Monday, 9 April 2012

Brecon to Birmingham via Wigan Pier

Gulliver's travels didn't fit into the title, but should be in there somewhere. Reading revolutionary books gets more dangerous with age. At twenty, I could have read Wigan Pier and after a couple of pints, so what........ but at 50 something, Orwell is dangerous. As a child, I remember Gulliver's Travels was in the children's section, but Swift was no children's author. But then Struwelpeter wasn't much nicer, and the brothers Grimm were.... grim.
So belatedly I have come to three remarkable works, and read them as part of a journey. Rural Rides, Wigan Pier and Gulliver's Travels make the perfect travel companions for a journey that was abo

Monday, 17 October 2011

Working class ponies.

I leave it to you to decide whether I mean working class ponies or working class ponies. But Obama is definitely a class pony, and is clearly working so, its simple. I mean working class ponies.
Today he was pulling larch poles out at Windy Cross, working over a carpet of brash, on uneven ground with random stumps as an extra hazard. You can see him crossing his front feet as he tries to get the angle right to pull the stick out.
But this isn't done on some carefully raked dressage arena, and more to the point, I haven't a clue what is going on. We are learning together. And the next stick will be different, different angle, different footing, it may be light and easy, it could be a right pig.

You can see Obama giving it some extra grunt as this stick is nicely wedged between a couple of others, and he can't get a straight pull because an oak sapling we are trying to save is in the way. The next shot shows the stick at the bottom of the hill.

Quite a stick.

Obama now knows that once he gets the stick moving, its going down to the pile, so he sets off and when he gets there, he stops where he stopped last time and waits for me to detach the stick from the rig.
If necessary he takes a step forward to give me room to work, otherwise waits till I am ready, I turn him and we head back to the next one.
I never taught him, I didn't have the time or the skill, I just started doing the job and he picked it up as we went along.
He prefers me to clear a track, but he'll work over brash, logs, pretty much anything. This is his third day at Windy Cross and he's looking pretty cool,  as you can see if you watch the slide show below.

< As you can see, the sequence of commands is random at best,but Obama gets the job done. This is not down to brilliant training, not even on Obama's part. Man, working man, has worked with and beside ponies for millennia. If you work beside someone, you really get to know them, and you learn to work as a team. Obama is really easy to work with, most ponies are. Dartmoor farmers, Fell farmers, Dales farmers, Welsh farmers didn't keep ponies for thousands of years in the hope that one day, small girls with rich parents would find a use for them at Gymkhanas and Pony Club Camp. They have been the backbone of the economy for a lot longer than there has been a Chancellor of the Exchequer, which I will admit isn't even 700 years. Parvenus the lot of them.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

The SLL White Horses Caravan of Hope has added a new dimension.

The SLL White Horses Caravan of Hope has added a new dimension. For most people, taking a group of disadvantaged youngsters and getting them to ride a group of young horses from the Camargue, in the south of France, to London, would be enough of a challenge.

For Jakki Cunningham, who has led the 2005 and 2008 SLL White Horse odysseys this isn't enough. For 2012 she is including a disabled veteran, driving a one man, wheelchair enabled, all terrain pony drawn vehicle called the iBex alongside the group of ridden horses from the Camargue to London.

The iBex has already driven from Exeter to London, and is undergoing destructive testing on Dartmoor. The iBex hasn't broken any of the Tors yet, but it is still trying. The iBex has been developed to allow wheelchairs to go anywhere, and six schools in the Exeter area have used it this summer to ensure that everyone in the class, regardless of physical ability gets out on the farm visits atWest Town Farm, Ide and round all the muddy bits.
The iBex has also taken a group of severely disabled children to the beach, and into the sea. Anyone who has tried to push a wheelchair in sand will realise the degree of freedom this gives. Bex, one of the iBex test drivers, who suffers from Friedrich's Ataxia, spent two days at the The Royal Welsh Showground Spring Festival demonstrating the unique iBex instant release system which enables her to drive on Exmouth Beach, through Haldon Forest, around West Town Farm, Ide and through Exeter, in safety.
The iBex is proud to be associated with the unique Caravan of Hope, and believes that adding a disabled veteran to the project will increase the benefits for all. Leadership doesn't get amputated with limbs, nor does courage, resourcefulness, or the skills of living away from the normal amenities of civilisation. Everyone can learn from each other and most of all, from the horses.

