Working with horses is a tonic

Lofty with a heavy horse.
Lofty with a heavy horse.

Working with rare-breed horses in the tranquil and peaceful Northumberland countryside has been the perfect tonic for an RAF veteran, who has struggled with mental illness.

Going by the name of Lofty, as he prefers to be known, the 51-year-old has found much-needed solace at the Hay Farm Heavy Horse Centre, on the Ford and Etal Estates.

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford
 Vivienne Cockburn with four-month foal Arthur.
 Picture by Jane Coltman

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford Vivienne Cockburn with four-month foal Arthur. Picture by Jane Coltman

It is certainly a far cry from his time in the Armed Forces, when he worked as a bomb-disposal expert under fire in the second Gulf War.

The horrors and brutality of the conflict had a profound impact on Lofty though, as he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the years after he walked away from the Armed Forces in 2005.

Indeed, he was in such a dark place a decade ago, that he contemplated taking his own life.

Thankfully, he didn’t. And a few years later he began helping out at the Heavy Horse Centre, offering his services as and when he could.

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford 
Percheron horses Pacific and Picasso  giving a ploughing demonstration.
 Picture by Jane Coltman

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford Percheron horses Pacific and Picasso giving a ploughing demonstration. Picture by Jane Coltman

Working with these extraordinary creatures – and with the help and support of Vivienne, Derek and Anna Cockburn who run the centre – has provided a form of therapy for Lofty.

And now he wants to thank the centre for helping him through what has been a tough couple of years.

Lofty, who lives in the Peak District, said: “I can’t thank them enough for what they have done for me. They have helped me in so many ways.

“I spent 15 years in the RAF and I finished off by doing bomb disposal. I came out of the Armed Forces in 2005, and in 2007 I had a car crash in London. It was nothing serious, but the sudden bang and crash brought on the PTSD. Six months later I was in a bad state and I was on a one-way journey across the Tyne Bridge, if you know what I mean. Thankfully, I didn’t do it.

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford
Caroline Fairbairn from Foulden with Shire horse Danny.
 Picture by Jane Coltman

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford Caroline Fairbairn from Foulden with Shire horse Danny. Picture by Jane Coltman

“A little while later, I began helping out at the centre after getting to know the Cockburns.”

Lofty still takes medication for his PTSD, but he insists that spending time at the centre helps to relax him.

He said: “Being at the farm is, for me, heaven. It is blissful, chills me out and it gives me the chance to recharge my batteries, breathe in the fresh air and I feel like I have no cares in the world.

“I just feel like they should be recognised, because what they have done for me is absolutely fantastic.”

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford
Banjo and John Owens at work in the field.
 Picture by Jane Coltman

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford Banjo and John Owens at work in the field. Picture by Jane Coltman

Amazingly, Lofty has been scared of horses since he was a child, but thanks to the love and support from the Hay Farm, he now feels more comfortable around them.

“They are just big, gentle beasts,” he says.

The venue, which has recently been acknowledged as a Rare Breed Conservation Centre by The Rare Breed Survival Trust, is run in conjunction with Milfield Heavy Horse Association. It aims to raise awareness of the importance that the heavy horses played within our history before the introduction of mechanical power.

At the weekend, the centre held a Looking Back event (see pictures), giving visitors the chance to watch the heavy horses working, learn about traditional skills, look at vintage machinery and peruse the indoor market.

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford 
Steve Glavin and his Percheron horses Pacific and Picasso, giving a ploughing demonstration .
 Picture by Jane Coltman

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford Steve Glavin and his Percheron horses Pacific and Picasso, giving a ploughing demonstration . Picture by Jane Coltman

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford
Lincoln Longwool sheep
 Picture by Jane Coltman

Looking back weekend at Hay Farm near Ford Lincoln Longwool sheep Picture by Jane Coltman