Sunday, 18 September 2011


Anyone who has ever kept horses will know that some of them are natural born escapologists, always testing fences for weak spots and when they find a wobbly post they will keep leaning on it until it eventually gives in.

It had been a while since I had a new horse and when you have been the owner of a plodder who will stay behind a piece of bale band, it's easy to forget what demons they can be. Bracken was pretty quick to remind me. I have done little else other that upgrade fencing since he arrived just over two weeks ago.

The problem was that Bracken has been on the mountain, running with a herd and of course he just wants to be with other horses, or perhaps in his little mind he wanted to run away and find his own herd.

Outside the paddock that I had given to Bracken is the whole unfenced area where my other horse Jack has his freedom and of course Bracken would like to join him. There is no way that I could risk letting him do that because quite frankly my fencing is poor and Jack only stays because he can't risk missing his bucket therapy.

The first few days of trying to defeat Bracken's attempts to escape were very fraught. Every time I went down to feed in the morning I had my fingers crossed in the hope that he was still there. One morning he had escaped but was just hanging around with Jack and followed me straight back into the paddock, another example of the magic of bucket therapy.

I had to beef up the perimeter fence all down the longest side, a length of around 200 metres. He was barging it with his breast and pawing at it to try and find somewhere he could jump over. Not all bad because it's not every horse that will naturally jump, so another little bonus there.

My son and I beavered away putting in new posts and top rails whilst being watched intently all the time by the very inquisitive Bracken. Finally after about three or four days of worry he eventually resigned himself to being stuck in his paddock and just got on with the business of eating grass.

Getting the paddock secure was the first priority but before we could get serious about  starting to work with bracken, we needed to get both a handling area and a stable so that we could gentle him up without the need for a halter or the need for him to be tied up.

First off I put some posts in the ground for the handling area or corral if you want to call it that. The weather soon started to deteriorate and I quickly realised that the stable was now the priority. If you leave a horse out in a small paddock when it gets wet you lose your turf and you also run the risk of your horse getting mud fever. This is a kind of thrush which affects horses around the fetlocks when they are kept in permanently wet conditions. a similar condition can leave a horse's back all scabby and that is called rain scald.

Now when I say that things are tight financially, I mean really tight. It is a very careful balancing act when you choose to live a lifestyle like mine. I was earning more money on 1982 than I am now and of course the cost of living is somewhat higher. I really have to think very hard before I go out and buy timber or fencing materials so the way I do things is by picking things up when I see them at a boot sale or better still hanging out of a skip.

I had a good scout around for enough wood to turn a lean to, into the stable. I had up until then been using it as my forge but as it was three quarters of a stable it seemed like the most sensible choice and so I began work immediately.

It needed to grow a couple of feet and have a front put in with a stable door. I also needed to section off an area of about ten foot by four as a feed storage area. I hunted around for wood and corrugated steel and I just about scraped enough together. We live opposte a double glazing fitter who puts old doors and windows out that he has replaced so I had a bottom stable door from him which I had been saving for a couple of years.

I managed to get it altogether and built in a couple of days and it seemed ok apart from the fact that I didn't have enough ply sheets to double line two of the sides. I fitted all the ironmongery and that was it, ready for Bracken to move in before the ground got saturated along with his feet.

He had settled well in the paddock and lost all the anxiety he had been displaying when he first came but I had no idea how he would handle being in a stable, I was about to find out.

I put a knotted halter on him whilst he was having a bucket of food & then lead him to the new stable. He walked in without any problem & turned around with me whilst I put a bolt on the door. He went around surveying all the sides to begin with but then took a shine to the woodshaving litter under foot. He had a good sniff, then a mouthful and then began to do the "I'm going to roll" dig with his front leg. I thought he looked ok so I removed the halter and stood back to watch. That was a bad move. He started to get edgy and looked around for weaknesses. He focused on the door and I realised that it was low enough for him to have a go at jumping it. I barred his way and he went around looking for anywhere else. He pawed the walls where it was single lined and he looked up at a gap on the wooden fron about six feet up and reared up to take a look. The trouble was I had burned my bridges. I took off the halter and threw it over into the next room and now he was fixed on the door.

He had a couple of goes at rearing to give it a punch but I put him off with a hand in front of his face. Next he reversed up to weigh up his stride to jump it. I couldn't just open it and let him out because he would have bolted down the woods so I had to wait until he lost interest and then dash next door for the halter. After about five minutes he went to have a nosey over the divider into the workshop. I saw my chance and vaulted over to grab the halter and then quickly back again to bar his way. I slipped it over his nose, tied the cinch and led Bracken back out to his paddock.

Back to the drawing board. The door needed to grow about ten inches and I definitely had to double line the remaining single walls. This is where the title "Great Escape" comes from. I had no timber, no money, but I had a job that simply had to be done.

