Worcestershire Access Officer, Bobbie Matulja reports:
At our Heavy Horse Experience Day on 30 September, 11 of us went along to Julian Hunt's family farm near Defford to have a go at harnessing, long reining, driving and ploughing with members of the Cotswold Carthorse Society.
The day started with harnessing demonstrations from Julian, who is a Worcestershire BHS committee member, and Dawn Large, who showed us how to prepare a horse for work. Dawn and Julian highlighted the differences between traditional English leather harness (as worn by Dawn's beautiful Ardennes mare, Dora) and modern American driving harness (modelled by Star, a more petite Dales cross). Dawn then demonstrated "putting to" by backing Dora into the shafts and attaching her to a cart.
We were then split into three groups so that everyone could have a go at long reining with a single horse using Dora or Star, and with the pair of massive blue roan Dutch Draughts bought along by Kim Williams for the ploughing. Annie and Casper were magnificent - Annie was calm and experienced while Casper, who is only seven, had a slightly more feisty personality. Most of the work is done with voice commands, and working with a single horse is obviously easier - so I didn't envy the group who started with the pair! With the single horses, we had a go at figure eights and then tighter turns round cones and various obstacles in the field. Given that they were working with a bunch of novices, Dora and Star were models of good behaviour. Long reining the pair up and down the adjacent concrete involved using more complicated commands which were either aimed at both horses (such as "walk on together"), or at each individual if we wanted one of them to work a bit harder (such as "come round Casper" if we wanted Casper to turn right).
Kim Williams spent his lunch hour setting up the plough, which has to be adjusted to accommodate different soil types and ground conditions, and getting Casper and Annie to put in the first couple of furrows. We then took turns at ploughing, and had a go at driving with Julian and Dawn. Ploughing with two horses is a highly skilled job, so Kim guided the horses while we put our hands to the plough, making sure the guide wheel in front of the plough-share ran straight along the edge of the previous furrow. It was a thrill to feel the sheer power of these two magnificent horses, and we had to take long strides to keep up as the plough cut through the soil.
Everyone really enjoyed the day - a really different way of working with horses. I came away with lots of ideas for games and voice command exercises to try with my two non-ridden companions.