Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction

On behalf of The M.M. Bennetts Award for Historical Fiction

"We are pleased to announce a new annual award for the best in historical fiction. In keeping with the values of our honoree, the late M.M. Bennetts, author of May 1812 and Of Honest Fame, the focus will be on literary quality and historical accuracy. You can read about M.M. and her work HERE.

"Please join our Award Facebook group HERE. It's an easy way to have questions answered and keep up with the news.

"Submissions are accepted immediately through January 31, 2015. Please help us spread the word to authors and publishers. Authors may enter the contest via the Submissions page.

"The award for the winning novel published in 2014 will be announced at the luncheon of the Historical Novel Society Conference on June 27, 2015 and immediately following, it will be posted on [its own] site, various social media, and news outlets.

"Expenses are being met through a $10 Submissions Fee and Donations via Paypal or credit card. Donations of any amount can be made using any currency with or without a Paypal account. We are working toward status as a nonprofit association. Please help us provide this tribute to M.M. Bennetts and our first annual winner. All assistance is greatly appreciated."

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Our 'Osses - when did our Fells become "ponies"?

Where does the name “the Fell pony” come from?

There is very scant evidence of British ponies in the 12 centuries between the end of Roman rule and the era of Elizabeth I. Every positive statement that can be made about them has a “but” attached to it.

Harness fittings and small pony-size 3.5” to 4” bits have survived from the Roman period and there are some sculptures which portray horses in Britain as small, eg the Roman tombstone to Flavinus in Hexham Abbey (on display at Tullie House Museum, Carlisle, in 2014), but we don’t have evidence of a local Cumbrian type, much less a breed. 

The Bayeux Tapestry shows a pack pony smaller than the fighting cavalry ponies who seem to be about 14 hands, but it is way too far south in its origins to be a reference for Northern England. 

Paintings throughout history show horses in the service of monarchs and generals, but no-one showcased the working ponies of the inhospitable North. 

We may guess that they were around—but who’s going to write about a scruffy pickup truck when there are Ferraris or Rolls Royces to admire?  


Eventually, when printed material becomes more common, evidence of local ponies appears as it does today, in literature and in trivia such as advertisements. The term “Galloway” comes into use in Shakespeare’s time (1597) referring to a small horse in common use.  Daniel Defoe in the early 1700s describes Scotland as having “the best breed of strong low horses in Britain, if not in Europe … from whence we call all small truss-strong riding horses Galloways.”

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The most specific references to local Cumbrian horses are notices in newspapers seeking information about “missing” saddle horses. “DARK BAY GALLOWAY, Eleven Hands and a Half high…. the Mane and Tail rather inclined to black, and had two or three white Saddle Marks… Reward for information leading to retrieval.”

The word “pony”

An explanation is frequently trotted out that the word “pony” traces to the Celtic horse goddess Epona. Sadly that doesn’t really hold water because her name had disappeared from common English usage by the 6th century AD—a thousand years before the earliest known date for “powny” which is a diary entry in 1659: "Diary 18 June, I caused to bring home the powny..." and 1675 W. Cunningham's Diary, 24 May, "Sent to Glasgow for a gang of shoo's to Cuninghamheid's pownie." Both are cited by the Oxford English Dictionary which adds that “pony” comes from Scottish, apparently from French poulenet “little foal”, and that the Irish pónaí and Scottish Gaelic pònaidh are derived from the English word and not the other way around. 
In 1710  Defoe describes characters riding on “Bastard Turks, half-bred Barbs, and Union Ponies, a Kind of Horses foaled upon the Borders, and occasionally owning either Country”. That might mean he is thinking of Scottish Galloways or predecessors of the English Fell. However, since Defoe was sent to Edinburgh in 1706 to worm his way into the confidence of the Scottish Parliament and help secure the Union of England and Scotland, he may simply be poking fun at himself and at recent political history. In any case, later in the pamphlet he remarks, “it is not my business as a Historian, to be over sollicitous about the Truth of Facts” (unusual honesty on the part of a secret agent and a journalist). Perhaps it’s safest to assume he has his tongue firmly in his cheek, and just to note his use of the word “ponies.”

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Spelt “poney” the word appears in 1838 in local advertisements in the Westmorland Gazette where it is linked to the terms “Scotch horse” or “Galloway” but not yet to “Fell”. Through the 19th Century the horses of Cumberland and Westmorland were still referred to as Fell-Galloways, and I have heard farmers even in the late 20th C using the term “Gallower” about Fell ponies. 

Agricultural horses, cobs, Hackneys, Galloways and "fell ponies"

Local shows - mostly held in September after the hay crop had been cleared from the fields - divided classes for horses and ponies into various types: Agricultural horses (ie, Clydesdales and their crosses and others suitable to pull farm equipment); cobs; Hackneys; and ponies. These "ponies" were not defined as a breed but usually the classes specified height limits such as "under 14 hands" or "under 13 1/2 hands".

The earliest use of the term "fell pony" (without a capital F) that I've found so far is from the Penrith newspaper, the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, 6th September, 1885. At Dufton show "the entry of fell ponies was good and the competition keen". The lack of a capital F, as opposed to the G of Galloway or H of Hackney, suggests that the term "fell pony" was not a breed name yet: it was being used for "a pony suitable to live at the fell" or "pony that has been living at the fell", in the same way that modern sheep breeds like Swaledales, Roughs and Herdwicks could be grouped under the one term "fell sheep". This version of the term "fell pony" as any fell-going pony is supported by a slightly later report in the Penrith Observer of 25th October, 1887 which stated that "the Judges for Shorthorns, Cobs, Ponies and Whitefaced Sheep were Mr. W. Ellwood, Skelling and Mr, Bousfield, Langwathby," and reports under Special Prizes for Ponies the following result: "Fell-gone pony, with foal at foot - 1, Messrs. Dargue; 2. Mr.Hutchinson." (with thanks to Dorothy Ewin of Dufton)

The Polo and Riding Pony Society

In 1893 the Polo Pony Society became the Polo and Riding Pony Society and began to register native pony types suitable for breeding light horses for sport and recreation. It registered the ponies by the areas in which they were located, and stipulated that they must be at least three-quarters “native” bred. This is when the names of areas such as Wales and the Scottish Highlands began to be linked to pony registrations, and the idea of a local breed with recorded ancestry emerged in place of a local “type”. 