I wandered around looking at where I could pinch a bit from other areas. I had a duct board in the workshop which had been an old shed floor in it's day. It was eight by four so that was one wall covered I found another shed side which had been keeping the weather from my log shed, a couple of pallets and finally a piece of oak and two iron hinge straps to fix the door. Two hours work and it looked about right to me, time to fetch Bracken again to have another look and see what he thought.

He mooched in, took a quick look at the previous weakspots, then he looked at the door, sighed and just stood in the middle of the stable as though to say, "I give in, I can't jump that without a run". I gave him some hay and stayed for a while to watch him but he had lost interest in trying to escape.
All we have to do now is get to know each other properly.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011


We went to Llanybydder Horse sale in Mid Wales (just for a look you understand.) It's a long established venue for the horse trade and at one time was the place to buy a quality competitive horse, visited by such great names as David Broome and Ted Edgar. It has always been a place though where there is a horse or pony to suit the more modest pocket and a great place to by Welsh Mountain Ponies and Cobs.

The sale started in the main ring at eleven o clock and we very soon realised that trade was slow. A lot of the owners were looking at the auctioneer and shaking their heads but a few were there to be sold as they say and were knocked down at really low prices.

We had a wander around looking at some of the ponies that had come off the mountain. They were all to be sold in the second ring and were mostly unhaltered and untouched. For obvious reasons the auctioneers don't allow people to halter break a horse at the sale because it doesn't look pretty and of course an unshod horse can slip and hurt itself on the concrete so wild ponies have to be run into a horsebox and travel loose. I don't halter BREAK anything bye the way but the same rules apply. They don't have any time for the gentle way of introducing a pony to a halter either.

Being as we had only gone for a look, I was trying not to get enthusiastic about any of the horses. My wife and son were just taking in the atmosphere of the sale and people watching. It is one of those kind of places that photographers would love. Gnarly faced old blokes wearing clothing that wouldn't have looked out of place a century ago. Travellers, snooty little lasses with their jodphurs on and their riding hats, bossing their parents about and then the gaggle of horse traders huddled around the auctioneer as if they had first dibs on anything worth having.

Selling kicked off eventually in the second ring. The prices were abysmally low. I had walked past a few tiny miniature Shetland Ponies and commented to my wife and son that they would go for lots of money. Boy was I wrong! Sub three foot, registered mares and fillies were going for thirty five pounds.

My adrenaline started pumping and I could feel myself succumbing to the kind of auction fever that one gets when they are young. A fantastic Skewbald Shetland Stallion came into the ring. My son and I looked at one another and started pulling "Oh my God" faces as the auctioneer begged for bids around a hundred guineas. We looked crushed when he was declared on sale by the owner and knocked down for one hundred and twenty guineas.

I think at that moment, without words we jointly decided that we were having a bloody pony if we had to walk it home.

Ponies came and went, some were whisked out of the ring in disgust by their owners but some were selling at any price. People were in no mood to carry horses through this winter as the price of fodder is rising all the time. The cheapest pony was a little roan Welsh filly who went for eight guineas. I watched who bought her and I am pleased to say that she escaped the knacker man, although a lot didn't. You have the option to say "Not for slaughter" on the entry form and the auctioneer will declare this at point of sale. Some animals went into the ring as none slaughter but the owners changed their mind mid sale to get the price up.

It was getting towards the end and my son looked at me, appealing to my better side to bid on something rather than let them all slip away. In came some classy looking, haltered ponies from a renowned stud. First one went for washers, second one, same way. Son looked at me beggingly as the third pony came into the ring. The racket from the auctioneer went away. I focused on this fantastic little guy, prancing into the ring, nostrils flared, head up, looking around for his friends. He was a brilliant bay Welsh Section C colt with a white blaze and four white socks. He glided past me and I looked into his bejewelled eye, smelled his breath and my mind was set.

The sound faded back in and the auctioneers voice was echoing around the mart, "Once, twice, third and the....." I waved my hand at him. "FRESH BIDDER! are there any more bids? No? SOLD!" The hammer crashed down and my son attached himself to my neck like a limpet. "You got him! You bloody got him!" I gingerly looked under my eyebrows at the wife to see how bad it was going to be for me but she was smiling. All I had to do now was find a horsebox going our way and it was getting very late in the day for that.

I went to pay for the pony and sent the boy to dash around the waggons asking for a ride. The prospect of a thirty mile walk with a fairly green pony was very unwelcome. I wafted past the queue of people trying to pay and apologising profoundly barged to the front and announced that I had to pay as my ride was leaving now. Everyone was very nice about it and i thanked them all before dashing off to catch the pony.

