Here Comes the Cavalry!

Every year the Household Cavalry holidays in Norfolk, my home county. The annual paddle in the sea at Holkham is a press favourite, but not so many people know about the show they hold in Thetford. I went for the first time last Saturday with Mum and we enjoyed ourselves thoroughly, even if we were too tuckered to stay for the musical ride at the end. Imagine the world’s friendliest gymkhana – not a Pony Club mother in sight – and you will get the spirit of it.

There was showjumping, tentpegging, a lively sidesaddle display from the Flying Foxes (who made one of the soldiers try life aside – cue wolf whistles and a royal wave from the gentleman in question) and a chance to meet the gee-gees. Big bags of carrots were for sale and members of the public were encouraged to wander round the stables, stuffing treats into the horses. It must be hell for the grooms on Monday, but boy was it fun for us and the blacks, the greys and the giant roan drum horses.

We met Merlin (in the video he’s Mercury) and I’ve included photos of his saddle hangings, which list all the battles in which the regiment has been engaged. Note that Merlin is a bona fide drum horse, ie he carries drums for the British Army. Recently some enterprising folk in America have decided to breed and sell “Royal Drum Horses” and I wish the Queen would sue the pants off them. I also wish more shows recruited tentpeggers – the thrill of seeing three horses line up abreast and charge as their riders angled lances or swords for the narrow peg was quite something. I fell in love with a doughty and rangey “cavalry black” called Dreadnought, who won both the showjumping competitions. Bags Dreadnought when he retires.

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Save Money on Rubbish Collection – with Horses

From Anthony Dent’s Donkey: The Story of the Ass From East to West. Dent was born in 1915 in North Yorkshire, just to orient you.

‘When I was a child in a small coastal resort in the North-east the most senior employees of our local council were two old men and a donkey, who between them operated a miniature dust-cart. They did not empty the bins behind the houses, but patrolled the streets, front and back, sweeping up casual rubbish and carting it away. … the old boys and their moke [slang for donkey] were still doing a fair amount of business right through the nineteen-twenties, and in a sense they distributed the lesser fleas which great fleas had on their backs to bite ’em: because the last really coprogenic horses to ply our streets, surviving the ice-cream float and the pony-drawn milk-cart and the fish-trolleys (driven by blue-bonneted ladies from the neighbouring fishing villages at a furious pace, to the accompaniment of eldritch shrieks of ” ‘Erreen, fresh ‘erreen-a-a-a” or “Feesh, feesh, feeeesh!”) by many years, were the mountainous Clydesdale geldings – also the property of the Health Department – which emptied the bins of household refuse.’

It might sound merely quaint, but recent pilot schemes in Europe have put a twenty-first century twist on the refuse horse. They’re using national heavy-horse breeds from state studs and donkeys to collect recycling. A Guardian report on some local European schemes spells it out goes into detail:

For Jean Baptiste, mayor of medieval Peyrestortes, near Perpignan and one of 60 towns now using horses to collect waste, the benefit above all is practical. “You can’t turn a waste collection vehicle around here. We used to block streets to traffic and keep waste in open skips.” He sold off a dustbin lorry and acquired two Breton carthorses instead. Asked whether the changes are saving money, he says: “It’s too early. But money isn’t the only reason. The exhaust smells have gone, the noise has gone, and instead we have the clip-clop of horses’ hooves.”

In Saint Prix, however, in Greater Paris, Mayor Jean-Pierre Enjalbert is certain he is saving money as the novelty of the horses has increased recycling rates. “By using the horse for garden waste collection, we have raised awareness. People are composting more. Incineration used to cost us €107 a tonne, ridiculous for burning wet matter, now we only pay €37 to collect and compost the waste.”

Well-established horse-drawn collections also succeed in Trouville, and in Vendargues near Montpellier, but many ventures last only a few months. Sita, France’s second biggest waste management and recycling company, has now integrated the “collecte hippomobile” into three refuse collection circuits in the Aube département in central France.

Sita’s Alexandre Champion, who instigated the idea, points to several factors behind the failed ventures: unsuitable horses, untrained workers or inadequate terrain, poor equipment. Housing estates or old town centres with flat terrain work best, with a circuit of under 20 km a day, he says. But even terrain problems can be overcome, and this autumn Sita starts horse-drawn collection in hilly Verdun, with a pair of strong carthorses. …

In Sicily, another place bringing back four-hoofed transport, Mario Cicero, mayor of 14th-century town Castelbuono, disagrees. He pioneered glass and cardboard collection using two packsaddle donkeys in 2007. Three years on, Cicero has done his sums and calculated a cost saving of 34%, as well as winning over a sceptical population and putting more donkeys to work.

“Compared with €5,000–7,000 annual running costs for a diesel truck, an ass costs €1,000–1,500 and can live 25-30 years. A truck costs around €25,000, lasts around five years and can’t reproduce,” says Cicero, whose four asinelli have now produced 25 offspring, so he won’t even be buying any more.

Of traditional British heavy horse breeds, the Suffolk Punch is currently “endangered”, Clydesdales “vulnerable” and Shires “at risk”. Oh, if only that £250,000,000 the government is freeing up for rubbish collection could be spent on a true, Green, British horse-powered refuse revolution…

Maxi Cob

Bexley residents voted for this beautiful steel statue of a gypsy cob by Andy Scott to be installed on an industrial-estate roundabout. Here he is in a blaze of lights, and here you can see him under construction.  The Belvedere Cob is a tribute to the local travelling community, which has deep roots.

Andy Scott also created the magnificent ‘Kelpies‘ who will both guard and operate a lock on the Forth and Clyde canal near Falkirk, and this fine steel Clydesdale by the M8.