Agricultural Show reports

In the following year, 1894, the first Cumbrian reference couples the words “ponies” and “Fell.” Before that, the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald reports from agricultural shows only described classes scheduled for Ponies not over 13½ hands, Cobs over 13½ hands and under 14½ hands, and Hackneys over 14½ hands. Hesket-New-Market (1894) and Shap (1895) were two of the first shows, after Dufton, that offered classes specifically for “Fell ponies.” 
Four years later the Polo and Riding Pony Society Stud Book registered the first 2 stallions and 6 mares in its Fell section.

But we still call them ’osses, even now.

Defoe, (1724–1727) A tour thro' the whole island of Great Britain, divided into circuits or journies
Cumberland Chronicle or Whitehaven Intelligencer, April and May 1777
Defoe, 1710, The True Account of the Last Distemper and Death of Tom Whigg (Part ii. p. 19) 

Sue Millard's book web site, Jackdaw E Books, now does gift vouchers http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/vouchers.htm 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

How to Make a Small Fortune from Writing

Let me spin you a yarn about my day. Today, for instance.

I rose at 7 am, and fed our animals. Just before 8 am, I hoisted a rucksack-cum-shopping-trolley of books into the car and set off on a 40 mile journey to a "pop up book shop" as part of a brand-new local Literary Festival. Nota bene - the experienced, a.k.a. knackered, indie author will always choose to transport books on wheels rather than directly by hand. Thus, I was instantly able to identify same, and distinguish them from the unpractised bag-and-box brigade, when we converged at 9am on the library which was our destination.

After a short round of greetings to those whom I knew in the PUBS (sighs... this does not mean the Rose and Crown. It is an acronym for Pop Up Book Shop) I left my stout plastic butcher's-tray of books in what I trusted were capable hands, and drove home again to get a few things done. Recycling was high on the list: for instance, plastic bags, and dog-food tins.

Just after 2:30 pm I set off with another load of recycling and the empty shopping trolley. The library at 3:45 pm was full of people behind and around the book tables, but it was pretty clear from their behaviour that they were writers, not buyers. Still, I had a very interesting conversation with a fellow historical novelist sitting in the "Ask the Author Anything" area, who was kind enough to say she didn't consider this "work" and also told me that the stall holding writers had laughed a lot while reading my Dragon Bait. I was relieved to find that was because it was funny, rather than peculiar.

Dragon Bait was my star of the day - one sale to a MOTP (work it out) and one to a fellow writer. I bought a collection of short stories, and intend to study them to learn about modern SS style. Well, they were written by a chap who teaches SS writing as a specialism at the University. I also bought a historical novel by the lady in the AAA area, and very nearly doubled my day's takings when she offered me change from my £20 in the form of.... wait for it... a £20 note and a couple of £1 coins. Being honest (or stupid) I suggested she reconsidered this.  I really should have offered, as part payment for her book, a copy of Dragon Bait, which she had said she intended to buy - but there we are, I too can be a bit slow after an earlier-than-usual start.

When I was re-packing I couldn't locate some of the books I had taken to the PUBS (stop it!). The slim poetry pamphlet, it seemed, had too closely resembled the kids' activity books - they were printed by the same firm - and the two activity books had not been displayed individually because they were the same thickness. The three items all spent the day in the same stack, and registered no sales at all. Moral - if taking several books which are similar, pack them in widely separated batches so that even those who are unfamiliar with your stuff will realise they are not all the same thing.

The accounts for today look like this:

Car mileage: 160 miles (40 miles there and back, morning and afternoon)
Parking fees: £1 x 2 (very reasonable and handy for the venue)
Donation per sale to the PUBS (stop sniggering at the back please): £1 per book, ie £2

Costs: £4 outgoings, car fuel discounted as part of recycling run... which is frankly bloody optimistic)

Book Sale: £6 x 2

Income: £12

Net income: £8 (see remark on Costs)

Purchases: errrrm... *coughs*

See, this is why writers are rubbish at business. Having "made" a few quid at the expense of 4 hours of driving, I blew it all and more by buying 2 books that cost (together) more than I had actually taken, which in any case I can't dignify by the term "profit" (see remark on Costs!)

All in all, a very typical writer's "sales" day. Lots of batting around, lots of jawing, a bit of networking, a bit of positive feedback, and one or two lessons learned.

Oh, and how to make a small fortune from writing?

Start with a large one.

Dragon Bait is available from Sue's web site, http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/dragonbait.htm  and on Amazon Kindle, UK or Amazon Kindle, USA.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

New Songs to Old Tunes 2

I love the Northumbrian pipe melody of "Kielder Hunt". I've been trying to write a song about Orton Farmer's Market, but it just refuses to go with the haunting tune.

But passing Lune's Bridge on the way to choir the other night I remembered the morning of Sunday 15th February 2004: when our little local road became busy with traffic diverted off the A685, which was closed while emergency services dealt with 4 dead and 5 injured men from the Tebay railway accident. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tebay_rail_accident

Here's a fragment of the tune, sung by Willie Scott, which is more or less as it's sung by the hunters in Cumbria. http://www.virginmedia.com/music/browse/willie-scott/songs/249399

And here are my lyrics to it, about the railway accident.

Lune's Bridge

The night is cold in Tebay Gorge, the wind is keening sore
in the February darkness of the year two thousand-four.
The railway lads are set to work between mid-night and morn,
from Saturday the fourteenth to the Sunday's frozen dawn.
Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

The scrappers' gang is working up the trackside at Scout Green,
unloading sixteen tons of steel from a flat-bed truck by crane.
And down at Lunesbridge level there's a cutting gang as well
who work by floodlight through the night, at the south end of Loups Fell.Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

The Scout Green truck has got no brake, she’s stayed on wooden blocks;
the crane unloading jerks her from her feeble wooden chocks.
With sixteen tons of rusty rail she runs from where she parked
and down the one in seventy-five goes rumbling through the dark.Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

She'll clear the cut at Scotchman's Bridge, the bank above Low Scales,
Low Greenholme's airy viaduct and Loups Fell's trembling rails.
Get out your phone and make the call to warn the Lunesbridge crew -
Tell Tindall, Buckley, Burgess, Jump and go, she's bound for you.
Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

All sixteen tons down seventy-five is killing weight indeed;
that minute while you try to call builds up her deadly speed.
The cutters of the Lunesbridge gang they fall without a cry;
she throws five men from out her path and sends four more to die.
Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

In vain the phones are ringing now; an answer cannot come,
for Waters', Buckley's, Burgess, Tindall's time on earth is done.
No monument can bring them back, no killer's years in jail.
Remember, when you pass Lune's Bridge, the men who mend the rail.
Gone away, gone away,
out of Scout Green down to Tebay, gone away.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

New Songs to Old Tunes

Now I'll give you a toast, lads, to all the fell packs,
To masters, to huntsmen and whips of aw macks,
You can have your athletics and games of all sorts,
But this hunting is surely the greatest of sports.
    Tally Ho! Tally Ho! Tally Ho!
    Hark For'ard good hounds, Tally Ho!

