Charlie Parker with Lowkbers Bracken near Moffat
Twenty odd years ago I was talked into taking part in a course teaching ‘snigging’.
I’d never even heard of the word before, however, it was to change my life. I started my forestry work in 1971 and at that time horses had virtually disappeared from the woods about 10 years previously. In my wood yard at Ingleton, I was well equipped with modern day machinery, tractors, Unimogs, etc., so going on a ‘snigging’ course was taking a step backwards or was it?
On the course I was introduced to George Read. George had been using his ponies in the wood since Adam was a lad! A real down to earth chap, we got on well and are good friends to this day. Firstly I met Danny, a Dales type cob with a hint of Clydesdale about 14.2hh, who had been working with George since being 4 years old. Then there was Candy, of no fixed breeding, but obviously a lot of native blood standing around 14hh. Watching George working his ponies was inspirational and that led me down the route I was to take.
Why Dales ponies? Gina had ridden Dales ponies as a child and I am a staunch supporter of our native breeds and being a Yorkshireman, so Dales it had to be. Dales ponies are intelligent, agile and sure footed, incredibly strong for their size, have immense stamina, keep sound and are good doers. We needed ponies that could do various tasks, snigging (timber extraction using horses and ponies), farm work, riding and driving. Gina enjoyed hunting so the ponies needed to be true all rounders and they proved their worth time and time again.
Charlie Parker with Lowkbers Bracken stacking tree trunks ready for further transportation
In my line of work I am often called in to ‘thin’ plantations which are inaccessible for machinery, usually tight awkward places or in area’s of special significance where they don’t want huge ‘ruts’ leaving behind, my Dales ponies and cobs can get where many machines can not, as they can turn tighter and negotiate steep banks. These ponies are environmentally friendly. They leave little if any mess and they don’t destroy the flora and fauna. No damage is caused to the trees left standing or their delicate root systems. They create no noise or air pollution.
Timber extraction using horses and ponies is still viable: I have proved this time and time again. It is an age-old skill that we must strive to keep alive. Dales ponies can turn their hoof to so many disciplines as they are agile and clever. These past years a special bond has developed with my ponies. When you are working alongside them day after day you get to know your animals very well. Dales are quick to learn and willing to please, they thrive on varied work and enjoy a challenge. A Dales that is naughty and stubborn is usually a bored pony with little to do: these quick-witted ponies need a job.
In this country we have wonderful native breeds. Most have played some part in the country’s development. They are part of our heritage and should be treasured. However for me it has to be a Dales pony, whether I am snigging timber, chain-harrowing the fields, taking a bride to the church or riding along the country lanes, it’s all in a ‘Dales’ work……
Elaine Goodall (Crispin's owner & Otley RDA instructor) with Crispin and Otley Group riders Lynne Burnley (mounted) and Bernadette Spellman
At least 2 Dales Ponies and 1 partbred were at the RDA National Championships at Hartpury in July 2007. Maidendale GJ (Biggles) qualified in the Working Horse/Pony without needing his hair extensions that year, thank goodness. He and his riders did well, but weren't placed.
The partbred Maidendale Grenadier had won his Regional dressage qualifier, so great things were expected of him. He was very calm and quiet during his warm-up, so his rider went through a full run-through before his test in the main arena. He remained calm and quiet, made a nice transition into his first canter on the corner ……….. and continuing straight on, popped over the 3'6” rails dividing the practice arena. His poor rider, taken by surprise, fell off and his entry was scratched.
The star of the show, though was Elaine Goodall's Hillbro' Crispin, at the time, the current holder of the Lizzie Shield for Veteran Performance Dales Pony. Not only did he compete with his own riders from the Otley Group, but helped out one of the riders from the Meirionnydd Special Riding Group when his own horse became upset in the collecting ring and couldn't compete. Crispin's record in the Nationals is impressive and in 2007 year included:
|5th and 7th||Countryside Challenge|
|5th||Grade 1a Dressage|
|1st and 3rd||Combined Training|
Crispin competing in the Arena with Maria Zagorskaya
Before setting off for the RDA National Championships, Elaine was approached by Russia and asked if Crispin could stay on for the FEI World Para Dressage Championships the following week.
