Team Half-Ass and The Move
Part Two: The Equines
Almost three months to the day since Ben and I moved out of our flat (see Part One here), we finally brought our little herd over to Wales having completed on the farm two weeks before. If you’re wandering about the delay between completion and moving in, it’s because we had tickets to see Hamilton in London on the 2nd March. Worth the wait, by the way, and a fitting farewell to our days of popping up to London to see a show or gig.
The delay on completion was much more annoying. It all hinged on the paddock at the bottom of our land which has belonged to our farm for the last 30+ years at least, and all the neighbours said it belonged to our farm, but the Land Registry had no record of it and so we had to begin the slow, tedious, hair-pulling process until deeds could be obtained and the property finally sold. We had started the house-buying procedure when our offer was accepted back in August 2018, and we didn’t move in until March 4th, six months later. That’s why an extra fortnight to accommodate a theatre show didn’t feel so bad in comparison!
Huge thanks to my parents-in-law who generously put us up in their home all that time. It would have been decidedly harder, and more expensive, if we hadn’t had a place to live between moving out of our flat and moving into the farm. We had to keep the horses where they were because we had nowhere to put them, and of course we needed to stay close by.
When we’d visited Wales to pick the keys up on completion day, we’d left Ben’s car at the farm and driven back to England in a hired transit van which was, inexplicably, cheaper to hire for an entire week rather than a couple of days. After six years at the livery yard and with four equines, we had a lot of stuff to bring with us – stuff that couldn’t go until the herd went.
Having spent the previous week sorting through all the aforementioned stuff, binning the rubbish and putting the rest into neat piles, we spent Sunday packing it all into the van into what turned out to be the ultimate game of Tetris. My friend Fi had very kindly donated some old bookcases, so those went in there too. Then we put the herd into the arena, made a small pen outside the gate just to give them an area to stand that wasn’t boggy, and took down the electric fencing from their field. The transporter was coming around 10:30am the next morning so we didn’t want to waste time taking down reams of fencing then.
That evening we had a “last supper” with Molly and Jane, who ran the dressage yard I worked at, and some of their liveries. I haven’t been able to work since I lopped my finger off on New Year’s Eve (while handling someone else’s horse, nothing to do with their yard!), but they kept in touch with me to make sure I was alright – groom work is back-breaking, dangerous and often unappreciated, but Molly and Jane are among the best employers I’ve ever had I was so sad to leave them. The worst part of my accident for me was that I let them down and couldn’t work for them anymore!
The next morning we packed the few things we had with us at Ben’s parents’ house and drove to the yard at 9:30am, feeling very on top of things. The transporter had said he’d ring us when he was half an hour away and we hadn’t heard from him, so we thought we had at least an hour to catch the herd, tidy them up, poo pick the arena, and take down their temporary pen.
As we swung into the gateway, it was to see the transporter already parked up on the yard. We didn’t want to hold him up any further so we flapped around gathering travel halters and ropes and went out to fetch the equines. Not exactly the calm, zen-like energy to promote easy loading that I’d hoped for.
Luckily, frantic humans or no frantic humans, the herd did us proud and all loaded with ease. The transporter put Iris on first, as she’s the one most used to travelling and we knew the boys would want to be wherever she was. Then we put Marty, her Number One Fan, on next.
Now, Marty has only ever travelled solo in a 3.5 lorry (with the possible exception of the lorry that took him and his mother down to Devon when he was a few months old). For his last two journeys – to and from Anna Bonnage’s – he’d travelled loose, and had been very good at it too. We couldn’t afford to charter him his own separate box so he had to load up with the others, and we trusted that the transporter – being a professional who’d a) travelled mules before and b) worked with a lot of rescues – would have it all in hand.
As I said, the transporter was mule savvy so he let me load both the mules – mules will always try harder for someone they know and like. Marty put his front feet on the ramp almost straight away, came up, lost confidence, backed down again which I allowed as I wanted him to know that he wasn’t trapped, considered it, and loaded all the way in. At this point the transporter took him from me to tie him, and Marty had a brief panic as I left and the partition was brought round. The transporter was brilliant with him though and Marty quickly settled again.
Next was Xato, who did pretty much the same as Marty – except that when he got on properly, he discovered that there was haylage in his net and that was it; we couldn’t have unloaded him again if we’d wanted to. There were cameras in the back and the transporter said Xato had devoured the entire net by the time they got on the M25, small holes be damned.
The final one to load was Cash. Cash has never been tricky to load, but he also hasn’t travelled for around four or five years so we weren’t sure what he’d do … well, he walked straight on like it was his day job.
And away they went! Ben and I waved them off then went to work, Ben poo-picking the arena and me taking down the fencing and collecting up any last bits and pieces. If we’d had time to groom them as intended, we might not have forgotten our grooming kit; but if that’s the only thing we’ve forgotten then we haven’t done too badly.
We got everything tidied up in half an hour and were confident that the transporter wouldn’t have too much of a lead on us, as we were in a faster vehicle and we also knew he was planning to stop twice to feed and water the equines. We didn’t actually catch up until we were passing Port Talbot, the other side of the Welsh border!
We arrived at the farm about twenty minutes before he did, and encountered our next problem: the payment for the transport hadn’t gone through due to a glitch with the internet banking, and the transporter wouldn’t let our herd off the lorry until he was paid (and rightfully so). I met him at the gate while Ben rang the bank, and after a few minutes we unloaded anyway – I don’t think the transporter wanted to make the horses and mules stand around any longer just because of a human cock-up. We unloaded the three boys and then I held them while the transporter went back for Iris; I didn’t want to take them away and leave her fretting on her own.
They were really very good considering they’d just been standing on a lorry for four hours and I had a useless hand; at one point Xato decided, in typical Xato fashion, that he was just going to walk off and take himself down the drive. “No!” I said. “Please don’t!” So he stopped, and waited patiently.
Once Iris was with us, we took them down to the arena which is only a few metres from the main gateway and let them stretch their legs.
When Ben came out, having sorted the problem with the bank, we turned them all out into the top field. Annoyingly there isn’t a gate that goes directly from the arena to the field (yet – it’s on our very long to-do list), so we had to bring them out then go in via the narrow people gate at the top.
They have free access between the field, large concrete yard and round pen, and for the first few days they spent a lot of time hanging out in the latter two, only venturing out to the field for an hour or so at a time. I don’t think they liked our only neighbours’ large poultry collection on the other side of the stream, or perhaps it was the large guard dog that bothered them. Lately their allegiance seems to have switched, and they now find the yard quite worrying and the field safer. The round pen remains a firm favourite with all, though, and both mules immediately took to standing on the pedestal to impress me.
So, that’s us so far. I have noticed a few things since having the herd in a more ‘natural’ environment, but I will write about that separately at a later date. It’s definitely going to be a learning curve being here and I’m excited to see what we discover.
If 2000 words and a bunch of pictures weren’t enough for you, I also made a 7 minute vlog about the move. Luckily you only have to look at my face for the first half as I spent most of the journey crying, and forgot how to vlog.