Teamster to teamster
On a recent poll I took on our stories, I was surprised to learn that most of our followers aspired to using working horses at a professional level, in their own woods or in agricultural projects. The reason for my surprise was not that people wanted to do it (obviously I think it's great), but that so few people already do! So for this week's newsletter I spoke to Alice Elsworth, from Whistlebare in Northumberland!
Alice keeps Angora goats and sheep of various breeds to produce fine yarns. She has 2 hard working cobs, Blue and Rain, who provide horse power for a number of jobs around the farm. Alice successfully trained the horses herself after attending one of our 5 day courses. Only bringing them down to us to get them on the wagon for the first time with an experienced team mate.
So why did you initially get into working horses?
We all used to ride as a family, but as my boys lost interest, that sort of slipped away. I wanted to find a way to keep horses in my life which felt constructive. We are also passionate about the environment and working horses tie in well with our efforts to farm more kindly, consciously, and increase self reliance.
How did you find it trying to get started?
It was actually surprisingly difficult. I started at a local heavy horse centre, where they had lots of horses, and lots of equipment, but seemingly didn't put the 2 together. They bred and did carriage driving, but I wanted to find people with real hands on the ground experience, which is how I found Hitch In Farm!
How easy did you find it to train the horses yourself?
This was the hardest part. I read and re read all of the books you recommended (by Lynn Miller for those who are also interested). As well as searching online, where unfortunately I found a huge amount of negativity about the dangers of driving, and how it can only ever be done by professionals. And lots of traditional things, which are also there to tell you what you can't do... especially without a groom.
Regardless of this Alice went on to get real success with her working ponies, she uses them all around the farm. The team chain harrow, drill seed, turn and row up hay, pull a spinner for broadcast seeding, drive the carriage, pull a chariot (in their down time), and pull the sledge for all sorts of regular farm maintenance. They are also helpful at getting the public to engage with what's going on at the farm, everyone loves a working horse!
So are you planning to expand your team?
Yes! I am hoping to add a third member to the team, hopefully something around 15.1hh/15.2hh to add a little braun to the heavier jobs like muck spreading. 15 hands for me is ideal as it's easy to harness them, and will provide more power!