This month’s posts introduces our Working Animals Supervisor, Andy Robinson.
I always wanted to work with horses but I didn’t get a chance to follow this passion until I got a job and had more disposable income. As soon as I could, I taught myself to ride and within six months I had a job with horses. Having worked with Robert Samson, a leading breeder and cart horse trainer in the New Forest, I learnt how to break in and train draught horses to work on the land and pull carriages. From that point, everything just slotted into place and I found what I was meant to be doing.
There aren’t many horsemen jobs that come up, so when I saw the opportunity of Working Animal Supervisor at Weald & Downland Living Museum three years ago, I went for it straightaway and was lucky enough to be offered the role.
Essentially I look after all the livestock here on the site, which includes the heavy horses, sheep, chickens, geese and pigs. However, a big part of my job is working the horses on the farm and around the Museum site.
We try to farm the farmland as much as possible using traditional methods to represent how rural communities in the past would have worked. The historical period we cover here at the Museum means tractors were only just in their infancy so we rely on horses and horse drawn mechanisms, just as our ancestors did.
We try and follow the traditional farming calendar as opposed to a modern farming calendar year, starting with reaping the wheat and cutting the hay before ploughing and sowing. There are then all the winter jobs to do before you start reaping again.
Despite having lots of experience with working horses, I’m still learning everyday about traditional farming. Everything back then was different to how we farm today, they didn’t have machinery or chemical sprays to ensure crops were ready at certain times. It was a hard graft and they needed a huge amount of skill and knowledge to survive.
Although I’m farming as hard as they were back then, I’ve got a lot more perks that make it easier. I’ve got a hot shower to go home to and a cooked dinner. I’ve got footwear that fits, waterproofs that work and I go and see the chiropractor once a month. They didn’t have any of that. It was a very tough life for people back then.
For past rural families, your horse was your life. They would have been very well looked after as they needed longevity out of the animal because they were so expensive to buy.
Here at the Museum we have three Percheron horses – Ollie, Leon and Kash, which is my own horse. This is very much a working breed and they help with lots around the site, such as ploughing and pulling timber. They were designed to do this kind of work and it helps keep them fit, healthy and strong. Their wellbeing is always paramount and we make sure they get everything they need. I could not do all the work on my own, I have to ask them for help all the time and they help me – we are a partnership.
On a visit to the Museum, people get to see us doing so much as we are genuinely working the farm each day, rather than doing anything for show. It is a really authentic and unique experience to see such a variety of tasks. The great thing about being a member is, if you visit the Museum multiple times throughout the year, you’ll see the horses doing different jobs each time.