Thursday, 20 November 2014

Stow Horse Fair. Post 43.

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!

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Post 42 Back in England.‏

12th Sept. Paid John Parker International for bringing me back across the channel and thanked them. Set off at 8.30am. Lovely warm sunny day, went down to Dymchurch, pulled up by a little cafe. Had a pot of tea and toast and marmalade, the lady who owns the cafe is very friendly, takes photos of the wagon and refuses to take any money off me. A nice welcome back to England. I go on a bit and stop on some grass by the Martello tower. The horse is pleased to be eating grass again, he's been cooped up in a stable for a week. I have a walk on the beach. The horse is happy eating, so l go to the pub and have haddock and chips and a pint and l'm happy too. Later l cross Romney Marsh and stop up a bridleway near the Red Lion at Snargate. It's a lovely old-fashioned pub and the beer is good.
An orchard near Rye, stopped with Steve and Lisa
The next day l do a few miles and pull into an orchard near Rye, where Lisa and Steve are picking apples. It's a beautiful spot and the farmer is not bothered that l'm not going to pick apples. He provides a big container of water for the horses and a big pile of dry applewood to cook with, perfect. It's nice to be stopped with some other wagons again. The following day we go up to Horsemonden in a car for the horsefair, the cobs are all small ones, 13 hands or so, not the 14.2-15.2 wagon horses we need, but nice to see all the same. There is always a bit of a buzz to horse fairs that l like and nice to see old faces.
Cutting out some copper
I stop in the orchard for a week, rest and do tinsmithing with Leo who is 12, while his mum picks apples. He enjoys making things and is well-mannered and it's a pleasure to show him how to do a bit. I get the horse re-shod. Paul Stern the blacksmith is very kind and knowledgeable and does a good job shoeing. The horse is filling out on the grass and Leo enjoys riding him.
Leo soldering his candle holder
After a week l'm ready to go on and two days later I'm back at the scrapyard on Pevensey Levels. It's good to see Mick and Stella again.
Metal Micky and his piebald spanker
Mick takes me out with his new trotter stallion, it's a really nice, kind, willing creature and you can't fault it. It's lovely to be bowling along through the lanes at nearly 30 mph. In the evening Mick takes Stella and me up to Heathfield in his Rolls and we have a curry, a good day. I spend a week at the scrapyard mending my harness and improving the brake handle. Tarateeno fills out on the grass and is looking brand new.
Cuckmere at dusk by Stuart Page
I wander along the coast, Cuckmere, Seaford, Brighton, stop on Hove Green the night by the old pier. A young police officer comes along at 9pm, he's friendly, l explain l've stopped here because it was getting dark and l don't have lights, he thinks it's very sensible to pull over in that case. Local people like seeing the horse tethered on the green. At 2am l'm awakened by the loud, trying to sound important, voice of a policewoman talking to her radio, and telling it there seems to be a horse loose on the green and maybe it belongs to the caravan parked there! I hope she never has to solve a crime. I slip my trousers on and go out. The horse is standing peacefully and l can see clearly by the street lighting that he is still on his tether. I wish good night to the policewoman and go for a walk along the beach. I don't bother going back to sleep.
There are several homeless people sleeping on the park benches, it's a lovely warm night, at least they will not be cold.There is a cafe a few yards away, it opens at 6.30am and l buy a mug of tea. The people on the benches are still sleeping peacefully as l pull out.
By Brighton Pier 1st Oct 2014
I go down to Shoreham and stop on the green there. I know some of the people who live on the houseboats. Ray helps me wire up my new solar panel. In the evening l swim the horse in the sea and then l have dinner with him and Julia, she makes a lovely meal. In the morning l have another swim in the sea, make the best of the really warm weather. I go along to Goring by Sea and stop by the front. The people are friendly,I get given two cans of cider, a bottle of wine and a kind lady brings me fish and chips. It's too much for me so l share it with a couple who are living in a truck, it's broken down. They are pleased as they haven't much money. The weather turns and gets colder. I stop near Chichester, in the morning l nearly slip off the shafts, which are frosty, there is a thin layer of ice on the horse's bucket. I head north over the Downs to Petersfield and up to Bramdean and rest a couple of days.
Bramdean, 8th Oct
