The Weald & Downland Museum near Chichester in Sussex is a fantastic place. Not only are there over forty rescued and reconstructed buildings, they also run courses teaching traditional skills and crafts – everything from making natural dyes, through polelathing or coppice management to ploughing . It was probably predictable that the heavy horse driving day would be the one that I booked for a friend as a gift. Obviously I couldn’t just let her go alone, I had to go too, to keep her company. Honest.
This excellent day course was taught by Mark Buxton, ably assisted by some really hardworking volunteers. The horses were both Shire geldings, Mac & Major. I hadn’t previously had much experience with Shires (Well, except for that one time during a “seeing practice” stint as a veterinary student….. I was given the task of removing a front shoe from a lame Shire horse. In an ordinary yard the experience would have been merely back-breaking, but this was at some sort of theme park farm, so a fairly large audience gathered to witness my struggle. Things like that make you look at farriers with renewed respect).
We were shown how to put their harness on & took turns at learning to drive with a roller and a chain harrow. Ominous warnings were given about not letting the harrow get tangled up (hence my preoccupied expression in the photo above).
I was really impressed by the sensitivity of both horses to the voice, particularly the voices of strangers. And they were far more energetic than I had anticipated, any lapse in concentration could find the driver sprinting behind the harrow. They also did some fairly fancy lateral work when turning at the end of a line – I asked how they were taught to do this & apparently it just came naturally …. I could wish that some riding horses I have known were that smart.
After lunch, (perhaps predictably a Ploughman’s), we took it in turns to drive the pair of horses pulling a wagon. Compared to the power of an engine it might not sound that much, but a real two horsepower was pretty impressive.
So now all I have to do is figure out how I justify booking the ploughing course, or maybe the logging with heavy horses.
We were also lucky that the museum opened its archive on the day when we were there. They have been given a lot of rural bygones and antiques over the years & haven’t anywhere to exhibit them permanently. So, there is a store of old tools etc in their administrative building that opens on certain days. They have a fine collection of bits, horseshoes, horse brasses, and even more lawn boots than I have.