Record crowd enjoys horse parade

Heavy horses in the amin ring at the festival.
Heavy horses in the amin ring at the festival.

A record number of spectators flocked to a major event which showcased traditional draught horses.

The third annual Festival of the Heavy Horse took place at Etal showground on Sunday and celebrated the breeds that have shaped our existence in bygone years.

A heavy horse on parade.

A heavy horse on parade.

World-famous native British draught breeds – the Shire, Clydesdale and Suffolk Punch – stole the show as onlookers were entertained with in-hand, driving and riding classes.

Strong winds had threatened disruptions, but organisers galloped ahead with the event, which attracted a diverse crowd of more than 3,500 people.

This year’s festival was held in Etal for the first time, having moved from its original home in Milfield.

Event organiser, Vivienne Cockburn, said: “The day was a real success despite getting off to a disastrous start thanks to high winds over the weekend.

The Festival of the Heavy Horse entertained a crowd of thousands on Sunday.

The Festival of the Heavy Horse entertained a crowd of thousands on Sunday.

“The new venue enabled us to provide a more rounded event as tickets included free entry to Heatherslaw Cornmill. There were also better facilities on site.

“We were very pleased to see an increase on last year’s numbers. One family flew in from Germany and another travelled all the way up from Cornwall. I am already getting emails from people looking to book in their horses for next year.”

This year’s show saw the introduction of rare stallion carts. It was also announced that a new foal had been born at the Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre, on Ford and Etal Estates, earlier in the week. The new arrival, Thomas, can be seen at the centre on Tuesdays to Sundays, from 11am to 5pm.

Other attractions included a First World War Army cart which was displayed while visitors listened to commentary on how horses, and especially heavy horses and mules, took an important part within the war.

A stallion cart driven by Yvonne Wilson at the Festival of the Heavy Horse.

A stallion cart driven by Yvonne Wilson at the Festival of the Heavy Horse.

The Northumbrian Police Mounted Division also featured in the main ring.

Another new addition was the introduction of horse-drawn machinery; Robin Worthington yoked up the recently-reconditioned binder from Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre and took it for its first outing since the late 1950s.

Outside the main ring, Norwegian Fjord ponies – one of the world’s oldest horse breeds – proved popular and the Rare Breed Society added interest with Lincoln Longwool and Hebridean sheep.

Award-winning tree sculptor Tommy Craggs, who has produced sculptures for Cragside, impressed onlookers with his skills as he transformed a tree trunk into a horse’s head.

A local food and craft market showcased regional food and drink and traditional skills, from corn dolly makers to leather makers and farriers.

The overall show champion was a Clydesdale, Singlie Ola – owned by C Young – who also took first prize for the in-hand show.

Gavin Holmes from the Co-op driving team with pairs was the driving champion and reserve show champion.

Once again, the festival was a qualifier for the Blair International Clydesdale Championship and new for this year was the qualifier round for the British Ridden Heavy Horse Championship at Equifest. This was won by last year’s second-placed horse Archie, whose owner/rider, R Doughty, was delighted after all the hard work he had done over the past year.

Local schools were encouraged to enter a joint school competition and the winning school, Wooler First, was presented with the Heavy Horse Bust for the second year running.

Alongside the display from children on the showfield, was an art exhibition at the Lady Waterford Hall in Ford, depicting the working horse. Work entered for this was from Wooler First School and The Grove School, Berwick.

Event organisers are now preparing for a looking back event, which will take place at Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre on Saturday, October 10, and Sunday, October 11.