The Russian team couldn't bring their own horses, so were looking for suitable mounts in the UK. Crispin was ridden by the Russian Grade 1a Champion Dressage Rider, Maria Zagorskaya. He became very popular with her and the rest of the team and well known to everyone as “the little, black, Russian horse”. He did a brilliant job with Maria.
Despite the Russians being an 'emerging' nation in dressage, the team took 18th place and Maria was 17th both in the Team test and individually in her grade. The pair then went on to take 15th place in the Freestyle Dressage to Music, all thanks to the world's first Russian Dales Pony.
For generations, they were a common sight, hauling ploughs and bales of hay, and carrying heavy loads of lead across the countryside. Strong and sure-footed, Dales ponies were integral to much of rural northern England.
One man who knows more than most about Teesdale’s native breed is David Eccles, who has completed an undefeated season showing his pony, Westwick Heather, across the region. It represents perhaps the best year yet for Mr Eccles, who farms at Hardberry Hill, near Middleton-in-Teesdale, with his wife, Alison.
He began breeding the ponies 30 years ago, armed with a knowledge that has been passed down through the generations. Mr Eccles names Leaman Wall as one of those who passed their knowledge on to him. “I used to help out at Leaman Wall’s farm in Lartington” he said “He had two or three ponies, he saw I was keen, and I started showing them. I bought one from him and that’s how I started. I sold that first pony and worked my way up from there, always trying to better myself. I’m still trying to better myself now, and that’s the secret – I’m always trying to improve.”
In 1987, Mr Eccles moved to a smallholding in Westwick, and to this day he still gives his ponies the Westwick name. Mr Eccles began winning competitions in the early 1990’s with Bolam Lady Rose, and Westwick Primrose, amongst others. He won the Yorkshire Show in 2002 and 2006, before having perhaps his most successful season to date in 2008, with his new Champion, Westwick Heather – the granddaughter of Bolam Lady Rose.
Mr Eccles was unbeaten throughout 2008 with Heather, winning a hatful of titles and trophies. They won every competition they entered, taking championships at Wolsingham, Reeth, Ryedale, Streatlam, The Yorkshire Show, and everywhere. “A lot of work and effort goes into it – it doesn’t just come overnight”, said Mr Eccles. “It takes commitment and patience, and we are only really seeing the results over the last few years.”
Much of Mr Eccles’ success has come since he moved to Hardberry Hill six years ago, but Dales ponies have an association with the farm that goes much further back in time. Records show that a man called, appropriately, William Coltman, bred Dales ponies at Hardberry Hill in the late 19th century. One of his ponies, Little Wonder II, became a champion in 1886.
At this time, the ponies provided valuable service to the dale before the arrival of the engine, working on farms and in the lead mining industry. “They are good workers,” said Mr Eccles. “They’re not big, but they have big hearts and they are very strong – they can work all day long.”
Numbers fell as the twentieth century progressed and they came close to extinction in the 1950’s and 1960’s. A small group of enthusiasts decided to keep the breed going, and today the numbers are much healthier, with the ponies becoming increasingly popular for riding and driving.
“They make a good family pony,” said Mr Eccles. “They are sensible and have a good temperament, and they are very hardy and low cost – they rarely have anything wrong with them.” The Eccles receive regular enquiries about their ponies, and recently sold one to a family in Germany.
One pony that is not for sale, however, is the celebrated Westwick Heather. “Nobody could afford Heather,” said Mr Eccles, “she is worth too much to us”
Best shod horse competitions are not won by some special type of shoeing just meant for show classes. They are in fact won by good forging skills needed in shoe making or shaping the shoes, allied to knowledge of equine anatomy and physiology, an understanding of the mechanical forces that act upon the legs and feet of a horse.
