A Horse named Blackie

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Blackie

December 2021

Earlier this month I strolled down Thorpe Lane to interview one of its illustrious inhabitants.  Renowned for his benign character and forbearing stance, he is known not only to villagers but the wider world beyond our boundaries. During the last eighteen months many people have passed him on their way to Trimley Shore. His field is securely locked and encompassed by ordinary wooden fencing as well as an electric fence. These security measures do not compromise the ability of walkers to engage in conversation with Blackie and his friends. His stoicism and friendly face invite confidence. It’s no exaggeration to describe him as a much loved Trimley inhabitant.  Following the death of his former companion Shaun the Sheep in May  2020, he is now silently supported by two Hebridean Sheep, Iona and Pepperpot.  

Ann Owen, Blackie’s owner,escorted me to meet  Blackie in his two and a half acre field and then took me back to her cottage, with its stable door entrance. Ann had previously intimated Blackie is the love of her life and she told me a little about him

  “Horses have always been my thing and I’ve always been involved with them. Years ago, I used to work with International Show jumpers. I’m Blackie’s third owner and have had Blackie since 2004, when he came to me in Orkney from Cornhill-on-Tweed in Northumberland. I had advertised for a pony in the Inverness ‘Courier’ and it resulted in every man in the Highlands contacting me about ponies. We’d been to Yorkshire looking at Dales Ponies but one mare I tried out was too strong and I knew I’d never hold her. Then someone suggested a Fells pony and when I searched on the Internet, I found a picture of Blackie. His documentation says he was born in 1995 but the Vet thought he was at least a year older. He’s a gelding and stands at 14.2 hands[1]. I’m still in touch with his second owner, Kirsty who now lives in Australia and continues to miss him. His first owner had abused Blackie. Kirsty told me never to clean him with a hose because he would rear up. He had been hit around the head with one.  The vet says the problems with his legs are because he was made too work too hard when he was very young and before Kirsty owned him. Kirsty recently emailed me and told me about the day they were crossing a bridge together. She fell off into the river and Blackie backed towards her enabling her to grab the reins and get out. He’s an intelligent creature and very good with children. When the grandchildren have ridden him, he’s never put a foot wrong.

He’s a working horse known as a ‘Ride and Drive’ and his documentation states he may be used for pleasure rides, hacking and driving.  When he was in Orkney (2004 – 2011) we had him moving bales of straw in the snow, using paniers on either side of his body. I wanted a working horse and he was broken to pull a cart. He’s better when he’s driven. He has a lovely trotting action. In his youth Blackie won two prizes; a Cup and Shield for an In-hand class in 2007.

He came from Orkney to Trimley in 2011. An expensive procedure. He was accompanied from Orkney to the mainland by ghillies. He went with Cormac from Orkney down to Thurso and stayed a couple of nights in Dornoch to rest his knees. He was then picked up by a firm who transport race horses. He and they were taken to York racecourse where he rested overnight. From there he was taken to Newmarket for two nights and finally he arrived at this end of Suffolk.  He came out of the horse box, walked two and a half miles, looked around  the field, kicked has legs and galloped around. He won’t move again now, he’s here for life. Blackie wasn’t accompanied by his Orcadian companion, Basil the sheep. I was going to bring Blackie’s  cart from Orkney but then there was a change to the tenancy of Goslings after Nigel Smith died. Jane Smith honoured the agreement concerning a field for Blackie but obviously the Barn was a different affair. Shortly after moving here a farmer was loading sheep from Trimley Marshes and one of them was caught in a bush. Nigel Smith discovered the sheep and said he would put him into the same field as Blackie. The Sheep was Shaun and he and Blackie became solid companions: Shaun used to sleep at his back.

When Shaun died, aged about twelve, Blackie was distraught. I had over seventy people contacting me on Facebook after his death. We knew we would have to find a replacement. We had given some sheep to the Woodland Trust in Woodbridge and had to contact them to ask for two back as companions for Blackie. When the two new sheep arrived, he was curious and has taken to both of them, who are now about two years old. We posted on Facebook for ideas for their names; the Chair of the Parish Council was involved.

No end of people have said to me that the only way they can get their children out for a walk is by saying they are going to visit Blackie. I’ve had to put the protective electric fence back a bit because people kept climbing over the gate to see Blackie. As result of this the gate broke and a kind man from Grimston Lane welded it back together for me. Blackie spends most of his time in the field wandering around all day; he likes to stand under the trees. We take him out for a walk occasionally and when Shaun was alive he would come with us. He likes to paddle in the river. Apart from our Grandchildren, I don’t allow anyone to ride Blackie because of insurance reasons. I don’t encourage people into his field and in fact, there is no public access.

 

When we all lived in Orkney, we would sometimes experience winds up to 135 miles an hour. There are very few trees to break the wind. Blackie would come into the kitchen and I would stay with him. Hence the stable door entrance into our cottage. He rarely takes against people. I can remember when the Vet came out because Blackie was stiff in his hind-quarters. The Vet also checked his teeth and after the gag was removed following sedation Blackie turned around and kicked the Vet, proving he wasn’t stiff as they thought.

Horses are expensive to maintain. When I worked at Skara Brae, I once did ten shifts back to back to back. Someone asked me why on earth I was doing that and I said, ‘I’m buying the horse a new blanket.’

Blackie’s breed, Fell Ponies, are on the ‘at risk’ list. One of the Studs was purchased by the Queen a few years ago to preserve the breed. Several have gone to America. There are only about seven to eight thousand individuals left in the world. As a gelding, Blackie will not be contributing to their survival. What is Blackie’s life expectancy? I don’t really know. He’s twenty one now and  should go into his mid-thirties. He has such an easy life but I have to watch his weight as people have over indulged him during Lockdown. It depends on how stiff he becomes. When he can longer get up, that will be the time. Having said that my friend had a Highland Pony and she told me he was only forty five when he died. He’ll outlive me at this rate.”

 

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Blackie in his Trimley field

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Blackie the Prize winner in 2007. Courtesy of Ann Owen

 

IMG_5273Blackie and Ann with his cup and shield. Courtesy of Ann Owen.

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Blackie being put through his paces. Courtesy of Ann Owen.

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Blackie in Orkney. Courtesy of Ann Owen.

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Ann’s Hebridean sheep in Orkney. Courtesy of Ann Owen.

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Iona and Pepperpot, Blackie’s companions

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Shaun and Blackie in the snow, 2011

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The sturdy hooves of Blackie

If you have any comments or would like to be part of the Trimley St. Martin project, please contact me at:

trimleystmartinrecorder@gmail.com

LR  17/12/2021

You can read more about Fell Ponies here: http://www.fellponysociety.org/about_breed.htm

 

[1]    A horse is measured from the ground to their withers or shoulders. One hand = four inches. The fraction .2 represents two inches.  Blackie is 58” inches high or four feet ten inches tall.

 

 

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