A perfectly good tune whose words have become non-PC through no fault of their own. Look at all the hunting songs we Cumbrians have, that are just being wasted... well what does a writer do? She writes some new words. And if Maddy Prior can sing about the Uppies and Downies at Workington, then I can sing about an agricultural show.

This one goes to the tune of "The Six Fell Packs": here's the original on Ron Black's site, http://www.lakelandhuntingmemories.com/6_Fell_Packs.htm

Crosby Ravensworth Show

The heather is bright on the top of the Scar.
The family packs in the seats of the car.
There's Granddad and Grannie, the kids and the hound
and we're all on the road, Crosby-Ravensworth-bound.
Let it rain, let it shine, let it blow -
we're going to Ravensworth Show.

Now Granddad and Grannie they go every year
to catch up with crack and to share some good cheer;
they've got to the age where they're thin in the thatch
and the most of their talk is hatch, match and dispatch.
Let it rain, let it shine, let it blow -
we're all at the Ravensworth Show.

The Industry tent is where mother is bound
which leaves me out here with the kids and the hound.
I’d bet on the ferrets, which pipe they would run -
but they sleep in their burrow and hide from the sun!
Let it rain, let it shine, let it blow -
we're all at the Ravensworth Show.

The ponies are trotting to show at their best,
where beauty and manners are part of the test;
the cattle lie dozing, the sheep stand in pens,
there's a tent for the rabbits, the ducks and the hens.
Let it rain, let it shine, let it blow -
they're all at the Ravensworth Show.

We sit on the benches to eat an ice cream
or hot dogs that give off a savoury steam
with onions and ketchup. The hound licks his lips
so we give him the crusts and the last of the chips.
Let it rain, let it shine, let it blow -
pig-out at the Ravensworth Show.

The big bouncy castle is where the kids play;
they take off their shoes and go bounding away;
the dog wants to join them and leaps like a clown,
but Granddad and Grannie just want a sit-down.
Let it rain, let it shine, let it blow -
we're tired at the Ravensworth Show.

The sunshine has fled and it's going to shower;
if you don't like the weather just wait half an hour.
It was fun in the sun through the sideshows to roam,
but now we're wet through so I think we'll go home.
Let it rain, let it shine, let it blow -
we've been to the Ravensworth Show.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Appleby's Horse Fairs

Ponies and Horses sold in Appleby

Mrs Gowling of the Upper Eden History Society directed me to Appleby's Records of the Ancient Corporation, Memoranda/Minute book, Volume 1 (WSMB/A) in the County Record Office in Kendal. Sales entries are scattered through the volume, which though titled 1614-1661 actually contains some information from the 1590s - and not all of the entries are chronological!It looks like the clerk simply picked an empty page wherever he could to record the day's trading.

Three ponies sold at Appleby in the early 17th C were like our modern Fell pony in size and colour:
1623: Sold the same day in open market by John Toppin of Castle Sowerby in the County of Cumberland, yeoman, to Peter Taylor of Dufton in the Co. of Westmorland - one little mayre coullor blacke bay (? slit or bitted or other ear mark?) in the inner eire. Paye sume xxxiij s iiij d 33s 4d
1626: sould the same day in open market by Wm Story of the said ... in the parish of Eske in the County of Cumberland, one little mayre coullor blacke browne and saddle claimed to Rowland Hardman of Crosby in the Co. of Westmorland, xxvii s 27s
8 October 1648: Sould the same daye by William Gask to Robert Nicholson of Marrton, in county of Westmorland, one little nagg, colour bay, with one cutt in the far eare, of the age of 9 yeares, for the prise and somme of 31 shilliings 31s
Some of these entries may refer to the Appleby Horse Fair in June, but there are records of horses being sold throughout the year, month by month. Some entries record sales and swaps between men from very much further afield than the farms around Appleby; we see direct evidence of trade between Scotland (Dumfries), Northern England (Chester, York), and even South-west England (Somerset); and men moving their business from Northern England across to Ireland (Downpatrick) to buy and sell horses.
4 June 1638: Sould the same daye by one John Make M??? in the countie of (? Armagh?) in the kingdome of Irelande to Launcelot Harrison of Kirkbythore in the Countie of Westmorland, one white gray nagge 6 yeares.

Civil War (1641–1651)

The buying, selling and exchanging of horses, and the settling of civil disputes, continued to be recorded during the Civil War, with men still travelling long distances to sell.
2 February 1643 Exchanged the same daie between John Powley of Appleby, and John Stamper lait of the Parish of Allhallows, at a pace called the Whole House, neere the Whitehall in the Countye of Cumberland, one black bay mare of the said Johns, for a red bay nagg of the said John Stamper, white mained, with a little star in the forehead, given in exchange by the said John Powley to the said John Stamper iij s iiij d (three shillings and fourpence). 3s 4d
June 1643 (probably at the annual Horse Fair): Thomas Simple of Dumfries in the kingdom of Scotland, one maire, colour  [unreadable; dun? leaden?], of the age of three yeares or thereabouts, full mained and cutt tailed, to Thomas Smith of Asby for the somme of XX vii iij (twenty pounds seven shillings and three pence). £20 7s 3d
Aprille 1644  Sould the same daye by one George Cox of Walton in Somasset unto Robert Parkin of Appleby in the Countye of Westmorland, one maire colour brown bay under bitted in the far eare XXX vj (thirty pounds and six shillings). £30 6s 0d
July 1644 Sould the same daye by Henry Ai--- of Warcopp, to Thomas Sewell of Culgaith, one blacke bay nagg, burnt (branded) on the right shoulder, of the Age of seven yeares, for the prise of twenty seven shillings. £1 7s 0d
May 1646: John Grassine of Boulton (Appleby) to ----, Ebor (York), one black maire iij.vii £3 7s 0d
July 1646: Sould the same day by Adam Bayly of the parish of  --- in the county of Cumberland in the open fair --- one maire colour gray --- to John Mossop of Crookerigg in the County of Yorke
18 October 1648:  Sould the same daye by Lieutenant Colonell A---Standaye to Mr Edward Mowson, one lead coloured maire, wall eyed and her fore hoofs hollow, of the age of four yeares for the prise and somme of X ii vi (ten pounds two shillings and six pence). £10 2s 6d
2 December 1648:  Sould the same daye by Tho Birch of Lensam (Ledsham?) in the county of Chester, to Frances Bainbrigg of Kirber, one gray horse of the age of six yeares, for the prise of XXX (thirty pounds) £30 0s 0d


