Heavy horses at Northumberland visitor attraction need a helping hand due to Covid-19 outbreak

Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre, near Etal, is appealing for the public’s help as it suffers the financial effects of the COVID-19 shutdown.

Tuesday, 21st April 2020, 6:00 am
Updated Thursday, 23rd April 2020, 10:19 am

The centre, with its majestic Clydesdale and Shire horses, normally attracts 20,000 visitors a year but, along with all other attractions on Ford & Etal Estates, it has been officially closed since March 23.

For the first time ever it has now been forced to request financial support from heavy horse lovers.

A GoFundMe page has been set up by the “heavies” owners, the Cockburn family, who established the popular centre on what was a disused farm steading six years ago.

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Teddy the Clydesdale stallion towers over Anna Cockburn at the Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre. Photograph by Eric Musgrave.

Viv Cockburn, who runs the centre with husband Derek and daughter Anna, stresses that the appeal was made only after they found no official help was available.

“We don’t qualify for any of the Government’s coronavirus business help schemes and although we are an equine charity, we cannot get any of the help for charities either,” she explained.

“It costs in excess of £100,000 a year to run the centre. For example, each of our heavy horses eats a bale of hay a day.

“Easter is usually the start of our busy period for the visitors who fund us. Instead we are closed and we cannot invite people even to look at the horses in the fields.

“We know that this situation is putting virtually everyone under a financial strain, so we have posted the GoFundMe page very reluctantly. We really wish we didn’t have to ask for help, but we do.”

Once literally the workhorses of the British economy, heavy horses are now classed as rare breeds.

At present the centre has 14 Clydesdales and two Shires, plus a couple of ponies and a retired racehorse to keep the heavies company.

The Cockburns also breed the endangered British Lop pig, plus Oxford Down and Lincolnshire Longwool sheep.

As well as being a popular attraction, it is a nationally-important breeding centre for the working horses.

John Owens, a retired horseman from Beamish Museum, is also part of the team and is probably one of the last men in the North East to have worked with heavy horses as a profession.

In building up the centre, the Cockburns have amassed one of the UK’s largest collections of working horse machinery, other equipment and memorabilia, including stud books showing the all-important bloodlines back to the Victorian era.

The centre’s huge but friendly stallion, a nine-year-old giant called Teddy, is in great demand nationally as a stud. He recently spent time at the Artificial Insemination centre in St Andrews on behalf of Rare Breeds Survival Trust (RBST). His high-quality semen was collected for the RBST Gene Bank in the event of the breed levels diminishing even further.

Any day now Teddy’s latest offspring is expected to appear at Hay Farm as a mare called Primrose is heavily pregnant. Normally the arrival of a foal or filly would bring visitors flocking to Hay Farm. For now, the heavies’ fans will have to be content with seeing the new arrival online only.

Donations can be made to HFHHC via www.gofundme.com/f/Urgent-help-hay-farm-heavies

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