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To say I quite like Clydesdale horses would be akin to saying teenage girls are fairly partial to vampires. In other words – a whacking great understatement. In truth, I love everything about them – their size, their solidness, their bravery, their gaiety, their shaggy legs, and especially, oh most especially I love their moustaches, occasionally Poirot-esque in their fastidious neatness, but much more often extravagant and curling like Colonel Blimp.
I might never have discovered this passion had it not been for the Great Clydesdale Migration, when a dozen Clydies and one Shire were ridden all the way from their old trekking centre in the Isle of Skye to their new home at Chappells Farm near Millom in south Cumbria – and I was with them, every step of the way.
I learned on that epic trek – all 450 miles of it, give or take the odd shortcut or re-route – that Clydies aren’t just patient, plodding plough-horses, even though that’s what they were originally designed to be. Incidentally, to digress just a second here – I really hate it when Man interferes with nature’s basic blueprint for animals purely for cosmetic purposes - tweaking a bit here and a bit there to make noses flatter, legs shorter, coats disappear altogether, you know the sort of thing. However – it’s a different matter when different strains are brought together in a bid to improve a breed - and that’s what happened with the Clydesdale. The breed originated back in the 1700s when farmers in lowland Scotland imported sturdy Flemish stallions to breed with their mares, with the intention of creating a good powerful workhorse. They succeeded – but it’s only in very recent years that the Clydie’s true versatility is being realised, as more and more people come to see them as fantastic riding horses.
So you’ll understand I was highly delighted when I was invited to go and ride Clydesdales at a trekking centre near Penrith, at Leacett Cottage Stables to be precise. The stables are set in the hills, overlooking Whinfell Forest and with the most glorious views you could possibly imagine. I could happily have stood and gazed at the views all day – especially as I’d landed there on a spectacularly warm and sunny afternoon. However – as glorious as they were, the views paled into insignificance beside the sight of two lovely Clydie brothers all tacked up and ready to rock.
The Centre’s Joint yard Manager Kate Bartle introduced me to the lads – Monty and Sherman, then very efficiently legged me up into the stratosphere to land on Monty’s back, and we set off through the forest. It was a grand outing, through beautiful countryside, in fun company, and on a great horse – from which you’ll gather quite correctly that I was completely and utterly in my element. Monty was amiable and easy-going, quite happy to amble along, or to up the gears into canter, or to pop the odd log along the forest trails. A thoroughly nice chap.
Leacett Cottage Stables has horses and ponies of literally every size – from the smallest and cheekiest of Shetlands, to several mighty Clydesdales and a Percheron. Many of the horses are also used for driving and they’ve got an amazing range of carriages.
So - if you fancy riding a Clydesdale - (and why on earth wouldn’t you?) - then get yourself along to Leacett Cottage Stables (01768 862153) or to Cumbrian Heavy Horses at Chappells Farm (01229 777764). Only snag is - you might have to turf me out of the saddle first!