When it all gets too much I return to my roots, to the comforting parts of my childhood. The world has changed and I miss the security I had as a child. In those days I lived with my parents in a small cottage on the top of a hill. It was the last house on the road out of town. The land dropped away to form a long valley, with a small stream at its base giving just a hint of its history.
On the opposite side of this valley was a small village. Facing us on their side of the valley was a large brewery, a successful local brewery, which was eventually taken over by a large chain, and closed. During my youth they had a team of Suffolk Punch horses that pulled the drays around town, delivering beer.
During the winter these lovely giants were kept on a field beside my house. As a child, with an orchard of apple trees in the garden, I became good friends with these lovely creatures. It was a daily task to take them an apple. They would stand patiently beside a five-barred gate, watching the world go by, occasionally flicking their tails or nodding their heads to push the flies away.
By the time I was six I had courage. I could do anything. I stood on the top bar as one of the horses approached the gate. As it swung round I jumped on its back, hanging on to its flowing mane. It was fine for a minute or two as the horse munched away at the apple I’d obliging left on the top of the gate. That didn’t take long and I was shocked when the horse moved away towards the centre of the field.
There I was, high in the air. These shire horses were huge. The ground was a long way down. Slowly I overcame my fear, as my mother came into the field with more apples. We had a small pony at that time, which my mother hitched up to a trap and went off to market on Saturday, with Elsie, our neighbour. We’d had a few scrapes with this flighty creature, which although small had shown me how powerful (and skitty when handled badly – sorry Mum) horses could be.
It became a regular jaunt, and we’d plod around the field. It could never be called riding. The horse was in control. Most of the time its head was down as it munched grass, and I held on the mane until tired of it all I’d slide down its neck to the ground. Wonderful placid creatures.
There’s a Young Offenders Prison near me. At one time they had a stable of Suffolk Punch and young prisoners, many from towns and cities, aggressive and abusive, were encouraged to look after these horses. It was wonderful training. The horses quietly told them they were in charge. They could not be bullied or threatened but, at the same time, they were helpless. They needed the boys to clean them, to feed them, prepare their tack if they were to work together. It was a fantastic training facility.
So it was closed, by the government, to save money. A tragedy.
It was taken over by the Suffolk Punch Trust http://suffolkpunchtrust.org/ who were then faced with looking after these magnificent animals but there was now a bigger threat, With less than 300 breeding mares in the world this shire horse, as a breed, could become extinct.
Thankfully the trust, with others, is ensuring that numbers are now improving. They are also providing a great day out. Deep in the Suffolk countryside you can see the horses, and other animals: rare breed black pigs, red poll cattle, Ixworth white chickens and much more are to be found on this 200-acre site.
Find time to visit.
My youngest grand-child has adopted ‘Vee’ the mare shown above. Both her great-grandmothers were called Vera, often shortened to ‘Vee’ so it maintains a sentimental link.