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Grimsthorpe Castle to host heavy horse weekend

People will no longer have to hold their horses, as the go-ahead has been given for events to resume.

Stuart and Bridie Fawcett will be kicking off their business’ return with a heavy horse event at Grimsthorpe Castle later this month.

Having hit pause on their business due to the various lockdowns, the pair will be using the two-day event to raise awareness for rare breeds of heavy horses to prevent them from extinction.

Heavy horses at Grimsthorpe Castle
Heavy horses at Grimsthorpe Castle

The married couple, who live in Great Ponton, keep four Clydesdale horses which are trained to lead a carriage, in what they describe as a ‘cultural heritage conservation project’.

Stuart said: “I’ve had horses since I was a child and always wanted heavy horses but I became injured and couldn’t ride anymore. I took up driving and realised the potential of heavy horses.

“We decided to start a conservation effort. They go to work - that’s what they were bred to do.

Heavy horses at Grimsthorpe Castle
Heavy horses at Grimsthorpe Castle

“Covid has been difficult and we haven’t been able to open much but we’ve managed to get through.”

Fawcett Driving Horses, based in Great Ponton, is trying to preserve the rare Clydesdale horse within the discipline of driving and harness work. The skills involved and the breed have been in decline since the Second World War. Clydesdales are now classed as vulnerable to extinction.

However, getting the horses up to speed on how to tow a carriage requires training, practice and lots of encouraging words from Stuart and Bridie.

Stuart said: “A four week period is what it takes to train them to drive as a single or in a pair but it’s about bringing them on.”

Heavy horses at Grimsthorpe Castle
Heavy horses at Grimsthorpe Castle

He added: “They need a purpose again. As commercial animals they want to work.

“When they put their head through the collar, they know they are there to earn a living and our living.”

The Fawcetts reject the use of violence or force in training and work with the idea that no-one has the right to say ‘you must’ to an animal.

The more experienced horses, Seumas and Silas, have also played a big part in the training, helping to keep the two less experienced horses, Severus and Sirius, in check.

Heavy horses at Grimsthorpe Castle
Heavy horses at Grimsthorpe Castle

Stuart has previously completed training to drive the carriage, which is fitted with wing mirrors and indicators, and can hold about a dozen people.

Many people mistake the Fawcetts for massive Harry Potter fans due to the names of the horses - Seumas, Silas, Severus and Sirius.

“It was by accident, Seumas was already named Seumas and I’ve always liked the name Silas,” said Stuart.

Heavy horses at Grimsthorpe Castle
Heavy horses at Grimsthorpe Castle

“We wanted to keep the ‘S’ names. We called one Sirus, as he has a bit of black in his mane and coat. Then Severus came along and we thought it had to be an ‘S’ name so we went with Severus Snape.”

The pair later discovered that Silas, is in fact a Harry Potter character too, albeit very minor, along with Sirius and Seumas.

Although the horses are work for the pair, they spend more time than most around their ‘co-workers’ getting up early in the morning to muck them out, clean and feed them.

“Having horses is a full time occupation, that’s what the problem is,” said Stuart.

“They are not cheap to keep - people have to work a lot to keep them.”

Bridie added: “It is not only a business, but a lifestyle.”

While many people lose sleep over the cost of replacing tyres on a car, the cost of replacing the horse’s handmade shoes is more than this, and happens more regularly.

Weighing between 700kg and 800kg and being about 17 hands tall, the Clydesdales need their horseshoes changing every six weeks.

Not many people have heavy horses in the country, with even fewer using them for work.

Stuart, 29, said: “What’s sad about heavy horses is a lot of people who kept them are getting to an age of retirement so it is getting more difficult.

“Without shows a lot of people aren’t able to enjoy them.

“What we need is to be able to run a living but keepers can only do so much.”

On May 30 and 31, Silas, Seumas, Severus and Sirius will be at Grimsthorpe Castle’s Heavy Horse Weekend offering carriage rides to the exhibits in the woodlands.

The route is about two miles long and takes 45 minutes - a journey the horses will take about two to three times a day.

Other heavy horse experts will also be present, offering horse whispering, horse logging demos and horseshoe making.

“It will be a really good weekend with lots of heavy horses and carriage rides around the castle and parklands,” said Stuart.

“Some areas don’t get explored as much so hopefully it will bring people to Grimsthorpe as it’s something unique.”

The Fawcetts and their four heavy horses will become a more permanent addition to the castle team, offering horse-drawn carriage rides on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

Asked if the pair would take on more horses, Stuart said: “We would like to in the long term to help to preserve all breeds of heavy horses.

“It depends on whether people want to enjoy them. With what we are doing we are determined to keep it going.

“I think in general people will want to have them but it is a lot of work having them as a business and is difficult in modern times.”

But like people, the horses can be guilty of getting a little complacent.

Bridie said: “When in a team they try to do the least amount of work as possible.

“The moment they are in the bridal it’s work mode.

“This to them is their work so they know they’ve got to behave themselves.”

To book tickets for the heavy horse weekend, visit https://fawcettdrivinghorses.lilregie.com/booking/attendees/new

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