For more details, and info, go to this link.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

Dead Weight

Please go to , my new website covering the saddlechariot/iBex and it's uses. This is where you will also find links to all my articles on training, safety, vehicle design and even the weird stuff on cooking and politics.
My new contact details are
and my phone number is +44 7510 736 518

No foot, no horse. The classic advice to a buyer. Without 4 sound feet, you ain't going anywhere, because however much power the animal may have, delivery is through the feet.. Obama is looking very trendy in his shiny new old mac hoofboots and we have been mucking about shopping in Brecon while I try to redesign the trailer to get shot of a whole load of weight. And this is where the whole foot /engineering bit comes in.
The saddlechariot puts no load on Obama's back, and unless I foul up loading the trailer big time, the trailer puts no weight on his back either. The Saddlechariot and trailer are running on the same 16x6.50x8 tyres, on plastic rims bored out to take 20mm sealed bearings. Essentially they are kite buggy Big foot assemblies, though not the mega Big Foot which I have on the wheelchair version. The rolling resistance is minimal, but we set off from Wales and in addittion to unpronounceable place names, Welsh roads go up and down like a yo yo.
All you cave dwellers whizzing past in your high speed, airconditioned, overpowered, soundproofed, fossil fuel burning caves only notice the hills because the scenery is tilted against the windows. But on foot, and when relying on someone else's feet, you notice the gradient, and it starts to really matter.
I am really lucky to have two foot experts, this is not a team of highly trained, extremely altitudinally challenged dwarfs, this is two guys who really understand feet, and before the metrication freaks decide to make me the latest metric martyr, whatever they may say, I have two feet, not 600mm and Obama has four feet and not 1200mm.
Patrick Meyer is Cheltenham based, and training as an equine podiatrist, without doubt the worst offence perpetrated on the English Language by any profession for years. But despite the perfectly ghastly job description, he is a guy who is up to date with all the latest stuff. At the other end of the scale is Nick Sanders who makes a major performance of pretending to have either forgotten, or never bothered to learn, or been unable to read the tin, on all subjects to do with horses. He doesn't do equestrian because he tries to avoid using words he can't spell. However he is pretty good with most words up to and including four letters.
Now Obama gets it pretty easy with two experts around because they both want to ensure he has an easy time, and I want to ensure I stay friends with both, and get Obama back on the road asap.
So Patrick is looking at the feet and contemplating the effects of the surface on the sole of the foot, and Nick is looking at the same feet and suggesting that Patrick is dead right on the problem, but the cause is not impact from the bottom, relating to the road surface, though that is what is causing the current discomfort, but that the problem comes from the bones pushing down on the sole internally, and bruising from the inside out.
I am the one who was actually there with Obama while I am fully prepared to admit, Obama did the grunting. But I walked the whole way, and I can see the damage the surface did on my £5 Milletts mock crocs, and it isn't much. But I also know what my legs felt like after climbing Symonds Yat at the end of three days of travelling and that last climb was quite something.
Now all the fancy bearings in the world don't change simple engineering, and hauling 110kg of trailer up hill, is work, and while the load is taken on the traces running through the collar, so through Obama's body and down to his feet. So his leg bones are pushing down into his hooves and it is the connective tissue on the hoof wall and the sole and the frog that finally transmit the load.
Hoofboots certainly help, but stripping down the dead weight on the trailer is a crunch issue, which conveniently brings us back to Cobbetts Rural Rides as Dead weight was a big issue with Cobbett who used the term to refer to tax eaters, all those who lived off the work of the rural labourers, and did nothing for it, Stock Jobbers, placemen, etc draiwng huge expenses for doing not a lot.
I keep thinking there is something here that links into the recent news but it keeps eluding me.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Back to Cobbett and a Desert Island.