February 1643:  one black bay mare... a red bay nagg, white mained...
March 1643:

One maire cutt tailed colour bay of the age of nine years...
April 1643: One maire colour brown bay...
July 1644:  one geldinge colour baie, starred in the forehead and marked with an I in the buttock and black taile, XX vi viii (two pounds six shillings and eight pence)... £2 6s 8d
July 1644: One blacke bay nagge ...  
August 1644: One roaned geldinge with white --- down the forehead ...  
August 1644: One horse with a white face, three white feet, wall eyed and cutt tailed ...  
November 1645: One brown mouse roaned maire ...  
May 1646: One gray maire... One pybauld maire and one black maire 5. 7. 6 (five pounds, seven shillings and six pence)... £5 7s 6d
" ... one black maire for the soome of 5. 6. 6 (five pounds six shillings and sixpence).  £5 6s 6d
Black, black bay, black brown, brown bay, red bay (with a white mane), bay, mouse brown, gray, lead-coloured, roaned, piebald. It's interesting that I haven't yet turned up an example of the term "chestnut." OED cites it being used as a term for a horse colour in 1636; Shakespeare used it as a hair colour for people in 1600 in As You Like It, so it was in use in Southern England some 50 years before these sales were being recorded. But "sorrel" or "sorelled" are not there either. I wonder what the "red bay" horse with the "white main" looked like.
Note also the absence of any measure of height in these later entries. "Maire" and "geldinge" are obvious gender descriptions and "horse" probably means "an entire" (stallion), rather than "a tall equine." The word "little" is not often used here, and unlike the sales made at Adwalton, over in Yorkshire in 1631 (Dent) the animals' gaits are only rarely recorded (see Galloways 2). A "nagg" is a riding horse.

Ages and prices

The average age of the horses recorded in the Minute Book as sold at Appleby is 7 years. The youngest was 3 years (only one animal); 9 years was the age at which more horses were traded (3); the oldest stated age is 10 years (1) with 1 horse "aged", ie over 9 years. Prices ranged from 3 shillings and 4 pence (to make up value in a part exchange); 1 pound and 7 shillings for a straight local sale, up to 27 or 30 pounds for horses coming from a distance (Dumfries, Chester, Somerset). The sellers who were willing to travel evidently knew their market.

Eating the Horses: the Siege of Carlisle, 1644

Carlisle was a Royalist stronghold in the Civil War between the supporters of King Charles I (Cavaliers) and those who supported Cromwell's Parliament (Roundheads).
Isaac Tullie recorded in his journal many details of the Siege of Carlisle, which was occupied by Sir Thomas Glenham, the Royalist northern commander, with his forces in July of 1644. In October, Carlisle was besieged by the Parliamentarian General Lesley with a detachment of the Scottish army. Lesley was more determined than a previous commander who had given up after a few weeks; he sat it out all winter, and life was hard within the walls of the city. (Lysons)
Tullie records that foraging parties from inside Carlisle were able to capture cattle from around the outskirts of the city and bring them in as meat for the soldiers and townspeople, until the end of April 1645; but from April 3 "they had only thatch for [food for] the horses, all other provisions being exhausted."
May 10: "A fat horse taken from the enemy sold for 10s a quarter."
June 5: "Hempseed, dogs and rats were eaten." The horses had been kept alive as long as possible, in case the army needed them for battle, though what help they could be once both men and horses were starving, is difficult to see.
June 17: "Some officers and soldiers came to the common bakehouse [where roasting of meat and baking of bread took place for those who had no oven] and took away all the horseflesh from the common people, who were as near to starving as themselves."
June 22: "The garrison had only half a pound of horseflesh each for four days."
June 23: "The townsmen petitioned Sir Thomas Glenham that the horseflesh might not be taken away, and said they were not able to endure the famine any longer ... " With tears in his eyes, he told them he was unable to help. However, on June 25, when all provisions had gone, he admitted defeat, and the city was honourably surrendered to the Commonwealth forces. The siege was lifted, the city officially fell to the Parliamentarians, and the inhabitants were well treated after their long defence.

Sue Millard manages the Fell Pony and Countryside Museums web site, where you can read more at http://www.fellponymuseum.org.uk/fells/17_18C/17thc.htm

Her book web site, Jackdaw E Books, now does gift vouchers http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/vouchers.htm

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Carriages: a quick run-down


I was such a horse-obsessed child that, for the whole year when I studied A level Art, my teacher had to ban me from including any in the work I produced for her. At home, I drew horses doing all sorts of things, from enjoying wild freedom on the hills or grazing in a field, to riding holidays or racing or jumping. The only discipline that didn’t interest me at all was horses being driven, in harness. That wasn’t just because of the intricacy of the harness itself – though a set of “straps” as the gypsies call it, when thrown on a bench, looks like nothing so much as a heap of leather spaghetti – no, it was the fact that horses pulling carriages or agricultural machinery wore bridles with blinkers. And the fact is that blinkers (winkers or blinders) conceal the horse’s most attractive features, its beautiful, deep, liquid eyes. The child artist that I was, therefore, chose to dismiss carriage horses entirely.

However, I developed an interest in driving horses quite by chance, when the equestrian author Clive Richardson asked me to provide a few line drawings for his book “Driving:  the Development and Use of Horsedrawn Vehicles”. When I expressed curiosity about the material I was producing, and mentioned that my Fell mare had been trained to harness before I got her, he was kind enough to lend me a set of harness and an exercise cart so I could try the discipline for myself. And the rest, as they say, is history. (See what I did there?)

Carriages for the historical novelist

For our purposes as historical writers, carriage driving needs to be understood because it’s an important form of transport. In the eras before steam and internal combustion we had an almost symbiotic relationship with the horse – though also with the donkey, mule, ox and even the dog, who were all pressed into use at our need. However, since Debbie has asked me to deal with carriages, I am going to leave the other species out of this article!

