All The Farm That Is Fit To Print

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Thursday, January 26, 2012

When shire horses ruled the landscape


LOVE at first sight. How can anyone really know the meaning of those words until they encounter Harry and Joe?

They tower above their stalls, soft-eyed giants with glistening coats and flicking tails, extraordinary compounds of power and gentleness. They are instantly loveable.

Harry and Joe are shire horses, successors to a breed that has pulled, ploughed and moved mountains on behalf of England for hundreds of years.

Shires were the predecessors to tractors and JCBs, equine machines bred to do the heavy, muddy work. Part of the natural affection people feel for shire horses must come from gratitude.

There is, though, another reason why human hearts go out to Harry and Joe. Despite their massive size and strength, there is a surprising air of vulnerability about them. Right now, they need all the love they can get.

Working horse numbers have inevitably declined. The shire horse’s cousin and neighbour, the Suffolk Punch, is actually a Category One Endangered Species. Only 400 are left in the world. They are rarer than giant pandas.

The shire horse’s situation is less critical, but it is nevertheless officially “a breed under threat” and it needs to be tended. It was for this reason the Essex Shire Horse Association was set up 24 years ago.

The association has fought to keep the historic breed intact, both in numbers and quality of bloodline. Now, though, it is the humans who find themselves looking into the twilight.

“Shire horses’ welfare has been very dependent on a number of devoted individuals with the land and other resources to maintain them,” says Maureen Cheek, an ESHA committee member from Leigh.

“Often they were farmers who were old enough to remember when heavy horses were still used on the land, and unfortunately age is taking its toll.”

One such devotee, happily very much still with us, is Graham Collins, Harry and Joe’s owner.

Graham runs the Collins dairy, the Southend family business, which has been operating in Southend for more than a century.

The Collins milk floats may no longer be horse-powered, but Graham, working alongside his son, Richard, keeps the wheels rolling elsewhere. They maintain an 1895 dray, which Harry and Joe haul at equestrian events around the country.

Thirty years of such events are recalled in Graham’s collection of harness, horse-brasses and other equestrian tackle and mementos.

They are stored in an outhouse next to Harry and Joe’s stall, in the countryside near Southend – for understandable reasons, Graham is keen not to reveal the exact location.

Graham’s soft spot for the shires springs from what he calls the breed’s “down-to-earth honesty”.

He points out shire horses developed out of the humble old English cart horse. Shires only acquired official status and title in 1878, with the establishment of the Shire Horse Society. “I’m not dismissing other breeds, of course,” Graham says. “But the shires were the horses that did the real work, up and down the country. They were the farmer’s horse for centuries, raising food. The industrial revolution was built on their back. When the canals were being built, it was they who carted away the spoil.”

His sentiment is widely shared. Maureen owns a shire horse, Susie, which she rides rather than drives. Susie is always the centre of attention. Maureen says: “You can be out riding as a group, with other riders who are on thoroughbreds. It’s always the shire horse that gets people’s attention. It’s her they want to meet and make a fuss of. They almost ignore the fancier horses.”

Yet, while shire horses may be down-to-earth, this does not mean that they are cheap to run.

“It is,” says Graham, understatedly, “quite an expensive little hobby.”

The sheer size of shires tends to bank up the cost. A farrier, for instance, can shoe a number of average size horses in the time it takes to complete just one shire.

“It’s not helped by the fact they tend to lean on him,” says Graham, who has to pay his farrier £120 per horse, every two months.

This helps to explain the slow flow of young blood into the ESHA, despite the public enthusiasm for shire horses.

The association also faces another issue. Fundraising is mostly achieved through public events, when the horses and carriages are put on display.

Opportunities for such events, however, have shrunk.

“We used to do very well at the Essex County Show,” says ESHA chairman John Peacock. “But we lost that window, of course.” The association also had to say goodbye, at least temporarily. to its annual spring ploughing event.

“We were given use of a field owned by Writtle College, but that was withdrawn when the college restructured,” says John.

If anyone has an acre or so of land they are happy to see ploughed up once a year, the association would love to hear from them.

The key event in the association’s calendar remains the annual Essex Heavy Horse and Country Show. The 24th show takes place at the Orsett ground on Sunday.

At these events, the shire horse still rules the landscape. Dressed in full rig of leather, brass and plait, they are no longer the humble workhorse but kings of the ring.

Hours will have gone into the preparation. The horses have been shampooed, brushed down, powdered, their tails painstakingly plaited.

Perhaps their most eye-catching features, though, are the flights, the distinctive feather-like trims worked into their manes. Here, as in so much that involves shire horses, a precise combination of art and etiquette applies.

Graham ruefully accepts: “We spend far too much of our lives on the preparation, but then you see them in all their glory and you just forget about everything else.”

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

One Last Wish: Farmer shares last journey with beloved horses

Published on Friday 6 January 2012 06:00 in the Yorkshire Post

HEADS bowed, intent on their task, Major and Joseph, two magnificent Shire horses, solemnly pull retired farmer Thomas Lodge on his final journey, fulfilling his wishes for a fitting send-off.