After all the traffic going along the coast it feels good to be back in the countryside again and Hampshire is beautiful. I stop by the river Test one night, what a lovely, peaceful stop. The rivers are full of trout.
Early morning beside river test, Hamshire
11th October. I get to Lambourne  at 4.30pm, I stop and rest the horse by the church for half an hour,  it's one of those long tiring days, l give him a drink, buy him a bag of carrots. There are several people standing around so l let them feed him the carrots while l go in the pub opposite. I sit down and drink a pint and rest for a while. I can see the horse through the window, l know he'll just stay there. We carry on up onto Lambourn Downs. From the south it's quite a gentle climb, 6pm, the sun is just setting and l pull onto the Ridge Way. It's beautiful to be here again. I last stopped here 8 years ago. 32 miles but worth it. I shall rest a couple of days.
Trout for dinner
After a couple of days l yoke the horse up again. Yesterday it rained hard all day, l kept the stove going and hibernated, so l'm getting restless. Today it's just drizzling. I go along the Ridge Way a couple of miles, l get to a narrow steep downhill bit, it's very slippery, deep ruts and a bad camber, the hawthorns are scraping the sides and top of the  wagon, it makes a horrible noise, an inexperienced horse that hadn't been correctly trained might find it all too much and bolt at this stage, smashing your home up in the process and perhaps injuring itself and you. I've met people it's happened to, it discourages them. It puts the horse off too. I'm not worried about Tarateeno bolting, but if l slip and lose my footing the wagon will go over me, l'm leading the horse by the head, you couldn't drive the horse down here, the bumps and ruts would throw you off. I'm glad when l get to the bottom. I go over to Goosey and stop there. On the way l pulled some dead hawthorns out of a copse and put them on the cratch at the back of the wagon. Although it has been raining hard and the wood's wet on the outside, it will be lovely and dry inside and will keep the stove going another day.l walk the seven miles, pleased to stretch my legs. When l get to Goosey l spend 10 minutes cutting up the hawthorn, then l get out of my wet gear and soon have the stove roaring away. An easy day. The warmth from the stove makes me drowsy and l fall asleep. I'm woken by Marcus who lives nearby, he's friendly and curious and we chat for a bit, he asks me if l need any firewood for my stove. It's nice when people are considerate. Later he brings a bottle of wine over and his young children who are interested to look at the wagon. They are a pleasure to talk to. They both have ponies and go hunting. I ask them if the hunting is good round here, they both enthusiastically say, yes. I can imagine their excitement and feeling of exhilaration as they gallop across the country, their eyes watering because of the speed, spattered by mud thrown up by the hooves of the horses in front.....
Searching for macaroni
16th October. On the way into Lechlade l pass a rough looking wagon and  stop and see who it is. There are two lads in their 40s. One is sleeping under a tarpaulin, the other one has the wagon. They have just been woken up by the tractor driver who has come to cut the grass in the park where their horses are tethered. They've been stopped there three weeks. I would have great difficulty stopping in a place like that for more than a night. They are friendly but unkempt. They have two small cobs, one of them has mange. I don't go near it.The lads offer me tea but l make my  excuses and go. A bit further down the road l stop and give my hands a good wash as l shook hands with them and l like to be clean and don't want my horse to get mange.
Beside the road
I do some shopping and look in the antique shops. I'm always on the look out for something to draw a little profit on. Sometimes l get lucky, but not today. I carrry on a couple of miles. Darren is stopped beside the road. I haven't seen him for several years. Several wagons half made, he knocks them up on the side of the road out of bits and pieces. He's always making something. His partner turns up with a trolli pulled by a nice cob, she's been out to fetch water. They've got four horses, nothing that l fancy.
I stop and rest a couple of hours and chat, then l'm glad to continue.
Cotswold Village
I stop on the green in a pretty Cotswold village. It's good to be here. I'm a few miles from Stow on the Wold and am in good time for the horse fair. I've done 962 miles since l left the Pyrenees 12 weeks ago. The horse is looking good. It's nearly the end of October, next weekend the clocks will change. I'm getting ready for the winter. I'm heading north, l may buy some gloves.