Meanwhile, a very red faced son came rushing over to tell me that he had found a ride but i had to hurry because they were setting off now! The pony was all of a fluster. He was in a holding pen with all the others from the last batch. There was one arsey, coloured cob bullying them all and they were huddled together in one corner. My pony had had enough of being caught for one day & I had seconds to get a halter on him or lose my ride.

I threw the halter over his neck and grabbed it as it swung beneath. He was now feeling the rope around his neck and I gambled that this would be enough to make him yield, which thankfully he did. I quickly slipped it over his nose and he was mine.

The Grand Daughter of the man who was taking us home arrived to say we needed to hurry because they had a stallion in the box who was a bit bolshy. She was a pretty girl with very business like glasses and a mass of auburn hair. She immediately settled the pony down and took him off me. I was feeling very reassured at that moment. He trotted of with her as good as gold and we followed her to the truck.

Grandad was looking a bit harassed and muttering under his breath. He was a big  round faced bloke with an equally round body He moved the gates to one side and the girl walked up the ramp. She never even had to pull the lead rope. The pony just followed her up the ramp and the gate clamped shut.

He immediately swapped the halter for a knotted, Parelli type one and measured everything up so the pony couldn't get a foot to the rope and hang itself. I was as chuffed as anything to see that they all knew what they were about and that they cared.

"One of you will have to come with me to show us the way to your yard" said the man as he closed up the tailgate. My lad looked at the other, blond Grand Daughter and grinned.

I jumped in the car with my wife and we drove home to get everything ready for the arrival. We were all of a dither because from the moment the hammer went down we were simply living on adrenaline.

We were parked at the end of the lane as the horsebox turned the corner and chugged up towards us. He pulled up to the gate and My lad jumped out all happy with the other girl. I paid the man we opened the horsebox and led him out. "He's a good sort isn't he?" the girl remarked. "Aye, that he is!" I said as he lowered his head to smell the ground. He then lifted it high in the air an whinnied to see if there was anyone who he knew. He then grabbed a mouthful of Bracken and thus he earned his name.


Working away busily today with the chickens all scratching around and having a dirt bath when the wife's mobile phone rings and it's the school telling us to pick our son up as he had bust his nose in the play ground and wanted to come home. We packed up and set of for the seven mile journey to collect him and I thought I would leave the chickens out until we came back in around half an hour.

We collected the lad and he seemed okay so we gave him a couple of Paracetamol and set off home. I remembered that my parents had a plum tree that was heaving with fruit so I said it might be a good idea to pop on and get some. I pondered for a moment about the chicken and decided it would be prudent to go and shut them in before we went so we toddled off down to close up.

As we approached the end of the lane there was a quick flash of red streaking across the road in front of the car heading towards the yard. Foxy was just arriving to check if we had put the hens away.

Saturday, 20 August 2011


Here is a short overview of foxhunting as I see it.

It is a very emotive subject for a lot of people on both sides of the fence. For me, it's just a question of finding the right balance for both the fox and the people who are affected by it.

I absolutely adore the fox and I think that the countryside would be a poorer place without him but I also know that a lot of people who hunt feel exactly the same way.

There is no argument about the Fox being a troublesome foe for people who keep poultry, sheep or game birds but there is certainly a lot of controversy about hunting as a method of control.

Organisations such as LACS and VIVA portray it as a bloodthirsty sport for the upper classes where the poor creature, exhausted and terrified is finally torn apart by dogs to the cheers of these people. In my experience this is not the case at all.

For a start, although a few notable hunts such as the Beaufort are very upper crust in their following, many hunts are very working class indeed. I don't know why that should matter but it does to some people and therefore I have mentioned the fact.

What is more important to me is the workings of the hunt within rural communities. My local hunt is a working hunt where farmers welcome it's existence. They remove dead stock, they control foxes and contribute quite heavily to a very poor economy.

The key issue for me is the welfare of the fox. He is a creature who lives a sedentary existence and usually only gets together with another fox to reproduce. He is also territorial for obvious reasons. There is only so much food in any given area and fox numbers are linked to that.

The trouble is that we are the only other controlling factor as they have no other natural predator. The result of that is competition from other foxes and ultimately starvation for the less fit specimen.

What the hunt does is to quickly remove a fox who is no longer up to the job. It also teaches foxes a healthy respect for Man and dogs, often stirring them up and moving foxes to a location with less competition.

The last issue is the kill. Is the hunt as bad as they say? Is the gun better?

My belief is that the Hunt is the best for the fox. A fox is generally killed instantly by the lead hound. This is usually only witnessed by the core of the hunt and not all the followers.

Compared to shooting which is not even hit and miss. It is more like hit and wound as a fox is a moving target. I have found lots of injured foxes in my life with gunshot wounds but I never found one that escaped the hounds with any injuries.

