My Customers and Other Animals – A Talk by Roger Clark

Little Waldingfield History Society was absolutely delighted to welcome Roger Clark to the Parish Room last Wednesday night. As we anticipated, he enthralled our thirty plus audience with remarkable stories from his lifelong association with and passion for horses, all without reference to any notes or other aids, making it particularly difficult to write this review as I also took no notes! After the meeting, trustees all agreed that we should probably have recorded the talk as it reminded us in many ways of the interviews we conducted for the recent LW history project.

Roger briefly explained his thoughts on the farrier trade, which he believed was a craft rather than a profession, as he believes many want to turn it into. He explained there were three levels of qualification, the first being a Diploma, when newly qualified farriers have been judged by an eminent panel of examiners as competent to prepare a foot and, if required, to apply a shoe. The next level of Associateship of the Worshipful Company of Farriers is particularly concerned with corrective farriery, and currently there are just 183 Associates in the UK. Candidates sit a written exam, three oral examinations, a practical test requiring the fabrication of a shoe from plain steel and the correct fitting of two corrective shoes, along with a test in the use of modern materials to repair a damaged hoof.

Roger is however a Fellow of the Worshipful Company of Farriers, the most senior qualification that denotes a very high level of achievement, as the small number of Fellows (31) is testament to. Candidates must prepare an original written thesis for consideration by a panel of senior WCF examiners, then deliver a lecture on a subject of their choosing with just 60 minutes preparation time; they must also forge a corrective shoe from plain steel – this sounds extremely difficult, and perhaps explains the very small number of fellows – apparently just 175 since founding and just 31 today, per their wedbsite.

Illustrating his craft versus profession point, Roger told us about one horse which continually became lame over an 18 month period, despite many examinations by vets and special care from a professional though inexperienced farrier. Roger was eventually called in and after a quick look he diagnosed “Right Handed Farrier Syndrome”, to the evident surprise of everyone present at the time. If a farrier cannot perform his trade both left and tight handed, for the different sides of the horse, it seems there is a risk that hooves will be trimmed with a hard to spot bias to one side, resulting in the horse compensating by balancing his weight on one side; the horse effectively tip-toes, stressing muscles and joints which can result in pain and lameness. Easily cured but hard to detect.

Roger then told us about “The Man of No Consequence”, an interesting concept associated with the handling of heavy horses. It seems that heavy horses can occasionally be a bit over lively, posing a risk when they are to be used to pull carriages; the solution is to burn of their excess energy and quieten them down, which is achieved by driving them round a field for 20 minutes or so, by the man of no consequence. Roger then advised this term was commonly used in the farrier / farming community to describe someone doing something of little apparent value or use – a most interesting epithet indeed.

After anecdotes too numerous to mention (sadly I can’t properly recall most) Roger told us a bit about Suffolk Punches, that most iconic English breed of draught horse developed in the early 16th century which takes the first part of its name from our fair county, the second part deriving from its solid appearance and strength.

Much of Roger’s work, along with that of his colleagues past and present, has been judging the structure of Suffolk Punch hooves at major horse shows, a practice unique among horse breeds; this has resulted in such an improvement that the breed is now considered to have excellent foot conformation, something it didn’t have in the past. Sadly the breed is not as international as other heavy horses, but there are dedicated overseas breeders that help maintain the DNA. Somewhat surprisingly Roger told us he has supplied Suffolk Punch mares to Pakistan, not for continuing the breed but more prosaically for creating Mules, a product of a male donkey and a female horse. It seems mules are much valued because they are stronger than horses of similar size and have the endurance and disposition of donkeys; they also tend to require less food than horses of similar size and tend to be more independent than most domesticated equines.

After many questions, Roger ended his most interesting and entertaining talk, though he hardly had time to drink his well earned tea afterwards because many individual questions then followed.

At our next talk, Darren Clarke will discuss the craft of metal detecting and some of his many historical finds from around the local area; a number of these have been reviewed by Find Liaison Officers and included in the Portable Antiquities Scheme 2004/5 annual report for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

We look forward to welcoming guests new and old to the Parish Room on Wednesday 17th June for what is sure to be a fascinating evenings entertainment.

Andy Sheppard                                                                                             22nd May 2015


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