I ended the first page/entry/chapter whatever of this blog saying I would return to the issue of Cobbetts Rural rides and then made absolutely no reference in the second. Now, on the third I am going to tell you this would be better read in the right order which will really get to you if you have started on page/entry/chapter /issue 11.
I could insert this bit as a header, I think they are called, but it isn't important enough to annoy you with on every page so I will continue to write as if this was a book running in one direction while fully aware that is a blog running in the other. The sequence isn't really that relevant as the closest literary analogy is not Cobbett's “Rural Rides”, though I have nicked the title, some of the rage and the topic, the closest analogy is Hunter S Thompson's "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" with the obvious difference that instead of a 300lb Samoan Attorney for company, I set off with a 500lb pony called Obama whose breed I refuse to discuss on the grounds that concentrating on such details is racist.
And the vehicle isn't a "fireapple red convertible" but a Saddlechariot and trailer tent of my own eccentric design.
But being me, I am contemplating taking the angle grinder to the trailer tent and seeing just how much weight I can lose. Current weight, 110kg target weight 50kg.
But before we get into technical vehicle details, and ignoring for the moment "Fear and Loathing" let's get back to Cobbett. And I am heading back with Obama to Brecon's brilliant secondhand bookshop to pick up another copy of "Rural Rides. My first secondhand paperback copy has only done about 100 miles and its back is broken, and shedding pages fast. While I can quote "Fear and Loathing" from memory, I have only just started reading Cobbett and need to go back to the book to get the quotes something approaching right.
Cobbett rode through southern England between 1820 and 1830 commenting on the crops as a farmer, on the soil and the rocks beneath as a farmer and a traveller, on the rookeries because he liked them, on the churches because he despised their senior management while remaining a good Protestant whose support for Catholicism has opened my eyes to its virtues, but on the people, he commented because he cared. He had served time in the army supporting his country, and in prison supporting the people of his country, and in parliament doing the same.
His comments on politics and placemen, City gambling and feathering one's own nest, would fit today's newspapers without editing and would slide past unobserved as totally accurate, totally modern, but his concern for the rural population is out of date.
I have been out and I have looked. It's too late, they are extinct.
Go out into the country, and find the rural population. Cave dwellers in their houses stuff the villages and the roads are full of mobile, highly mobile, caves which whistle through lanes like moles which travel their tunnels hoovering up the worms that have got in and found there is no way out of the moleskin polished floor and sides of the tunnels.
Obama and I have got as far as Symonds Yat, only 40 or so miles as the crow flies, and day after day, (you forget that out of your highly mobile and seriously lethal mobile caves, that from Brecon to Symonds Yat is 6 days travelling) I notice the total lack of people in the country. Parliament debates the right to roam, they should make it compulsory. Before anyone starts any nonsense about the impact of walkers and cyclists and riders and horsedrawn vehicles, get out there and look. I will stand by my statement that the majority of the people I saw outside their houses or cars or narrowboats in the rural areas between Brecon and Symonds Yat, were Polish (I guess, I thought I was hearing a welsh community at first, but I don't think the Welsh community relies on gangmasters to keep them working, and i say Polish because I can't spell half the eastern european countries) asparagus pickers, and they were all in one field. That is over 50% of the total outdoor human population of the 100 square miles at the least, that I must have looked over as Obama and I amble our leisurely way.
It is one of the strangest sights of the trip, an eight row asparagus harvester, with crazy all wheel steering, a driver and a couple of overseers wandering round on the 8 row platform, and below the platform harvesting arms, that move with human grace and skill cutting the asparagus. Then you realise that under the platform are pods to hold a man lying prone per row and the arms are human. Mechanised man is with us. An 8 man Cyborg crawling across the face of England to supply luxuries to the rich, and the labels will say English grown, and the diners will sit back in their luxury and think they are supporting English farming and English farming communities. (This isn't a rant about immigrant labour, the friendliest greeting I got in Brecon was from a charming Taxi driver whose name is unpronounceable and that is by Welsh standards, and I will dig out his photo with Obama in the very first week of his training and put it up. I welcome ANY human being in the English countryside without any sort of concern over minor details like nationality.)
But at least these pickers are outdoors, they are the people in a landscape without figures. I stopped to photograph them, not because they were Polish, or because they were asparagus pickers, but because they were people, and in the English countryside people are sufficiently weird you stop, take the vehicle off the pony, dig around in your trailer for the camera and photograph them in driving rain because “Wow! There are people!”
This is a desert island and in Cobbetts day it wasn't, but he warned us, he said what was happening and although we were taught about him at school, I didn't read him.
Now I am reading and re reading, to see where we went wrong.
Cobbett commented on people and he commented on rookeries. In my 100 miles of rambling from Brecon to Libanus one way and to Symonds Yat the other I have only seen 4 rookeries. We have driven the rooks from our countryside which destroys one of the sights and sounds of England, the rooks coming home to roost against an evening sky. When Cobbett rode across Englandd he commented endlessly on the people he saw, the people he talked to, the people he saw all around.
Today he would rage at what has been done to the rural population he loved, who worked the land, and understood it, understood the soil and the crops and the weather, who put their own food on their own tables, though that was already dying as the Great Wen sucked the lifeblood of rural England.
Today he would see what he prophesied in full flower. A desert island. It is deserted. If you don't believe me, come and walk with me and Obama.
But all is not gloom and desperation. There are little pockets of life. With any desert when you sit quietly and contemplate the emptiness and the sterile beauty, signs of life appear.
Unless I get distracted by Obama's horrid habits, I will return to this and tell you about the hidden pockets of rural life, and where to find them, and join them, and help them grow, and maybe the rooks will come back too. I'll even tell you where my favourite rookery, under the Wellingtonia is located, but of course since this is a blog and you are reading in the opposite direction to my writing, you haven't reached that bit yet.
This is rather fun, if I am writing in one direction, and you are reading in the other do we meet in the middle or get further and further away from each other?