The 89-year-old, who was famed for his knowledge of the horse breed and in demand for his judging services at agricultural shows across the country, had asked his daughter Joan Wood to make his last wish come true.

So with a police escort she and fellow mourners followed the cortege on the 45-minute route from Ainley Top to Huddersfield Crematorium yesterday. The father-of-three from Salendine Nook died just days before his 90th birthday and had worked at his family’s farm in Denby Dale for more than 50 years.

Mrs Wood, 58, of Scammonden, said: “The horses that pulled him were ones my father would have judged at some time. They came from a gentleman called Peter Eyres of Castleton in Derbyshire. They were black ones – the ones he liked best.”

More than 200 people crowded into the hall at the crematorium to hear Mr Lodge’s friend Neil Avison recount how he loved the farming life and how he came to be acknowledged as one of the country’s foremost experts on Shire horses.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Shire Temperment

The Shire horses have a very kind and gentle temperament. They can be very popular working with children as their personalities can lead them to aid in learning how to ride a horse effectively and quickly. The more patient the horse is, the better off a child can learn, a quality this breed embodies.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Check out Moon.

He is our lovely stallion here at Rice Creek Shires. Why not bring home one of his children?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Beatiful Shires

Don't they look terrific! Why not bring one home to keep you company?

Saturday, January 21, 2012


Finally Winter seems to have settled in over the rolling hills of Northern Michigan. The Shires gather around the straw in their shelter, stamping, munching, and brushing against each other for warmth.   

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Little Slice of Rice Creek Shires History

Here's Dan and some of the Shires pulling a cart in the 2010 Cherry Royale Parade. These are the kind of beautiful animals that we are raising for sale at Rice Creek Shires. Aren't they gorgeous?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Uses of the Shire Horse through History

by Shire Horse Society

Horses have been domesticated for many thousands of years. Indeed, late bronze age grave goods have included bits and bridles. They were used for riding and as pack animals, although it was nor clear when they were first used in agriculture. Oxen were the traditional draught animal, as they were more readily available than horses.

By the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries horses had become more common, especially for pulling carts and transporting goods. These animals had to be strong to cope with the appalling nature of medieval roads, although they were considerably shorter in height than the giant Shire we know today.

The seventeenth century saw a great deal of development in horse breeding. An increased demand for travel by coach, culminating in the development of coach springs in 1690led to the breeding of a large and powerful horse, that also had the capacity for speed.

By the eighteenth century the improvements in carriage design and road surface meant that lighter faster horses were used for long distance driving, whereas the heavier, slower horses found a role for themselves on the farm.

Eighteenth century changes in the technology of farming implements, such as Tull’s Seed Drill, made the horse the animal of choice on the farm, replacing the ox. These horses were by now of a height and stature recognisable as a modern Shire.

The second half of the Eighteenth century saw the construction of a nationwide system of canals which enabled heavy loads to be transported long distances. The Shire horse was the ideal beast to use as a Barge Horse, pulling the barges along the canals. They were also used to haul large wagons, drays, omnibuses and trams.

Although the Shire might now seem to us most at home in the fields, it must not be forgotten that up until the last half of the twentieth century, the horse was also the main urban means of transport, too.

The rise of urban living throughout history has always fuelled a demand for goods from the countryside. The coming of the railways is often thought to have signalled the beginning of the decline in horse-drawn traffic, but in fact horses were in great demand for transporting goods to and from the railway yards. In fact, in 1893, the railway companies ‘collecting and delivering goods to the metropolis have amongst them a stud of 6,000 (horses).’ These horses would have need to be capable of pulling large loads and so would have been Shires or a similar breed.

Carrier firms had around 19,000 horses in London alone, while the Capital’s rubbish collection would have employed another 1,500 horses, all of whom would have been draught breeds.

Also in 1893 it was estimated that London’s brewers used around 3,000 horses, many of which were Shires. Indeed, some brewers still use Shires today, not only for promotional purposes, but also for local deliveries.

The transportation of coal, the vital source of heating and cooking fuel, had to be done by horses, and with wagons weighing up to 3 tons, this was definitely a job for the heavies!

From the 1920s onwards the use of motorised transport rose rapidly and the need for the horse declined. Tractors replaced horses on farms and lorries replaced horse drawn wagon. Finally more and more road vehicles were powered by engines and the Shire horse’s days soon seemed numbered.

Shire horse numbers fell from well over a million to just a few thousand by the 1960s and the breed was in serious trouble. A small group of dedicated breeders came to rescue though and the Shire is seeing a resurgence in popularity both as a working animal and a riding horse.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Shire Movie Stars!

Oscar-whinnying performances in new spielberg blockbuster War Horse

Published on Friday 13 January 2012 19:00

Dave Lawless (36) and four of his Shire horses appear in the epic film War Horse, which opens on general release today (13 January).

