Between ploughing and harrowing and carting manure, it is good to get out and enjoy the fantastic place we live in - a welcome change for the horses, too!
What a change to a month ago! How wonderful to see the soil dry out! To feel it warm up slowly!
So, last week, finally, with the help of our meitheal group and our two horses, we got the potatoes planted in one short day. What a relief to get this job done.
Afte the potato job was out of the way, it was straight on to the next patch of field to be ploughed. This proved to be tricky with our Norwegian plough, as the area was slopy and the soil still quite damp. As the plough we used does not have wheels and the angle of the mouldboard cannot be adjusted, the turned over soil was layered at an angle too steep really, as you can see from the photo - the grass still sticks out at the edge...and would grow again in a hurry!
So I decided to start harrowing straight away, to pull the grassy bits apart, in the hope that the grass being uprooted with dry out and die...
At the end of the last dry spell...which seems so long ago now...we got one of our fields finally ploughed. It was great to get back to this kind of work with the horses, and we were so busy, we hardly managed to take any photos. We paced ourselves, doing the field over three days. After all, it had been a layed back winter of hacking out in the rain, going for a drive with the cart in the rain, lungeing in the rain, logging a bit of wood here and there in the rain... But Henry and Winnie took to the task surprisingly smoothly - Henry stepping into the furrow and not hanging being too much, and Winnie not too eager to take on all the weight by always trying to be a step ahead of Henry. No, it got so smooth after a few furrows that I even slackend the reins and looked around a bit whilst the horses did their job responsibly. I was tempted to hand the reins to Tim at the plough altogether! Maybe next time, there's still another field to be ploughed this spring where we can perfect our skills! But it's back to rain again at the moment, and everyhting is mud and puddles. Not great for getting the potatoes in, and it is getting later and later. Hoping for next week...
Three eager participants came to learn about working horses at the end of March, as the course season started again.
After coffee and brownies we met the horses and learned about different aspects of keeping working horses. We looked at different styles of harnesses and then harnessed up the horses to practise long-reining in the paddock and in the field. The next step was to hitch up a chain harrow and practise driving the horse with it without getting your ankles scraped by the chains or your hands tied in a knot. After a delicious lunch, we took the horses to the big field, which was unfortunatley too wet for any 'real' work, but we had a go with pulling the spring tooth harrow with one and two horses, and then we hitched the team to the potato digger. Wrong season for digging potatoes though, so the digger was only pulled back into the yard. Then there was still the tool shed with different ploughs, the seed drill etc. to inspect, and the tipping cart and the sled to try out.
A full long day, and we all went back to the house for more tea and cake at the end, and everyone had another chance to ask more questions and look at the collection of working horse books.
Thanks to all for coming along and making this day a success, and thanks of course to Henry and Winnie for their endless patience!!!
This may only look like a muddy bare field, but it is the result of hours and hours of hard labour from our two pigs, who dug up all the docks and forgotten spuds from last year and prepared the ground, ready for harrowing and planting. In the background, you can see the half of the field the pigs didn't get to, which will need to be ploughed. The sheep tried their best to reduce the grass and buttercups in the last week, but it's best to turn over the sod with the plough altogether before harrowing and planting.
So what could be better as a warm up before tackling the ploughing than going to the woods for a few days to pull out some firewood? We are working on a job in Glengarriff Woods - still a couple more days work or so, as the site turns out to be more difficult than expected at first. The thinning was done as a part of a chainsaw course, and they must have run out of time at the end of the course, as there are still too many trees standing in places. Plus, the trees were cut off quite high, leaving many tree stumps as obstacles. The timber was cut into quite small length, so we need to bundle it to make each pull worthwhile, which is more time consuming that just hitching up one big log of course. Also, there's ditches...anyway, we are getting there, and we'll come out of it stronger and fitter than ever!
Henry has truly shown again last weekend what a versatile horse he is!
We started off on Thursday with a Therapeutic Driving Session for a visitor. Therapeutic Driving is a therapeutic intervention where horse and cart/carriage are utilised for therapeutic work with people with identified needs. Since 2011, we run sessions from our place in therapeutic driving and therapeutic riding as well as equine assisted learning, and if this caught your interest, find out more on equineassistedinterventions.com!