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Post 41 Northern France.

August the 21st. The family that invited me to dinner last night, all got up to see me off at 6.30am, and Jean-Jacques, their neighbour, made us all a coffee, they wished me courage and l wandered off down the lane with a nice warm feeling in my heart, the sun just coming up. Last week another family invited me to dinner and in the morning also got up at 6.00am to say goodbye.

18 miles to Villemardi, l'm now in flat arable country, huge fields of stubble. The farmers are busy harrowing the fields, l don't think it's very exciting work, driving along at walking pace, perhaps an hour to get from one end of the field to the other, up and down all day long. There is no livestock here, so there are almost no flies, much easier for Tarateeno, l'm really glad for him. When the flies are bad horses constantly fidget and throw their heads around. It's easier for me too. I re-nailed a front shoe on, they've done 721 miles, (1,160km). The hind shoes wear out quicker and l put some partly worn ones on last week. It's about 300 miles to Calais from here.
Huge fields. No livestock so no flies, great.
August 22nd. 16 miles to a nice stop next to a derelict water mill by le Loir near Moree. It is next to a busy road with heavy lorries, but the roar of the water drowns out the noise of the lorries. The roar of the water is quite pleasant.
Stopped by derelict mill beside le Loir, nr Moree.
August 23d. Found a shop that sold horse feed and bought another 25kg. Stopped at the Cafe de la Renaissance at St. Hilaire for a coffee. Chatted to Pascal and he very kindly invites me to stay at his farm, the people in the cafe are very friendly and l'm obliged to stay for a couple of drinks. Pascal has a big farmhouse, one sheep that sometimes wanders in the house and a swimming pool. He cooks a nice meal, several of his friends come round and l play the pipes, the people love hearing the pipes and some are moved to tears, it's very convivial, we drink a bit more wine. Tarateeno is loose in a field, at 5.30am the next morning he leans over the fence and bangs on the side of the wagon with his nose, to let me know it's time for breakfast, quite a nice way to be woken up. I give him his food and go for an early morning swim in the pool. Pascal invites me to stay another day and rest and l'm glad to. We go to the village brocante, (car boot sale) and a magnet draws us to the cafe, well it's a nice way to rest and the bubbly white wine slips down easily, the other people drink cassis, (kir) with theirs, but it's too strong for me mid-morning. The brocante is another excuse for a meal and we sit down with the rest of the village for a plate of chips and merquez sausages. While we're eating Pascal invites me and several people from the village for dinner. Pidgeon roasted over hot coals and sausages from the Cantal and a big helping of mashed potatoes and melted cheese. In the morning, Pascal gets up early and makes me a coffee and l'm soon on my way, glad to have had a rest. 26km, 16 miles and l reach Le Loir, as l cross the bridge a lady invites me to stop in her field of lovely lush grass. Virginie and her family live in a large old watermill. It's noon and l'm soon drinking a large whisky as an aperetif. Lunch is cold chicken and salmon and a bottle of delicious white wine. In the afternoon after a siesta, Virginie takes me to see some horses she looks after. They belong to a person who lives alone in a large decaying chateau, l think how lucky l am to live in the wagon and not the chateau. In the evening we have another nice meal and l play the pipes. In the morning, l set off in pouring rain with Argann who is eight years old, he enjoys steering the horse and we trot along to the next town, where his mum picks him up. Virginie presents me with sandwiches, plums, water, two pain aux raisins, carrots for the horse and a charm for good luck. By mid-day the sun has come out, l soon dry out and l'm glad to be alive.
Hind shoe worn out after 1,218 miles!