You’ll need to be clear on a few phrases and their meanings. Here’s a short list!

Traces – the long leather straps that join the horse’s collar to the carriage he is pulling. Even mainstream edited novels can get that wrong: Alexandra Ripley when writing “Scarlett” clearly thought that traces are another name for reins for controlling the horses. They aren’t.
Collar – the roughly oval, leather-stuffed-with-rye-straw thingy that goes round the horse’s neck. It pads his shoulders from the pressure of the hames, long brassplated or silverplated arms to which the traces are attached. The hames are fastened onto the collar at top and bottom by hame straps. The horse pushes into the collar and the hames take up the strain, then the traces which are slotted onto the trace hooks (on a carriage for a single horse) or looped over roller bolts  (on a pairs carriage) tighten and pull the carriage forward.
Whip – to encourage the horse/s to go forward, or sometimes sideways if he is jumping away from a scary object and you don’t want him to. A carriage whip is LONG. A holly stick (often also called the “stock”) is between 4 feet 6 inches and 5 feet long. The thong is made from 4, 5 or 6 finely plaited strips of “white leather” (ironically it’s traditionally made from horse hide). That is fastened to the stock using a tube of split goose quills “whipped” with black linen thread, to give the whip a nice curve from whipstock to thong. For the driver of a single or a pair of horses, the whip thong is also 4 or 5 feet long with a 6 inch lash of whipcord on the end, so a driver should be able to flick it forward to touch the horse some 10 feet ahead of his own shoulder. A four in hand whip has a lash up to 10 feet long. Hence the other meaning of “whip” – a driver good enough to be able to use a whip efficiently without taking off his passengers’ hats! Also, a great way for you or your servant to break the top of your whip is to put the carriage away through a low stable doorway with the whip standing upright in the whipholder beside the seat!
Tyre – the metal rim of a carriage wheel, fitted as a red-hot hoop by the local blacksmith and his boys, and immediately doused with water to cool it to a tight fit without burning the wood. Old, poorly maintained wheels could sometimes lose the tyre, which would then go bowling down the road ahead of the carriage – and sometimes the wheel, deprived of its support, could collapse. Some carriages from the mid-19th century onwards had rubber or “caoutchouc” tyres which were solid (pneumatic tyres for carriages were a very late invention and only really took off in modern times on metal competition carriages). Coachbuilders described rubber tyres as “invaluable for invalids” because they had a slight cushioning effect and were very much quieter than iron on stony surfaces. Rubber tyres were held in a U shaped channel by two lengths of wire, which on an old carriage might rust through and allow the tyre to fly off – again, forwards, which wouldn’t help the driver controlling his horse!
Carriage – this is a trick question! Strictly the “carriage” is what we’d now call the “undercarriage” or chassis – the suspension of the vehicle. “Carriage” also tended to be the overall term  for a 4-wheeled private vehicle, such as a phaeton, landau or brougham, while public 4 wheeled vehicles were “coaches”, and from the mid-19thC included omnibuses and cabs or “growlers”. There were many different styles of carriages, often with subtle differences due to customer preferences, intended usage, and (of course!) fashion. A good starter list of carriage names can be found on Wikipedia.

Carriage types and construction

Your historical characters, especially the menfolk, might well be carriage experts, as men often try to be with cars today. They would know the age of carriages in part by the type of suspension they have: the oldest coaches have the body slung on leather straps from wooden or metal posts – see the Gold State Coach built in 1762. Even quite early coaches had glass in their windows – Samuel Pepys’ coach needed a window replaced in December 1668 and it cost him £2 (40 shillings).


Spring suspension to relieve the jolts of metal tyres on stony roads was introduced from about 1700 onwards, with the “whip spring” and “cee spring”, both still using leather straps. The elliptic spring invented by Obadiah Elliott in 1804 did away with the need for a leather strap, and by increasing the number of springs to 4 for each axle and the number of metal “leaves” in each spring, even heavy coaches could provide a modicum of comfort for their passengers. 

At the other end of the scale, 2-wheeled vehicles were the cheapest to make and needed only one horse. Early gigs date from the late 18thC and might have been little more than a plank with a seat and shafts set above the wheels; in North America the “riding chair” and in England the “whisky” (nothing to do with the drink but referring to its lightness and speed). Gigs had either elliptical or semi-elliptical springs and seated two people side by side without provision for a third party – so your young unmarried ladies had better not ride in one beside a gentleman driver, because being unchaperoned, they risked acquiring the label “fast”.  On low-class country vehicles which saw a lot of use down narrow roads with scratchy hedgerows, it was quite usual not to paint the woodwork but to varnish it because damage could easily be touched up with fresh varnish without being noticeable, whereas paint needed to be colour matched by an expert.


English carriage-builders used oak for the spokes of the wheels, elm for the wheel hubs, and ash for shafts and poles and vehicle bodies. A gentleman’s carriage would be painted to a very high standard, with the grain of the wood filled and rubbed smooth, covered with many layers of undercoat and then several of the top coat of paint. Seating was durable and constructed like indoor furniture, with horsehair stuffing held in place by cloth, sometimes topped with felt, and then upholstered. The interior of a private carriage might be very luxurious, trimmed in morocco leather, silk, and lace. Parts of the exterior were also of hard leather, for instance dashboards to keep dirt from flying up off the horses’ hooves, and mudguards above the wheels for the same reason.


One of the reasons why a man who “keeps his carriage” was considered to have plenty of money was that he needed servants to look after his horses, to “put the horses to the carriage”, to drive (if he didn’t drive himself) and “take them out of the carriage” afterwards. It was a big job to maintain the equipment. Harness had to be wiped down and cleaned with saddle-soap and then oiled or greased to keep it supple, while the buckles (whether brass or silver plated) had to be polished and the buckle tongues kept greased – otherwise metal salts or rust could corrode the leather and cause it to break in use. Steel bits needed to be cleaned with sand to keep them bright. Carriages had to be washed with generous amounts of water to remove the dirt of the road, then dried and polished, and the cushions and floor mats needed to be brushed.  The coach-house in an English climate had to have a fire kept going most days, to keep woodwork and harness from deteriorating with rust, mould and damp.