The quintet spent two days on location in Castle Coombe, Wiltshire, for filming of the critically acclaimed movie.

It tells the tale of Albert’s beloved horse Joey, who is sold to the British Army and sent to the battlefields of the First World War in France.

Dave runs Waldburgshires with Elspeth Ross in Alconbury Weston, near Huntingdon, supplying Shire horses for weddings, funerals and other events.

And they have strong links with the Shire Horse Centre, at Sacrewell Farm in Thornhaugh where they keep some of their animals.

Dave said: “Filming for War Horse was surreal. When you’ve got your horses, walking them round right next to Steven Spielberg, I think surreal is the only word.

“It’s nice to do, to work with someone as prestigious as Spielberg. I didn’t get to meet him properly but he was very professional.

“He and his main cameraman have a really good rapport and a very definite idea about what they want.

“But in War Horse it’s particularly challenging. Getting lots of horses to do exactly what you want is tough – they have a mind of their own. It was a really good experience.”

The whole village was taken over for the film, with the crew going to great lengths to block out any signs of the 21st century, from telephone cables to white lines on the road.

Dave and Elspeth have not yet seen the film but are looking forward to watching it tomorrow.

The scene featuring Dave and the four Shires – Boy, Harvey, Scott and Comet – depicts an auction at which Joey is sold.

Dave stood immediately behind the equine star for the filming and hopes he will be clearly visible in the scene.

Dave is no stranger to movie-making, however, and has a string of successful films behind him, including both Sherlock Holmes films by Guy Ritchie.

Dave also makes an appearance in the forthcoming film Great Expectations – as David Walliams’ body double.

Dave said: “Filming is becoming a big part of what we do. Day to day is taken up with weddings and funerals and other similar events, but we’re getting more film roles.

“I was David’s body double just because someone knew me and thought I had a similar build. It was just for some of his scenes on horseback.

“But our biggest event is the Lord Mayor’s Show which we do every year in November.

“The last one was the toughest because of the protest outside St Paul’s Cathedral and there was a lot more security than normal.”

War Horse goes on general release in cinemas across the UK today.

For more information on Dave and Elspeth’s company visit www. waldburg shires.co.uk

Monday, January 16, 2012

Back in the Saddle again.....

After a long hiatus, I am back and blogging again. I am looking forward to encouraging you to consider the wonderful Shires that we are rasing at Rice Creek Shires. Why not check them out?

Here are some breed standards:

ASHA Standard of Conformation Guideline

(adopted May 18, 1977)


Color: Black, brown, bay, grey or chestnut/sorrel (rare) are the preferred colors. Excessive white markings and roaning are undesirable.

Heignt: Minimum 16.2 hands and upwards. Average 17.1 hands

Head: Long and lean, neither too large nor too small, with long neck in proportion to the body. Large jaw bone should be avoided.

Eyes: Large, well set and alert. Wall-eyes should be avoided if possible.

Nose: Nostrils thin and wide, lips together and nose slightly Roman.

Ears: Long, lean, sharp and sensitive.

Throat: Clean cut and lean.

Shoulder: Deep, oblique, wide enough to support the collar.

Neck: Long, slightly arched, well set on to give the horse a commanding appearance.

Girth: Deep, with adequate width in proportion to the rest of the body.

Back: Short, strong and muscular. Should not be dipped or roached.

Loins: Standing well up, denoting constitution.

Fore-end: Wide across the chest, with legs well under the body and well developed in muscle, or action is impeded.

Hindquarters: Long and sweeping, wide and full of muscle; well let down toward the thighs.

Ribs: Round, deep and well sprung, not flat.

Forelegs: Should be straight as possible down to the pastern.

Pastern: Fairly long and sloped at about 45-degree angle.

Hind legs: Hocks should be clean, broad, deep, flat and wide when viewed broad-side; set at the correct angle for leverage, and in line with the hind·quarters. Should be of heavy bone; "puffy" and "sickle" hocks to be avoided. The leg should be clean cut, hard, and clear of short cannon bone.

Feet: Moderately deep and wide at the heels; coronets open.

Feather: Fine, straight and silky.

He should possess a masculine head, and a good crest with sloping, not upright, shoulders running well into the back, which should be short and well coupled with the loins. The tail should be set well up, and not what Is known as "goose-rumped." Both head and tail should be carried erect. The ribs should be well sprung, not flat sided, with good middle, which generally denotes good constitution. The most essential parts of a stallion are his feet and joints; the feet should have open necks, big around the top of the coronets, with plenty of length in the pasterns. When in motion, he should go with force, using both knees and hocks, which the latter should be kept close together. He should go straight and true before and behind.


Geldlngs should conform to stallion standards, with the exception of the thick, masculine neck.


Mares should conform to the stallion standards, except that they may be slightly smaller with a feminine and matronly appearance. A mare should have plenty of room to carry a foal.