August 28th. Set off at 7am, hind shoes are as thin as razors and will need changing today, l'm hoping to get to a suitable place to do it, it would be hopeless trying to do it in the long grass where l'm stopped. After about half an hour one of the shoes splits across the toe. I'm on a long straight lane traversing two huge muddy fields. There is no verge. I stop and shoe the horse in the road, at least it's flat. A few cars squeeze past and a lorry squeezes past while l'm nailing on. It takes me about half an hour to fit both shoes and in the end l'm quite pleased with the result. I notice the front shoes are worn out too, l'll have to do them today or tomorrow. I'm pretty tired, l give the horse a bucket of feed, wash my hands and face, then sit on the step of the wagon eating a spinach and salmon quiche that tempted me in the boulangerie. While l'm sitting there recovering, a small van stops, a lady and half a dozen little children pile out. They give me a bag of plums from their garden and enjoy looking at the wagon and horse. Soon on my way, l pass a second world war cemetary for German soldiers, more than 18,000 of them, l look at some of gravestones, many of the soldiers were in their early 20s, some were the same age as me. A persistent depressing drizzle sets in, l get to a busier road, the heavy lorries go past at 60mph and cover us in spray each time, l pull off down a lane and stop to rest by a water tower for a couple of hours.
Water tower stop, nr St Andre-de-L'Eure.
The sun comes out, l continue my way on the busy road, l've no choice. I've got a big windy hill to go up, happily l get to the top without any lorries stuck behind me. It's not much fun going up a long hill with a queue of lorries behind you when you're barely doing 3 miles an hour. 4.30 pm, l cross the Eure and  find a suitable verge to stop on just north of Pacy. I've done 21 miles. I tether the horse, then go and fetch two pails of water for him. After a short rest l get on and put new front shoes on the horse. Annoying little flies buzz around mine and the horse's head, but we get the job done without any fuss. I'm bathed in sweat and trembling with the exertion. I don't have a stand to rest his foot on, like a farrier would and the horse is quite happy leaning and resting his leg across my knee, while l finish clinching the nails and rasping round the hoof, it exhausts me. I've barely finished when a lady and two children come to caress the horse, l wonder if they notice l'm about to expire? Happily they don't stop long and l get on and make some dinner. I'm really pleased to have got so far and got 4 new shoes on the horse. Now l can rest.
Gaillon, there's always some grass in towns.
29th August. Got to Gaillon, very heavy traffic, the outskirts of most French towns are very ugly, with large industrial units and superstores, luckily there is usually plenty of lush grass around them and as it was almost mid-day l stopped next to a restaurant, tethered the horse on the grass, got water from the restaurant for the horse, then had my lunch there. I had my lunch and drank a pichet of red wine, by this time it was 1pm and most of the traffic had pulled off the road for lunch, my chance, fortified by the wine, to trot down to Les Andelys. Found a good piece of grass in a car park below the castle and next to the river Seine. Good grass for the horse but noisy traffic most of the night. Glad to leave at 7am the next day. I go to Lyons-la-Foret, it's a small, well heeled town, with nice old half-timbered buildings. They are celebrating the 70th anniversary of the liberation. They are having a sort of re-enactment in a field and lots of French people are dressed as allied soldiers and there are old American jeeps, l ask if l can pull in and rest the horse, l suggest they pretend l'm a refugee. Shortly after l'm sitting down to a meal with them. They are very kind and welcoming. I understand a Scottish regiment liberated the town, but l think the Germans had left already. I've run out of horse feed, so l mong a sack of dry bread from the bakery and mix it with some barley, so the horse is happy. It'll keep me going a couple of days. Later l get invited to drink champagne in the square, travelling has its ups and downs, you never know what will happen each day, l try to make the best of it.