And now a little something for your estate owners

A conscientious estate owner would take an interest in the horses his tenants used to manage his land. The phrases “works in chains” and “is good in all gears” mean that the horse is trained for farm work.

Pairs of horses, who work either side of a pole, and plough horses, pull by chains, in the case of ploughing, very long ones. A single horse in a cart, however, draws the load by short chains. There’s one over the big heavy saddle on his back, to hold up the shafts; two from his collar to the shafts, to draw the load; and two from the breeching round his bum, to the shafts, to prevent the cart running him over on downhill stretches and to let him back it up to an unloading dock. The reins are more likely to be long plough-cords than leather.

Wains, wagons and carts which are agricultural or used for commercial heavy transport have heavy-duty everything – big, thick shafts, heavy wheels with iron hooped tyres, iron banded hubs. The harness is also wide, heavy leather, and it doesn’t have a shiny finish. The buckles are often iron or steel rather than brass.

There’s no brasswork on cart shafts like there is on a gentleman’s carriage. Brass is a relatively soft metal that will not take stress. Those work-chains are dealing with weight, so the staples on each shaft that carry a hook for the chains, are blacksmith-forged iron, 8 to 10 inches long with sharpened, bent-back points hammered into the wood. No screws or nails could be stronger. I have a cart shaft-staple that I found on our farm; I don’t have a farm cart, but it’s still being used, because I hammered it into the wall outside my stable. That’s where I tie up my pony while I put her harness on before we go out for a sunny drive along our Cumbrian roads.


Richardson, C, 1985: Driving: the Development and Use of Horse Drawn Vehicles. (Batsford.)
Walrond, S, 1974: The Encyclopedia of Driving. (Country Life.)

Sue Millard looks after the web site of the North West Driving Club, http://www.northwestdrivingclub.co.uk/, She is one of its honorary vice-presidents, having also been its secretary, treasurer, press officer and chairman at various times over the past 30 years. Her historical novel, Coachman, is available alongside several other genres from her Jackdaw E Books site, http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/

Saturday, June 28, 2014

A Gallop Through History

First published on English Historical Fiction Authors in January this year.

I was going to start this blog post with a snappy run-down of the history of the horse since the Bronze Age—skipping through Roman, Anglo Saxon and medieval history with a click of the tongue and a crack of the whip. But, as I’ve done a good deal of that already and it’s called The Fell Pony and Countryside Museums, I won’t. For which you should be jolly grateful, otherwise this post would have been even longer.

However, I had better clear up a few technical terms here which I’ll be using throughout:

Horse or stallion – an entire adult male with all his breeding equipment intact, a bit touchy and difficult to handle if there is a nice mare nearby.
Mare – an adult female.
Gelding – a male horse of age over 1 year, who has been castrated to stop him breeding, and make him easier to handle.
Colt – young horse under the age of 4 years (in England, also, usually this refers to a male).
Filly – young mare under the age of 4 years.
Foal – young horse under 1 year of age.

Hand – a term of immense age, the width of a man’s hand, standardised as 4 inches. Horses are measured for height at the withers; when a horse puts its head down to graze, the wither is the highest point of their body, the bony part of the spine just above the shoulder. A horse of 12 hands high measures 48 inches / 4 feet / 122 centimetres from ground to wither;  one that is  13.2 hands high measures 54 inches / 4 foot 6 inches / 137.2 cms; 15 hands high is 60 inches / 5 feet / 152.4 cms.[i]  And so on.

Time span

The horse has been around people for an awfully long time—since circa 5,500 years ago, when they were domesticated in the steppes of central Asia. Since then the horse has developed an almost symbiotic relationship with humans and, like the dog, cat, sheep and cow, has become a highly successful domestic species.

From the time of the Botai Culture of Kazakhstan, up to the advent of steam locomotion in Britain in the 1830s, the horse’s job has been to supply power and/or speed.

Quality over quantity

Just as with cars in modern times, the more power and speed you want, the more you have to pay for it. This means that the most powerful people have the fastest and most powerful horses while the poor old foot soldier and farmer has to make do with what he can get—or else, do without. Historically, though, this doesn’t mean that the rich own very tall horses. 

“... in the Iron Age, horses (or more accurately ponies) averaged 12.1 hh in height and resembled the modern Exmoor breed in terms of overall build. Roman horses show two distinct types; the first similar to the Iron Age ponies but taller (13.3 hh), the second taller still (14-15 hh) and more heavily built (much like a modern cob). During the Saxon period there appears to be a change back to predominantly smaller (13.2 hh) but quite robust ponies. In the Medieval period the average horse appears very similar to Saxon ones, although a few relatively large individuals begin to appear.” [ii]

The horse found accompanying the Anglo-Saxon Lakenheath burial (~570 AD) was about 14 hands high although the man is estimated to have been six feet tall.

Most British “horses”, through many centuries, would be classed as ponies by modern standards. Imagine a world where the horse population only included the current British native pony breeds.

Kinds of horses

There were no distinct horse “breeds” until the late 18th century; no pedigree societies and no stud books except the memories of the men who handled horses as part of their employment.

Horses were classified by the work they were suitable for. They were sumpters (pack horses); rouncies or cobs or nags who trotted along carrying tradespeople (including the young squire struggling with his master’s war stallion). Small horses did the work of all the industries, bore messages, carried people on pilgrimages and transported packs of goods many hundreds of miles from farm to consumer. A few horses drew farm carts harnessed side by side in pairs or “at length” nose to tail but, given the often poor state of the roads until the toll system was introduced, probably far more were employed carrying packs and people on their backs.  Pack horses from Kendal walked to London and back within a month, taking wool, cheeses and other produce southwards and bringing back all the dainties of civilised life from the capital to the rural communities.

Powerful and warlike men of course required war-horses. These stallions were led by mounted squires to keep them fresh for a knight’s use, hence the term destrier, from dextrarius, the “horse at the right hand”. A war horse, even for an armoured man, was nowhere near as tall as the modern Shire or Clydesdale draught horse; most likely he stood around 15 to 15 and a half hands at the shoulder and was a square-trotting powerful cob like the “Powys Horse” of South Wales, or the modern Welsh Section D cob (before it began to shoot skyward in modern times).[iii]

Hobelars (mounted local militia, used for skirmishing in times of war) rode hobbies of 13 to 14 hands high. Hobbies were quick and sturdy, like Fell ponies, Connemaras, and the taller types of the New Forest ponies. There is some discussion about whether they trotted, as all British breeds now do, or paced or ambled; these “lateral” gaits where the legs on each side move together were easier for a lady to “sit” safely.

