One of my Canadian friends here in Manitoba is Reg Madsen, who has built quite a reputation in the North American Clydesdale circuit with his show string since retiring from his grain farm a few years ago, he was sitting beside me at our weekly poker game here in Kenton last week, and was telling me about all the Clydesdale enthusiasts he had met the week before at Ingliston at the National Stallion Show of Clydesdales, quite a few of whom I knew, including The SF editor. It started me reminiscing about the quite rapid demise on the farming scene, since I left school away back in 1956, of the heavy horse in general and of course because I was born in Ayrshire, of the Clydesdale in particular. The first job boys of my era had from as early as 10 or 12 years of age, would have been driving the horse on the horse fork to lift the loose hay up on to the hay stack, holding on to the reins of a horse whose head was away above yours and trying to keep your feet out from under his kept you alert, doing some rolling then graduating to the Lister Blackstone swath turner and eventually the Dickie hay rake, culminating in scarifying turnips with a Hunter howe, trying not to rip out a length of the drill. I never got as far as ploughing with a pair which I regret.

Most of the average Ayrshire farms at that time would have a pair of geldings and a mare, the horses all had their own character, our mare was Jean and the last foal I remember was called Winston after Sir Winston Churchill, my dad’s pair of geldings were Don who was canny and Geordie who wasn’t, whenever he got to a hill, or on the way home, or approaching a gate he would pick up speed. It could be quite scary at times.

In my imagination I can still hear the jingle and creak of the harness and the clip clop of the horse shoes on the causey stanes in the close, and I can almost smell the stables, a mix of horse, hay and the creosote tar on the lower walls, there was a corn chist in the corner with the top lid where you sat, and the flap on the front so wee boys could reach the oats with a “hanny” scoop. There was a loose box and 3 or 4 stalls, at the head of each was a heck or manger for hay and a trough for oats or turnips, the drinking water was all carried in. The horse was tied with a rope around his neck which couldn’t choke him because of the type of knot, actually called a “choke knot”, the rope slid up and down through a ring to allow movement. The saddles and harness all had special hooks and stands on the wall. Of course in the winter the horses had to be fed and watered and mucked out, and a wet Saturday afternoon would be a time to do any harness repairs and polishing.

Nearly every farmhouse kitchen or living room would have hanging on the wall a large photo of Baron of Buchlyvie, or Dunure Footprint, or one of many from James Kilpatrick’s world famous Craigie Mains stud, maybe Gallant Hero or Beau Ideal. With Craigie Mains being not far from Inchgotrick where I grew up it left a more lasting impression on me. The head groom there was John Fleming, there was up to 40 stallions in the stud, 3 stallions were sent out on a Monday morning to cover central Ayrshire, the one for the Kilmarnock run would be at Barrassie on Monday night, Springside on Tuesday, Moscow on Wednesday, Carnell on Thursday and Ayr district on Friday, and home for a rest on Saturday Sunday. And remember horse and man walked the circuit. The stallions carried a pair of leather boots with them which were put on the front feet to protect the mares. Every night the stallion was given a bottle of stout laced with at least a couple of raw eggs, I don’t know what the groom got? One of John Fleming’s favourites was Craigie Commodore who once served 12 mares on a Monday, when John returned to get the foal fee he collected on 14 foals. No’ bad eh? And of course there was the “Horse man’s grip and word” an ancient secret society dating back in the mists of time.

Sadly by the end of the second world war the age of the horse was coming to an end, in Britain 1947 saw over 100,000 working horses slaughtered and 1948 a similar number, the end of an era.

Here in Canada the “friendly giant” the Clydesdale is still credited with its major influence in turning the “prairies” into the bread basket of the country.

If you get a chance to read it in “Ayrshire Notes” is an article by Jim Mair which is well worth a read