the x factor?

Back late last night from a few delightful hours in a sun showered Wales with 6 more little piggies, collected on the way home, to fatten for next year. The small herd of rare breed pigs at Prosperous Farm cannot yet supply our customers with all the meat they require, so we are still relying on the help of other rare breed pig keepers to keep our supply constant, and cope with the pork waiting list while we slowly and carefully build up the herd here. The provenance and full traceability of all our meat and their feed is something we are very proud of and the latest animal health scare in Ireland makes us shudder terribly. However I need to know more facts before I can comment on this further.

It was so very quiet and empty at the motorway services at 8pm last night where we stopped for a hot drink and a handwash, was everyone watching the X factor?

The adventure that I spoke of fleetingly on Friday is merely a beginning. It will be I hope the start of a very special relationship – with an animal – to be exact – a horse. A horse to ride round the farm and view the stock from, a horse to have fun with and to work with. Avery special horse from a very special place. A small Welsh hill farm with a wonderfully knowledgeable farmer who uses horses to do most of the outside stockwork from checking boundaries to moving their sheep and cattle.

The search for the right animal has taken me since early August. It has not been something that could be hurried and I have relied a lot on the goodwill of many country and horsey folk as I have searched the length and breadth of Britain for the right horse. To them ALL I say a big thank you, it has been a very great pleasure to meet so many wonderful people and be welcomed into their homes and farms and be allowed to ride their horses. Every single owner I met and/or spoke with was most concerned that their horse would go to the right home. This too was very commendable and heartening to hear, especially now in these harder times.

Finding the right horse [as other horse owners may agree] possibly ranks harder than finding the right husband, and is just as serious a matter. In an emergency your life may actually depend on the right partnership between horse and rider.  On the matter of finding both – horses and husbands- well I am sure luck and perseverance play their parts too.

In the course of the last few months I have met some wonderful people, made many new friends, and tried a lot of really nice horses since I first decided that Shank’s pony was getting too slow and the knees were suffering too much when trying to gather cattle in and trying to run around the fields. Running has never been my thing, but riding always has.

There was one little black mare that really took my fancy, and I went to Worcestershire three times to ride her, but after the final visit, still I hesitated, and in the end I realised that the familiarity of the tasks and animals  involved on a busy livestock farm would be more important to an ‘older’ girl like me so I started the search again this time looking for stockhorses.

This task is harder than you think, this is England, it is not America where the cowboys ride, but Britain where hacking [riding out for fun], hunting and eventing are the most popular horsey pursuits. However, I do now know the stock horse are there, and the skills to train them are there too if you are patient. 

In the end I rode four different ‘stockhorses’ over a two day period, which is actually a hard thing to do because it is hard to differentiate, but one WAS different.  A well-bred American Quarter Horse mare, born here, who stood out above all the rest. Her current owner has done a fantastic job on bringing her along for the job she was actually bred for – moving cattle.  Her nature is sweet and she likes people which is important as we have many visitors through the farm here and a seemingly unfriendly horse [to strangers] would not really work in the long run.  This particular aspect of owning a horse was not something we had thought of until we were halfway through the process, and rode a few of the interesting Criollo horses from Argentina. They too are great work horses but some can [perhaps on account of their handling when young]  be rather aloof in their demeanor.  That would not have worked here. The whole process has actually been a steep learning curve for us all and in truth the whole thing has been very enjoyable.

I went to Wales to ride the mare again yesterday to be absolutely sure she was the one, and Jethro is happy with my final choice. We now wait for the vet’s inspection, which we are all sure will be a formality, and then I will tell more in due course.

The last ‘stockhorse’ I had was in back in the ’80’s – a half thoroughbred bay mare – again with the sweetest nature, she would carry a lamb in a sack tied to the saddle or bags of mineral thrown over her withers and not budge if you got off to see to a sheep in distress. 

I am actually really excited, and yet slightly apprehensive too. The work will really begin when she arrives here and we get to know each other properly and she learns the layout of farm and meets the animals out in the fields before I can ask her to help with any ‘work’.  I do not know how long this initiation will take for the two of us but hopefully I can update the blog step by step. It will be fun, and slightly scary too but it is these constant challenges and new interests of working with animals that keeps us all going and gets our creaking joints out of the warm comfy bed on a cold frosty morning.

Technology and methodology have moved on since I last had a horse and I must ask Father Christmas to kindly bring me a few essentials like some grooming kit and a hoof pick, and will have to find the best saddle for the job. In the meantime I hope to borrow a saddle from a long time friend while I work out what works best for the comfort of both horse and rider and vitally for my stability while mounted!

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1 Comment

Filed under Country Life, food and farming, rural musings, Food, Life

One response to “the x factor?

  1. How truly exciting – am longing to see a photo of said mare. I know exactly what you mean about how hard it is to choose a suitable horse. About 25 years ago I advertised in the Horse and Hound for a very quiet horse to suit a crocked up mum (me). I received 172 phone calls from all over the UK from people offering their beloved “retired” horses – some of them lame etc etc. I ended up with Simon, a grey cob, aged 8, who was so laid back, when I went to visit him in Hereford he remained lying down in his stable – his owners were off to live in South Africa. Simon was brilliant – he was quiet – he was lazy – but perfect for me with the dodgy knees and no wish to fall off! We had a wonderful wonderful 20 year relationship, I never fell off. Simon used to walk in the back door for sugar lumps. If my husband came walking with me and Simon, the horse used to lay his nose on husband’s shoulder as we gently swayed along. I wish you all the best and hope you build up the same kind of loving partnership.

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