Gentlefolk, both men and women, rode palfreys or pads that paced or ambled; the old term was paraveredus from which palfrey comes, as does the Regency word prad. My Lady might be seated on a palfrey on a pillion pad behind her older brother or husband, perched completely sideways; if she rode alone, she would have both her feet on a planchette (footboard), and her palfrey perhaps led by a servant—both positions that didn’t encourage independence. The side-saddle, enabling ladies to control their mounts without a servant, developed from the mid-16th century onward.[iv]

Under Henry VIII the owners of certain sizes of property had to keep a given number of mares over 13 hands, for breeding—which strongly suggests that English horses in a majority of cases were under that height. Henry’s much cited edict required autumn drives to round up the stock, within 15 days of Michaelmas, and any "unlikely tits" or "unprofitable beastes" were then to be killed off. These laws seem to have been widely disregarded, as in 1580 Queen Elizabeth had to proclaim that to ensure the "breed and encrease of horses", in future the penalties for non-compliance would actually be applied, and not winked at as in previous times.  A tit is a small or young horse, a term dating from the 1500s or earlier, that developed, as many words do: 1726, “Tit, a little Horse, and some call a Horse of a middling Size a double Tit.”[v] The word persisted till at least the 1890s, with various meanings including a girl, a young man, or a junior or weaker party of any kind, as well as its remaining modern meanings of a bird or a female breast. 

Around 1597 the term Galloway appeared[vi] and quickly changed its meaning from a small Scottish horse to any short, stout, quick general purpose animal—replacing the old “hobby horse” who is only remembered now as a child’s wooden toy or a phrase dismissing obsessive enthusiasm. Even as late as this they were still known as horses; the word pony or “poney” for a smaller animal than the Galloway didn’t appear until the mid 17th century, probably from French “poulenet”.[vii] In any case, you didn’t really need the word pony when you had the word tit!

It isn’t until the 17th century that pedigrees begin to be found, primarily for what developed into the Thoroughbred racehorse. Horsey children are taught about the three foundation stallions—the Darley Arabian, the Byerley Turk and the Godolphin Arabian—but the original Thoroughbred coursers or “running horses” were bred out of native British mares, using these Oriental stallions as sires[viii]. Many of the racehorses competing under the patronage of Charles II would have been only 13.2 hands high—a very long way short of modern racehorses who are generally closer to 16 hands than 15. Every racehorse still carries the mitochondrial DNA of those proud little British and Irish mares.[ix]

There were also local types of ponies and horses, such as the north-country Chapman horses which were stout, short-legged pack horses which travelling pedlars or “chapmen” used; these were said to be the foundation of the tall Cleveland Bay and in turn the Thoroughbred-cross Yorkshire coach horses, which were in demand for fast coach travel because of their strength and the ease of matching them for colour.[x]

Horses vs. Oxen in farming

Until the mid 18th century, heavy ploughing was more often the job of oxen (bullocks) than of horses. Rob Johnson, who has worked bullocks in Australia, tells me:

Bullocks are stoic, and willing to please. A bullock team works on what it can graze, while a horse team needs supplements like oats. Ploughing deeply in heavy clay would be easier with bullocks’ slow, steady, cloven hooves, and bullocks tend to work together more than horses. The early wooden ploughs would have been fairly rudimentary as well. As the variables improved, like the ploughs requiring less draught power, feed for horses being more freely available and harnesses becoming better, then the quality of the farm horses was improved, and they became better all round animals. They probably still wouldn't match bullocks for the heavy going, but they were more versatile.

There were even ox-teams working in England up till the end of the 19th century. Another point in favour of working farms with oxen was that when they were no longer useful they could be eaten, whereas in England for millennia there has been a taboo on eating horses.


Horses belonging to land-owning families seem to have been generally well looked-after. They were so useful that they couldn’t be neglected! Stabled horses, then as now, needed to be fed corn (oats or occasionally barley) to fuel them for hard work, and in the absence of their natural food, grass, or green meat as it has sometimes been called, they must have generous quantities of hay to keep their digestive systems working; plus large amounts of water, between 5 and 8 gallons a day. Not to mention straw for bedding!

Letters to Margaret Paston written in 1471[xi] tell us that her son, who had been detained away from his Norfolk home for some time, wished to make sure that his horses were well fed, healthy and available for him to use when he returned:

... I have now enough hay of my own, and as for oats, Dollys will purvey (buy/provide) for him, or I will pay whoever does so. And I beseech you that he have every week three bushels of oats, and every day a penny worth of bread (probably horse-bread, made of beans). And if Boton is not at Norwich and Syme keeps him, I shall pay him well for his labour. Also that Philip Loveday should put the other horse out to grass there as he and I agreed....


The Fenlands of East Anglia were drained by Dutch engineers in the 17th century[xii], and these engineers are said to have brought Friesian trotters with them. These in turn influenced the Norfolk trotter, and the Old English Black (later the Shire)—and the word “black” brings me to the colours we might have seen among the horses of historic times.

Many of the horses described after the battle of Flodden in 1513 were grey; out of 252 horses, 95 were grey. It was easily the most frequent colour of all, and “grey” did not include the ones the accounting clerk recorded as “white”.[xiii]  These horses belonged to the ordinary Dales farmer-soldiers who were being “demobbed” after Henry VIII's Scottish campaign.

The hair colours in another account, from the famous horse sales at Appleby in Westmorland (1623 to 1646) ranged through a drabbish rainbow from black, black bay, black brown, brown bay, red bay (with a “white main”), bay, mouse brown, lead-coloured, roaned, and piebald (black-and-white, coloured, pinto) to grey (not “white”  although a grey horse as it ages will look white).

It’s interesting that, in searching these Civil War period accounts, I haven’t yet turned up an example of the term “chestnut.” The Oxford English Dictionary cites it being used as a term for a horse colour in 1636 and Shakespeare used it as a hair colour for people in 1600 in As You Like It, so it was in use in Southern England some 50 years before these sales were being recorded. But the alternative term “sorrel” is not in those Appleby accounts either. I wonder what the red bay horse with the white mane looked like.

Over the centuries, increasing control of horse-breeding, by gelding colts, allowed less skilled people to handle horses safely. It also exerted a selection process over which animals got to pass on their qualities to subsequent generations.  Some areas even spayed filly foals: I learned from a university vet just today that speying mares had become so commonplace in France that it had to be banned by Ordinance in 1717—and being a good academic he even gave me the reference for it[xiv].

