I was brought up with horses: my father and my grandfather were both stud grooms. I was brought up on a farm at Weasenham and had horses from when I finished school. Horses were kept at Weasenham because they grew a lot of celery, and it's very heavy work.
We had three horses in a line as a team: at first I would walk with them at the front, and the plough would bring the mould. up; by the end of the day only my head would be visible above the rows! I also drove the plough with the horses in a whip line, walking behind the plough. You had to have a good horse in the front so that they knew what they were doing; if they did, the others would follow It was a much more interesting way of working compared to a tractor. You get very fond of horses.
I used to be up at five to get to the stables, and once there I'd do up all the tails and polish the brasses. We kept Persian mares, but the celery job was so hard that we crossed them with Shires which made them sturdier. They had good strong necks and strong bodies, good for the job. We bred five foals a year. There were three farms at Weasenham, and I went to the Southery Road farm.
We always had about ten working horses, and young ones coming on. I'd have the young ones in the yard at 2 years old, with a halter on and get them used to being handled. Then I'd turn them out for the season and have them back in for breaking. We'd put them as the middle of three. That's the best preparation. I always kept an eye on the front horse; they need a great spin to turn round if they're three in length. The horses worked from three years old until they were twenty, but we would sell them on at 5 or 6 and get the youngsters in. I used to start them at seven in the morning and finish at three. They'd had enough by then. We went back home, took off the harness and hung it up. The first they did in the yard was to have a roll! Then we'd clean them, give them a feed and they'd stay in the yard all night in the winter, with plenty of hay.
We turned them out on April 1st there was always an abundance of good grass in the fen. They had to be kept shod all the time. The blacksmith lived where the Bank is now, and he'd come out every three months and shoe all of them, and trim the hooves of the young ones. He had to do cold shoeing, as there weren't mobile fires in those days. The harness maker came from Littleport, they were the Wright brothers, they came to the farm and did the repairs there. If you kept it well oiled there were very few repairs needed. The collar was the main thing: if you kept it clean everything was fine - the horses didn't get sore shoulders- otherwise they'd pull to one side as they worked. Those were jobs for a rainy day; oiling the harness and pulling out the manes and tails of the colts. There was a man called Funnicarno from Hilgay, he came in a pony and cart and paid a good price for horse hair and rabbit skins. The hair had to be long, not bits. He was always whistling! *
I got fond of all the horses. It was my whole life. Weasenham stopped using horses in 1960, after gradually changing to tractors. The farm changed hands and I sold the last three horses at the March horse Sale. I started to keep them myself straightaway as I couldn't bear to be without them. I had one mare, a heavy horse, and I'd breed one foal a year. My best was called Hill House Stella, and I gave £1000 for her as a foal. I used to sit up at night with her when she was about to foal. I entered them for shows and led them in the ring; I've got a door covered in rosettes that they won. Stella died of ragwort poisoning.
I'd have a horse now if I was fit. It's a bit like ploughing, it is a skill but if you're born to it it's just there. I could still harness a horse and do the tails up blindfold now! Continue the 'horses in agriculture' loop
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* This man I am certain was Henry Carnell, whose nickname was Funny (hence funnycarnell). He was my father-in-law's uncle. Maureen Rust, June 2002