Under the castle, next to the Seine at Les Andelys
I sometimes go past houses in need of attention.
Some houses need renovating.
4th September. I'm back at Crecy, it seems a long time since l came through here on a cold grey depressing afternoon in February and everything was shut. It's a nice sunny morning, I stop and drink coffee and dawdle round the shops. The people are friendly.
I'm excited and looking forward now to the prospect of getting back to England, but l'm also a bit anxious, l'm not quite there yet. I feel euphoric  but also slightly ill and run down, l mentally prepare myself in case there is any delay, so that l'm not disappointed. Since l left England the law has changed and now l need a certificate from a veterinaire that the horse is in good health.

 Sunday the 7th September. I reach Calais! I have to go to the stables of Natalie Aloo on the east side of Calais. Near the docks l go past dozens of homeless refugees that have no paperwork and hope to come to Britain. Their washing is all hanging on the fences drying. Some look listless and depressed, but brighten up when they see my horse and wagon. I stop and chat, they are really nice, friendly, and some speak good English. I admire them, they've had a much longer tougher journey than me and are faced with a daunting amount of uncertainty.
Near Calais, man travelling with tractor!
Feeling tired and worn out l reach the stables. Natalie is also anxious when she sees me and my tired, lean horse, but says l can stay and she will organise the vet to come and she'll try and help me. The Irish Army show jumping team are in the yard with their gleaming lorry and horses, en route to Italy, they give me a nice friendly welcome.
I spent Monday morning brushing the horse and cleaning the wagon to keep myself busy. Finally at 4pm, Florent Dumont the veterinaire sanitaire arrived and gave Tarateeno a certificate of good health. Then he very apologetically told me that l must now make an appointment with the ministry of agriculture, the nearest office, 60 miles away in Arras and go there with the certificate sanitaire from him so l could get another piece of paper stamped and that l had 48 hours from when he stamped the certificate to get this done and begin the next stage of the journey. He very kindly explained this carefully to make sure l understood and told me he'd help make the appointment for me. Unfortunately the office in Arras was shut so l'd have to wait until the next morning. I had heard of the Kafka-esque French bureaucracy and how it stifles France. It takes poor Florent much of the next morning on the telephone to organise an appointment for me between 2 and 4pm. I'm warned that the papers must be in perfect order or the lady in charge will say, 'non.' There is one train leaving from Calais that will get me there in time. Natalie takes me in her car at top speed to the station and l get on the train with one minute to spare. I have to change trains on the way and arrive in Arras at 10 minutes to four. I'm glad l don't bite my nails. The taxi gets me to the prefecture at 5 minutes to four. I rush into the building and to my dismay see a large queue of people. Glancing round the foyer l spot two ladies chatting, who obviously work there. I go over and wave my stamped documents and tell them l have a very important meeting with Madame....... ..... One of them immediately takes pity on me and leads me through the labyrinthine building to the office of the lady l must see. When l get there a formidable looking woman glares at me and immediately says, 'non.' I tell her l'm very tired and may l sit down. Then l patiently discuss what the problem is. In fact there isn't a problem it's simply she isn't very familiar with filling in simple forms or using a computer, [she labouriously types with one finger]. After half an hour, with help from me and much cursing  she triumphantly beams at me, sighs with relief, stamps the forms and hands them to me. This done she relaxes and her heart melts. She offers to do a Google search to check the train times for me, l hurriedly thank her and say no! Then she kindly takes me and shows me the way out of the  building, l thank her, shake her hand and leave. Outside l quickly ring John Parker International and arrange to be collected the next evening. What a relief!
I had a lovely walk through the centre of Arras, sat outside a cafe and had a coffee, bought some chocolates for Natalie to thank her for her kindness and patience. I felt so glad that was over. Quite a funny end to my journey in France.
Since February l've done 2,048 miles in France and l wouldn't have missed it for anything. I feel a real sense of achievement.
Leaving the yard of Natalie Aloo.
At 6pm Fred Parker arrives with the trailer, we just finish loading the wagon onto it and the lorry arrives for Tarateeno, it's on its way back from Croatia with some other horses. I'm glad we're all going together. A nice calm crossing, by 10.30pm we're back in Hythe in the yard of John Parker International. The yard is full of members of the British Eventing team on their way to Spain or somewhere. I feel l've represented Britain too and done my best.
In queue for ferry, Tarateeno in blue lorry.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Post 40 Les Pyrenees to north of the Loire

I decide to head north, l want to go to a horse fair in the Cotswolds. It's in October, maybe 900 miles, l expect l can make it.
North of Lannemezan l stop by an old communal washhouse or lavoir. It's a beautiful spot. There is a very faded notice, ' Il est rappelle que le lavoir  est strictemente reserve au lavage du ligne et ne doit etre souille pas le nettoyage de tripes de cochons. Le Maire.' There aren't any bits of tripe floating in it. It's a hot day and there is no sign about not swimming in it, so l have a lovely deliciously cool bathe.
Lavoir for washing clothes only!

