Safeguarding the future of our Heavy Working Horse breeds
A registered charity dedicated to helping promote and protect heavy working horse breeds
The only charity of its kind in this country, the Trust is run entirely by volunteers and is funded by its own efforts. Despite attempts by the heavy horse community to persuade Government to form National Studs for its rare breeds of equines, as they do on the continent, there is no official funding for the protection of the Shire, Suffolk or Clydesdale. It is left to the breed societies and private owners and breeders to try and halt the decline of the heavy breeds and stave off their eventual demise.
The Working Horse Trust’s main activity is to get out and about with our horses, to keep them in the public eye and to highlight the danger that they are in. Throughout the year we are busy most weekends at shows, workings and demonstrations – but we also work with the horses on our own farm and undertake contract work.
We currently have 9 horses – a mix of Shires, Suffolks and Ardennes- but are aiming to also include the Clydesdale and Percheron in our line-up. We are concentrating our breeding efforts on the Suffolk horse, as this is the most endangered breed, and we currently have six, including two young mares. (details correct 2017)
The following opportunities are suspended from 2021
We would appreciate your help
As far as we possibly can we raise the funds we need from a mix of paid work and fundraising events, but without public support we would not be able to keep going. If you would like to, there are a number of ways you can help to support our work.
Annual membership is just £15 for adults, £10 for juniors and seniors and £35 for a family of two adults and two children. In return we offer a quarterly newsletter, a regular diary of events and invitations to our fundraising events. Although we are not open to the public on a regular basis, entry to our Open Days is free for Members and you may visit the farm at any time (by prior arrangement).
To help us afford the highest level of care for our horses, we run an annual Sponsorship Scheme for individual, favorite horses.
Heavy Horse Experience Days and Training Courses
We run both informal ‘Experience’ Days for those with little or no horse experience and more in-depth courses for those wishing to learn to work with heavies – possibly with a view to owning their own at some time in the future. An Experience Day or Training Courses can make an unusual present and we offer Gift Vouchers for both.
Caring for our horses, looking after the farm and carrying out our wide program of events is a 365 day a year job. We all give as much time as we can but most of us have to work and have family and other commitments.
The larger the team of volunteers the more we can achieve, so we are always pleased to welcome extra pairs of hands. Some equine experience is essential but enthusiasm, energy, and a willingness to muck-in (and muck out) are more what we seek!
Throughout the year we hold a variety of events to raise funds, and the more people that take part, the more we raise! The best way to keep in touch with what’s coming up is to become a member and receive your invitation. Details are also posted on our website.
Open Days at the Farm
We hold our Open Days at Easter, either the early or late May Bank Holiday and in the Autumn (usually late September). The days are a mix of talks and demonstrations and we aim to give you the opportunity to get close to our horses and perhaps try your hand at working with them. The days are friendly and informal and we have a superb tea room to keep you refreshed! Come along and bring friends and family.
The Eridge Heavy Horse Show
We stage this show, our biggest fundraising event of the year, on the last Sunday in July.
Other horsemen are invited to join us to put on a superb display of heavy horses in-hand, in harness and in action. Stalls, refreshments and other attractions such as birds of prey, terrier racing and children’s funfair make it a great day out for all the family.
The Working Horse Trust
is the only charity of its kind in this country in as much as it is a volunteer-only organisation and it was formed to help preserve and promote all traditional breeds of Heavy Working Horse – the populations of which had become decimated by the 1960s and which today are all classified as rare breeds.
The Trust has 9 horses, and a team of over 20 volunteers. Throughout the year they attend as many external events as possible to keep the horses in the public eye, to highlight the danger that the breeds are in and to help encourage wider interest in owning, breeding and working with heavies – particularly among the young. In addition the Trust holds Open Days on its farm and stages the highly popular Eridge Heavy Horse Show, which it launched in 2005 to showcase all draught breeds and demonstrate their versatility.
The Trust also undertakes contract work using the horses in traditional ways to carry out tasks that cannot be done mechanically for various reasons, usually environmental and conservation concerns – for example in forestry, grassland management and bracken control. It has done work for organisations such as the Woodland Trust, the RSPB, Sussex Wildlife Trust, Corporation of London, East Sussex County Council, The Royal Botanic Gardens and the National Trust, as well as for smaller groups and private individuals.
Breeding is an important aspect of the Trust’s work. Most of its horses are home bred, including two lovely Suffolk mares, which the Trust hopes to breed from in the future. It also has a fine Ardennes stallion.
Of equal importance is the training of horses and handlers. The Trust’s volunteer programme ensures that even those who join with no equine experience are trained in the basics of heavy horse care and handling. Volunteers are encouraged to develop their skills and many have gone on to learn how to work the horses, ride and drive them. The Trust also runs Experience Days and introductory Training Courses for anyone interested in working with heavy horses.
The Trust relies on its own efforts to fund its activities. At present funds are raised via annual Membership, a Sponsorship Scheme for individual horses and fundraising events such as the annual Sponsored Ride, Barn Dance, Sponsored Walk, Race Night and Quiz Night, as well as through the Open Days, Show and its external activities. Donations and legacies also make an important contribution to the Trust’s funds.
Heavy Horses Under Threat
The high peak of the horse-drawn world was in the 1880s when around 3.5 to 4.5 million draught horses were at work in agriculture, forestry, transport and the military. But with increased mechanisation the heavy horse population plummeted to a point where, by the end of the 1960s, extinction in this country was a very real possibility, averted only by a handful of enthusiasts who kept the breeds alive. The status of the breeds is carefully monitored by the Rare Breeds Survival Trust who maintains a ‘Watch List’.
The Suffolk is our oldest, native working horse. Originally bred in the eastern counties as an agricultural horse, the Suffolk is the least changed of our native breeds but there are only around 300 or so registered Suffolks in this country today. It is widely regarded as one of the rarest equines in the world (if not the rarest.) and is a ‘Category One’ breed on the RBST Watch List – meaning that it is officially endangered.
The Shire is probably the most familiar of our native breeds but is now considered to be ‘at risk’ by the RBST and as such its numbers are carefully monitored. Over the last ten years alone Shire horse numbers have nearly halved and the number of foals being born each year is not sufficient to replace the ageing population. For the first time in the breed’s history, there are more Shires outside of the UK than in it.
The Clydesdale, once the premier draught horse of lowland Scotland and the north of England, is now classified as a ‘vulnerable’ breed having been re-assessed by the RBST in 2007 and re-entered on the Watch List. The first Clydesdale stud book of 1877 had 1,044 stallions registered. Today that number is around 100 and whilst there are in the region of 700 breeding mares registered with the Society, the number of foals being born each year is low
The Percheron is one of the oldest and most internationally dispersed breeds in the world. The breed became popular in England around the time of the First World War when large numbers of horses were imported to work in both agriculture and transport. At one time Percherons were widely used to transport buses and fire engines in major towns. Despite numbers having dwindled in the UK, there remains a strong nucleus of British Percheron breeders.
The Ardennes is one of the oldest breeds of working horse in the world – possibly existing relatively unchanged for c.2,000 years. Originally from the Ardennes region of France and Belgium, the breed is remarkable for its strength and stamina, its agility and versatility. It is believed the Ardennes arrived in this country with the Roman Legions and that it has been regularly imported since. It is largely regarded as the founding stock of all known draught breeds. There are only around 40 or so Ardennes in this country at the present time.
All correspondence should be sent to the Trust’s Registered Office:
The Working Horse Trust
39 Berrylands Road,
Surbiton, Surrey. KT5 8PA