On Friday we went out for a drive with Winnie and the cart and Henry came along as side horse, trotting alongside Winnie - this way, he gets his daily exercise and I don't need to do two separate trips. (Hopefully, soon our two-horse cart will be made, and then I can drive them on the road as a team!)
On Saturday, we ran our first course this year - 'Introduction to logging with horses', and Henry excelled at helping to teach a group of newcomers how to pull timber out of the woods in a low-impact way.
Sunday was our leisure day out, and we went to the West Cork Trec League - only to come back with a red rosette for our collection! Henry jumped the 'jumps' and walked the 's-bend' and trotted the 'bending poles' and perfected the 'immobility', just to name some of the obstacles he had to master in the Trec obstacle course.
And we didn't even start to work with Henry and the plough, the harrow, the seed drill...he has more talents than you could fit into a weekend!
So, Monday was his well-deserved day off, whilst I had to go off to work, using my other talents...
What a change this dry spell makes to everything! What would we have done without it??? Sunk deeper and deeper into the mud most likely. But all is good, now that the land can shed some of the water it had to cope with in the last months and months of rain.
The first lot of lambs arrived - triplets - and they are hopping about in the garden, clearing up left-over bits of kale and turnip and the odd carrot. The horses are not so lucky, still on their diet of hay and pulped beet...All they can do is dream of the grass that looks so green on the other side of the fence...
Despite the on-going rain in some part of our island (West Cork!!!), there are dry pockets where - even at this time of the year - ploughing can be a pleasure! Like at the farm near Newmarket, north Co. Cork, where I went to join a group of eager members of the Irish Working Horse Association to help John Forde plough his field. I left home in pouring rain, drenched wet just from the walk to the car, and arrived to cloudy but dry weather in Newmarket where you could even make out the sun just behind those grey clouds! Good ploughing progress was made whilst I was there, and I could convince myself how well the ploughs were set, as when I took to the plough, it almost drove itself and it all seemed so easy (of course I know better than that - that there's a lot of hard work invovled in getting the horses that well trained, the plough that well set....)!
Back home, just a week later, we enjoyed a beautiful sunny day after all, and Winnie and Henry took me for a great tour into the hills. We are still waiting for a second-hand forecart to be converted from shafts to pole so that both horses can pull it. In the meantime, it's Henry running alongside Winnie, scanning traffic and surroundings - whilst she has the job of pulling our little gig.
And suddenly it is the other side of mid-winter, and the days are already 20 minutes longer than a week ago! With the clear skies and the nearly full moon, there seems so much more light there all of a sudden...It's about time after weeks and weeks of doing chores at both ends of the day in the semi-darkness...
Despite all the wet and cold and dark, the goslings that hatched in October grew into wonderful big nearly fully grown geese, and they make the most beautiful lawn mowers!
When I was young, the only sporadic contact with geese was from ganders who were taught to be defensive and aggressive, and I was always happy to sit on a horse when meeting them, as they couldn't reach that far up with their beaks! But how different these two geese are who live with us now. It is a pleasure to get to know them, they are curious and inquisitive and sociable, and I hope we offer them an environment where they will eb able to stay like this.
Arthur the foal is thriving as well. He is gelded and weaned now, he coped with both of those major events with no trouble, and spends his days happily in the company of his big sister Flora in the paddock, whilst their parents both enjoy some freedom and late grass on a 4-acre-field nearby.
On the first Saturday in November, the 3rd annual general meeting of the Irish Working Horse Association (IWHA) took place at the farm of parting chairman Miles Frankel in Doneraile, Co. Cork.
The day started at around 11 a.m. where members and some of their horses gathered in the courtyard. Miles had a tree felled and cut into pieces in one of his fields, which needed to be hauled closer to the yard. At work were a team of Percheron geldings, a Suffolk Punch gelding, a Clydesdale gelding, and two Cob geldings (including Henry!), and their respective owners - so quite a crowd! We shifted a fair amount of wood and there was plenty of opportunity for IWHA members and other visitors to join in and have a go.
By mid-afternoon, we called it a day and were welcomed warmly into the kitchen to lovely food and drink. This was followed by the IWHA AGM, which was refreshingly short and bursting with plans for 2013.
Anyone into working horses can join the IWHA - go to www.irishworkinghorseassociation.com.