The horse is fed up with the flies around his head so l lend him my Armani shirt to wear. He's pleased. It suits him, he can keep it. Later on l sit in the cool of the washhouse and play my pipes.
Tarateeno wearing my shirt
5pm the next day l get caught in a storm, the sky suddenly darkens, dramatic streaks of lightning, huge claps of thunder and the heavens open, l pull up a track and find some grass at the end if it. By the time l've unyoked and tethered the horse l'm soaked. I don't mind, just glad to be off the road. I've done another 20 miles. I'm tired and fall asleep. About 8pm l wake up, the storm has passed, it's stopped raining, there is a group of horses and a very bedraggled donkey looking over the fence and greeting Tarateeno.
After the storm a group of horses came over

Another day. l stop beside the Chapelle de Bretous. It's a beautiful spot with a well that is miraculous for healing deafness and rheumatisme, after drinking it l soon feel like an 18 year old. The clover is good and the horse is happy. I've been travelling fast and he is starting to look 'un peu efflanque.'  Some French Gypsies invite me to stop with them. Really nice to have their company, they spoke French very rapidly with a strong accent.  l played a few tunes on my pipes and they played guitar and sang. Later they grilled chicken and pieces of pork belly, delicious, we drank bottles of gris from La Camargue and the local red wine, rich and strong, then drank coffee and Armanac. A lovely end to the day. In the morning their cockeral awoke me a la bonne heure and l left. l stopped at 9.30am  on some nice clover near to a church. There was a funeral going on. I had a walk round the village and watched the fish in the river. After the funeral one of the mourners chatted to me and invited me for a glass of Armanac. I must be in Gascony. The Armanac I'd had the night before was rough and fiery, this was smooth and velvety as it slid down my throat. I declined a second glass though. When l went back to the horse, the lady whose husband had died came and talked to me. She said she was really glad l'd arrived during the funeral and that her husband had been a keen horseman and would have liked it. She shook my hand and thanked me.
It's really hot. August is always a bad month for flies, the horse is fed up with them. There are some huge flies, a type of Clegg, the locals call them Taons and the horse loathes them, they torment him in the afternoon and early evening.
3rd August. I've done 118 miles this week, good going, I'm pleased. I've crossed the river Garonne and the Dordogne, now near Perigeux. l stopped one night with an English couple, they gave me steak and chips, they told me they were keen to sell up and move back to Lancashire. In the morning Stephen got up early and made me a fried English breakfast, really kind. I wished him luck and perhaps l'll run into them one day on my way to Appleby. I stopped in a small village and put a shoe on the horse, another English couple came and chatted to me, they were hoping to sell up and move to Devon, l gave them the old horseshoe and wished them luck. I'm glad I'm not stuck somewhere l don't want to be, trying to sell a house! Other times l meet English people who are happy living here. 500,000 young French people live in England, they weren't happy in France, or at least thought they would have a better chance in the UK.
 After l fixed the shoe on l carried on until l came across a circus in the middle of nowhere. The Magic Rock Circus.
The Magic Rock Circus
They have lots of horses that they do tricks with, l rather fancied the Ardennes heavy horse. The people were really friendly.