Since the improvement of farming equipment and harness, and the beginnings of selective breeding, draught horse breeds such as the Shire, Clydesdale and Suffolk had been used to plough and harvest, as well as to draw heavy waggons in the arable counties of the east of Britain. But the poorer the owner was, the rougher the horse, vanner, cob or pony he would own, down to the local milk lady who might well be serving her produce out of churns strapped either side of a donkey.

Once the railway age began in the 1830s the need for relays of well-bred horses to draw mail coaches declined somewhat, but they were still heavily used by private individuals who could afford to race, ride, hunt, or drive. With the advent of the internal combustion engine in the 1890s the horse began to escape his task of providing practical day-to-day power and speed, and to be wanted mainly for the leisure uses we see today.

Here’s a little thought for you to go away with: picture a farm horse coming home from ploughing. Of course the ploughman has jumped up and hitched a ride to save his tired legs after mile after mile after mile of single furrow ploughing. You might not realise, though, that he’s riding sideways, like a medieval lady, rather than astride. Plough horses are built for power and their backs are groin-achingly wide. I am reliably informed from the Other Side of the Bed that without a saddle (or even with) there are certain aspects of male physique that discourage men from riding astride. So spare an admiring thought for the warriors of ancient times who spent so much time on horseback and still came home from war to father a family!

Sue Millard looks after the web site of the Fell Pony and Countryside Museums at Dalemain, http://www.fellponymuseum.org.uk/ Her historical novel, Coachman, is available from her Jackdaw E Books site, http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/

[iii] Hyland, A., The Horse in the Middle Ages
[xiii] DENT, A & MACHIN-GOODALL, D, 1962: Foals of Epona (Galley Press) reprinted 1988 as A History of British Native Ponies (London: J A Allen)
[xiv] Fleming, 1881 - Veterinary Journal 12:145ff.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Trouble comes in Threes

I took my Fell mare Ruby out for a drive this afternoon. The weather was just too good to waste!

She's had her hooves trimmed by the blacksmith in the past few days, so I fit her road boots - Easyboot Epics on the front and Easyboot Gloves on the back - to prevent her getting sore. I was planning to do 6 miles, going round Orton and back. Said boots all go on very easily (which should really have been a warning to me). Harness up, yoke up, and away we go.

The outward leg of the journey is lovely. Just enough wind to keep us cool, lots of sunshine, and spectacular huge spikes of bright purple Northern Marsh Orchids coming into bloom in damp spots along the roadsides. Ruby settles into the work and goes past the event horses at Selsmire without any spookiness. Her bugbear, the extremely-white grey one, hasn't got his green rug on, so this time she recognises him as a horse and not a collection of fag packets or garden chairs, or whatever she imagined he was last time they met.

She isn't bothered by going down the middle of Orton village between all the parked cars. She isn't very bothered either by the Water Board men cleaning out drains at the junction opposite Hall Farm, until one of them retrieves a ten foot length of drainage rod, wipes it and throws it down beside its mates with a noise like a whipcrack. She jumps sideways about six feet. And the bloke shouts, "Hey - you've lost a shoe!" which is much more polite than what I am thinking!

Ruby isn't keen on standing still, but I tell her - fairly mildly - not to be such a fool. She takes her cue as much from the tone of my voice as anything else. The bloke retrieves her boot and trots obligingly after us, off the main road. He tosses it (he obviously has a habit of throwing stuff) and it misses the carriage and lands between Ruby's feet. I move her on a few yards so he can pick it up, and this time he manages to deposit it on the floor. "I'm not used to horses," he says. I say, "Not to worry," and thank him, and we walk along the lane past the school, then I stop in the Methodist chapel car park where I tie Ruby to the fence, and while she reaches over for grass, I reinstate the boot.

It goes all right after that, for a while. I meet a friend and have a chat, and Ruby is perfectly happy to wait for us. Then we set off to trot home.

Back past the eventers and the stands of marsh orchids. Suddenly there's a rhythmic clanking and I see that the yachting quick-release shackle on the end of one of the traces has quick released itself and the trace is swinging free. This doesn't seem to worry Ruby, but it worries me. I suspect the wind blew Ruby's long tail onto the webbing pull-tab and that was enough to flip the shackle open. Fortunately the trace-carrier loop does its job so the trace isn't tangling round her feet. We pull up and turn onto the grass verge, where with moderate swearing I re-fasten the shackle, and off we go again.

Ruby's got into her stride by now and as we trot down into Greenholme I can feel her bunching herself to canter up the brow to the farm.

And the bloody boot flies off again.

This time I say, "Sod it!" and let her canter on home. Unyoke, unharness, give her a small feed and leave her munching, still with three boots on, while I whizz back in the car to pick up the boot, before anyone can run over it and wreck it.

When I'm taking off Ruby's remaining boots it occurs to me to try the much-too-keen-to-fly hind boot (the Glove) on her front hoof, for which it used to be too small. And it fits. So now I am wondering - have all her hooves got smaller over the time she's been working unshod? That seems very strange, but it's possible. Or maybe the boots ease a bit with use? Measuring and re-fitting will have to be done before I can be sure. I may have to get a smaller pair of Gloves for her hind feet and move the current ones to her front feet.

I turn Ruby out into the paddock, which is what she's really been wanting since before we went for our drive.

Last of all, I dismantle both the quick-release shackles, take out the helical retaining springs, decompress them quite a lot, and re-fit them. It will take a much stronger pull to flip them open now, and if necessary I will shorten the pull tabs, or do without them altogether.

So, although things went wrong, we coped. And that's the main thing.

I conclude, though, that I must be in a time warp, because this is the kind of day that usually happens to me when we go back into work after winter. I can only assume it's very mild for January.

PS - I happen to have Ruby's foot measurements from 2007 which was when we went barefoot/booted. While assessing the actual figures is a bit mind boggling, charting them makes it very clear that her hooves have got BIGGER over the intervening years. The lines indicating length and width for each newly trimmed hoof make a significant upward leap from 2007 to this year's measurements.

Therefore - it's imperative that I clean the boots and her hooves of the oil I use to protect feather! I must away to the shops for some cheapo toothpaste!

Sue's books can be found at her web site, Jackdaw E Books, http://www.jackdawebooks.co.uk/