Pony Tales ||
There are few reminders on the farm of the days when horsepower reigned supreme at South Powrie. But there is one memento which catches my eye when I am working in the grain store. Part of the south wall of what is now a large open-plan building was originally the outer wall of the stable and it still bears the roughly painted names “Kate” and “Dan” on the whitewash above where the stalls of the last pair or horses on the farm had been.
Can you recognise the same buildings and sign above Dan (the chestnut horse)'s back?
The stable, as I remember it before it was demolished in the late 1960s, had stalls for eight horses which would be entirely consistent with the size of the farm.
The need for draught horses emerged with the enclosure of farms at the beginning of 19th century. By then the old practice of a team of oxen pulling clumsy wooden plough with half a dozen attendants belonged to a bygone age. The modern farmer instead used a light steel plough pulled by a pair of horses and steered by only one man.
A highly efficient system soon emerged based on one pair of horses for 80 acres of arable land. Thus, a 320-acre farm, such as South Powrie was in those days, needed four pairs. The single horsemen were housed, prestigiously as they thought, in a bothy in the old Powrie Castle and the married men in one of the three cottages on the farm.
A pair of horses could plough an acre a day in a day broken into a morning “yoking” from 7am to 11.30 am and an afternoon “yoking” from 1pm to 5pm. The one-and-a-half-hour break in the middle of the day was not for the men’s welfare but to allow time to rest and feed the horses.
The horse system on Scottish farms only worked because farms were well-staffed and run with military discipline. The first cracks appeared in World War One when vast numbers of horses were requisitioned for service on the Western Front. Few returned. There was also a particular problem in Angus in following decades with Grass Sickness, a fatal condition which rather mysteriously affected some farms very badly but not others.
By the end of World War Two, the supremacy of the tractor was more or less complete and by the mid-1950s most stables were empty. My grandfather, not a man openly given to bouts of nostalgia, kept Dan and Kate on light duties until the early 1960s but since then it has been tractor power all the way.