Interior of Vickers trailer, used as changing room
They were not performing that night, but it was lovely watching them practising, later we ate a meal and some people played music, another lovely evening, if l'd been 30 years younger l would have stayed.
Old Vickers trailer used by the circus
They had an old Vickers caravan that had come from England years ago.
Jumihac-le-Grand aire de Camping 6th August
At Jumihac-le-Grand, I stop in the aire de camping car, (these places are provided for camping cars in many villages and towns and are free. If they have good grass I stop in them). Sometimes people ask if my wagon is a camper van, I reassure them, “bien sur, mais Anglais.” It’s right next to a lovely chateau. The village has everything I need, a tap, a WC, two cafes, a grocers, bakery and plenty of good grass for Tarateeno. I shall stop here a day and rest, the horse needs it. When he’s working hard I give him hard food, he’s eaten 20kg this week and he gets a salt lick. Although I often stop out in the wildest remotest places I can, it makes the travelling more varied and interesting to stop in towns and villages and meet more people. I get a chance to have a good look round. If the aire de camping doesn’t have grass, I sometimes find some next to a cemetery and cemeteries always have a tap, although most of the flowers are plastic. French cemeteries are depressing granite and gravel monstrosities and have none of the charm of an English village cemetery.
13th August. I've travelled 300 miles in the last 3 weeks. There has been plenty of rain in this region and there is a flush of grass. Last night I dreamt there as a storm, I woke at 2am, it wasn’t a dream, heavy rain, thunder and lightening, it didn't stop raining until 8am. Went into Bussiere-Poitevine brought 50kilos of granules for the horse, I don’t really want the weight of it in the wagon, but it’s not easy to find places that sell horse feed and being in France the place will often shut anyway. If it’s not the two hour lunch break, there is a host of other excuses for not being open. If the shop is open its likely to be expensive, as my friend Xavier said “Ca coute la peau des couilles”. (“it cost the skin of my balls”.) Luckily this is a flatter region of France so I can take the extra weight. Hopefully the weight will soon be on the horse and not in the wagon.
6 miles and I find a lovely spot to stop, the horse can have an easy day. After a stormy night horses sometimes look a bit “hagridden”. I spent the afternoon sweeping out the wagon and tidying and playing my pipes in the sunshine.
Beside the Cher at Blere.
19th August. 5:30am gave the horse a Kg of hard food and watered him. Set off at 6:30am. Nice watching the sunrise, stopped in a village and brought a croissant and a pain au raisin for breakfast. Got to the river Indre at 10:30am rested two hours, tethered the horse on good clover and gave him another Kg of food and got water out of the river for him. I had a coffee in the café. Carried on through nice open, fairly flat arable farmland, another two hours to Blere and stopped beside the river Cher.
Stop by sewage works, railway line and main road.
good grass doe the horse, gave him another Kg of food, I sat outside the café and drank a Perrier tranche. Rested two hours and set off at 4:30pm, got to Amboise at 7pm, it's a busy ton and lots of traffic, I felt like the pied piper as the cares all followed me across the river Loire. I found some grass tucked away between a sewage works, a railway line, an electricity substation and a main road. not my best stop and it's noisy, but by 7:30pm and after 26miles it's the best I can do. the horse doesn't care, he's more interested in the next Kg of food, 10:30pm moved the horse to fresh grass and to where i can see him through the window and gave him another Kg of food, (5Kg total) and a drink and I'm ready for bed. It was a long day and I'm tired, but pleased to have got this part of the journey done. Hopefully tomorrow will be an easier day. Woke at 3:30am, it really is noisy here. Goods trains throughout the night. Read until 5:30am, fed the horse.
6.45am beside the Loire at Amboise.
Set off in dark at 6:30am, (the days are getting shorter), I couldn't get away quick enough from this terrible place, got to a big verge with good grass at 7:30am, pulled over, tethered the horse, boiled some water in my kelly kettle, made some tea and went back to bed. slept for an hour and felt better. Carried on 8 miles through lovely country, on the way I stopped and asked a kind lady on a dairy farm if I could have some water and barley for the horse, she and her husband were really nice and gave me several kilos of barley. late I pulled over by an old derelict cottage. After a while the owner came along, was really friendly and invited me to come and have dinner with his family. I moved the wagon down to his farm, a lovely peaceful place, shortly after, I was eating delicious homemade saucisson and merguez, the best I've eaten in France and drinking lovely wine, made in the village. After aperetifs the family proudly showed me to pigs they were fattening, they were also called Saucisson and Merguez and will be ready to eat next month. Later we ate duck and chicken and ratatouille and drank more wine. Everything came from the farm. What a contrast from the day before.

Nice bit of clover in hamlet of Bay, nr Ladignac.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

