Countrymen were artists who could draw a horse'

PUBLISHED: 11:29 18 May 2006 | UPDATED: 13:27 04 May 2010

TODAY it is rare to see horses working in the fields, but breeds such as the Suffolk Punch and Shire still exist and are a thrill to watch at horse shows. For the ploughman, the relationship with his horse was quite extraordinary. They groomed, fed and wo

TODAY it is rare to see horses working in the fields, but breeds such as the Suffolk Punch and Shire still exist and are a thrill to watch at horse shows. For the ploughman, the relationship with his horse was quite extraordinary. They groomed, fed and worked them. The horseman used traditional remedies on their horses for a variety of purposes and all had their own, usually secret remedies.

To make the coat shine, some used dried tansy leaves, which were powdered and added to the feed. Others used saffron leaves and grated bryony root was also a favourite in Suffolk. Horsey 'aromatherapy' was used for catching any horse reluctant to be caught. The horseman would use a mixture of oil of origanum, oil of rosemary, oil of cinnamon and oil of fennel on his clothes or forehead and stand in the wind so that the horse could smell the mixture, as soon as the animal smelt the oils they would walk towards them. This was known locally as drawing a horse.

The same oil mixture could be added to a cake made from half a pound of oat flour mixed with treacle. Once this had been slack baked, the advice was to 'sweat it under your arms'. This could then be offered to the reluctant captive. Not sure what the smell of armpit has to do with it, but I don't think walking around Ely with this tucked under your arm would do much for your street cred.

The opposite of drawing was jading. By rubbing secret and foul-smelling substances onto a horse's nostril or placing a drop just in front of them, this could stop a horse from moving forward, as if by magic. The effect of this could be neutralised just as quickly with a mixture of milk and vinegar.

Quite a party piece, which would apparently baffle any unsuspecting bystander. The only problem was that sometimes these horsemen earned the name of horse-witch, because they were able to make a horse stand as though it were bewitched. One man was even sentenced to the galleys for life for putting the vervain plant across roads where the postillion horse galloped down, because he felt sorry for the horses. It must have worked in order for him to be given such a harsh sentence.

The condition of a horse was vitally important to horsemen, but so too was their appearance. The coats had to shine like satin, the harness as clean as possible and the team had to be decorated and braided even in the winter months. One horseman explained how they would get up early in the morning to feed and braid the horses. It took an hour-and-a-half to braid properly.

The tails were decorated in summer-fashion or winter fashion.

In the summer the horse's tails were left long, with braid on the top and twisted with straw. In the winter the tail was folded up and braided to stop the mud getting into it. Then of course, in the summer, the horses would have bonnets placed on their heads!

Straw bonnets with ear slots were de rigueur. Once the ears had been pulled through the slots they were covered with ear shaped nets, adorned with tassels. These were to keep the flies away as was the string net around the horse's necks.

Today, these so called remedies come in plastic bottles with nice neat spray attachments, which more to the point cost a fortune and horse attire comes in pretty pink and purple, that doesn't stay that colour for very long.....believe me I am a horsewoman.

Most Read

Most Read

Latest from the Ely Standard

Hot Jobs

Show Job Lists