The other question is about the fox being terrified by the hunt. Absolutely no way on this planet. The clever little buggers often skip sideways and follow the hunt. When the fox is in full flight away from hounds the adrenaline kicks in and by the time it's end game he is so pumped on endorphines that he doesn't give a fuck.

I really do love foxes despite having been robbed blind by them over the years and more seriously having my home bred flock of hens wiped out twice.

They are whiley and clever, they are beautiful and give me endless pleasure when I watch them hunting in the fields for voles and beetles but I don't like to see sick mangy foxes struggling for a living or foxes driven by hunger to tear the roof off my chicken shed in full view of my Rotweiller.

The Hunt Does the job or at least it did before it was banned. The result is, sick hungry foxes and a new urban competitor for the contents of your bin.

Well there we are, thats my overview of foxhunting. I will just sit back now and watch the shit hit the fan.

Saturday, 6 August 2011


Someone once said that a little bit of knowledge is a dangerous thing and when it comes to the issue of badger I can only shout "amen!"

Much is written and a lot is being said about the proposed Cull of badgers in England & Wales.

I see shades of the class war in this, in much the same way as there is in the foxhunting debate. People bang on about the poor little harmless badger yet seem almost stone cold about the losses of cattle suffered by farmers.

On the other side of the coin there is the odd farmer who is himself a bigoted bully & has only one remedy for anything that is in his way & that is to destroy it.

Where I sit in this debate both opinion wise & physically, is somewhere in the middle ground.

I am not going to go into all of the ins and outs of cull versus vaccination as I am not qualified to do so. What I am going to do is tell you how it looks from up close.

A few years ago I stumbled upon badger baiters on my land. A burly bunch of knuckle draggers with their dogs. I challenged them & they just claimed to be after rabbits. I pointed out that thanks to myxomatosis there were no rabbits and that they were digging on a badger sett. They grudgingly packed up & moved on. The following morning when I arrived to feed my animals there was a badger hanging on my gate which had been dragged alive up the road behind a vehicle & then left do die dangling from my gate.

I was a little naive back then. I expected the local farmers to be outraged by this when I went round to warn them of the badger baiters, but they just said "OK" & they would keep an eye out.

I wasn't aware of the simmering hatred of the badger that was brewing back then or that one of the farmers in question had been losing cattle to bTB.

Three years on from then, I once again stumbled upon the baiters and this time they had a badger and were fighting it with dogs. I called the police, they were arrested in the act & the rest is history.

That was when I found out just what a naive muppet I had been. From that moment I was public enemy number one to some of the members of my local farming community.

I was initially mistaken for a tree hugging bastard who cared nothing for the fact that farmers had been losing cattle. I was tackled in the pub by a prominent figure & I was able to set the record straight.

I don't think most people had reallised that the baiters were actually fighting the badgers with dogs but it became clear that most farmers knew that 'badger killers' were active in the area on the quiet.

That was when I began to realise that as things stand, badgers are suffering a 'dirty war.' I am not judging anyone here because I cannot begin to imagine what it must be like for farmers to lose hundreds of animals which are irreplaceable. Animals which may have taken a family generations to create and will be lost for ever whilst the badger was enjoying protected status. It doesn't make any sense to some of them and it doesn't make any sense to me either.

I used to think that badgers must have the worlds worst road sense until I took a closer look at things. The number of dead badger lying at the side of the road in some places is greater than that of rabbits. of course the truth is that they are just being killed & dumped at the roadside and also run down by people with 4x4s who have begun to hate then with a vengeance.

The debate about the cull is a good one & it is a very good thing that pressure groups have pushed hard to stop an all out slaughter of the badger or by now we could be living in a country that has none but the problem is that it has dragged on to the cost of both the farmer and the badger.

The farmers have not only suffered huge losses and great distress, they have also done everything in their power to reduce the spread of bTB from cow to cow, by changing how they keep their cattle.

Now they have given all the ground so far as I can see, yet the badger supporters have thus far given not a single inch.

The new proposed, limited cull in England, as I understand it offers a very good compromise which if the badger supporters were less entrenched would grasp. The proposal is to allow free shooting of badgers on the land of anyone who agrees to it. In real terms this simply removes the badgers protected status & brings it into line with other species such as foxes.

The benefits of this for the badger are that it is likely to end the 'dirty war' and allow numbers to fall back to a more manageable level at a slow enough rate for an assessment of the effectivness of the scheme.

The best thing about it is that it appeases the long suffering farmer whilst giving both sides of the argument sufficient breathing space to look at vaccination of both badgers & cattle & hopefully see an end to this dreadful disease.

To quote The farmer who tackled me in the pub about badgers. "I would like to see a healthy population of both badgers and cattle side by side on my land."

I agree.

Long live the badger & let's stop fighting one another.