Post 39. Shoeing draft animals

Crate for shoeing oxen
In France, oxen were used on farms as draft animals until the 1960s. To shoe them, they were put in a crate and suspended from slings and their legs were tied up. Many towns and villages still have these crates. These crates or 'crushes' can also be used to restrain cows, while their feet are trimmed or medicine is administered. Wooden crates like these were also used in Britain, but have mostly disappeared, farmers have steel ones.
Crate for shoeing oxen with slings
Cows and oxen have cloven hooves, so you need a pair of shoes for each foot, the clip goes on the inside of the cleft and the shoe is nailed on the outside edge. Sheep, goats and pigs also have cloven hooves. Animals with cloven hooves can get 'foot and mouth' disease, donkeys and horses cannot.
Ox shoes
These  ox shoes l found at a brocante sale and were made in a factory, one of them had never been used.
Clips on shoes of oxen.
By the end of the 19th century, there were about a million work horses in Britain, they needed shoeing at least four times a year, each horse has four feet, so that's  at least 16 million horse shoes and at least 112 million nails. These were heavy horses, each shoe weighs nearly a kilo, 16,000 tons of iron, it was a motor for the industrial revolution. It made sense to try and produce them in factories more efficiently and the mechanised production of horse shoe nails was important.
Good farriers can still make shoes by hand, a skilled farrier can forge a shoe in about 15 minutes and stamp the holes for the nails. It takes a lot of practice to do well.
There are many farriers who are not very skilled, they may well shorten your horses life and prevent you from succeeding in what you are trying to do with your horse. I watch my farriers carefully and see how they work and behave. I watch to see if they are clumsy, if they are struggling, do they handle the horse confidently and knowledgeably, are their tools worn out or in bad condition? There are lots of clues to look for, l avoid ones that are very overweight or alcoholic, ones that are nervous of horses. I look for ones who are interested in what l am doing with my horse, ones who have a passion for their work, ones that don't rush. Often the route l choose to take is decided by whether l know a good farrier in that direction. Good farriers are calm and patient.
It's my duty as the owner of the horse to make sure my horse behaves itself for the farrier. I make sure it knows how to stand still and be patient and can tolerate having its legs handled really well. If my horse is fidgeting, ill-mannered, disrespectful or frightened, it's dangerous for the farrier and horse and it will be difficult for the farrier to do a good job. I have heard of people sedating their horse so it can be shod. This is a very lazy, expensive shortcut. Learn how to train your horse. In the old days horses were glad to be shod, it was a chance to rest. If your horse messes around when you pick up its feet, ride it hard for 20 miles, it should be all sweaty and its head hanging low, then pick its feet up again. If it messes around, straight-away jump on and ride it hard for 10 minutes then try again, your horse will soon get the idea. A tired horse is not a bad one. Fat, lazy, underworked horses are trouble.
The shoes for my horse are made out of flat mild steel bar, 12mm thick and 25mm wide. They have 6 tungsten pins in each shoe, as well as giving extra wear the tungsten pins help the horse grip the road surface. [Shoeing horses is a compromise, ideally they would be unshod, but a 'road horse' doing 2,500 miles a year has to be shod]. Sometimes people tell me it's very bad for the joints of the horse to be shod like this. Interestingly my horses rarely have any health problems, l had an old mare who worked pulling a wagon until she was about 25 years old. After that she continued to be ridden lightly until she was 30. She was still sound then. Tarateeno, the gelding l'm using now has pulled my wagon, to date, more than 8,700 miles and has done several hundred hours of ridden work, shod like this. He's 8 years old. What really plays havoc with the health of a horse is, being overweight ,lack of exercise and boredom, which is sadly the lot of many horses.
Two semi-fullered shoes and plain stamped
I typically get about 500 miles out of a set of shoes. I have had a couple of sets that did a 1,000 miles. This is extreme shoeing, most horses couldn't take shoes like this.

Tools to fit a shoe on cold
Sometimes l lose a shoe on the way. I have to be able to remove loose shoes and fix them back on . I have a few special tools. I can normally do it 'cold.' Sometimes l heat the shoes in a stick fire outside or if it's winter, in my wood burner. I have a pair of molegrips to hold the hot shoes and a pair of welding gloves. 
Molegrips and welding gloves to hold to hot shoe

Heating the shoes makes them soft and l can shape them a bit, l use the head of my sledge hammer as an anvil or sometimes the edge of the curb or a stone. I have to improvise, because there is a limit to how much it's reasonable to ask a horse to pull, its not possible to have every tool l'd like, the tools l have normally perform more than one task. I would always prefer to have a good farrier to shoe my horse, but sometimes l'm in the middle of nowhere and l need it done straight-away. Occasionally l've found a farrier and they've been so bad at it, l wished l'd done it myself.
Granite lintel, at old blacksmiths, Bussiere-Boffy