. Some horses have mis-aligned jaws and other problems, they develop nasty hooks on their teeth that can cause terrible discomfort. Horses often suffer for years because of it. People will waste lots of money on their horses but begrudge spending some money getting their teeth done. Often people proudly tell me they've rescued horses, if you don't get their teeth done you may not have really rescued them.

Stop getting overgrown, near Newbury.

I know places to stop all over the country. Sometimes l get to one that l haven't visited for some time and it's become overgrown with brambles or blackthorn. I stop near Newbury at one of my regular stops, but it's four years since l've been here and it's getting overgrown. I make a mental note that perhaps it's the last time l can use it. Nothing lasts forever, but l'm grateful to have been able to use it. I'll change my route slightly next time, maybe l'll find a better stop.

Sometimes l get asked how many people travel like this. In the whole of the UK l think only a couple of dozen people live in horse-drawn wagons all the year round. I know most of them a little. Some of them travel just a short distance, others may travel a few hundred miles in a year. Last year l did 3,000. It's like nourishment for me, l haven't got any better ideas. I love a constantly changing horizon, the road and the destination are essentially the same thing, perhaps it is the heroic present?

Sunsetting, North Downs, Hampshire, 5th April.

I stop a night up on the Ridgeway in Oxfordshire, looking north l can see for miles.
I cross the North Downs in Hampshire, wonderful views looking south, lovely countryside, but sparse for good places to stop.

Horse tired out by being ridden through night.

Some mornings horses look tired. Hagridden. This can be because witches have ridden them in the night. If you wake early you may be lucky enough to see one, but be careful they don't cast a spell on you.

At the end of April l got back to Pevensey Levels. I've been staying af the scrapyard, nice to see Mick and Stella and the lads again. It's always interesting to see what scrap comes in, it's quite exciting sometimes, you never know what will turn up. Mick is kind and lets me have quirky pieces that take my fancy, to make things.

Tarateeno, my horse has been having a rest, he needed it, for five months he's been eating good grass and has gained 60 kg, this will help him through the winter.
l needed a break from constant travelling too, after a while it becomes difficult to stop, it becomes a habit, then it's time to take a rest.
Mick at the scrapyard with his flappy wagon.

l've been busy refurbishing my wagon, building a new trolli, training cobs and ponies.
I like to make everything myself, if l can. I like to learn new techniques, see if l can't find better more efficient ways of doing things.

I've been practising my painting, lining, scumbling and scrolling. It's satisfying to get better at doing things.
I got an old forge going and made up pieces of ironwork l needed. I started making a tool to adjust the shape of horse shoes without a forge or anvil. I haven't quite got it right yet, but l will.

Cupboard scumbled

I've refurbished my bagpipes, they're nearly worn out to be honest. I made them about 30 years ago. They've done a huge amount of work, travelled all over the place, earned me money. They'll keep going a bit longer. A musical instrument is just a tool and no more sacred than a hammer, but after a while the instrument gets to know the tunes you like to play on it. I could make some new pipes but they'd know nothing and like a new lover we'd have to get used to each other.They're a type of bagpipe from Berry in central France, a Cornemuse du Berry. I fell in love with the sound of them and have been seduced by them ever since. The music played on them is very romantic, lots of waltzes and mazurkas.

My bagpipes.
Over the summer I've been training  cobs and ponies. I've got good, efficient methods that the horse quickly understands. To get good at training horses and constantly improve, takes a lot of time, thought, practise and experience. Luckily there are plenty of horses to practise on. Ideally l like to work with barely handled 3 year olds as these are young enough not to have got set in their ways and learned bad habits, but are also generally strong enough to start light work and they learn quickly.
All too often l get asked to train much older horses that have learned bad habits. Quite a lot of skill and knowledge is required to handle these horses safely. Sometimes my time is spent sorting out very basic problems, worming the horses, sorting out suitable harness. Often the owners don't have a safe environment to keep or train a horse. In an ideal world, there would be a 50 foot diameter round pen, a large sand school and a well fenced field of about 10 acres. More often there is just a badly fenced, muddy field scattered with rusty old machinery. Often even the halters and lead ropes are not fit for purpose. I provide my own. I do the best l can.


It is possible to train a horse with very little equipment, but it wants to be right for the job, 20 feet of strong stiff cord to make a halter, a stiff, strong, unbreakable stick 4 feet long, (used to keep a safe distance between me and the horse) and 6 feet of cord to put on the end of it. The halter is fashioned using a fiador knot, some double overhands and tied off with a sheet shank.
The lead rope is 1 inch yacht braid about 15 feet long and attached to the halter with a sheet bend.

Each new horse l work with teaches me something and it's very rewarding. Sometimes a horse offers me a real gift, a real insight. The other day a pony showed me something and l felt so pleased. The pony is a 5 year old and had learned some bad habits, after just a  few days the pony and l are getting along fine, he's now becoming well mannered, co-operative and the owner is glad. The pony is much happier too.
Horses do have feelings and emotions; anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, joy....
Knowing this and respecting it can help a lot. That doesn't mean l don't get stuck in and get on with the job, l certainly don't bother with years of psyco-analysis.  Happily the problems that cause negative, unhelpful emotions and attitudes in horses are often simple mis-understandings and can  be resolved very easily and quickly with the right knowledge. I have had good results with apparently intractable older horses. Sometimes l get given the horses. When people have problems with their horses, they worry about the symptoms and not the causes. It happens with dogs too. Sort out the cause and the symptoms disappear. A horse not letting you pick up its foot is a symptom. It's no good treating the symptoms.
I'm surrounded by livery yards here. One day a man came to see me, he'd seen me out driving a cob. He asked me if l could help teach his horse to pull a cart. He said it was the Friesian across the road that always had its tongue sticking out. I had noticed and wondered about it. He said its tongue hung out because it didn't have any teeth! I asked him how old it was, he said 22! (Looking at its old face it could easily be 32), l declined helping him. Why would you be so unkind to start training a horse so old to pull a cart? How peculiar. Even more peculiar is that he has a completely useless horse, kept in livery and l know the livery costs £85 a week, if you add the cost of going to see it and other expenses, it's probably costing about £6,000 a year! If it lives another 5 years he'll have spent £30,000. Apparently madness is the rule rather than the exception and this must be an example of it.

While l'm working l sometimes think of the people, often complete strangers, but also friends and family that have helped me in various ways over the years, often little bits of advice, that they might not even have noticed they've given me, but that have made a real difference.

I've enjoyed my time at the scrapyard, received a lot of kindness, help and encouragement, learned more, l hope l've contributed too.
Mick and l have been out a lot in the evenings, driving the horses around the levels. It's a beautiful area, l've appreciated it.

Sunset, Pevensey Levels, Sept 2015.

It's nearly the end of September now, the equinox, that means the night is now as long as the day. l'm getting restless again. Time to set off. The horses are shod.
Horses? Well Tarateeno and a pony, called Bob.

I almost forgot to mention, one day I met a lady with a pony, she seemed to be headed in the same sort of direction ......