The basis of any good horse shoeing job is the hoof trimming and preparation. No horse has perfect limb conformation. It is not possible to just rasp a flat plane on the ground surface of the hoof at ninety degrees to the leg, not even a static leg. A horses limb is dynamic at all times the horse is standing, slight weight changes (a movement of the head) cause flexing of the hoof at different places around the wall.
Blood is kept moving through the foot, slowly perhaps, while the horse is at rest, and much more quickly at the faster paces. Researchers have measured a massive negative pressure in the digital cushion above the frog in a horse at trot, as the foot expands at the heels and the Pedal bone levers down from the toe under load from above blood must be drawn to such a low pressure area and displace blood ahead of it when the load is removed (the hoof lifting of the ground).
If one heel is left longer or the other rasped too much they will not work as a pair. The longer side hits the ground first and is shunted up while the shorter side is pushed down to reach the ground, with one half pushed up and the other pushed down, a sheer force is created that passes through the centre line of the frog causing the frog cleft to split deeply into the sensitive tissue. Often the condition exists in a pair of feet so the discomfort and pain can go unnoticed. Many cases of thrush which don't respond to normal treatment are caused by this constant sheering between the heels. The horses foot is a very vascular structure, the sole the frog and the sensitive lamina behind the horny wall and not forgetting the coronary band, it's this band of blood rich tissue that secrete the horny wall.
The coronary band is where the farrier first looks for some of the information that helps him balance stresses through the hoof. The coronary band with the nail bed on the underside produces horn tubules that should drop down like a curtain from a rail. Is the rail level? Any upward thrusting curve could indicate the hoof wall is to long in the quarters or heel. Some times this uneven nail bed cannot be changed as it is how the horse is made, but sometimes it is the hoof trimming that is at fault. Unshod horses on abrasive ground have a chance to balance out their own feet but shod feet mean the error remains and blood flow may be impaired or soft tissue damaged over and over with each foot fall.
If this scenario continues for months or years then the working life of that horse is maybe five to fifteen years shorter than it otherwise might have been.
The fit of the shoe is important as well. It should help break over, this reduces strain on the flexor tendons at the back of the leg as well as keeping lever forces in the front of the hoof to a minimum. The heels and sole also suffer less stress. The forces that produce quarter cracks in the wall are reduced if break over is easier. Any asymmetry beyond normal should be compensated for fitting the shoe a little wide at that narrow side when measured from a mid line down the centre of the frog.
Under load from each foot fall the bulbs of the heels sink down expanding the ground surface of the wall so any shoe fitted must allow for this expansion by being fitted wide enough to prevent the wall sliding off the shoe and over its edge. After only a week or so the shoe would sit inside the wall causing a loss of normal limb action and possible lameness if the heel and quarters of the shoe are not fitted properly.
The shoe should be long enough to reach the last ground bearing point of the frog.
In a good foot the last ground bearing point of the hoof wall at the heel would be level with the last bearing point of the frog, but often it isn't. The shoe should be wide enough to cover the wall and part of the sole, and long enough to provide support and cover for the heels. The ease of break over coupled to adequate length and cover of the heels is often enough to subtly move weight forward in the foot, placing it more centrally under the leg and closer to the pivot point of the Pedal joint.
Good logical foot preparation and sensible shoes fitted properly not only allow for improved action, reducing over reaching and pulled shoes, but the horse's useful life will be considerably lengthened.
Besides looking for all of these things, a judge of a best shod foot class will also be looking for craftsmanship in the work done. Good clean forge work on the shoes. Careless or unskilled, inaccurate hammer blows leave unsightly marks on the metal, in the trade it's known as "leaving your name and address".
The nails should be driven to a good height to have a firm hold on good horn, but not so high as to leave only the weak point of the nail to form a clench with. Equally nails should not be driven so low down that they are in the oldest weakest horn at the bottom of the hoof.
If the contours of the wall allow, it's nice to see all the clenches in a straight line, and not one up one down. Ugly deep grooves under the clenches show a lack of care taken, but also weaken the hoof wall at a vital spot.
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|© Dales Pony Society 2001 - 2012||Last reviewed: 9 July 2012|